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Belgian, SA promoters partner on Matchbox Live

Leading festival industry figures in Belgium and South Africa have partnered for the launch of Matchbox Live, a new live entertainment venture that aims to “grow the South African live music industry by producing unique events and festivals with potential for international growth”.

Pretoria-based Matchbox is the brainchild of Belgian festival Pukkelpop; Belgian communications agency Boondoggle, which has an office in South African capital Cape Town; Hilltop Live, the promoter behind Limpopo event OppiKoppi; and Sho Sho Communications, which co-owns Pretoria festival Hello Ambassador and Johannesburg venue Good Luck Bar.

It is led by CEO Theresho Selesho, the managing director of Sho Sho and director of business development at Boondoggle South Africa.

Selesho comments: “It’s an exciting time in our vibrant country and continent. The combination of existing events, strong experience and foreign investment is a powerful combination.”

There is a history of collaboration between Pukkelpop, Belgium’s second-biggest music festival, and the ~20,000-cap. OppiKoppi, which has grown to become South Africa’s most popular event, in the form of an exchange programme involving artists and crew. Pukkelpop promoter Chokri Mahassine says Matchbox Live will take the festivals’ partnership “to the next level”.

“It’s an exciting time in our vibrant country and continent”

“In the past 20 years we’ve had an excellent relationship with our South African friends,” says Mahassine, who spoke to IQ last month about the history of the event and the health of the Belgian festival market. “Now the time has come to take our partnership to the next level.

“Just as [with] Pukkelpop, OppiKoppi wants to keep track of new musical talent without losing sight of the big, established names. Through Matchbox Live we can help OppiKoppi to grow into one of the most influential festivals on the African continent.”

The 2017 edition of OppiKoppi, a Burning Man-like festival that takes place in the harsh South African bushveld, will be the first organised under the Matchbox Live banner. This will be followed by Drumbeat and Lekkerland, with new events to be announced “at a later stage”.

“The family behind OppiKoppi dropped into the live music business by accident in 1994,” comments Hilltop Live’s Carel Hoffman.“That is more than 23 years of gung-ho, rock’n’roll management. Along the way conversations with international counterparts started and have led to the stage where we can bring in strategic partners. We have built a team that can carry the flame forward, which is great news for music fans.”

A joint South African–Norwegian report revealed last year that the South African live biz will experience strong growth through 2021 – although without “enhanced investment” from government and big corporations it would continue to lag behind Western markets.

 


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‘Festivals are to Belgium like tea is to Brits’

Pukkelpop programmer Chokri Mahassine has hailed the diversity of the Belgian festival market, telling IQ that – far from there being trop de festivals – “people like the variety our festival scene has to offer”.

Some in Belgium, as elsewhere in the world, have cast doubts on the viability of the “festivalisation” of the live music business, with Christophe Goethals of CRISP warning last year that the “supply [of festivals] cannot grow indefinitely”. Yet despite this increase in competition – as well as the potential for terror attacks to hurt ticket sales, as happened last summer – Mahassine says the health of the market remains “excellent”.

“I certainly don’t feel like there are too many festivals,” he explains. “People like the variety.

“With small-town events, they can go with their families and hang out with friends while enjoying live music; the bigger festivals, of course, have even more to offer; and hip and trendy fringe events make festivalgoers feel that they’re part of something new. It’s a package deal nowadays: popular music, the latest fashion trends, fancy food, celebs and stars, glamping, hipster activities, art – it’s all there.”

For Belgians, says Mahassine, “festivals truly are part of our national heritage”. “They belong to the Belgian summer like sand to a beach!” he explains. “Or like tea to the British, for that matter…”

“You can’t cook without ingredients. Beer prices continue to rise, and so do the fees of our artists and security expenses”

Independently promoted Pukkelpop – meaning ‘Pimplepop’ in Dutch, as “we wanted a name to refer to something all young people have in common”, jokes Mahassine – is Belgium’s second-largest music festival, after Live Nation Belgium’s Rock Werchter.

Founded in 1985, it has taken place in the village of Kiewit, near Hasselt in Dutch-speaking Limburg, since 1991, with a daily capacity of 60,000. Ticket sales for the 2017 event, headlined by Bastille, Editors, Mumford & Sons and The xx, are off to a “good start”, says Mahassine, adding that he’s “pretty confident we’ll sell out this year”.

Heading into its 32nd year (there was no festival in 1989), Mahassine says one of the biggest changes he’s seen in the festival is an increased focus on non-music entertainment, such as poetry, theatre and comedy. “Fringe activities are gaining popularity rapidly,” he explains. “Nowadays, they’re part of the overall festival experience.

“Petit Bazar and Salon Fou usher in street theatre and comedy, entertainment and wellbeing, [while] Food Wood serves up dishes from around the world in the festival’s greenest nook and Baraque Futur focuses on sustainability, experiment and keynote speaking. […] No Pukkelpop experience is complete without a visit to these corners of the festival site.”

However, all those fringe activities come at a price – and with ever-increasing costs, Mahassine says it’s becoming a challenge to keep from raising ticket prices, echoing recent comments by North Sea Jazz’s Jan Willem Luyken.

“You can’t cook without ingredients,” he comments. “Beer prices continue to rise, and so do the fees of our artists. Plus, it won’t come as a surprise to hear that we’ve seen a significant increase in security expenses in recent years – and, of course, we continue to invest in our festival infrastructure.

“Fringe activities are gaining popularity rapidly. Nowadays, they’re part of the festival experience”

“We’ve set the bar high to keep all our festivalgoers happy, but ticket prices for Pukkelpop haven’t changed in four years. Last year we were forced to raise the price of food and drinks tokens, but we’re still offering them at a reduced rates in the presale. For now, we’re trying to keep the price level constant for another few years.”

As expensive as on-site security is, Pukkelpop can at least benefit from the sharing of security intelligence with other festivals, including those promoted by Live Nation Belgium, with which Mahassine says the festival has a “very good relationship”.

“We meet on a regular basis, and they help us with a lot of issues,” he explains. “Of course, that relationship is essential when it comes to booking international acts – but we also exchange security measures and other festival-related know how.

“[Live Nation Belgium CEO] Herman Schueremans always reminds us of the Belgian national motto, “L’union fait la force” (“Unity makes strength”). That’s a mantra we try to live by!”

Pukkelpop 2017 takes place from Wednesday 16 to Saturday 19 August.

 


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