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Creativeman: ‘Supersonic was a big step in Japan’s recovery’

Supersonic promoter Creativeman says the event was a ‘big step’ towards the resumption of festivals and concerts in Japan.

The festival was Japan’s first large-scale music event that included overseas artists since the pandemic began, and has been considered a test case for reopening Japan’s live industry to foreign acts.

Zedd, Steve Aoki, Clean Bandit, Alan Walker and Aurora were among the overseas artists that performed at the Creativeman-promoted event in Zozomarine Stadium, Tokyo.

The event took place across 18 and 19 September and the promoter says that in the two weeks subsequent, there were no reports of infection from visitors, performing artists, or staff.

At the festival, attendees were asked to comply with a number of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 that included eating meals in silence, abstaining from alcohol, maintaining social distancing and “quietly waiting” for admission to the event.

Attendance for each day was estimated at between 10,000 and 13,000.

“Japanese entertainment has finally restarted”

“The time that had been stopped for over a year due to coronavirus has begun to move, and Japanese entertainment has finally restarted,” reads a statement on the festival’s website.

“We were able to take a brilliant first step toward revival by taking thorough infection control measures, but the road has just begun. We will continue to make trial and error, and aim for Summer Sonic 2022 one year later. I would like to expect entertainment in a new era.”

The one-off event was held in lieu of Creativeman’s annual Summer Sonic festival which was cancelled this year due to the fact that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics used venues normally rented for the event.

Originally, Supersonic was to be held in Tokyo and Osaka but the latter was cancelled after Creativeman decided that holding the event in two locations was not feasible, considering state-of-emergency restrictions.

Japan lifted its Covid-19 state of emergency, covering 19 prefectures, at the end of September amid a dramatic fall in cases and rapid progress in its vaccination rollout.

 


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Japan’s leading int’l promoters form alliance

Ten leading Japanese concert promoters have officially announced the formation of the International Promoters Alliance Japan.

Led by Creativeman Productions head Naoki Shimizu, the alliance is hoping to establish unified guidelines for the safe resumption of events involving international artists.

The alliance – which includes Live Nation Japan, Udo Artists, Smash Corporation, Hayashi International Promotions and Kyodo Tokyo – will work closely with the Japanese government, as well as international embassies and consulates, to further the cause.

The International Promoters Alliance Japan is completed by Avex Entertainment, Hanshin Contents Link/Billboard Japan, M&I Company and Promax. The alliance will complement the work of existing music association ACPC, with which it shares members.

In a statement, the group says: “The history of music in Japan was changed forever in 1966 when the Beatles performed at the Nippon Budokan. Since then, musicians from around the world have come to Japan to perform, and the opportunity for fans to experience high quality international live entertainment has led to the growth of a rich and diversified Japanese music culture.

“The fact that Japan has been able to create a larger market for music than any other Asian country is a credit to the more than 60 years of work by member companies of the International Promoters Alliance Japan, who have also contributed to the overseas expansion of Japanese artists and content.”

“That Japan has been able to create a larger market for music than any other Asian country is a credit to IPAJ members”

It continues: “From club and theatre shows through to stadium tours, major festivals, and live restaurants, the breadth of the market is unique in the region, and hosting performances by international artists contributes to international economic exchange, the development of the Japanese music culture and economy, and the growth of employment.”

The International Promoters Alliance Japan was unofficially formed in December last year and in March 2021 the alliance succeeded in getting the Japanese government to amend its compensation scheme to include domestic shows by foreign artists.

The group’s next goal is to ease the business visa restrictions for foreign artists to enter Japan with no quarantines.

Once overseas artists have resumed their visits to Japan, the promoters will work together to “foster continued international cultural exchange in this most important of live entertainment markets”.

Read IQ’s Japan country report, which outlined the opportunities in the Japanese market pre-pandemic, here.

Land of the rise in fun: Why booming Japan is such a tough market to crack

 

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Fuji Rock wants attendees to ‘refrain from speaking’

Japanese festival Fuji Rock has published a series of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at this summer’s edition – one of which discourages festivalgoers from speaking to each other.

The Smash Corporation festival is set to take place at its usual home of Naeba Ski Resort in Tokyo, between 20–22 August 2021, but not as we know it.

This year, the festival’s typical international bill has been replaced with a completely domestic line-up which includes Radwimps, Man With a Mission, King Gnu, Cornelius, The Birthday, ROVO and Denki Groove, while stage capacities may be restricted depending on circumstances.

Festivalgoers must adhere to a number of stringent restrictions which range from wearing a mask and socially distancing to the more bizarre requirements.

The festival has published an extensive list of prohibitions for attendees which includes raising your voice, cheering, shouting, high-fiving and having ‘unnecessary conversations during the performances’.

Naoki Shimizu, president of Japanese promoter Creativeman, told the Japan Times that requirements like these are necessary if the live music industry is ever going to stage a comeback, especially in a country where cases have recently been spiking and the vaccine rollout still hasn’t hit its stride.

Raising your voice, cheering, shouting, high-fiving and having ‘unnecessary conversations’ are discouraged at Fuji Rock

Shimizu revealed that Creativeman festival Supersonic, which welcomed 300,000 people across three days in 2019, will also set out a number of requirements for attendees: “We will have to check everyone’s temperature, first. Capacity will be limited. And alcohol … we probably can’t have alcohol at the festival.”

This year’s Supersonic will be a post-Olympics version of its trademark Summer Sonic event held simultaneously in Chiba and Osaka prefectures and will feature 10 acts across three days – though the line-up is yet to be announced.

With Japan’s borders largely closed to international travel and the Tokyo Olympic Committee moving to ban international spectators from the Summer Games (23 July to 8 August), it’s likely that Supersonic will also opt for a domestic line-up.

Both Creativeman and Smash have spent much of 2021 lobbying for the resumption of international touring in Japan via a new consortium of Japan-based international promoters.

Earlier this year, the consortium succeeded in getting the Japanese government to amend its compensation scheme to include domestic shows by foreign artists.

The alliance’s next goal is to ease the business visa restrictions for foreign artists to enter Japan with no quarantines.

 


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Japan includes shows by foreign acts in comp scheme

The Japanese government has amended its compensation scheme to include domestic shows by foreign artists, thanks to lobbying from a new consortium of Japan-based international promoters.

The scheme (which goes under the name of J-LODlive) was set up in late January and was partly intended to reimburse organisers for the cost of an event that was cancelled or postponed due to the state of emergency issued at the beginning of the year.

The initial eligibility requirements, published on 19 February, excluded performances by overseas artists but after campaigning from an alliance that includes Live Nation Japan, Creativeman and Billboard Live, the decision was reversed on 17 March.

The alliance, driven by the All Japan Concert & Live Entertainment Promoters Conference (ACPC), was formed last December and is completed by ALC, Hip, Kyodo, M&I, Promax, Smash Cooperation and Udo.

The 10 promoters are working closely together in cooperation so that international touring in Japan can go back to normal

The 10 promoters are working closely together in cooperation so that international touring in Japan can go back to normal.

The consortium’s next goal is to ease the business visa restrictions for foreign artists to enter Japan with no quarantines.

For the first time in 10 weeks, no part of Japan is under a Covid-related state of emergency, signalling hope for the organisers of spring festivals.

According to ACPC, a number of domestic festivals are due to take place from this April with up to 10,000 attendees, including the inaugural edition of Love Supreme Jazz Festival Japan.

The festival will make its debut in the 375-hectare Chichibu Muse Park, just outside Tokyo, on 15 and 16 May 2021.

 


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Rapid sell-out for Asia’s first post-Covid arena shows

Tickets for a series of four concerts featuring Taiwanese artist Eric Chou have sold out in a quarter of an hour, indicating demand is high for the region’s first arena shows since coronavirus restrictions began.

Chou is scheduled to perform on 8 and 9 August at the 15,350-capacity Taipei Arena and on 5 and 6 September at the 15,000-capacity Kaohsiung Arena, with tickets for all four Taiwan shows selling out in just 15 minutes after going on sale this weekend.

In Taiwan, the government lifted all limits on the number of people allowed to attend public gatherings, including cultural events, on 7 June, and removed the need for social distancing at concert halls and stadiums.

The concerts are the first to be held at the venues since coronavirus restrictions were put in place early this year.

A named ticket system is in place to facilitate track and trace at the shows, with fans asked to fill in their name and contact number on the ticket upon purchase, or just before entering the venue in the case of ticket transfers.

The restart of arena shows comes following the Taiwan ministry of culture’s issuing of 2.1 million electronic cultural vouchers, worth NT$600 (€18) each, for tickets to concerts, art exhibitions and other cultural events, or to buy items at venues or culture-focused shops.

Tickets for a series of four concerts featuring Taiwanese artist Eric Chou have sold out in a quarter of an hour

The NT$1.2 billion (€35.3m) programme aims to boost the cultural and arts sector and encourage people to attend cultural events as the Covid-19 situation subsides in Taiwan. The programme is expected to generate an estimated NT$5bn (€146.8m) for the sector.

Taiwan has been praised worldwide for its response to the coronavirus crisis. The country, which has a population of 23.78 million, has reported 455 cases of the virus and seven deaths.

Elsewhere in northeast Asia, Japan gave the go-ahead for 5,000-person indoor concerts earlier this month, although plans to remove an upper capacity limit at events altogether from 1 August may be halted due to a recent rise in infections.

Creativeman’s Supersonic festival – a replacement of its usual Summer Sonic event – is still scheduled to go ahead from 19 to 21 September in Tokyo and 19 to 20 September in Osaka, featuring acts including the 1975, Post Malone, Wu-Tang Clan, Liam Gallagher, Fatboy Slim, Black Eyed Peas, Kygo and Steve Aoki.

In South Korea, a recent spike in new cases in Seoul and neighbouring cities is hindering the resumption of large-scale events.

This week, a ban on events of over 5,000 people was put in place in the Sonpa district of Seoul, leading to the postponement of upcoming shows at the 15,000-capacity Olympic Gymnastics Arena, or KSPO Dome. Around 5,200 fans were expect to attend each of the 15 concerts planned for the arena in the next three weeks.

Photo: Gene Wang/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Record attendance marks Summer Sonic’s 20th year

Creativeman’s Summer Sonic overtook Smash Corp-promoted Fuji Rock to become Japan’s biggest outdoor music festival this year, welcoming 135,000 visitors over three days to its twin sites in Osaka and Tokyo.

Taking place from 16 to 18 August, Creativeman debuted a new three-day format, in celebration of the festival’s 20th anniversary. The pop- and rock- focused line-up featured the Red Hit Chili Peppers, Babymetal, the Chainsmokers, Fall Out Boy, the 1975, Blackpink and Japanese rock bands Sakanaction and B’z.

All tickets sold out for the Tokyo-based side of the event, held at the adjoining Zozo Marine Stadium and Makuhari Messe exhibition hall. The Osaka leg of the festival, which took place at the Maishima Sonic Park, shifted all Friday tickets and weekend passes.

Speaking to IQ ahead of the event, Creativeman director Sebastian Mair said one festival day sold out three months before the festival started. “I don’t think we have ever had a day that has sold out that early,” Mair told IQ.

“[Japanese festivals] are safe and peaceful, and people are there for the music as opposed to anything else”

Just like fellow Japanese rock festival Fuji Rock, Summer Sonic suffered from adverse weather, with Typhoon Krosa causing the cancellation of performances on Tokyo’s beach stage on Friday.

Summer Sonic will take a one-year break in 2020 to accommodate the Tokyo Olympics.

The Japanese festival scene has become fairly saturated in recent years, with international brands such as Ultra, Electric Daisy Carnival, Download and Ozzfest setting up shop in the country.

Mair comments that the festival market remains “stable”, saying that international managers and agents are “always astounded by how well they [Japanese festivals] work”.

“They are safe and peaceful, and people are there for the music as opposed to anything else,” Mair told IQ.

Read more about the “booming” Japanese live scene in IQ’s country feature below.

Land of the rise in fun: Why booming Japan is such a tough market to crack

 


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Land of the rise in fun: Why booming Japan is such a tough market to crack

Big in Japan’ was a term, in the 80s and 90s, for modestly successful American and European acts that found slightly unlikely mega-stardom in the Land of the Rising Sun.

It wasn’t an insult, exactly – who wouldn’t want to be big in Japan? – but it was often used sneeringly, whether directed at Mr Big, the early-90s rock supergroup who still hop up into the big leagues every time they touch down at Narita International Airport, or Scatman John, whose 1994 record Scatman’s World is, remarkably, Japan’s 17th biggest-selling international album of all time.

But the days when Japan might have been seen as an easily impressed bonus market for Western acts are long gone. Over the past 20 years or so, the balance has shifted dramatically, as Japanese domestic music output – as well as that of nearby frenemy South Korea – has surged in both quantity and quality. Today, international music takes, at most, a 10% share of the live market, with domestic on a commanding 85% and South Korea’s K-pop juggernaut accounting for about 5%.

Today, the Japanese music market is the second biggest in the world, behind the US and ahead of Germany. Its live sector has set new records in both of the past two years, hitting ¥332 billion in 2017 (around €2.7bn) and then rising again to ¥345bn (€2.8bn) in 2018 – a 3.7% uplift that came in spite of a small decline in the number of shows – according to the All-Japan Concert and Live Entertainment Promoters Conference (ACPC).

“The Japanese market in live entertainment has been on the upward trend since the middle of 2010,” says ACPC director Takao Kito. “That’s not only because of the increase in live shows caused by a drop-off in CD sales, but because of a change in users’ minds from consuming products to experiences.”

Clearly, Japan remains a highly appealing market for international promoters and artists, and the big ones are certainly chipping away at it. Live Nation has a Japanese office and, with local partners, has co-promoted plenty of recent arena shows. AEG, meanwhile, worked in partnership with Japanese giant Avex on its recent Ed Sheeran and Celine Dion concerts. But both global promoters know they face a stiff challenge to get much deeper into the Japanese business.

Korean stars record Japanese versions of their songs. In a country where little English is spoken, and even less Korean, such things make a difference

“It is a very mature, competitive market that Live Nation has had a hard time getting traction in,” concedes Live Nation Japan president John Boyle, who has headed the giant’s Japanese push since early 2018. He says Live Nation has big hopes for Japan but fully appreciates the challenge of bringing them to fruition. “I think it is more challenging than anywhere else in the world,” he says.

The fact is, for all its surging fortunes, Japan has numerous characteristics that fly in the face of Western music business orthodoxies and, in many cases, restrict access from outside. CDs remain dominant, claiming 80% of music sales, but though the physical market has certainly declined, streaming has not yet caught on, removing a vitally important channel for artists seeking to find exposure in a new market.

Record companies remain powerful but heavily domestically focused, with local majors – of which there are many, including titans such as Avex, Universal, Sony Music Entertainment Japan and JVC Kenwood – unlikely to take a punt on an unknown foreign act, however successful they may be elsewhere. Tour support, once commonplace, has fallen out of fashion.

Meanwhile, large venues, remarkably scarce in the immense sprawl of Tokyo, book up years in advance, with weekends often block-booked by domestic promoters working in groups. For international operators attempting to route world tours and finding only assorted weekday evenings available, locking down an appropriate venue at the right time becomes profoundly difficult.

Where smaller international bands are concerned, the situation is not much easier. There are no booking agents in Japan, and mixed festival bills are limited and hard to crack. While promoters are heavily engaged in scouting new talent, few are tempted by foreign artists with little following. So new indie artists looking to build an audience typically need to deal direct with Japan’s rai-bu houses – small, private venues that usually don’t pay – and organise their own promotion.

But of course, that 10% doesn’t come from nowhere. Sheeran, needless to say, does good business, selling out the Tokyo Dome and Osaka’s Kyocera Dome in April, supported – as he was across all of Asia – by Japanese rock heroes One OK Rock. Live Nation, too, has its own pipeline: recent arena shows include Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Maroon Five, with U2, Queen and Adam Lambert and the Backstreet Boys coming soon.

“The market for international artists – not counting K-pop – is now around a third of what it was 45 years ago”

Paul McCartney, who spent a memorable nine nights in a Tokyo jail in 1980, once again has the run of the place: he has played 19 shows and a dozen VIP soundchecks in Japan since 2013 – at the Tokyo Dome, the Ryōgoku Sumo Hall and the Nippon Budokan in the capital, plus trips out to arenas in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.

What is very clear though, is that, Western rock and pop sensations aside, Japan’s growth is very much coming from within. “I have been in this business for nearly 45 years,” says Yoshito Yamazaki of long-serving music, sport and musical theatre promoter Kyodo Tokyo, which promotes Korean sensations BTS in Japan, “and I’d say the market for international artists – not counting K-pop – is now around one third of what it was 45 years ago.”

Japan’s own J-pop is a broad and varied thing, nominally encompassing everything from singer-songwriters such as Kenshi Yonezu and Gen Hoshino, to multiplatinum pop-rockers Mr Children, to J-pop/metal fusion Babymetal, although its most prominent category is idol groups – manufactured pop bands assembled by all-powerful, notoriously controlling management agencies. Many of Japan’s major pop stars are made this way, including boy bands Arashi, KAT-TUN, Exile, Suchmos and others, and girl bands such as AKB48, Morning Musume, Momoiro Clover Z, Keyakizaka46 and Nogizaka46, who inspire obsessive cults and make most of their income through live work and, more to the point, relentless merchandising.

Homegrown rock is booming in Japan, too, led by Babymetal but also One OK Rock, Band-Maid, Scandal and Man With a Mission. And, of course, the nation has long supplied intriguing cult artists to the rest of the world, from the Yellow Magic Orchestra and its lynchpins Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto to Shonen Knife, Cornelius, the Boredoms and Boris.

K-pop, meanwhile, has made a big impression in Japan, even as diplomatic relations between the two countries have soured in recent years. But unlike Western artists, Korean stars such as BTS, Blackpink and Twice record Japanese versions of their songs. In a country where little English is spoken – and even less Korean – such things make a difference.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 84, or subscribe to the magazine here

 


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