Leave them wanting Mori: Depeche Mode on tour
The sudden death of co-founder Andy Fletcher last year had Depeche Mode contemplating the end of the band. But with new album Memento Mori invigorating both the act and their fans, the tour of the same name is arguably their best yet, with armies of ‘Devotees’ filling stadiums and arenas to celebrate the new music and the band’s legendary catalogue. Gordon Masson joined them.
In the history of rock & roll, there are not too many acts that have the deep, dark, and sometimes destructive history of Depeche Mode. But as the band work through their grief over the loss of Andy Fletcher with the release of Memento Mori (Latin for ‘remember that you [have to] die’), their tour of the same name is delivering joy to millions of fans across Europe and North America – just as their live performances have been doing for more than 40 years.
The background to the current tour was among the most complex its architects have ever had to deal with, involving the uncertainty of the post-pandemic live music sector, and a risky gamble by an otherwise usually cautious management. “At the start of 2021, when we could see light at the end of the tunnel, we started making some early plans for the current tour,” explains Jonathan ‘Baron’ Kessler, head of artist management company Baron Global Inc.
Colleague Alex Pollock says, “We could see that the built-up demand for venues in 2022 was going to be huge, and because it was already challenging enough to get a sensible stadium routing in Europe – where you’re book-ended by football dates in the major markets – we just off the bat thought, ‘Well, why not hold our tour for ’23?’”
The artist managers reveal that band member Martin Gore had been prolific during the Covid lockdowns and had written a lot of new material and songs. “So, when he and Dave [Gahan] started writing together, quite quickly we had the basis for a new album, and we sort of flipped the switch,” explains Kessler.
“We took a calculated risk and held stadium dates for 2023”
“Originally, we were planning to record the album in 2023 and tour in ‘24. But for a variety of reasons, we accelerated that. We realised that 2024 was going to be a particularly hard year to tour because Germany is hosting the Euros [football tournament], which rules out using most of those stadiums until after the middle of July. So, we took a calculated risk and held stadium dates for 2023.”
Kessler confesses the gamble in holding 2023 stadium dates happened before having the full conversation with the band. “But thank god we did, because as you know, everything started to get booked, and before we knew it, we had 15 other bands coming to us offering to buy our stadium dates if we would give them up.”
As a result, initial tour talks centred around ILMC in 2022. “We just took a suite in the hotel and met with every promoter one by one,” says Kessler.
However, with the band in the studio recording the new album, in May last year tragedy struck when founding member Andy Fletcher suffered a fatal heart attack at home in London, England.
“All of a sudden, we went from planning the album project and discussing the tour, to planning the funeral,” says Kessler. “Following that there was a very deep internal discussion amongst the band about whether they should even continue. But in the end, between Dave, Martin, and all of us, we agreed that Fletch would have wanted us to continue – he was sort of the biggest fan of the band.”
“We’ve been used to starting our tours with a stadium run in Europe, but because the reaction to the album was so strong, we had a desire to be in America closer to the album release”
As Baron Global plotted the Memento Mori tour structure, the success of the album caused a deviation from previous Depeche Mode outings.
“We’ve been used to starting our tours with a stadium run in Europe, but because the reaction to the album was so strong, we had a desire to be in America closer to the album release,” says Kessler.
Consequently, the band played arenas in ten key North American markets before starting their run of 36 stadia shows in Europe, in the knowledge they would return across the Atlantic for a more extensive tour in the autumn.
For many production professionals, that switch between indoor and outdoor shows can be a major challenge. But with production manager Tony Gittins notching up his fifth tour with Depeche Mode, his ability to reunite a core crew that has similarly longstanding relationships with the band, has contributed once again to smooth and seamless transitions.
When Gittins was named as The Gaffer by IQ in January 2018, he revealed that the first people he wants to work with on every tour include: “Tony Plant as stage manager, James Heath as head rigger, Britannia Row for audio, Popcorn for catering, and for transport, Stagetruck and Beat The Street.” Reminded of that wish-list prior to the Memento Mori show in Bucharest, Gittins laughs. “Yep – they’re all on this tour. In addition, we have 4Wall for lights and Universal Pixel for video. We used to use Brilliant Stages before for the set, but now it’s TAIT because they acquired Brilliant Stages back in 2019.
“It’s a tight crew: everyone knows everyone else and gets along, which is massively important when you’re on the road for months at a time”
“It’s a tight crew: everyone knows everyone else and gets along, which is massively important when you’re on the road for months at a time,” adds Gittins. “Basically, if it works, why on earth would you change it?”
In addition to earning a reputation as one of the world’s top production managers, Gittins is also recognised as being ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental matters. The Memento Mori tour is a significant beneficiary of his expertise, because despite its stadium-filling presence, the fleet of Stagetruck trailers numbers just 13.
Stagetruck have been transporting the band’s set and equipment since the 80s, and founder Robert Hewett tells IQ that when he established the company, one of his primary goals was to work with Depeche Mode.
“During the punk period, I was originally running a small PA company, but then in 1980, Stagetruck was born, and I became hooked on rock & roll trucking,” says Hewett. “This coincided with the advent of Depeche Mode breaking onto the scene, in what was an exciting period of self-expression and new music. I knew straight away I wanted to get involved with them, and although it took me five years to charm them away from their existing supplier, my hard work paid dividends, and we have worked successfully together ever since.”
Hewett continues, “The boys are great; their history with Vince Clarke, who left, and then Fletch who sadly passed last year, gives them the grit and longevity to have come through the most difficult of times. [And] the band’s manager and guiding light, Jonathan Kessler, combined with their long-time PM Tony Gittins, make for a dynamic and happy team who are always a pleasure to work with.”
“Luckily, Depeche Mode are a great band, and Dave Gahan is just one of the best frontmen, so we don’t need the bells and whistles that other acts take on the road – the performance speaks for itself”
He adds, “On this current tour, it’s clear that Depeche’s new material, along with a refresh of their classic hits, is a winning formula and drawing fans old and new to see one of their best-ever shows. To still be relevant in this time of multiple musical genres is testament to their ability to bring something engaging and different to the party.”
Making sure that the need for trucks is kept to a bare minimum, Gittins reveals a strategy that other bands would do well to follow. “We use local stages and delays everywhere we go,” he tells IQ. “If there’s already a stage in situ, then why not use it?! For sustainability, it works a lot better, and to me, it’s just common sense – I’ve been doing it for years: I allow Stageco to go through all the local promoters and do deals directly with them.
“Luckily, Depeche Mode are a great band, and Dave Gahan is just one of the best frontmen, so we don’t need the bells and whistles that other acts take on the road – the performance speaks for itself.”
Representing an act who have built a reputation on their live performance has also helped in dealing with the spiralling costs of touring, it would appear. “Costs have gone up less than we had worried they would, but it’s still a substantial increase,” says Kessler. “We’re blessed that we have a big enough margin, because we’re so lean. Even so, when we look at what we spend now versus what we spent on the last tour, the percentage increase is very large. But we pride ourselves on good decision making, so it’s still manageable.”
That sensible approach to life on the road means that the core crew for the Memento Mori stadium tour comprises just 46 people, plus drivers. “We use local crews of about 66 people,” explains the production manager.
“The Depeche Mode philosophy has always been to share as much of the resources as you can, so they’ve always been ahead of the game on the sustainability front”
With Gittins at the helm, it’s a well-oiled machine. Indeed, he tells IQ that the biggest challenge in planning the current tour has been the post-Brexit ruling that only allows UK citizens to remain in the European Union for 90 out of every 180 days. “That’s always been the case for American crew, but they’re just having to actually pay attention to it now, as are those from the UK,” he says.
Once again, there’s simplicity to the solution. “We planned the European tour leg on a 90-day run, but with the Dublin and London shows we were able to bring it back to 86, so we don’t really have to worry about it,” adds Gittins.
Audio suppliers Britannia Row have been working with Depeche Mode since 1982, with founder Bryan Grant handing the reins to client liaison and business development exec Dave Compton three tours ago. Paying tribute to the tour’s low carbon footprint, Compton reports, “The Depeche Mode philosophy has always been to share as much of the resources as you can, so they’ve always been ahead of the game on the sustainability front. For instance, rather than carry delays, you pick them up as and where you need them.”
Compton notes that the arena show production is basically a modified version of the stadium show. “The box count is almost identical – I think there are eight more boxes on the stadia production, but that still fits on the same number of trucks. At the end of this European leg, we’ll ship the control package and three of the crew to Mexico for the shows there, while our other two crew will go to Lititz to put together the new PA package for the North American arena tour, before everyone reunites in Austin, Texas.”
Jordan Hanson, head of live events at lighting suppliers 4Wall, is similarly impressed by the minimalist approach. “For the stadium shows, we increase the lighting and boost the crew by one extra person,” he says. “The production is a very clever design, thanks to [creative director] Anton Corbijn. To look at it you’d think there’s a hell of a lot of production involved, but in terms of other stadia tours, this travels remarkably light – Tony Gittins does it very well. He’s great to work with, very calm, and he employs the best of the best in terms of crew, all of whom know the 4Wall staff very well, so it’s really harmonious on the road.”
“They are very loyal, they know what they want, and as long as we don’t fuck up, then there’s no reason why that relationship would change”
Feeding the travelling Depeche Mode army are the kitchen wizards from Popcorn Catering, whose owner Wendy Deans has been working with the band since she first set up the company.
“We’ve been working with the band since 1989 and we’ve done every tour since, so they’ve been really good to us and the company,” says Deans. “They always ask for the same people in catering, which is great, although we’re all struggling to met the Schengen rules these days, because we obviously work on other tours, too.”
Feeding the crew with three meals a day, as well as providing food on the buses and in the dressing rooms keeps Popcorn’s seven-strong team busy, while even just shoping for the food has become more complex thanks to rising costs. “It’s different every day,” adds Deans. “We’re dealing with challenges all the time, but when you’re on tour with Johnathan Kessler and Tony Gittins, nothig is impossible and everyone has a good experience.”
Tasked with making sure Gittins and his road warrior army get from A to B to Z is bussing operator Beat The Street – another long-term Depeche Mode contractor, who this year expanded its remit for the band.
“We launched Beat The Street’s North American operations just before the pandemic, so the fact that Depeche Mode are using us for both continents is fantastic – they are very loyal, they know what they want, and as long as we don’t fuck up, then there’s no reason why that relationship would change,” says company founder Jörg Philipp.
“We lost shows because of the war in Ukraine”
Beat The Street is supplying four buses for the core production crew and caterers, each of whom the company knows well. “There’s never any drama when Tony Gittins is the PM,” states Philipp. “He’s calm, he’s professional, and he knows the drivers that he prefers for his tours. He’s a joy to deal with.”
But the drivers won’t be doing as many miles as originally planned. “We lost shows because of the war in Ukraine,” says Kessler. “Stadiums in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Minsk, then there’s an indoor stadium in St. Petersburg that we had to take out and another again in Moscow, so we lost six big stadiums in that part of the world.”
From Gittins’ perspective, weather has been a major challenge for suppliers and crew, with the extreme heat in southern Europe adding another layer of very necessary prep on the stadium leg.
“We’re a lot more wary about making sure that the crew is sun-screened up, that they take advantage of any shade they can find, and that they are getting enough water,” says Gittins.
“Normally, you don’t want water being anywhere near the stage, but when we’re doing a build in 45-degree heat, we have to make sure there is a big supply of water and that people are drinking a bottle every half an hour or so.”
“People follow Depeche Mode from all over the world, so we’ve seen lots of tickets being bought by people from outside of Romania. In fact, for our 2017 show with the band, in the city of Cluj, we had fans travel from as far away as Uruguay”
Music for the Masses
The feelgood factor of Depeche Mode rolling into town is palpable among the promoters involved on the Memento Mori production. To date, more than 2 million fans have witnessed the show, while management predict the forthcoming 40-date North American arena leg, and the indoor shows in Europe early next year will take that total to around 3.5m hard tickets by the end of the tour.
The Memento Mori tour is a Live Nation global operation, with local LN offices across America and Europe generally passing the baton from date to date, with one or two notable exceptions.
One such instance is Laura Coroianu at Emagic in Romania, who has a special place in her heart for Depeche Mode. “When we first welcomed them here in 2006, they were the first act to sell out a stadium show in Romania and that really helped open the country up for international touring,” she informs IQ.
With Live Nation Eastern Europe bringing in Emagic as their local partner, the current tour marks the fourth time Emagic has co-promoted the band in Romania. “It would have been five tours, but unfortunately we lost the show in 2008 when Dave [Gahan] fell ill,” says Coroianu who, although delighted to welcome the band back, admits that the Memento Mori tour is tinged with sadness. “We really miss Fletch,” she says, “We had him here as a solo act, DJing, in the past, and he was such a wonderful human being.”
With 45,000 fans packing Romania’s national stadium for the sold-out 26 July show, Coroianu details the delight of local businesses and hotels. “People follow Depeche Mode from all over the world, so we’ve seen lots of tickets being bought by people from outside of Romania. In fact, for our 2017 show with the band, in the city of Cluj, we had fans travel from as far away as Uruguay, so it’s a big deal for the local economy and tourism.”
“There’s no other band that has that extreme connection with the German fans. I think that the emotional content and depth of their music appeals to the German character”
As one of the few independent promoters on the Memento Mori tour, Emagic has developed a close tie with Live Nation in recent years – again, thanks to Gahan, Gore and co. “We’ve been working with Live Nation since that first Depeche More show in 2006, and it’s been a wonderful collaboration because it has given us access to lots of important artists and given Romanian fans the chance to see them live,” she adds.
That excitement of welcoming Depeche Mode back is also familiar to Live Nation GSA CEO Marek Lieberberg.
“I’ve had the honour of being the promoter for Depeche Mode for around 40 years now – since the mid-80s – and they seem to have come back even stronger than before on this tour,” says Lieberberg.
“There’s no other band that has that extreme connection with the German fans. I think that the emotional content and depth of their music appeals to the German character – it’s something quite Faustian. But their fans here are very loyal and passionate about Depeche Mode and many of them attend multiple shows.”
That army of German Devotees helped sell out 11 stadium shows across Germany this summer, while the band will return for another eight arena shows early next year.
“Their core fans are the same people who have accompanied them for a long time, but we are seeing more younger fans than in previous years”
“Their core fans are the same people who have accompanied them for a long time, but we are seeing more younger fans than in previous years, which speaks to the band and their music remaining so relevant,” adds Lieberberg.
As the European stadia leg of the tour reaches its climax, artist management observe that there has been a noticeable shift in demographics on Memento Mori’s outdoor concerts.
“We’re seeing a lot more young people, and I think that’s a combination of a couple of things,” says Kessler. “First, is that the band’s long-time fans are now bringing their kids to the gigs. But also, a couple of promoters have mentioned to us that the run of festivals we did on the last tour has helped bring in a lot of younger fans.”
Pollock comments, “Depeche Mode are sort of the godfathers of remixes and that’s laid paths to a new generation. There’s also been a bit of planning on our part, as well as a good old slice of luck, as we’ve had some high-profile syncs.”
One of those syncs was the use of the band’s 1987 track Never Let Me Down Again on the hit TV show Last Of Us. “The timing was just sort of perfect with the launch of the album campaign,” states Pollock. “It put a spotlight on the band two weeks before we had new music coming. And there were also things trending on TikTok, so there was just a lot of activity in that social space that was happening with a younger demographic leading into the start of the tour.”
“It’s not only kids going with their parents, it’s kids discovering what is ‘new music’ to them through streaming and other platforms”
Kessler also points to Depeche Mode’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame during the pandemic. “It’s quite a bizarre thing, the Hall of Fame, as it sort of elevates you to this whole other level because there are only five or six acts that go in every year.”
Promoter Memo Parra has a different explanation for the demographics of fans awaiting the band’s arrival in Mexico City. “It’s mainly 40-55 year olds, but there’s a lot in their 30s and 25-and-unders,” he says of the ticket buyers.
“It’s not only kids going with their parents, it’s kids discovering what is ‘new music’ to them through streaming and other platforms.” He adds, “It’s good because Depeche Mode deserve to have a new generation to embrace them – it’s such great music!”
Delighted by the number of younger fans who have been attending the stadia shows, whatever the reason, Kessler nonetheless believes Depeche Mode’s biggest appeal remains in the power of their performances and the abilities of frontman Dave Gahan.
“The band is just continuing to make great music, which is helping them to grow and become more and more iconic,” he says. “We’re blessed with exceptional performers – a mesmerising and magnetic frontman, as well as a songwriter who has become, in his own right, a sort of sidekick frontman to Dave. But when you have Dave Gahan on stage, you don’t need a lot of extra gags to capture the audience’s attention.”
“We work with a lot of other bands, and every act has their own specific fan base, but Depeche definitely have something unique”
He adds, “We work with a lot of other bands, and every act has their own specific fan base, but Depeche definitely have something unique. The fans are not only loyal, but they are an integral part of the show, and the connection between the band and the fans is a huge contributor to the feel of every performance.”
Another element that helps elevate Depeche live shows is the enthralling films and visuals that accompany each song. Crafted by long-term collaborator Anton Corbijn, he’s also the creative mind that works with the artists on the set design – the centrepiece of which on the current tour is the eight-metre ‘M’ at centre stage.
Corbijn has been part of the Depeche Mode camp for 30 years. “The first time was in ‘93, when I was part of a bidding kind of thing with around six other six people in total. And much to the surprise of the management, they chose me.”
But even Corbijn was quickly made aware of the stripped-back approach that the band has for touring. “I was maybe too ambitious,” he laughs. “My first tour design involved two stages on top of each other, and in those days, you used projectors, which all had to start at the same time. It was complex, but I didn’t know any better. So halfway through the tour, they made it simpler by just reducing it to one stage.”
With the passing of Fletch, Corbijn says the removal of a principal from the stage has subtly changed the setup. “Instead of everything being 90 degrees to the audience, on the stage itself, we’ve angled the energies of Dave and Martin more towards each other, and I think consensus is that it’s a good development.”
“The ethos has always been to have a video-heavy show”
Talking about his set design, which spectacularly showcases his video content, Corbijn notes, “There’s basically one big LED screen, and then there’s another LED screen in the shape of an M in front of it. And sometimes, within the M, there’s different content to what’s going on behind it: sometimes it’s the same, sometimes it’s opposite movement – that sort of negative/positive thing.”
While from his creative point of view, Corbijn says it’s frustrating that cameras on phones mean that it’s impossible to surprise the audience after the first night of a tour, he nonetheless observes, “I think people enjoy themselves, too, when they recognise something that they’ve seen on social media.”
The band itself views Corbijn as a key member. “The ethos has always been to have a video-heavy show,” says Kessler. “We put a lot of effort into the design and the content creation, so we’re very fortunate to have Anton who’s done the video content for 30 years and who makes sure the show is impactful and artistic.”
When it comes to the video elements, Phil Mercer explains that Universal Pixels have been working with the band since the 2017 Global Spirit tour, but his relationship spans back to 2005 when he was working at XL Video. “We inherited the last tour because the previous vendor was fired at the end of the European leg. So, we know there is no margin for error, but looking back it was a good introduction for us to become involved,” says Mercer. “The band are fiercely loyal, as long as you don’t screw up.”
Noting that the challenges for the screen teams mostly revolve around the giant M, Mercer says Corbijn’s aesthetic is one of the biggest considerations. “The M is made of the same hi-res LED as the main screen, so from our point of view, we have to make sure that everything is pixel-perfect every day.”
“We’ve made a very conscious effort to try to have a bit more of a gender balance, and on this tour, we’ve managed to get our female ratio up to 20%”
He adds, “It’s never been about scale with Depeche Mode: basically, nothing goes on the road without good reason, so we’re not dealing with the same number of cameras or the size of LED walls that we do with other clients – we have to work within certain constraints, and it works really well.”
Diversity: People are People
While the planning of PM Gittins has ensured that Depeche Mode have been ahead of the curve in terms of sustainability issues, the band’s management have been working hard with all concerned to improve the gender balance of staff involved on the tour.
Pollock tells IQ, “We’ve made a very conscious effort to try to have a bit more of a gender balance, and on this tour, we’ve managed to get our female ratio up to 20%.”
“It is challenging,” notes Kessler, “but to be fair, a lot of the vendors that we work with have made an effort as well, so when we’re putting together the lighting, audio, and video teams, it’s easier to find more diversity within those teams when everyone is onboard.”
Of course, when it comes to personnel, life on the road without Andy Fletcher has had a seismic impact.
“Not having Fletch has changed the group dynamic onstage”
“Not having Fletch has changed the group dynamic onstage,” says Kessler. “Just by having one less person it’s naturally formed a different dynamic musically, and I think the band has become a closer unit, in a way. It’s certainly been a challenge but witnessing the fan reaction in the big venues has been amazing. Ultimately, they’re not a mainstream act. But they have this hyper-loyal, crazy hard following, and I know that the band appreciates that support.”
Erring on the Side of Caution
Somewhat dictated by the EU working regulations, the European stadium leg’s 36 shows could easily have been expanded. But manager Kessler confesses that his inherently cautious nature played a part in the number of dates.
“We’ve found that the sweet spot of what works on a tour is 130, 145 shows and that’s it. In all honesty, there’s 300 shows we could do, but we know we have to draw the line somewhere.”
However, Kessler admits, “Looking back, we probably could have done more multiple nights in stadiums. For example, we could easily have done another night at Twickenham. But we’ve always had a very conservative approach. My mantra has been to leave people wanting more, and that also allows us to play it safe.”
That’s certainly the case in Mexico, where the band has sold out three dates at Foro Sol and could easily have been tempted into booking more. “The first two shows went up together and those blew out in a day,” says Kessler. “We added the third date a week later and that also went right away, so we could have done a fourth.”
“Mexico has always really loved the relation with British music. Depeche Mode, The Cure, Placebo, Coldplay – British music in Mexico has been big since the 1990s”
The promoter for those 21-25 September shows is OCESA chief Memo Parra, who agrees that a fourth show was a feasibility. “Normal stadiums are around 55,000-capacity, but Foro Sol is 65,000 – 10,000 more – and when you have three shows, that’s another 30,000 tickets, which is a big amount,” says Parra, whose first experience with the band was back in 2006 with two sold-out Foro Sols. “Before that, they didn’t play Mexico for a long, long time – I think the previous visit was around ‘94 or ‘95,” he recalls.
While other promoters count on cross-border ticket sales, Parra says the audiences at the Foro Sol triple header will very much be local. “Mexico has always really loved the relation with British music,” he says. “Depeche Mode, The Cure, Placebo, Coldplay – British music in Mexico has been big since the 1990s.”
And Parra pays tribute to Depeche’s manager for imbuing a circle of trust around the band.
“Kessler really listens to the promoter: it’s not a business deal, it’s a friendship deal – a win-win situation for the band and for the promoter,” he states. “Kessler wants to take care of the promoter: he listens to my ideas and takes my advice on board. And I believe that’s why we’ve done so well with Depeche Mode throughout the years, because it’s always been thoughtfully taken care of on every level of decision, pricewise and everything.
“When Depeche Mode comes to town, you don’t feel like you’re the promoter; you feel like you’re part of the family. And I can tell you, I don’t feel that with many acts.”
“I’m very much a big believer of the fact that there’s enough money for everybody, so let’s be partners – if we do well, everyone does well”
In Germany, Marek Lieberberg agrees. “Jonathan Kessler is a unique manager and he always executes meticulaous planning two-three years in advance,” says Lieberberg. “I can think of no other manager who is so concerned with every aspect of the tour than Jonathan – his level of detail is exceptional and he has guided the band through all kids of currents.
“He asks for advice and challenges his opinions with those of the local promoters, which make him a fantastic person to deal with,” adds Lieberberg.
That respect is mutual, and Kessler tips his hat to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino who has been working with Depeche Mode on their global tours for close to a decade. “I became friends with Michael 15 years ago, and he’s been nothing but the best sort of partner to have,” he adds.
Kessler concludes, “I always had a very different approach on how I dealt with promoters. I’m very much a big believer of the fact that there’s enough money for everybody, so let’s be partners – if we do well, everyone does well. As a result, we’ve never had an adversarial role with a promoter, and the partnerships have only gotten better over the years.”
As Depeche Mode close out their European stadium tour and head west for those huge Foro Sol dates, followed by a run of arenas in America, the hard work behind those partnership relationships is paying off big time.
The European tour leg in early 2024 has only recently gone on sale, but is well on the way to selling out those 32 arena dates. And with just 45 dates of the Memento Mori tour so far completed, the band will be counting on their Live Nation promoters for a further 60-plus shows on the way to what critics and fans are describing as their best tour yet.
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IQ 121 out now: New Bosses, Depeche Mode, Japan
IQ 121, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online now.
Our August edition reveals the New Bosses 2023, as we profile 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international business.
With the countdown on to the 2023 International Festival Forum. we reveal the three-day programme of events set for the 26-28 September gathering in South London.
Elsewhere, Gordon Masson talks to the architects and road warriors who are helping take Depeche Mode’s Memento Mori tour to millions of fans, and Neil Cooper gauges the impact that The Hydro in Glasgow has had on the UK’s tour circuit as the venue marks its first decade in operation.
Also in the issue, we celebrate the 75th birthday of industry pioneer Thomas Johansson by looking back at the Swedish promoter’s incredible 60 years in music, as well as a nod to the future and succession plans at Live Nation’s Nordic stronghold.
Plus, in our latest market report, Adam Woods discovers that the appetite for international acts is once again growing in the massive Japanese sector.
For this edition’s columns and comments, Ticketmaster’s VP of music and festivals Sarah Slater outlines the constant evolution that ticketing providers need to address to cater for festival fans, while Metropolis Music’s Alexandra Ampofo argues that opening doors to include differently abled people in the industry workforce will accelerate support for disability rights and inclusivity.
As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.
However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ from just £8 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:
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Wacken rebounds to sell out 2024 in record time
Wacken Open Air (W:O:A) has rebounded from this year’s weather-related struggles to sell out next year’s festival in record time.
All 85,000 tickets were snapped up in just four-and-a-half hours yesterday evening, smashing the existing record of six hours set for 2023’s event.
Artists including Scorpions, Amon Amorth and In Extremo are already confirmed for W:O:A 2024, which will take place under the Witches & Warlocks banner from 31 July to 3 August.
The news provides a boost for organiser International Concert Service, which was forced to run last week’s festival at a significantly reduced capacity after the site was hit by rain and thunderstorms in the days leading up to it, leaving the camping areas “impassable”.
The 32nd edition of the German metal institution concluded over the weekend, having welcomed the likes of Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Dropkick Murphys, Wardruna, Beartooth, Ensiferum and Pentagram.
Revised numbers indicate that 61,000 people entered the site before no further admissions were allowed (initial police reports put the figure at around 50,000), meaning close to 25,000 legitimate ticket-holders were denied entry. Those fans were given first refusal to buy tickets for next year’s Wacken, priced €333.
“We are more than grateful and humbled for your trust,” says a message from promoters. “Especially after the difficult start of the festival this summer, where a part of our metal family couldn’t celebrate with us, we really appreciate that the community stands by us and sticks together. The fact that all 85,000 tickets are gone is simply amazing!”
Festival co-founder Thomas Jensen estimates the revenue shortfall caused by the capacity reduction to be in excess of €7 million
With tickets for 2023 costing €299, the Superstruct-backed festival’s co-founder Thomas Jensen estimates the revenue shortfall caused by the capacity reduction to be in excess of €7 million.
“It’s a third of our income: 23,500 x 299, and then you get pretty close somewhere,” Jensen tells Watson.
Weather conditions have continued to blight Europe’s festival season. The final day of Slovenia’s MetalDays was scrapped on Friday (4 August) due to torrential rain and flash flooding in the area, which prompted the authorities to issue a state of emergency. The death toll has since climbed to six, prompting prime minister Robert Golob to describe the situation as the country’s worst natural disaster since gaining independence three decades ago.
Elsewhere, Depeche Mode’s scheduled Live Nation Finland-promoted concert at Kaisaniemi Park in Helsinki tomorrow night (8 August) has been cancelled due to forecasted severe weather conditions.
“The health and safety of our fans, crew, and everyone working at the site are our number one priority, and we have been advised by Tukes (the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency) and the local fire department that it could be unsafe to proceed given the forecasted weather conditions,” says a representative for the band.
Other outdoor music events to be disrupted by adverse weather conditions this summer include Pitchfork (US), Bluedot (UK), Primavera (Spain), Dutch festivals Awakenings, Bospop and Wildeburg, Alexandra Palace’s Kaleidoscope Festival and Robbie Williams’ concert in Austria.
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UK stars weigh in on ‘final countdown’ for insurance
UK superstars have joined the chorus of industry experts and trade associations calling on the UK government to commit to underwriting cancellation costs of events such as music festivals and tours, to enable the restart of the live entertainment sector from this summer.
Jools Holland, Depeche Mode, Johnny Marr, Sir Cliff Richard, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Amy McDonald, The Chemical Brothers, Frank Turner and Judas Priest are among those who have weighed in on the ongoing petition for a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to those launched in Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Belgium.
The industry’s call-to-action comes days before chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to unveil the Budget. Alongside a government-backed insurance pot, the industry is also urging the chancellor to grant extensions on the 5% VAT rate on ticket sales; employment support; and business rates relief for shuttered venues.
The industry deems event cancellation insurance the ‘last remaining barrier’ to planning events this summer after British prime minister Boris Johnson announced a ‘cautious’ reopening roadmap that could allow festivals to take place after 21 June, but says the window of opportunity for this summer ‘will slam shut very shortly’.
“With the cut-off point for many organisers at the end of the month, this really is the final countdown for many businesses”
Paul Reed, AIF CEO, says: “The prime minister has set out a roadmap and a ‘no earlier than’ date for festivals, and audiences have responded, demonstrating a huge appetite to be back in the fields this summer. But we need government interventions on insurance and VAT before the end of this month when festivals will need to decide whether they can commit to serious amounts of upfront capital.
“Now that we have a ‘no earlier than’ date, insurance is the last remaining barrier to planning. We know that government is aware of the insurance issue and AIF has provided evidence and data to support the case. Having injected huge consumer confidence, government should intervene at this stage and ensure that our culture-defining independent festivals can mobilise and plan for this summer. With the cut-off point for many organisers at the end of the month, this really is the final countdown for many businesses.”
AIF, whose members include Boomtown Fair, Shambala, Boardmasters, End of the Road and Bluedot, recently conducted a member survey in which 92.5% of respondents confirmed they cannot stage events without insurance and described insurance measures as ‘vital’ not optional.
“The window of opportunity for this summer will slam shut very shortly. The government needs to act now”
Tim Thornhill, director of Tysers Entertainment and Sport Division, is working closely with the live entertainment insurance industry and live music industry umbrella organisation Live, to urge the government to work with industry to find a solution.
Thornhill comments: “The government has successfully created a scheme that has enabled the film and television industries to get back to work. Now they need to do the same for the live events industry. But the window of opportunity for this summer will slam shut very shortly. The government needs to act now.
“The live events industry is a massive employer and a significant generator of economic activity. Music alone employs over 200,000 people, with music tourism contributing £4.7bn to the UK economy*. The new YouGov survey shows that demand is there – they will buy tickets and spend on accommodation, food and drink. The government can unlock this boost to the economy at no cost to themselves, just a commitment to help underwrite the cost of cancellations should they occur.”
“This cover will allow our business to function as soon as it is safe for us to do so”
Jools Holland comments: “The solution to this problem could be simple – and what’s more, it doesn’t involve the government paying out money now. Maybe not even in the future, unless Covid strikes again. All we need from the government is the commitment to help if necessary.”
Roger Daltrey CBE comments: “The music business and arts have been enormously affected by the Covid-19 virus, with the ongoing health issues plus the problems thrown up by the government’s essential decision to close our places of work. The government however needs to understand how our industry functions. Promoters, especially those with festivals, bands and any touring acts have enormous outlays before commencing a tour, so insurance for these costs is paramount.
“Insurance companies will no longer cover these costs for Covid-19, which will render much of our business unviable as no promoter can risk setting up an event or tour without this cover. All we ask of our government is to put in place an insurance policy that, in the event of this situation happening again, will cover these costs. As it may be 100 years to the next pandemic it is extremely unlikely that this will involve the government paying out any money, but this cover will allow our business to function as soon as it is safe for us to do so.”
“We have seen the impact on the many people who help make the live shows happen”
The Chemical Brothers comments: “Like many other people we have had to put a lot of work on hold in the last year, and we have seen the impact on the many people who help make the live shows happen. Thousands of jobs have already been lost across the UK live music industry, with many more at risk. The UK government has already provided a financially backed scheme for the film industry, which has allowed production to resume. All we ask is that the same approach be taken to help those in the live events industry, which needs the support too and provides so much to the UK economically as well as culturally.”
Sir Cliff Richard comments: “The live events industry has suffered hugely as a result of the pandemic and has been shut down for nearly a year. Venues, performers and crew have all been badly affected. People’s jobs and income have vanished almost overnight. OUR BUSINESS BRINGS INSPIRATION AND HAPPINESS INTO PEOPLE’S LIVES. WE CAN MAKE THEM SMILE WHEN THEY ARE SAD AND WE CAN HELP THEM SING WHEN THEY HAVE NOTHING TO SING ABOUT! We need the government to help us plan for when it is safe to resume OUR business.”
“The industry is facing near catastrophe without adequate government support”
Amy MacDonald comments: “When people attend a gig they buy a ticket, turn up and enjoy the show. What they don’t always understand is the months of preparation that went on behind the scenes to get to that particular point. Thousands of emails and phone calls, meetings, site visits and not to mention huge amounts of money spent to just get to a point where the tickets are on sale. Another important aspect of preparing for a show is the need to ensure the event but it’s now impossible to get any insurance to cover these shows.
“As we have seen from the recent cancellation of Glastonbury, the live industry cannot even plan to start up again because it is too much of a risk without any insurance. The live industry has been put on hold for nearly a year and with no date for a return and no chance to even plan a return, the industry is facing near catastrophe without adequate government support. Nobody wants to live in a world without live music.”
“Can the PM tell us why he won’t help an industry that contributes billions to the UK economy each year?”
Robert Plant comments: “We all desperately want the UK live industry back on its feet again, so we can enjoy our favourite bands or sports event. Yet without insurance to cover these events, these things can’t happen. So please, can the PM tell us why he won’t help an industry that contributes billions to the UK economy each year?
“We’re not asking for any money, just a commitment to help if Covid ever strikes again. We don’t want a hand-out, we just need a hand up.. to help us get back on the stage. I’ve spent 55 years performing in halls, clubs, theatres and concerts halls across the UK. Now we’re in unchartered waters, soon there will be nowhere left to play. So I’m lending my voice to this campaign in the hope that the government will see sense and lend support before many of our beloved music venues disappear forever.”
Harvey Goldsmith CBE, promoter, comments: “As promoters and producers of live concerts we cannot produce tours without insurance against Covid. We are the risk takers and often have to pay considerable sums upfront to be able to create the tour. If the government at any time decide it is unsafe to continue, or commence a tour, we must be able to take insurance to protect us, as any normal business would expect. If no insurance is available our business will collapse.”
“The single most powerful measure the government could take is to underwrite any losses from Covid-19 cancellations”
Philip McIntyre, promoter, comments: “I would like to support your campaign to have the government underwrite any losses suffered from Covid 19 cancellations whilst the pandemic is still prevalent. My company is in the top five of all live entertainment groups in the UK we are obviously keen to start operating again but we worry about uninsured risk. Now we have a plan to come out of lockdown the single most powerful measure the government could take is to underwrite any losses from Covid-19 cancellations after June this year.
“This would give the risk takers so much confidence they the live arts would return to normal by December this year. If there are claims they would more than likely be on a regional basis and not onerous and the business generated in town and city centres would more than cover them in my estimation the government would be in profit 12 months ahead of a no action situation.”
Frank Turner comments: “It cannot be exaggerated, the devastation caused in my industry by the pandemic. We’re doing what we can to hang on and plan for a better future. An insurance plan will help us survive and come back quicker, and it doesn’t involve the government paying out any extra money now (or possibly ever). It would make an enormous difference.”
“Every effort is made to reduce the costs of a cancelled concert including trying to reschedule a date”
Johnny Marr comments: “The solution to getting music back up safely is easy and it doesn’t involve the government committing money now. All we need from the government is the commitment to help if necessary with an insurance scheme backed by them, and that will get our crews and suppliers back working. The government would only have to pay out in the worst case.”
Barrie Marshall MBE, promoter, comments: “The tremendous work of the NHS and the vaccination programme means that live events can start soon, this gives us hope that we can begin to share those magical moments and wonderful concerts once again. However, we need the government to help us by providing financial backing in the form of an insurance fund. This is needed to cover the costs of an event if it must be cancelled as a result of a Covid outbreak. Every effort is made to reduce the costs of a cancelled concert including trying to reschedule a date in the future but there are some circumstances where this is not possible.”
“We help to get our industry back on track and to help restart live events in a safe, effective way once it’s possible to do so”
John Giddings, promoter, comments: “Our industry has been hit immeasurably over the past year and we need to get it back up and running again. The government has got to help!”
Judas Priest comments: “The world has been more or less brought to its knees because of Covid-19 in this past year. It has affected so many people and businesses in all walks of life in so many ways. Our industry, the entertainment industry (which is a multi-billion dollar business), is suffering massively. It isn’t just affecting us – a band who want to get back out on the road, performing to our fans around the world – but it is affecting mainly our crew (and all the other crews), the venues and their staff, cleaners, security, caterers, local crew, bus drivers, truck drivers, lighting and video personnel, stage set designers and stage set builders. The list is endless.
“We need help, for the venues to be able to put on shows and the artists to be able to perform we all need to get tour insurance that will cover Covid-19 so shows can go ahead. Now we have the vaccine things should be on the way up but we need your help urgently, please!”
Depeche Mode comments: “With the live music industry in the UK shut down for over a year, our crew, our fans, venues, and everyone else who makes shows possible has been badly affected. Jobs and income have vanished almost overnight, and fans and artists alike have been left wondering when live shows will be possible again. We need the government to help us get our industry back on track and to help restart live events in a safe, effective way once it’s possible to do so.”
Government-backed insurance funds will be explored at ILMC during Insurance: The Big Update, while lessons that can be learned from 2020’s lost festival summer will be discussed during Festival Forum: Reboot & Reset.
‘A gentleman and true professional’: Tony Gittins is the Gaffer
Like his predecessors, Tony Gittins has something in common with all the winners of IQ’s highest accolade, The Gaffer Award: he never had any intention of becoming a production manager.
His journey, mirroring that of many other Gaffer Award winners, is a tale of being in the right place at the right time; a little bit of luck; and a lot of hard work. “I’d never even heard of a production manager and I hadn’t thought that people other than the band actually made a living out of touring,” confesses Tony. “But I’ve never had another job, so working with bands was my first job. And hopefully it will be my last.”
Born and raised in Middlesbrough, Tony grew up in a family with teachers as parents: “But nobody in my family was in any way connected with music.”
Leaving school during a time of deep recession, the prospects for teenage Tony were limited. “Unemployment in the north-east of England was really high. My choices were to either move somewhere else, or join the army like my older brother. So I moved to London.”
Jobless and relying on the kindness of friends who had made similar migratory journeys to find work, Tony found himself dossing on people’s floors and couches in west London. His quest to find gainful employment proved tricky, so to repay the favour for his makeshift accommodation, he offered to help his flatmates with their amps and instruments. “I had some friends in a band called Big Boy Tomato, so I’d help them set up their gear,” recalls Tony. And the rest is history…
“A good production manager or a good stage manager is a jack of all trades, master of none”
Despite not being part of any concrete plan, Tony’s voluntary act to become an unpaid stagehand caught the eye of other bands on the punk circuit – a fortuitous move for a man whose favourite band is “a toss up between the Ramones and the Clash.”
“Before I knew it, I was working with other acts like UK Subs and travelling around Europe with them. And because they were punk bands, luckily they didn’t notice I had no musical ability whatsoever, so I kind of got away with it,” laughs Tony. “My favourite band of the moment is Sleaford Mods, so I think it’s fair to say I’m still a punk rocker at heart.”
Although he quickly found himself trading the comfort of a sofa for the ‘glamour’ of life in a splitter van, Tony remained unfazed as he became used to waking up in a new place each day. He soon realised that he had found a job that was not the 9–5 career that many of his friends had chosen, but which allowed him to have fun with like-minded souls, while travelling to cities that he would never even have thought about otherwise.
Life on the road suited him well, but in an effort to find more regular pay cheques, Tony began working as a stagehand for Stage Miracles. “I started working as local crew – I think my first show was at Wembley Arena,” he says. “I stayed on local crew for about four or five years and then started working on rigging for them, probably for about another five years.”
“I hadn’t thought that people other than the band actually made a living out of touring”
Tony believes that being part of local crew was a crucial ingredient in the recipe for him becoming a well-rounded crew leader. “A good production manager or a good stage manager is a jack of all trades, master of none. But we need to have a good grounding in each department so that we can know what we can ask of people.
“Being at Stage Miracles was massive for me,” he tells IQ. “I was able to learn what local crews do, but I also got an education in working with lights, sound and video, so I was fortunate enough to get an all-round apprenticeship.”
Comparing his schooling to what is happening in today’s production sector, he states, “I’m not so sure that these college and university courses give the grounding and background that you learn by simply being part of a local crew.”
He adds, “One worrying element is that there are now people coming in to the business that do not have the experience of working on tour production. That’s a problem that, if we’re not careful, could result in things getting more dangerous.”
2017 stadium dates shape up
U2 have just announced an international stadium tour to celebrate 30 years of their seminal album, Joshua Tree, and in doing so join a host of big tours in 2017.
Promoted by Live Nation, the U2 dates begin in May at BC Place in Vancouver, Canada, and will visit multiple stadiums in the US, before playing Twickenham in London, then Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Amsterdam, France and Belgium across 23 dates.
Last year Ticketmaster called 2016 a record year for music in Britain’s stadia, with the number of stadium shows up threefold on 2015.
The ticketing giant also reported a 50% increase in stadium tours in the UK compared to last year. Those included dates by Coldplay, Rihanna, Beyonce, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, The Stone Roses and Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
Last year Ticketmaster called 2016 a record year for music in Britain’s stadia, with the number of stadium shows up threefold on 2015.
This year looks set to be another blockbuster both in the UK and elsewhere thanks to U2, plus stadium dates from Adele, Robbie Williams, Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Depeche Mode, Guns N’Roses and Justin Bieber. Coldplay and The Stone Roses also have more shows lined up and Ed Sheeran is sure to announce a huge tour alongside his third album.
Adele’s last shows of 2017 will be four dates in June and July at London’s Wembley Stadium, where The Stone Roses will also play one show earlier in June as will Jeff Lynne’s ELO on the 24th.
Depeche Mode’s Global Spirit Tour visits the London Stadium on June 3rd amidst a stadium and arena run across 32 cities in Europe.
Guns N’Roses, meanwhile, will play the London Stadium on June 16th and 17th on the Not In This Lifetime run, that also visits Australia, the US, and 15 dates across venues in Pero, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Japan.
Robbie Williams’ 2017 European tour dates encompasses a number of stadium dates throughout June and August, including two at Manchester’s Etihad and one at the London Stadium.
Coldplay play Croke Park in Ireland on July 8, and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on July 11 and 12. Bieber’s Purpose World Tour, meanwhile, will visit a number of stadiums worldwide from February, including Australia, Cardiff, Ireland and the US.