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Estonia’s Piletilevi Group acquires Polish ticketers

Estonian ticketing company Piletilevi Group is expanding its presence in Eastern Europe with two new acquisitions in Poland.

The firm has acquired majority stakes in Kicket and Biletomat, which will increase from 77% to 83.8% by 2026.

Piletilevi Group says that, as a result of the mergers, it’s now the second-largest ticket sales company in the Polish market and the largest player in Central Europe.

Piletilevi Group brokers tickets for nearly €320 million per year

“We now face the task of effectively connecting the companies that are being purchased and our existing company GoOut Poland, so that the best functionalities of Piletilevi Group and the new partners reach all our customers as quickly as possible,” says Sven Nuutmann, co-owner and CEO of Piletilevi Group.

The Group, which isowned by Nuutmann’s investment company EastCom Capital and BaltCap (the largest private equity investor in the Baltics), brokers tickets for nearly €320 million per year.

Founded 27 years ago, the Tallinn-headquartered firm operates in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

The company have invested nearly six million euros into a new platform, which will be completed in the first half of 2025.


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Somlo launches Catharsis Booking agency

Budapest-based music industry veteran Daniel Somlo has launched a new specialist operation to provide agency services for international acts looking to expand their activities in Central and Eastern European, and to help artists from that region to tour internationally.

Somlo, who has built a reputation as one of the region’s most reliable promoters, has named the new venture Catharsis Booking, and has already built a roster of six acts, including UK-based Daniel Avery, Max Cooper and Halina Rice.

“Effectively I am a sub-agent for those acts to help build their live careers in Central and Eastern Europe,” explains Somlo. “For other artists, I am the main agent and I represent them worldwide. But of course, my main network is still in this part of the world, so I think most of my bookings, at least in the first year or so, are going to be in this territory.”

Somlo is also one of the founders of BUSH – the Budapest Showcase Hub – which this year will take place 6-8 November. “I will remain head of music for BUSH, so I will still be the person who is programming it,” he says. “And since last year, I’ve also been working as a booker for this very big project called Inota Festival.”

“Being a promoter is not the most healthy lifestyle”

Somlo tells IQ that one of the driving reasons behind stepping into the agency world was to help with his mental health and well-being.

“Being a promoter is not the most healthy lifestyle: it’s pretty stressful a lot of times because you never know how your events are going to sell. Of course, it’s a beautiful job, and I’m happy to do it, but working for many years with agents and agencies helped me understand how they operate and it’s definitely less stressful, so I decided to take my skills and knowledge in a different direction.

“That also allows me to have a more direct cooperation with the artists themselves, which I really enjoy. Actually, that’s my other reason behind launching Catharsis, because lately, loads of artists have been reaching out to me to ask if I would manage them. I’m not sure I would ever go into management myself, but dealing with their bookings and the strategy behind their live careers is definitely something I can help with.”

Determined to build his new venture in a steady and organic fashion, Somlo says he is focussing on Q4 and beyond for his clients, although the hype between one of his acts – Slovak band Xces – has accelerated that timeline.

“I already had my first show for Xces, in Budapest, and most of the enquiries I’m getting at the moment are about them,” he states. “They are amazing and the hype behind them is just growing, so we’ve got another five or six shows already confirmed for the next couple of months, and the future for them looks great.

“But in general, I’m focusing mostly on shows in autumn and winter this year for my roster, and early next year. And while I’ve had a number of agents in the UK getting in touch to ask about sub-agent stuff, I don’t feel, currently, that I have capacity for more artists in the roster, so I’m putting all my energy into the acts I’m already representing. I’ll never say never, because there is so much great talent out there, but as we get Catharsis off the ground, the existing roster is my priority.”


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‘There is still a demand for concerts in Ukraine’

The impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on touring in Eastern Europe and ethical dilemmas around potentially lucrative new markets were top of the agenda for ILMC’s Geo-politics: The Bigger Picture session.

The panel, hosted by LIVE’s Jon Collins, examined the place of touring and festivals in a tumultuous world.

Just over a year on from Russia’s invasion, Kyiv-raised Dartsya Tarkovska, co-founder of Music Export Ukraine, brought the room up to date on the office’s work, and stressed the importance of the international live music community continuing to support their efforts.

“We have the team of six people now,” she said. “And since Russia started the invasion in Ukraine, we had to split. Right now, we have two people working in Ukraine and four of them are abroad. I’m one of them. I’m currently working and living in the UK as a temporarily displaced person, aka, a refugee. That still allows us to be super-active and promote Ukrainian artists as much as we can, internationally. And our mission was definitely brought to a whole new level.”

Despite the stark circumstances, Tarkovska stressed that the Ukrainian live music industry was still a going concern.

“We used to think that Covid restrictions were super-tough to maintain. Trust me, it’s nothing compared to these challenges”

“It changed dramatically, and there are definitely a few things that impacted this change,” she said. “One of things would was a set of new restrictions and rules for concerts for civilians, because we have air raid alerts, we have shellings, we have curfew, electricity cuts… We used to think that Covid restrictions were super-tough to maintain. Trust me, it’s nothing compared to these challenges. But there are still promoters and bookers who are keeping up with these restrictions, because there is still a demand for concerts in Ukraine.”

She added: “Another trend would be concerts for Ukrainian soldiers at the frontline. That’s definitely a new, very non commercial niche, but a very important one. You can barely find an event without a charity component, and many Ukrainian artists donate at least part of their income for charity purposes.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies – a lot of industry stakeholders did pivot, because it’s very hard to maintain a full time business at the time of war. Some of them tried to diversify their activities, or stay open for new markets and explore new opportunities, whereas others literally do a 180 and focus on charity and other areas.

“For example, some of my colleagues – an independent booking agency called Kontrabass Promo – opened a charity organisations called Musicians Defend Ukraine, and are now collecting for charity. But solely for musicians who are now spending their time in the Ukrainian army, or at the territorial defence, so that they could get back from war and keep on creating more music.”

“Right now, one of the main challenges for us is to keep the conversation going, to keep the spotlight on Ukraine”

Promoter Máté Horváth of Live Nation CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) said the Hungarian market had enjoyed a “serious bounceback”, with strong post-Covid ticket sales, adding that the ramifications of the Ukraine war for the scene had been minimal up to this point.

“I think there was one confirmed tour which was, which was cancelled, but it hadn’t even been announced. It was literally just a week or two weeks after 24 February [2022],” he said. “I saw very few cancellations. I know there were difficulties for artists who lost tour dates in Ukraine, Russia or Belarus, to figure out how to make their tours work out… but it was not very rampant.”

Horváth added, however, that the completion of a new venue in the country was delayed and is still under construction because the building materials were to have arrived from Ukraine. “So there are effects on the market. But as far as cancellations go, it was not a major issue for us,” he said.

Tarkovska indicated that maintaining the attention of the international music community over a year into the war was a challenge.

“At first, we were overwhelmed as an export office with the amount of booking requests and cooperation ideas,” she said. “But as the time goes, we are definitely seeing the attention decreasing. Right now, one of the main challenges for us is to keep the conversation going, to keep the spotlight on Ukraine and keep the representation of our country in the international context.”

“We’re doing as much as we can. But we still need the interest from the international industry stakeholders to make this magic happen”

She pointed out, however, that keeping the spotlight on the issue was a “two-way street”.

“One of the things that our government is doing at this point is trying to develop some international policies and build the bridge to keep the spotlight and make sure Ukraine is represented at the key international events and cultural events,” she said. “Music would definitely be one of the areas of interest, and we’re doing as much as we can. But we still need the interest from the international industry stakeholders to make this magic happen. So if you’re wondering, ‘What can I personally do to support Ukraine?’ This is exactly what you can do.”

Weining Hung, co-founder of Taiwan’s LUCFest, mentioned that tensions between Taiwan and China had left some overseas acts reluctant to visit the former.

“We got rejected or asked questions by many artists from Western countries like Canada or the UK because they were quite concerned about their safety and asked us whether it was still a safe place to go.

“You definitely won’t have problems if you play in Taiwan. You can definitely still go to China, so it won’t have any impact.”

“Beyoncé did not perform in Dubai to celebrate the government, she performed to open a hotel”

The discussion later turned to how the industry should approach markets with questionable human rights records. Beyoncé’s recent private concert in Dubai marking the opening of the luxury Atlantis Royal Hotel, for which the singer was reportedly paid US$24 million, was put forward as an example.

Tarkovska said such decisions should be left up to the artist, but advised they first carry out “thorough homework” to understand the background of the country.

“They really have to evaluate if their values are aligned and if they’re not, why is it still beneficial for the artists to go and work in this particular market? It has to be thoroughly evaluated – what are the pros and cons of this kind of involvement? Because it is very tricky, and the consequences are inevitable. At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily all about the money.”

Middle East-based promoter Thomas Ovesen of TOP Entertainment said there was an important distinction for artists.

“Beyoncé did not perform in Dubai to celebrate the government, she performed to open a hotel,” he said. “Many of the shows in Dubai are commercial shows where the government has no involvement. Perhaps in Saudi is slightly different. So I think it’s a bit more nuanced than dismissing a market if you don’t agree with the rulership, because there is a massive upside in having acts performing. I mean, I’ve had Elton John in Dubai and he’s were very well aware of the rules there, but played to fans and did not play to support the government.”

However, Nick Hobbs of Istanbul-based Charmenko argued that outlook should not extend to all countries.

“Just to be polemical, I would say if there is a situation that the Russian regime continues after this war ends, then going to play in Russia normalises that situation. It says it’s okay, it’s normal.

“It wouldn’t be the Russian government directly inviting [the artist to play], although that is possible, it would be a promoter – but with the sanction of the government. And that, for me, is normalising something which is not normal.”


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Ukraine: Neighbour markets assess touring fallout

Concerns have been raised over the viability of touring neighbouring markets in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Bring Me The Horizon, Imagine Dragons, Louis Tomlinson and Jethro Tull all pulled concerts in Ukraine following the escalation of the conflict earlier this week, while artists such as Green Day, The Killers, AJR and Louis Tomlinson have cancelled shows in Russia.

And with Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova all bordering Ukraine, the crisis has led to concerns that international acts will now be unable or unwilling to visit the eastern Europe region this year.

Dragos Chiscoci, who handles artist booking and programming for Bucharest-based Emagic tells IQ the knock-on effects have already extended to the Romanian live industry.

“Obviously, the existing events were hit first, with the already affected ticket sales dropping to 30% for events in the near future and even to 10% for the ones in summer,” he says. “Afterwards, we started getting messages from some agents, saying that with what is happening in Ukraine right now, they really need to sit down and see how things will move forward before discussing any events in our part of Europe.”

The promoter has a catalogue of huge gigs slated for later this year with acts such as Morcheeba, Passenger, Thievery Corporation, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and Sting, with a rescheduled Celine Dion show rescheduled for 2023.

“If the situation in Ukraine does not defuse soon, we might be facing a third crippling year for the local live music industry”

“The Romanian concert market has already been heavily hit by the pandemic, mainly due to irrational and uncoordinated government imposed restrictions,” adds Chiscosi. “The lack of market predictability led to repeated postponements or cancellations – which in turn led to a serious lack of trust amongst ticket buyers – and there was no government financial aid for the live sector.

“On top of this, when we were expecting a final lift of restrictions sometime in the next couple of months, we woke up to news about the war in Ukraine.

“I do hope that we won’t have to look at another series of cancelled and rescheduled shows. In just a matter of days, the Romanian live music market went from bad to worse, and unfortunately, if the situation in Ukraine does not defuse soon, we might be facing a third crippling year for the local live music industry.”

Kinga Chodkowska of Warsaw’s Follow the Step, whose Fest Festival welcomed 35,000 attendees to Chorzów over four days last August, says the promoter has moved to offer agents additional shows in Poland for their artists to make up for the cancelled Russian dates.

“We’re all extremely saddened looking at the war happening just across our border and the cruelty targeting our friends and neighbours,” says Chodkowska.

“We’re trying to help the agents replace the gaps with extra Polish dates”

“When it comes to the music industry here, it’s not an easy situation as we’ve just started recovering from pandemic. For now, we are going ahead with most of our shows. There were a few that dropped out but it was because of Covid-related issues.

“Seeing all the shows in Russia getting cancelled and the tours being rerouted, we’re trying to help the agents to replace the gaps with extra Polish dates. We are all focusing on how we can help out and that’s why we’re in the process of organising the biggest show in Poland together with television and local artists to raise money for the victims of this war.”

Top international agents Tom Schroeder of Paradigm and Solo Agency’s John Giddings yesterday told IQ that repercussions for the touring markets in nearby countries, such as Poland and Romania, were likely.

“This is a point of considerable concern – how much bleed there is into other countries,” said Schroeder. “I expect there will be concern and caution from US-based acts – we really need to see what happens with the conflict and how contained it is. It is very early days, and the priority is the safety and protection of Ukraine, not our desire to put on gigs.”

Giddings added there will be a “heavy impact” on the aforementioned Eastern European nations. “With fuel prices rising, among other costs, and probably currency fluctuations, it will be hard to make offers that are sustainable,” he said.

“This situation is not just about touring being stopped, there are lives at stake”

Meanwhile, Eszter Décsy, founder and artist manager at NOW Books & Music and PR and communication manager for Music Hungary Association, spoke of her devastation at the situation.

“This situation is not just about touring being stopped, there are lives at stake,” she says. “Currently we are receiving a high number of refugees, artists and musicians too and we are trying to do the best we can both by supporting and donating organisations and both by self-organising initiatives.”

Russia has been banned from competing in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest by the European Broadcasting Union, while New York’s Carnegie Hall has cancelled performances by Putin supporter Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra. Gergiev has also been forced to resign from his post as honorary president of the Edinburgh International Festival.  However, Décsy is keen to stress that not all Russian musicians should be tarred with the same brush.

“The Hungarian music scene is shocked by the Russian government’s attack and we all stand for Ukraine, but I’d like to point out that banning Russian musicians just based on their nationality or lumping them together with the person who decided to attack will not be the solution for this conflict, but even more fuel,” she says. “I really hope that a peaceful end will come as soon as possible. Until then, we keep being open for anyone who needs shelter in Hungary.”


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EEnlarge Europe launches with SOS campaign

A new, partially EU-funded association of grassroots music venues, EEnlarge Europe, has launched in eastern Europe with its first five members.

EEnlarge Europe, described as both a “community of venues” and an “educational project for the grassroots scene”, aims to bring together venues in the region to support each other and share knowledge and best practice.

At launch, the association comprises Channel Zero (270-cap.) in Ljubljana, Slovenia; Nappali (200-cap.) in Pécs, Hungary; Moszkva Kávézó (300-cap.) in Oradea, Romania; Kvaka 22 (250-cap.) in Belgrade, Serbia; and Zentropia in Senta, Serbia, with support from Budapest-based journalist and artist manager Eszter Décsy (Now Books & Music).

EEnlarge Europe’s first campaign, ‘SOS: Save Our Sources’, aims to raise awareness of the plight of grassroots music venues, which it says are in urgent need of more financial help and to be allowed to reopen as soon as possible.

we strongly hope that the decision-makers will finally realise they need to act now, before it is too late,”

Ana-Marija Cupin from the Serbian band Repetitor, one of several artists backing the campaign, says: “All the legendary gigs have happened in a small venue. A warm and relaxed atmosphere […] is something you do not experience in the arena.”

“I’m still crazy for club gigs – that’s where we started everything from,” says Hungary’s ‘Apey’ András Áron (Lazarvs, Apey, Trillion). “It’s really good to keep those gigs in mind. If these places disappear, I can’t even imagine how hard that would be for an emerging band to start – not that it was ever easy.

To spread the world about SOS, EEnlarge Europe has asked local musicians describe in their own words what small venues mean to them, both personally and professionally. Their responses can be found on EEnlarge Europe’s Facebook page.

“By this, we strongly hope that the decision-makers will finally realise they need to act now, before it is too late,” says the association.


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