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Festival chiefs preview the upcoming season

The cost of living crisis, an oversaturated market and rising costs threaten to create a “recipe for disaster” for the first full festival season since 2019, it has been claimed.

ILMC’s Festival Forum: New lands, new adventures panel heard divergent views from event bosses on prospects for this summer, with the public’s appetite for returning to music shows evident, but two years of lockdown and restrictions throwing up a litany of new problems.

UTA agent Beth Morton moderated the illuminating debate starring Eric van Eerdenburg of Mojo Concerts (NL), Geoff Ellis of DF Concerts (UK), Sophie Lobl of C3 Presents (US), Henrik Bondo Nielsen of Roskilde Festival (DK), Stephan Thanscheidt of FKP Scorpio (DE) and Reshad Hossenally of Festicket’s Event Genius ticketing and event technology platform.

Event Genius COO Hossenally said that, despite the anticipated rush for concert tickets after two lost years to Covid-19, other issues were cropping up.

“People don’t trust that everything is back to normal yet”

“There are a hell of a lot of shows and it’s almost a bit of a recipe for disaster because you’ve got costs going up, a lot of tickets being carried across and a huge amount of competition,” he said. “The other part is people are being told they don’t have any money in the press. I think you’ll see the buying pattern starting to become a lot later. People don’t trust that everything is back to normal yet.

“We ran a global survey and 75% of people said that they want to understand what the cancellation policies are. Before, that would have been an impulse buy – people didn’t even look at terms and conditions beforehand. The decision of buying a festival ticket now is a lot more considered. So as a festival promoter, I suspect it must be quite a scary road to see that we’re not selling as quickly.”

Roskilde head of safety and service Bondo Nielsen referenced complaints from some of his European contemporaries regarding fan behaviour since the restart, with the pandemic resulting in a lag in younger consumers attending their first festival.

“What I hear is that people talk about inexperienced audience and that they are not behaving well,” he said. “My view is that, as a festival organiser, it’s your job to manage the audience that you invite. So if they don’t behave well, you have to teach them.”

“Costs are going up at least 25% from 2019 prices”

Ellis, who heads up events such as Scotland’s Transmt, responded: “You’ve got gig veterans, and then you always get new people coming in – 16 to 17-year-olds coming along for the first time – and I think they get carried along and looked after by the older members of the audience a bit. It is a real community spirit that you get, no matter what the festival is. They’re all there for the same purpose: to enjoy music, and the shared experience of being at an event.”

Ellis considered increasing costs, exacerbated by supply chain and staffing issues, as the biggest challenge for festivals going forward.

“Certainly in the UK, costs are going up at least 25% from 2019 prices, which is really difficult,” he said. “And it’s the scarcity of kit as well, so stages, barriers – we’re having to beg, borrow and steal barriers from different arenas, because there are so many shows on. There are shows that have moved from 2020, and didn’t happen in ’21, all happening, plus the festivals, plus the outdoor business that would have taken place in ’22.

“Also, staff – lots of stewards left the industry during the pandemic. Toilets, again, lots of sporting events are taking certainly the high end toilets, maybe not the actual portaloos but the flushable toilets and trailers, so that’s a real challenge.”

“People have hung on to their tickets for a couple of years, you can’t go back to them and ask for more money”

The promoter added that simply hiking up ticket prices was not an option for this year.

“People have hung on to their tickets for a couple of years, you can’t go back to them and ask for more money,” he said. “And we’re going into a cost of living crisis globally, with people having concerns about how they’re going to pay their energy bills and everything else. So some of it will have to be passed on going forward, but it’s too late for this year.

“I think we all have to try our best to get costs down and look at innovative ways of delivering things as well. We need suppliers to give us a bit of a break really.

“The positive thing is there was a recent survey in America showing what people are looking forward to getting back to most, and concerts was top of the list, so that’s reassuring. Obviously we’re all worried about how they’re going to afford to do it, but at least they want to go to concerts.”

“There are so many artists, coming out of Covid, that haven’t done a hard ticket tour”

The conversation later switched to social media’s influence on programming and its correlation to ticket sales.

“There is so much that we have to take into account that’s not just ticket sales,” revealed C3 and Live Nation global festival talent buyer Lobl. “Obviously socials, obviously TikTok, but the show we’re booking kind of determines what we look at.”

She continued: “There are so many artists, coming out of Covid, that haven’t done a hard ticket tour. If you take someone like Doja Cat, who has been one of our biggest artists at all of our festivals, and probably had the biggest crowd at Austin City Limits and in South America, hasn’t done her own hard ticket run yet.

“It’s also a lot more global now, which makes it more fun. But it also makes it a lot harder to navigate. For us, the Latin market has been huge and there’s a lot more global booking of really sizeable bands.”

“We have also analysing tools for social media,” noted FKP head of festival booking Thanscheidt. “You also have to do look at where are the likes and plays are coming from because if they’re coming from another part of the world, it’s nice for the band, but maybe not for us putting on a festival or a show with them. Also, not every Tiktok hype translates to the festivals we book.

“In general, you don’t want to go away from the history of the festival. But you also want to keep it modern and fresh and cool at the same time. In the end, booking is a process. It is, of course, influenced by other things nowadays, but it’s still a mixture of very different facts coming together.

“It also really depends on the festival – because if you have an older audience, TikTok and all that does not play the biggest role and vice-versa, so you have to look at it very individually to make the right decisions. You have to know your market and  your audiences because sometimes it’s hard to explain, especially to agents, why this act is working and the other one is not.”

“It’s not an exact science and it never has been”

Van Eerdenberg, director of Netherlands’ Lowlands festival, shared his own booking philosophy.

“We had discussions in our programming team about this, and we ended up saying quality is not the thing we measure, but whether people are reacting and responding to it,” he said. “You have to work with what you see happening online. But it’s difficult to determine the value of an act, especially when agents are very convincing.”

Ellis pointed out that hard ticket sales were not always a barometer of an artist’s value to a festival because their audience might steer away from outdoor shows.

“It’s not an exact science and it never has been,” he added. “It’s always been a bit of gut feel, a bit of scarcity – if somebody’s not doing shows they’re more valuable to a festival than if they are doing shows because there’s a pent up demand to see them.

“Over the years at T in the Park, an act like Tom Jones went down an absolute storm. His audience wouldn’t have particularly come to a music festival, but… we had 50,000 people in front of the main stage, singing along to him, and none of them had ever seen him before. With that kind of booking, if you tried to look at the TikTok figures, it wouldn’t have synced. There was a gut feel that it would go down well, and it went down well, but sometimes we get those things wrong and nobody’s watching the act.”

 


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Lowlands opens world’s largest solar carport

Organisers of Lowlands festival in the Netherlands have opened the world’s largest solar carport in the event’s on-site car park.

A collaboration between promoter Mojo Concerts and renewable energy producer Solarfields, the car park opened on 3 May and covers 35 hectares.

Providing space for 15,000 cars, its 90,000 solar panels produce an annual capacity of 35 MWp of electricity, meaning around 10,000 households can be supplied with green energy – equivalent to the power consumption of roughly 100 Lowlands weekends.

“It is essential for our company that we commit ourselves to a sustainable society”

“We are proud of the realisation of Solar Carport,” says Mojo Concerts director Ruben Brouwer. “It is essential for our company that we commit ourselves to a sustainable society and with this initiative we ensure that more sustainable, green energy is generated. In our transition to using only renewable energy, this is a huge step.”

Held in Walibi Holland in Biddinghuizen, the 55,000-cap Lowlands (aka A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise) returns from 19-21 August, when it will welcome acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Bring Me The Horizon, Glass Animals, Sam Fender and Arlo Parks.

“We are proud that this solar carport has been opened in collaboration with Solarfields after many years of development,” says Lowlands director Eric van Eerdenburg. “As a festival organisation we want to propagate an optimistic vision of the future and play a role in solving climate problems. We hope in this way to be a source of inspiration for our visitors to contribute – no matter how small – to making the world more sustainable.”

“We want to be part of the solution, not the problem”

Van Eerdenburg added to Dutch publication Omroep Flevoland the festival wants to run on green energy within two years.

“We are going to connect to the Smart Grid of Flevoland,” he said. “This consists of seven wind farms, solar farms and a number of large batteries. The dream is to connect to those batteries so that we can reduce aggregate use and diesel to zero. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem. It is super-important for our young audience, for the future of the Netherlands, for green energy and a better future.”

 


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Lowlands festival to build 35-hectare solar park

Mojo Concerts has teamed up with renewable energy producer Solarfields to develop a 35-hectare solar farm on the Lowlands festival car park.

A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise – or Lowlands – sold out in the fastest time for years last year, with performances from Tame Impala, Twenty One Pilots, ASAP Rocky, the National and New Order.

In a bid to make the event more sustainable, festival organiser Mojo is working with Solarfields to implement 90,000 solar panels in its car park, generating 35 million kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity annually – enough to power 100 festival weekends per year.

The project will result in the largest solar carport in the world and is due to be finished in May 2021.

“Without swift and concrete measures, our young visitors will experience the effects of climate change and environmental pollution in their daily lives,” comments festival director Eric van Eerdenburg.

“We hope to be a source of inspiration for our visitors to play their part in making the world more sustainable”

“As a festival organisation, we want to be part of the solution and contribute to an optimistic view of the future. We hope to be a source of inspiration for our visitors to play their part – no matter how small – in making the world more sustainable.”

Van Eerdenburg states that the festival team began to look at how to improve sustainability around 12 years ago, adding that, “actualising this together with Solarfields on a large scale is a long-held dream come true.”

”Over the past two-and-a-half years, we have worked hard with Mojo to address all challenges involved in a project of this magnitude,” says Solarfields director Jalmer Pijlman.

“We were fortunate to get a great deal of support along the way and think it is fantastic that we can announce this now. The location is perfect for making the Netherlands more sustainable and this project is a wonderful example of multiple land use: parking and sustainable energy production in the same space.”

The Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI), a leading gathering for sustainability at live events, is taking place on Tuesday 3 March in London. Tickets for GEI 2020 are available here.

 


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Rapid Lowlands sell-out despite line-up challenges

The Netherlands’ Lowlands festival sold out in the fastest time in years for its 2019 edition and demand for tickets remains high as the event fast approaches.

“Everything is on track,” Eric van Eerdenburg, festival director of A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise – or Lowlands for short – tells IQ, ahead of the event’s 27th edition which kicks off on Friday 16 August.

Ticket sales are “back to where they were before”, states van Eerdenburg, referencing the fall in sales the festival experienced in 2015. “It was just one of those temporary shake-ups.”

After selling all tickets for the 60,000-capacity festival six months before opening, van Eerdenburg says a further 8,000 fans are still trying to get their hands on more via fan-to-fan resale platform TicketSwap.

304 tickets from unused sponsor blocks released to the public on 9 August have also sold out.

The price of Lowlands tickets went up by €10 this year to €210, with glamping options ranging from €72.5 to €660 on top of the festival ticket. The rise is caused by the national VAT rise for cultural event admission and a “steep” increase in artist fees, according to van Eerdenburg.

“We’re very lucky that glamping is really booming, so we can keep the tickets at the cheaper end more affordable”

Ticket prices are rising “too fast” says the Lowlands boss, adding that “we’re very lucky that glamping is really booming here, so we can differentiate the prices and keep the tickets at the cheaper end more affordable.”

However, it has not all been plain sailing for this year’s Lowlands. Speaking to IQ ahead of this year’s festival season, van Eerdenburg described the process of agreeing on a line-up poster as “mission impossible”.

The tragic passing of Prodigy frontman Keith Flint left Lowlands with an empty headline slot which “we couldn’t fill with an equally strong band”. With no international acts of a similar standard available, Lowlands elected for local band De Staat as a replacement.

Fast-growing among Dutch fans, the Lowlands appearance will be De Staat’s first headline show in Holland at a festival of this size. Although reactions to the replacement have been “mixed” and the act is “not as exclusive” as desired – De Staat have a packed Dutch festival schedule – van Eerdenburg is optimistic, saying “we will make it look like a headline show”.

Uncertainty lies around another Lowlands headliner, ASAP Rocky, who was recently detained on assault charges in Sweden.

“ASAP Rocky has now been released but we don’t know if he will be able to perform,” explains van Eerdenburg, saying the rapper’s agency has asked the festival to hold off on replacements for now. The verdict of the trial is announced on Wednesday 14 August, five days before the rapper’s Sunday evening Lowlands performance.

“We couldn’t fill [the Prodigy slot] with an equally strong band”

Elsewhere on the line-up, van Eerdenburg states there is a high level of excitement around Billie Eilish, who has “grown into a headliner in her own right”, since being booked for an early afternoon slot. Eilish has only played once before in Holland, in front of a 2,500-capacity crowd, so “the audience will be very happy to see her.”

Other acts the Lowlands boss is looking forward to include psychedelic rockers Tame Impala, fast-growing Irish rock band Fontaines DC and rapper Anderson Paak.

New for this year, Lowlands is partnering with payment communication specialist CM.com to trial an in-app payment collection service. The alternative to the oft-used RFID cashless system will run on one bar in the festival site, at the food and drinks outlets in the glamping area and in the press/guest area, with the plan to implement festival-wide next year.

Lowlands 2019 takes place from 16 to 18 August in Biddinghuizen, the Netherlands.

 


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Lowlands back on top for 25th anniversary

A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise has been one of the Netherlands’ – and Europe’s – leading festivals for more than two decades. Sell-outs had long been guaranteed at Lowlands’ melting pot of music, culture and arts – until 2015, when audience numbers fell to 85% of capacity, picking up slightly in 2016.

Organisers, then, realised they had to make major changes to Lowlands for 2017 and beyond, explains festival director Eric van Eerdenburg, introducing a bold revamp and pumping significant investment into the event in order to regain its status as one of the summer’s must-visit festivals.

“We saw ticket sales falling for a number of reasons,” van Eerdenburg tells IQ. “The competition has increased significantly in recent years. A lot of new independent festivals launched, and our more loyal and older attendees – many of whom were unhappy with some of the highly necessary decisions we were making in the direction of programming – made a choice not to attend.

“While our content was becoming more relevant for a new, younger crowd, they hadn’t been able to attend the festival because of high pressure on the tickets for over ten years; for them we did not exist. The programming was changing with the new trends, but our look and feel didn’t follow that progression.

“Maybe we were getting a bit complacent sticking to the same format year after year. We realised we needed to kickstart the festival with a new art direction, new tents, bigger production capabilities, a different marketing approach and a reshuffle of the site. We decided to make the 25th anniversary an opportunity to face the issues we had and reinvigorate Lowlands.”

Van Eerdenburg’s partner, festival founder and director Ronny Hooch Antink, continues: “I’ve been a part of Lowlands since it was founded 25 years ago. I started off on a forklift and became one of the directors, so I’ve seen all aspects of the festival.

Alpha stage, Lowlands 2017

“In the ’90s it was a trend setter – much more than just a music festival. We grew and grew and we were very successful; tickets were selling out without us even announcing any artists. In a way I think we got lazy, and then our ticket sales started to drop.

“This made us realise that we needed to change: we wanted to once again be the kind of trend setting festival we were in the ’90s. Then we started thinking about how to get there – we had to be different, we had to be new. We wanted to return to being the visionary festival that was ahead of the competition.”

The result is a partnership between promoter Mojo Concerts and Dutch event management outfit LOC7000, of which Hooch Antink is GM, which delivered for 2017 far more than a cosmetic facelift. At the centre of a comprehensive site redesign, organisers introduced two radical new stage designs, dubbed Alpha and Bravo. Designed to give increased production capabilities by the festival’s in-house team, most notably Niels Peeters, senior production manager for Mojo Concerts, in close cooperation with Stageco, both stages were manufactured specifically for their first use at Lowlands 2017. They have been treated acoustically to produce exceptional audio, lighting and visual experiences – and futureproof Lowlands for years to come.

The Alpha stage (pictured above) – a 75m-long x 60m-wide steel structure in a copper-coloured skin, with a height of 22m and 30 tonnes-per-arch rigging capacity – looks more like a huge, futuristic aircraft hangar than a standard festival stage. It houses 15,000 people inside and gives sightlines to a further 20,000+ outside.

The avocado-green Bravo stage (pictured below; both photos by Graham Brown), meanwhile, is 20m high with four ‘cloisters’ coming off a cathedral-esque central dome. As with the Alpha, it includes a modern, touring-style main stage, with a 69m x 64m structure that covers the bulk of the audience.

“This year, we invested in having a good 25th anniversary line-up, and the new stages meant we were able to accommodate the full festival productions for our headliners on both stages, such as The xx, Mumford & Sons, Bastille, alt-J, Iggy Pop, Skepta, et cetera,” adds van Eerdenburg.

“We wanted to once again be the kind of trend setting festival we were in the ’90s”

“I’ve been talking to some tour managers who are really happy with the facilities that the new stages offer artists. I’ve also spoken to the audiences, who are all so enthusiastic about the new structures. The Alpha stage offers fantastic sightlines and the structure of the Bravo stage is really beautiful to be in.”

The third major change from previous years is a central hub, known as the Armadillo, which combines lounging space with DJs, food vendors, bars and climbable structures running 24 hours a day for four days. The venue has Lowland’s iconic chimneys at its centre, previously used at the entrance between the campsite and the main festival arena.

Mojo’s Niels Peeters, who designed the Armadillo, explains: “We wanted to create a central chill-out and party point depending on the time of day, and the audience’s experience of the area was more important than the practical side. However, backstage areas for food and bars were built into the Armadillo, allowing traders to replenish their stocks easily. When we were designing the area we worked closely with all of our suppliers to ensure they were happy with how the space worked for them.”

Significant changes around the lake near the Alpha stage also added a picturesque natural feature for the audience, as well as creating an additional production route on and off the site.

“You need a very close relationship with your suppliers because they are an integral part of the festival,” says Hooch Antink. “When you want to be ahead of other festivals, you have to make sure that every team from every aspect of the festival is happy and involved with the Lowlands concept.

“For the whole 25 years of the festival we’ve had a very strong team. It’s not just been two or three managers making the concept and pushing their ideas. It’s a collaboration: site production, technical production, health and safety, catering, theatre programming… they’re all one team and the whole team is creating the concept.

Alpha stage, Lowlands 2017

“Along with the more obvious things we do, like the stages, we also do a lot of work on the less immediately noticeable aspects of the festival. We keep our customers safe and look after them with good sanitation on site and fantastic catering.

“Also, you can’t ignore what is happening in the world in relation to terrorism at entertainment events – they can be seen as an easy target and people are concerned when going into a festival. The Lowlands philosophy is that safety is not just something you stick onto the festival, it’s something that we build into it from the very beginning and it is at the forefront of all the big decisions we make. The big challenge is to provide a contemporary security solution while also making sure people still feel free to enjoy themselves. We made some fundamental changes to our security plan this year – notably project manager Maarten Van Lokven redeploying our stewarding positions and introducing airport style X-ray machines at the entrance, which worked very well.”

Those fundamental changes, along with the investment in talent and production capabilities, appear to have paid off: For the first time in three years, Lowlands 2017 had a capacity audience across all four festival evenings (18–21 August) – and van Eerdenburg says the feedback from artists, crew and festivalgoers has been universally positive. “The Alpha stage offers fantastic sightlines, and the structure of the Bravo stage is really beautiful to be in,” he explains.

“I’ve been talking to some tour managers who are really happy with the facilities that the new stages offer artists – and I’ve also spoken to the audiences, who are all so enthusiastic about the new structures.”

Lowlands will return in August 2018.

 


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