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Rock For People on triumphing over the ‘headliner drought’

Rock For People booker David Nguyễn has told IQ how the festival triumphed over the ‘headliner drought’ to produce the record-breaking 2024 edition.

The Czech Republic festival returned to Hradec Králové’s Park 360 between 12–15 June, attracting over 40,000 visitors.

The 29th edition featured the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, The Offspring, Yungblud, The Prodigy, Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Palaye Royale, Parkway Drive, Pendulum, Enter Shikari and Dogstar Ft. Keanu Reeves.

“If we compare this year’s lineup with the previous year, the headliners are not [as big as] Muse or Slipknot but it worked very well as one package combining lots of bands our fans wanted to see,” says Nguyễn.

The availability of headline talent has been a major issue across the festival industry, with UTA’s Jules De Lattre surmising at ILMC 36: “Major artists have less of a financial incentive to play festivals since the headline touring business is more rewarding than ever.”

“[This year’s lineup] worked very well as one package combining lots of bands our fans wanted to see”

Nguyễn testifies to that, remembering: “Last September when I was at IFF, I already had some headliners pencilled in. Then everyone at the conference was talking about how difficult it was to find headliners and when I got back, mine started to cancel. It was quite tough to find the right bands that go together. In the end, we found a way to make it work.”

In fact, the headliner drought gave Rock For People the opportunity to boost some burgeoning acts up the bill and induct a new class of headliners.

“We had Bring Me the Horizon headline the Friday – who are a new-generation headliner,” says Nguyễn. “And on Saturday, Yungblud headlined, which I think was one of his first festival headline shows.”

Fans were initially critical of Rock For People booking Yungblud in the top spot above more mature acts like Pendulum, says Nguyễn, but the naysayers were won over in the end.

“After the show, we got so many messages from fans saying they’re sorry, they saw Yungblud’s show and said they actually quite liked it,” he says.

“It’s important for us to create new headliners,” he continues. “To be honest, I’m not a fan of these old dinosaur headliners who have played everywhere for the last 30 years.”

The balance of talent across the bill worked well across the festival’s main and second stages, which this year became the same size and alternate performances.

“It’s important for us to create new headliners”

However, Nguyễn hastens to add that packing the bill with tomorrow’s headliners doesn’t necessarily save the festival money on artist fees, especially with the fluctuation of the Czech Koruna.

“Sometimes, if you have to pay the invoice right now and the rate is not good, then we might pay more,” he explains. “I still remember a situation a few years ago when we signed the artists really early so the rate was quite different from what it was at the end of the festival. The deposit and the balance were quite different prices…”

Other challenges for this year’s edition include staffing – particularly in the security department – with the festival “still trying to find a solution for that”.

On the sustainability front, the festival is going from strength to strength. With a goal to be climate-neutral and energy-self-sufficient by 2030, the event employs alternative energy sources, including hydrogen and solar panels, and sorts waste into 18 categories.

The booking team also plays their part in the cause, making it a priority to find locally sourced replacements for items on artist riders, according to Nguyễn.

So with this year’s festival inked in the record books, the only question is how Rock For People is going to raise the bar once again for its 30th edition.

“That’s our question every year because since Covid the festival keeps growing,” laughs Nguyễn. “In 2022, our first year after Covid, we had Green Day and then we were like ‘Oh, what are we going to do next year?’. Then in 2023, we had Muse and Slipknot and the question again was, ‘What are we going to do next year?’. Even though we didn’t have the bigger names this year, in the end, it worked really well. So we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.”


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‘We take pride in hosting international talent’

Rock for People is retaining its four-day format and international focus after unveiling Bring Me The Horizon as its first headliner for 2024.

Promoted by Ameba Production, the 40,000-cap Czech Republic festival will return to Park 360 in Hradec Králové from 12-15 June. It expanded from three to four days last year when returning from its pandemic-enforced hiatus.

“Fans come first with us, so when they let us know that they wanted Bring Me The Horizon the most, we did everything we could to make sure they got their wish,” says festival director Michal Thomes. “Booking bands is not a simple thing at all, a lot of circumstances have to come together correctly, such as the band is touring that year, it suits the date and so on. So I am very happy that we managed to do it.”

Three headliners are still to be announced, while other acts confirmed so far include Avril Lavigne, Corey Taylor, Parkway Drive, Pendulum and Keanu Reeves’ band, Dogstar. Four-day tickets start at €156.

“Seeing Dogstar perform with the stellar Keanu Reeves on bass is a dream come true for me,” adds Thomes. “We tried to invite the band back in the 90s, but it didn’t work out and the band was not active for almost 20 years. We are even more happy that it finally happened.”

Founded in 1995, the festival featured in IQ Magazine‘s recent list of ten of Europe’s brightest independent gatherings. Its 2023 line-up starred the likes of Slipknot, Muse, Architects, Machine Gun Kelly, The 1975, Papa Roach, Billy Talent and Nothing But Thieves.

“We take pride in hosting more international talents than local acts, setting us apart from other Czech festivals”

“We take pride in hosting more international talents than local acts, setting us apart from other Czech festivals,” said booker David Nguyen. “Our event emerged as a charitable festival in the quaint town of Český Brod. Its inaugural edition garnered an unexpected attendance of 1,100 visitors, catalysing the journey that lay ahead.

“The resounding success of this modest beginning propelled Ameba Production to elevate the festival into a full-time pursuit, ultimately establishing it as one of the foremost festivals in the Czech Republic. Notably, the event’s evolution prompted a pivotal relocation to the former military airport in Hradec Králové in 2007, a decision that was driven by its burgeoning popularity.

Nguyen acknowledged the increased complications for independent promoters around rising production costs and “skyrocketing” booking fees, in addition to some artists choosing to work exclusively with multinationals, but also noted the benefits of staying indie.

“Remaining an independent entity offers us the freedom to execute our creative vision without constraints, enabling us to curate a unique and authentic experience for our attendees,” he said.

Ed Sheeran will also perform a standalone show at Park 360 on 27 July next year, staged by Ameba Production in conjunction with FKP Scorpio, as part of the Rock for People Concerts series. Tickets, which will include the Park 360 Fan Zone, located in the immediate vicinity, are priced 1,990-2,990 CZK (€81-122).

“I am very happy that we can organise a concert of such a personality and unique musician as Ed Sheeran. The fact that he has chosen Park 360 for his show in the Czech Republic, which is also home to our Rock for People festival, is a huge honour and a milestone for us,” adds Thomes. “It’s proof for us that we are really pushing ourselves every year and our venue can compete with the world’s great arenas.”


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The New Bosses 2022: David Nguyen, Rock for People

The 15th edition of IQ Magazine’s New Bosses was published in IQ 114 this month, revealing 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.

To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2022’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.

Catch up on the previous New Bosses 2022 interview with Dan Rais, brand partnerships agent at CAA. The series continues with David Nguyen, booker at Rock for People in the Czech Republic.

David Nguyen is second-generation Vietnamese, living in the Czech Republic where he was raised in the spa town of Jáchymov, where Marie Curie discovered the uranium for which she won the Nobel prize.

In 2010, high schooler Nguyen wanted to see The Prodigy, Billy Talent, Alexisonfire, and Skindred at Rock for People festival, and to have enough money to buy beer, so he launched an ambassador project for the fans to get a free festival pass. The fateful festival led him to a work opportunity for social media agency Social Visage and renowned music magazine Rock & Pop, where he reached the position of online editor-in-chief.

At Rock for People, he gradually became one of the main bookers, and with his contribution, the festival sold-out this year for the first time since 1995. Nguyen also manages Prague-based indie band I Love You Honey Bunny and books talent for Nouvelle Prague showcase festival, Prague Summer Festival, and Rock for People Concerts shows in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


Does your background in journalism and social media help with any aspects of your festival work?
The knowledge from my previous jobs helped me a lot with my booking career. All these previous experiences, plus the possibility to tour with a band made me a more complex person, and thanks to this I can see things from a different perspective.

As a talent booker for a number of events, what is your process for trying to discover the next big act? (are there any showcase events/radio stations that you prefer, for example)?
It’s a little mix of everything, but I believe that nothing will beat the personal recommendation from the agents that I’ve been working closely with. Or sometimes you are just lucky because you found a great band opening for a bigger act or hidden somewhere at a showcase festival. My goal is actually not to discover the next big act, I prefer working with so-called baby bands on a long-term basis and grow with them step by step. Starting with the best possible slot at the festival and a follow-up with a headline show is the best scenario for every new band in the market.

If you could offer the 20-year-old David one piece of advice, what would it be?
Buy a lot of bitcoins and sell them eight years later? (ha-ha) Tell my younger self to be patient with whatever he is dealing with in life and try to solve everything with a calm mind.

“I prefer working with so-called baby bands on a long-term basis and grow with them step by step”

You are also the manager of a band – I Love You Honey Bunny. What has been the biggest challenge for them as they try to restart their live career in the post-covid ‘new normal?
The band was close to signing a label and then covid came and stopped our plans. Thinking back, so many things happened in these past two years – livestream concerts, drive-in cinema concerts, virtual concert in a computer game (Rock for People In the Game), first Covid-free live shows, recording new songs in Amsterdam, and an attempt to finish the album in Brighton, which thanks to Brexit-related complications the producer flew to Prague instead. We did not expect the song Yellow & Blue to be still relevant eight years after it was written. Hopefully, the war in Ukraine will end soon.

As a new boss, what one thing would you change to make the live entertainment industry a better place?
We need to improve our interpersonal relationships. During Covid, everyone was saying that we are in this together and now it’s back to what it was before Covid and sometimes even worse. The entertainment industry is still struggling, the war in Ukraine is affecting our lives, and everyone is trying to make all the money they lost in the past two years, as fast as they can. This is not the sustainable way, we need to be more open and honest here. And it’s not only between us and the agents/management… all the suppliers shouldn’t take advantage of this and make inflation an excuse to make everything more expensive when they are still paying the same to their staff.

What has been the highlight of your career, so far?
When I Love You Honey Bunny got a chance to play at the Envol Et Macadam festival in Quebec. We DIY-booked our first tour ever with a sleeping at Walmart parking lot experience and surviving on eating poutine and Vietnamese baguettes. The Canadian tour connected us and showed us that this is really what we want to do in our lives, and also that the card you are using for payments in Europe is actually not a credit card, and you can’t rent a car with it.

“We need to improve our interpersonal relationships”

Which three acts would be on your ideal festival line-up?
Hard question… that’s worse than asking me what I am going to eat, because I spend hours choosing my food. Billy Talent is one of my oldest favourite bands, so definitely them. I love the guys from Missio, who took the risk and flew from the US to the Covid-safe version of Rock for People last year. Leoniden from Germany is one of the best live bands that I know, and they can handle drinking Slivovitz with their promoter, so they must be on the bill!

What one thing would you like artists to learn about coming to perform in the Czech Republic?
The Czech Republic is beautiful and has places other than just Prague. I understand that some bands are flying in and driving an hour or two so they think they are still in the capital city but shouting “Hey, Prague!” in a different city is disrespectful.

Also, never take money from Euronet ATMs, which give rip-off exchange rates, and that we have a different currency than in Budapest where they played the day before. HUF20,000 (€50) is not like CZK20,000 (€800), or with a bad Euronet rate it’s even €1000+… you can’t even drink that much beer in an evening!


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The New Bosses: Introducing the class of 2022

The 15th edition of IQ Magazine‘s New Bosses can now be revealed, highlighting 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.

New Bosses 2022 inspired the most engaged voting process to date, with hundreds of people taking the time to submit nominations. The final 20 comprises executives working across agencies, promoters, ticketing companies, charities and venues in 12 different countries.

In no particular order, the New Bosses 2022 are:

Benji Fritzenschaft, DreamHaus (DE).
Clara Cullen, Music Venue Trust (UK).
Dan Rais, CAA (CO).
David Nguyen, Rock The People (CZ).
Daytona Häusermann, Gadget ABC (CH).
Grant Hall, ASM Global (US).
James Craigie, Goldenvoice (UK).
Kathryn Dryburgh, ATC Live (UK).
Resi Scheurmann, Konzertbüro Schoneberg (DE).
Seny Kassaye, Fort Agency (CA).
Agustina Cabo, Move Concerts (AR).
Sönke Schal, Karsten Janke Konzertdirektion (DE).
Steel Hanf, Proxy Agency (US).
Steff James, Live Nation (UK).
Stella Scocco, Södra Teatern (SE).
Vegard Storaas, Live Nation (NO).
Lewis Wilde, DICE (UK).
Zoe Williamson, UTA (US).
Jonathan Hou, Live Nation (US).
Maciej Korczak, Follow The Step (PL).

Subscribers can read shortened profiles of each of the 2022 New Bosses in issue 114 of IQ Magazine, which is out now. Full-length Q&As will appear on IQ in the coming days and weeks.

Click here to subscribe to IQ for just £7.99 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:


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