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New festival formats: Who dares wins

This year, many greenfield festival organisers were faced with two choices: adapt or perish. With ever-changing legislation, capacity restrictions, lack of cancellation cover and low financial viability to contend with, many chose the former – pivoting to virtual events or pledging to return next year with a bigger and better event.

As this year’s festival season draws to a close, IQ looks at some greenfield festivals that dared to adapt their IRL events, taking the restrictions in their stride and seizing the opportunity to go back to the drawing board in order to deliver to their fanbase.

Electrisize in Erkelenz, Germany, is one such event. Rather than compromising its brand with a socially distanced spin-off (a concern expressed by many organisers during the Interactive Festival Forum), the festival decided to scrap its three-year-old model altogether.

The organisers chose instead to use coronavirus measures as a framework on which to build a brand-new event, rather than a set of limitations that would diminish the experience its fans had come to expect.

While outdoor events in Germany were restricted at the time of planning, campsites with attractions were permitted to open.

“At first we thought, that’s unfair,” says executive director Raphael Meyesieck. “But the longer we thought about it, the more we understood that we had found a loophole for the event industry.”

Thus Electricity was born and its “cake-shaped campsite” concept was conceived, planned and built within five weeks.

“Eeverything that was installed because of the corona regulations didn’t feel like a limitation or disruption”

The campsite, located on the grounds of Hohenbusch House, was divided into six camping sectors – or “cake pieces” – and featured a 360-degree stage at the centre which could be seen from each sector.

Each sector had several demarcated areas in front of the stage for up to ten people, in order to observe social distancing measures.

And the 100-capacity sectors were colour-coded, with corresponding wristbands to ensure festivalgoers stayed within their allocated sector.

Bars, food tents and “sanitary clusters” lined the border of each sector (thus serving two sectors at once), sewage collectors came to dispose of the waste and generators provided power. But Meyesieck says that the key to the corona-compliant campsite was simple: space.

However, it seems that flexibility was also an important trick Meyersieck kept up his sleeve. The director says the event hired spare staff for any unpredictable event and were prepared to adjust the capacity of sectors should coronavirus guidelines change.

Fortunately, the event went undisrupted for four weekends and only a few minor tweaks to the opening times of the amenities and the check-in welcome routine were necessary.

“All told, it was perfect. We had an inspection by the authorities during the first evening of the first weekend and they were overwhelmed at how good the concept worked,” says Meyersieck.

“We asked ourselves: how could we offer our audience a taste of Deer Shed whilst adhering to social distancing rules”

Meyersieck says the event was such a huge success because there were no comparable offers for festivalgoers at the time.

Deer Shed in the UK had similar ideas to Electricity, using camping as the focus of its socially distanced family camping weekender, Base Camp.

The “camping weekender” took place between 24–27 July at Deer Shed’s usual home of Baldersby Park in North Yorkshire.

The site comprised 320 15×15-metre pitches, each with its own portaloo and space to park a car. Families were contained within their own square, thereby maintaining social distancing, but could request to be allocated a pitch next to friends.

The festival provided some food and ice-cream vendors but families were encouraged to bring their own food and drink to minimise Covid risk and to make the festival more economically viable.

However, the masterstroke of Base Camp’s concept was broadcasting live music through an FM channel so families could listen on their own radio at their own pitch.

The programme included performances from artists including The Howl & The Hum, Shadowlark and Low Hummer, as well as spoken word, comedy, a Sunday paper review, bedtime stories, DJ sets and pre-recorded shows.

“The genius part of Electricity is that it’s the first and only concept that makes a virtue of necessity”

“We asked ourselves: how could we offer our audience a taste of Deer Shed whilst adhering to social distancing rules?” said Deer Shed director Kate Webster at the Interactive Festival Forum.

“The creative aspects, delivering the essence of Deer Shed, and managing expectations of our audience took a lot of thought.”

Initially, the festival put the feelers out to see if its regular festivalgoers would be interested in a socially distanced camping weekender and according to Webster, people were supportive from the off.

Like Electricity, Base Camp was unaffected by changing legislation around Coronavirus; however, Primavera Sound wasn’t so lucky with its project Nits del Fòrum.

In the absence of its flagship festival, the Spanish promoter organised a series of outdoor concerts throughout the summer specifically designed to comply with all social distancing regulations, capacity and hygiene rules.

The 70-show series was launched at the end of June, taking place from Tuesday to Sunday each week at Primavera’s Barcelona home of the Parc del Fòrum outdoor amphitheatre, and will close on 20 September.

The series has featured performances from the likes of Hinds, Mala Rodríguez and Dorian.

With all things considered, cancelling a small portion of a 70-show series takes little away from organisers’ triumph

Alongside programming from Primavera Sound, local promoters and organisers including Caníbal (Sala Apolo), Arte por Derecho, Somoslas and Churros con Chocolate, also helped with the billing and to make the event as diverse as possible.

All gigs are seated and guests are assigned a demarcated spot on the tiered amphitheatre, 1.5 metres from the next.

Similar to Electricity, the organisers accounted for a flexible capacity, designed to be adaptable to the changing health regulations of the local government.

However, a spike in infections in the region brought the series to a grinding halt between 18–31 July. The festival resumed on 1 August, with some shows rescheduled and others cancelled altogether. But, with all things considered, cancelling a small portion of a 70-show series takes little away from organisers’ triumph.

Deer Shed reported similar success with Base camp, with tickets selling out immediately. And though Webster says the turnover was only 8% of what they would’ve taken in an average year, she says it went some way to making up for the losses in 2020.

With Electricity 2020, however, Meyersieck and his team seem to have landed on a model they could build on post-pandemic.

The director reported that the festival was economically sustainable and the team is even thinking about adopting the new features for the Electrisize festival campsite when things are back to normal.

“The sectors, the cages and everything that was installed because of the corona regulations didn’t feel like a limitation or disruption – they were a feature.”

“The genius part of Electricity is that it’s the first and only concept that makes a virtue of necessity,” he says.

 


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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2019 Independent Festival Awards winners unveiled

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has crowned the winners of the 2019 Independent Festival Awards at a ceremony in Sheffield, UK.

The awards ceremony took place this evening (Wednesday 6 November) as a conclusion to the first day of AIF’s sixth Festival Congress.

Actor, comedian and writer Thanyia Moore hosted the awards, which saw prizes handed out across eight categories. Winners include Standon Calling (smart marketing), Kokoko! (live act of the year), the Street at Beat-Herder (unique festival arena) and Flavors of Africa (festival catering).

A host of new categories were introduced this year, with Pete the Monkey winning the European festival award; former Deer Shed festival creative director Megan Evans picking up the backstage hero gong; Deer Shed itself winning the ‘never mind the Pollocks’ category for best artwork; and Twisterella winning the ‘in on the ground floor’ award for forward-thinking artist booking.

Nominations were put forward to AIF’s 65 member festivals and later determined by a Festival Congress steering group vote.

“Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees, all of whom reiterate that the independent festival sector remains at the forefront of innovation and creativity”

“The Independent Festival Awards was a fantastic celebration and the awards ceremony felt like it had stepped up a gear with a new host, new categories and outstanding production that enhanced the overall independent festival feel of the evening,” comments AIF CEO Paul Reed.

“Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees, all of whom reiterate that the independent festival sector remains at the forefront of innovation and creativity.”

PRS for Music’s senior events manager Amy Field adds that the awards are an “important and relevant celebration of the independent festival sector”, acknowledging the “creativity and hard work” that is involved in all the festivals represented.

The first day of AIF’s Festival Congree took place at 1920s cinema the Abbeydale Picturehouse, with talks from from Extinction Rebellion’s Bing Jones, the Parabolic Theatre’s Owen Kingston and photographer Jill Furmanovsky, alongside a headline panel discussion about the nature of independence.

The second day of the conference will include a live recording of Rob da Bank’s ‘A to Z Of Festivals’ podcast with Deer Shed, and talks from Rewilding Britain’s Rebecca Wrigley, Tim Leigh of Stage One and a closing keynote from Arcadia Spectacular’s Bert Cole.


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Summer’s gone: EU festivals talk the season that was

The rising cost of putting on large-scale live events and difficulties in booking top-tier talent were among the challenges overcome by festival organisers this year, according to a cross-section of Europe’s major music events.

Ahead of this year’s festival season, several festival organisers and associations told IQ that 2019 was shaping up to be a slow year. Across the board, they said, sell-outs were down and sales were lower, and many complained of a lack of top-shelf talent on tour. A typical sentiment was that of Jean-Paul Roland, festival director of French rock festival Eurockéennes, who said “the season seems more subdued than last year”, with organisers facing “more difficulties to reach a point of profitability”.

IQ’s annual analysis of Europe’s festival market, the European Festival Report, will return for 2019 in the end-of-year issue #87, providing an in-depth look at capacity and attendance, ticketing and pricing, VIP sales, challenges and concerns, new technology and much more.

But the end of 2019 is (thankfully) still some time away. So, with autumn setting in across Europe, and the International Festival Forum (IFF) fast approaching, IQ conducted an informal festival ‘exit poll’ –interviewing one festival apiece in seven key markets to find out how their events panned out, and whether those early-summer doubts were well-founded. Here’s what we learnt…

 


Hurricane/Southside

2019 headliners: Foo Fighters, Mumford and Sons, Die Toten Hosen, the Cure, Tame Impala
Capacity: 70,000/60,000
Date: 21 to 23 June
Country: Germany

FKP Scorpio managing director Stephan Thanscheidt says he is “more than happy” with the performance of twin festivals Hurricane and Southside this year, attributing a “strong” line-up, investment in the festival grounds and “perfect weather” to the success.

The festivals saw a combined attendance of 380,000 over three days, with around 68,000 visiting Hurricane and 60,000 people attending Southside per day. Next year is looking promising, too: FKP Scorpio celebrated its best-ever presale, selling 40,000 tickets in two days for the 2020 editions of Hurricane and Southside.

Thanscheidt states that bad weather and a higher awareness of the threat of terror attacks have led to a “decreased momentum in demand” across the festival sector over the past few years. The present phase of consolidation, with a few major companies snapping up a majority of events, may leave many “new and inexperienced players” behind, according to the FKP boss.

Rising costs “in all areas” are also affecting the festival and touring sector, particularly in relation to artists fees. “Ticket prices cannot and should not be scaled limitlessly,” says Thanscheidt, “so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate these expenses.”

However, things look bright for FKP, which recently acquired Swedish promoter Woah Dad Live, with Thanscheidt confirming that the provisional results of its festival season “indicate a significant upward trend”.

“Ticket prices cannot and should not be scaled limitlessly, so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate expenses”

Mad Cool

2019 headliners: Lewis Capaldi, the Cure, Bon Iver, the Smashing Pumpkins
Capacity: 80,000
Date: 11 to 13 July
Country: Spain

“This year everything has run smoothly and we are happy about it,” Mad Cool festival director Javier Arnáiz tells IQ.

Live Nation’s Mad Cool festival has seen substantial growth since its inauguration in 2016, increasing capacity by 60%, from 45,000 to 75,000. The rapid growth threw up problems for the Mad Cool team in previous editions.

“Our main goal for this year was to improve on all the incidents that happened in the previous edition, as a result of the massive growth,” says Arnáiz. Thanks to the team’s effort and changes made “through our own process of self-criticism”, the customer experience was much improved this year.

Sales for the festival’s fourth year were lower than usual, which Arnáiz puts down to “the lack of headliners” available. “We have all suffered from this in Europe during 2019,” states the Mad Cool director. “It’s been a tough year for all of us.”

Additionally, last year’s line-up, which featured Pearl Jam, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and Kasabian, “set the bar high”, ensuring “it was not an easy task” to produce a bill to rival it.

Looking to the future, the Mad Cool team say they’re concentrating on strengthening other aspects of the headliner-focused festival. “We are already working on the 2020 edition and we hope we can deliver what is expected from a festival like Mad Cool,” states Arnáiz.

“We have all suffered from a lack of headliners in Europe during 2019”

Pukkelpop

2019 headliners: The National, Post Malone, Prophets of Rage, Twenty One Pilots
Capacity: 60,000
Date: 15 to 19 August
Country: Belgium

Pukkelpop promoter and programmer Chokri Mahassine tells IQ that “we can look back with great satisfaction” following a “completely sold out edition”.

Unlike in previous years, says Mahassine, the Pukkelpop team had no problem shifting tickets this year thanks to a “stellar line-up”, with the balance between musical genres, as well as between young and old acts “clearly paying off”.

Two “unique” shows by rock band the National and a “landslide victory” for fast-rising star Billie Eilish were particular highlights of this year’s festival.

Speaking to IQ in 2017, Mahassine revealed that ticket prices for the independently promoted festival had not changed in four years, although the price of food and drinks tokens did rise. Ticket prices for the past two years have seen a slight increase, from €199 for a weekend pass in 2017 to €205 in 2019.

The Pukkelpop promoter admits that rising prices are due in part to the ever-increasing penchant for comfort among festivalgoers and high expectations in terms of food, transport, accommodation and overall experience. Providing this kind of quality proves more and more difficult each year, says Mahassine, “both on a production and financial level”.

The Pukkelpop promoter admits that rising prices are due in part to the ever-increasing penchant for comfort among festivalgoers

Pohoda

2019 headliners: The 1975, Liam Gallagher, Mac Demarco
Capacity: 30,000
Date: 11 to 13 July
Country: Slovakia

“We had the best year in history,” Michal Kaščák, founder and chief executive of Pohoda, or Peace in English, tells IQ. The festival – Slovakia’s biggest – sold out for the fifth time in its 23-year history and for the second consecutive year.

A packed music programme, an accompanying arts and science schedule, “smooth production” and “super weather” contributed to the festival’s strong performance.

Among a list of high-profile artists including Skepta, the 1975, Liam Gallagher and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kaščák states that Zohra – Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra – were the stand-out act.

Having the band perform at the festival “gave us a strong opportunity to emphasise the goals of Pohoda,” explains Kaščák. “Their story is the perfect base for speaking about gender equality, the power of art to change things for the better and how important it is to stay united.”

A last-minute cancellation by Swedish singer Lykke Li gave an opportunity to “unknown artist” Sink Your Teeth. “We decided to take a risk and let them play on the main stage in prime time,” says Kaščák. “And it was super decision, they did very well.”

The booking process in general is “much harder” than it used to be, says the Pohoda boss, with rising artist fees, late confirmations and the need to clarify running times early on being major factors.

At the end of the day, says Kaščák, “we are an independent festival in a small country, with all the difficulties and advantages that come with that.”

“We are an independent festival in a small country, with all the difficulties and advantages that come with that”

Hellfest

2019 headliners: Slayer, Kiss, Tool, Anthrax
Capacity: 50,000
Date: 21 to 23 June
Country: France

French metal festival Hellfest had one of its “best editions ever”, according to the festival’s communication and event manager Alexxx Rebecq.

Hellfest did not experience any slowdown at all in terms of sales, selling all three-day tickets in 90 minutes, in what Paul-Henri Wauters, co-president of festival association De Concert!, pointed to as an exception for its member festivals this year.

The festival had around 200 bands on the bill for one of its biggest years to date. Organisers also added an extra day for its 2019 edition, to host Slipknot-fronted Knotfest within its festival site.

“We were really proud to welcome the Knotfest festival to Hellfest last year,” Rebecq tells IQ. “Four days in a row was not easy, and certainly exhausted our whole crew, but we did it and what a day it was.”

It was not all plain sailing for the 2019 edition, however, with booking also proving an issue. The last minute cancellation of headliner Manowar was “really tough to manage” and resulted in “a lot of wasted time, pressure and stress” for the Hellfest team.

“We had the support of our crowd though, because they have known us for a long time and obviously know we are capable of welcoming a band like Manowar,” explains Rebecq.

“Manowar’s last minute cancellation was really tough for us to manage”

Sziget

2019 headliners: Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Florence and the Machine
Capacity: 80,000
Date: 7 to 13 August
Country: Hungary

Majority Superstruct-owned Sziget festival saw its biggest crowd ever this year, with 60,000 attending Ed Sheeran’s opening-night headline performance.

“Although our overall visitor number throughout the week was a bit less than during the 2018 festival, we still closed our second-most attended festival in the 27-year history of Sziget,” Ákos Remetei Filep, the festival’s sales director, explains.

530,000 people attended the week-long festival, in what was hailed as its most headliner-focused edition yet. Local newspapers reported that organisers spent US$1.7 million more than last year on securing headline acts.

The main stage also became a platform for important topics this year, with talks by the UN Refugee Agency’s Emitithal Mahmoud and former US vice-president and climate-change campaigner Al Gore.

Although attendances have been high in recent years, Filep states that “the biggest challenge is to make [an international audience] aware of the festival and convince them to come”.

“Sziget is a very unique festival experience compared to other events in Europe,” explains Filep, which makes it difficult to sell to international audiences, as “there’s nothing you can really compare it to”.

“The biggest challenge is to make [an international audience] aware of the festival and convince them to come”

Blockfest

2019 headliners: Asap Rocky, Tyga, G-eazy
Capacity: 25,000
Date: 16 to 17 August
Country: Finland

Finland’s largest hip-hop festival, Blockfest, sold out seven weeks prior to the event this year, which saw its largest capacity ever.

“We couldn’t be happier with the turn-out,” Live Nation Finland’s head promoter, Zachris Sundell, tells IQ. “The weather was sunny and all artists – both domestic and international – put on great performances.”

Live Nation took full control of the festival this year, following years of collaboration with the Blockfest team.

Despite concerns regarding the availability of Friday-night headliner Asap Rocky, “everything worked out so he could perform as planned.” The rapper had been forced to cancel multiple festival appearances over the summer, while held on assault charges in Stockholm.

Rocky received the verdict of the trial just days before his Blockfest appearance, avoiding jail time with a two-year suspended sentence.

Taking place in Tampere Stadium in the city of the same name, the “challenges” that go with a city-centre festival are always to be expected, says Sundell. However, all in all, “everything worked out great”.

 


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UK sell-outs down as slow festival season looms

Festival bosses have identified economic uncertainty, homogenisation and difficulty booking talent as the likely factors behind Britain’s slow festival season, as the UK festival business braces for a quieter-than-normal summer.

At a time of year when most summer events expect to be approaching capacity, of the major May–June festivals only Glastonbury Festival and Manchester’s Parklife have sold out – with tickets still available for heavy hitters like All Points East (24 May–2 June), Field Day (7–8 June), Isle of Wight Festival (13–16 June) and Download (14–16 June).

A number of events are also appearing on discount sites such as Groupon, while several festivals are currently advertising two-for-one ticket offers on social platforms.

While the majority of festival professionals quizzed by IQ say their 2019 ticket sales are softer than previous years, opinions are divided as to why, and the broader implications for the UK’s mature festival market.

“We’re OK – we’re probably going to end up 10 to 15% on last year, which is where we wanted to be,” says Oliver Jones, who – alongside his wife, Kate Webster – runs Yorkshire’s Deer Shed Festival (11,500-cap.), which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. “But there are plenty of events on our radar who aren’t doing so well.”

Jones says the festivals “that are selling out, and will continue to, are independent, and the owners really care about the experience. Look at Green Man, for example – they put hospitality right at the top of the things their festival should offer, and look after people.”

“There does seem to be a general slowdown on ticket sales”

Another festival boss laments that too many events share a booker, with the result that festival line-ups are becoming increasingly samey. “You can make a Venn diagram,” they say, “with a handful of bands. One festival will have Elbow and Doves and Franz Ferdinand, another will have Doves and Franz Ferdinand but no Elbow, and so on… Too many festivals now are just homogenised.”

Gill Tee, co-founder with Debs Shelling of Kent’s Black Deer Festival, says the Americana event, now in its second year, is “going great guns”: “Fortunately for us we are currently on track, and do not seem to be too affected by the challenges other festivals are experiencing this year.”

“With [her] supplier head on”, as co-founder and director of Entertee Hire, Tee says “there does seem to be a general slowdown on ticket sales. I have heard many opinions as to the reasons why, but in reality nobody really knows. There have been years in the past that have shown a general slowdown on the appetite for attending festivals, which has then lifted the year after.”

Conversely, for Paul Reed, CEO of the 65-strong Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), while some members are “a bit slower than usual”, the 2019 season is largely “a mixed bag, as always”.

“I’m not seeing any dramatic changes, but there might be a cloud of Brexit uncertainty affecting people’s buying habits,” Reed explains. “And, as always, festivals are at the mercy of who’s out and touring – ultimately, line-ups are dictated by who’s available.”

Tee largely attributes 2019’s slowdown to “the amount of choice [in festivals] people now have, and they probably just buy later because they can.”

“It’s mad to spend all your budget on one or two bands, when no act is liked by everyone”

Meanwhile, Reed notes that, with artist fees still spiralling, many of AIF’s members have given up on the headliner “arms race” altogether, with several events having “stepped out of playing that game completely”.

That’s true of Deer Shed, adds Jones, who says he’s “not prepared to play that game with headliners anymore”. Topping the family friendly festival’s line-up for its tenth year are Ezra Furman, Anna Calvi and Australian indie-rockers Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, with money that would have gone on booking a single huge musical headliner instead invested in hospitality, facilities and comedians such as Reginald D. Hunter, Milton Jones and Nina Conti.

Outside the big corporate events, the UK festivals that succeed in future – even in slow years – are the focused, niche events with a strong identity and loyal fanbase, suggests one industry insider.

“Look at 5,000-or-so-capacity festivals like [experimental rock event] ArcTanGent or [Herefordshire music and arts festival] Nozstock,” they say. “Nozstock in particular is doing really well now. I think the penny has dropped that it’s not all about the headliners, and if you go to these kind of events you feel valued and you’re going to have a unique experience.”

“It’s mad to spend all your budget on one or two bands, when no act is liked by everyone,” they conclude. “So you’ve got to adapt. Of course, you can have a great festival if you’re prepared to lose a million pounds – but most of us don’t have that luxury.”

 


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