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Bulgarian promoters organise hilltop festival Music Daze

Working around ongoing restrictions on live events, Bulgarian promoters PanHarmony and Blue Hills Events kicked off the summer with a 1,500-person concert and a three-day festival in the city of Plovdiv earlier this month.

On 5 June, at Plovdiv’s iconic ancient Roman theatre, over 1,500 people welcomed Portuguese-Cape Verdean songstress Sara Tavares (pictured below) to Bulgaria for the third time. Tavaras’ “energetic and heartfelt music proved an uplifting and life-affirming elixir after nearly a year without live shows,” say the promoters, reflecting the “emerging optimism and good summer vibes of a population that is steadily working its way out of the Covid crisis.”

Bulgaria has been on a downward trend with regards to coronavirus cases, averaging around 180 daily Covid-19 infections over the past month. Around 10% of the population of the country, which has a population of about seven million, are now fully vaccinated.

Sara Tavares performed in Plovdiv's Roman amphitheatre

The festival, Music Daze, took place from 11 to 13 June atop Bunardzhik Hill, overlooking Plovdiv. Booker Boyan Robert Pinter says it was a success, despite the stress of fluctuating international Covid-19 regulations, cancelled flights and other mishaps: “Music Daze was a difficult birth, but we desperately wanted to have international artists,” he explains. “Dealing with Covid protocols, PCR tests and quarantines in the artist’s home country proved to be quite a challenge, but one we were determined to take on.”

Artists flying into the country had to present a PCR test on arrival and immediately get a local PCR test in advance of their return flight. PCR tests were valid for up to 72 hours and organisers were able to send everyone back home with a test result in hand. “We partnered with a local lab that sent medical staff to the band’s hotels to extract the samples and deliver the negative results on time for departure,” continues Pinter. “We had it all worked out, but it was still a stressful situation.” One artist, meanwhile, drove to the festival, crossing European borders with his vaccination card in hand.

The festival line-up experienced a last-minute shake-up when 12 June headliners Asian Dub Foundation found themselves unable to make the trip to Bulgaria. Taking their place one week out from the show was Australian artist Dub FX, who travelled to Bulgaria on his birthday.

“We had it all worked out, but it was still a stressful situation”

Dub FX was meant to be accompanied by British saxophonist Mr Woodnote, but he was not allowed to board his plane despite showing negative PCR and antigen test results at London Stansted airport. “Another example of the unexpected predicaments artists and promoters face in this new reality,” comments Boyan.

The rest of the international line-up of Music Daze comprised French band Nouvelle Vague and Amsterdam-based DJ Burak Yeter, both performing on 11 June until the 11pm noise curfew.

Watch a drone video from day of Music Daze, featuring Dub FX, above.

The promoters have more shows planned at the Antique Theater later this year. Swedish band Katatonia will take the stage on 17 September, with Slovenian act Laibach performing with a full orchestra the following night, 18 September.

“These are the kind of unique experiences were are known for regionally and internationally, and we count ourselves lucky to be able to bring this level of entertainment back to local and regional fans,” says Stefan Popov of Blue Hills.

 


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Exit announces new festival in Bulgaria

Not content with Exit Festival being one of the only major festivals in Europe going ahead this summer, Serbia’s Exit will launch a new open-air event, Sunland, in Bulgaria next month.

Nina Kraviz-headlined Sunland will take place on Perla Beach, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, from 29 to 31 July. Sunland joins the a festival family which also includes Sea Dance (Montenegro), Sea Star (Croatia), No Sleep (Serbia), Revolution (Romania) and F84 (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

In addition to the new event, Novi Sad-based Exit has also announced plans for a new nightclub in Changsha, China, dubbed Exit Effinity, and a partnership with Space Miami in the US, which will host an Exit-themed party this summer.

Exit announced last month will offer the coronavirus vaccine to international guests who attend its flagship event on 8–11 July.

Newly announced for Exit Festival 2021 is Jonas Blue, who joins previously announced acts including David Guetta, DJ Snake, Meduza, Paul van Dyk, Nina Kraviz, Sabaton and Paul Kalkbrenner.

 


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Bulgarian promoters sell out two major live events

Bulgarian promoters Pan Harmony and Blue Hills successfully produced two major live events at the Plovdiv Antique Theater in Bulgaria last weekend (18 and 19 September).

German heavy metal artist Udo Dirkschneider delivered a two-hour show on 18 September, while a small orchestra – arranged by Tomislav Baynov and conducted by Yordan Kamdzhalov – performed the music of Bach and Mozart during the following evening.

The venue was permitted to operate at 50% of its 1,480 capacity and both events sold out at the maximum legal limit.

“Even though heavy metal passions run high and deep, the exhilarated audience was very respectful of the situation and kept their distance from the band and the crew,” says Boyan Robert Pinter of Pan Harmony.

“No intervention was necessary on behalf of security. We established a good perimeter between the audience and the stage but we didn’t even need barriers. Everybody was on their best and most responsible behaviour. It was certainly a historic event for us.”

“It was certainly a historic event for us”

Stefan Popov of Blue Hills says: “Besides being even better organised than usual, we’re very lucky to be able to work at all.

When it comes to international shows, Bulgarians are generally quite sceptical about whether the artists will show up, so when we posted a photo of Udo and the band from Sofia Airport, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and local ticket buyers were even more confident.

In the European Union’s poorest country, this just adds to a long list of factors that we have to consider.”

Though social distancing and mask-wearing are not mandated in outdoor venues, visitors were asked to wear masks and disinfect their hands upon entry.

Bulgaria went into lockdown in March and measures were eased from June. Bulgaria has a relatively low infection rate with 18,863 reported cases and 761 reported fatalities of Covid amongst a population of around seven million.

 


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One bad apple doesn’t spoil the barrel

In light of recent developments with Bulgarian promoters, now is the perfect time to widen the lens a bit and take a look at the Bulgarian live music industry beyond its recent highly publicised scandals.

The live music business in Bulgaria only really started in the 1990s. While Europe and the US were crafting the rules of the game and creating high-class music professionals during the post-war years, Eastern European markets had to wait for the fall of communism before a music industry could really take off.

The earliest western acts to come to Bulgaria came courtesy of adventurous local musicians who booked themselves as the support act, profit coming second to the glory of sharing the stage and a cold one with their musical heroes.

Despite these amateur beginnings, by the end of the nineties, Bulgaria had already received the blessing of a number of UK agents and production managers, bringing in stadium acts like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Sting and others. Before 1989, the idea of seeing any of these acts live was absolutely unthinkable. For Bulgarian music fans, these shows were an affirmation, a sign that Bulgaria was finally on the map.

By the 2000s, the Bulgarian live music sector had expanded exponentially. On the wings of a few lucky promoters (some heavily buttressed financially by western companies), a second generation of promoters arrived. These were not the passionate rockers of the 1990s, but a more opportunistic breed who saw the live music industry as a gateway to quick profits.

As the 2010s draw to a close, a new class of Bulgarian promoter is emerging

Unfortunately, these young bloods came to the scene having skipped the foundational level – music biz 101 – as it developed in the US and UK, growing out of social secretaries and campus events organisers. This new wave of promoters wanted only safe bets and sell-out shows.

While fast-moving markets have grown tired of shows consisting of classic rock albums played in their entirety by the few remaining members of a heritage band, Bulgarians, and Bulgarian promoters especially, are reluctant to move away from these established acts.

In effect, very few Bulgarian promoters had ever truly attempted to promote an act, preferring shows that sold themselves. The art of popularising and increasing the demand for an act, shining a spotlight on their talent, shaping public appetites and driving demand never really developed. Their only skill was in delivering shows; this being thanks more to the local production crew than the so-called promoter.

The loyalty between foreign agents and Bulgarian promoters is built on the back of the hard-working production crew. I’m proud to say that Bulgarian crews can, and do, work at every level.

“Show in foreign country went fine!” is not a good headline

Now, as the 2010s draw to a close, a new class of Bulgarian promoter is emerging. Our universities even offer degree programmes in music management. One can start saying “a music industry professional” in all senses of the term. The local scene has quite a few things to be proud of, from the success of large-scale productions like Roger Waters’s The Wall at the National Stadium and the development of the first-century AD ancient theatre in Plovdiv as a concert venue, to the emergence of well-equipped clubs like Joy Station, which has been heavily invested in. These all show a marked step forward.

The music industries in smaller countries rarely make the news with anything positive. Despite our best efforts to fight against these notions and do a better job than most, it’s just a drop in the ocean. This manifests itself clearly in situations where the outstanding work of a Bulgarian production team gets described as, “Not as bad as I expected.” I have witnessed this many times, and while it’s nice to be one of the exceptions, I’d much prefer to just change the perceptions.

It is important to remember that scandals only make the news because they are newsworthy. “Show in foreign country went fine!” is not a good headline.

For every scandal that makes the news, there are many successful shows put on by music-loving professionals and attended by passionate, grateful music fans.

 


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