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Economist Will Page delivers his festival forecast

Former Spotify and PRS for Music chief economist Will Page has offered his take on the “crisis” engulfing the UK’s festival scene.

Page recently penned an op-ed, We’ve Got To Rethink Festivals, for Music Business Worldwide, in which he pored over the cancellation of more than 50 festivals in the UK in 2024 and considered what it meant for the live business looking ahead.

The list of events either postponed, cancelled or shut down includes NASS Festival, Bradford’s Challenge Festival, El Dorado, PennfestConnect Music Festival110 Above Festival, Leopollooza, Long Division, Bluedot, Barn On The Farm and Towersey Festival – the UK’s longest-running independent – with the majority of organisers blaming significant increases in operational costs.

Speaking to IQ, Page pinpoints five key factors as the major contributors to the current state of play: costs (“out of control”); demand (“less appetite for risk”); supply (“the algorithm turns us into a field of niches”); culture (“the pandemic wounds of 2020 are still healing”) and weather (“why bother with a major UK festival for £300 when Lisbon costs £30)”.

Given similar reports from the US and Australian festival markets, Page concludes: “There’s something much wider at play here. Hence the need to rethink.”

“The main lesson is that we – as in the British music industry – have been late to wake up to inflation”

He continues: “To quote Richard Kramer, co-host of the Bubble Trouble podcast, it did feel like the whole British live music industry was getting ‘over their skis’ with the post-pandemic bounce back – and that’s when bubbles turn into trouble.

“Saying that, I was not aware of the cost element until a few months ago, when promoters were saying production costs had risen by 50% in two years, and the cost of US talent had become prohibitive. So with the benefit of hindsight, you could argue it was foreseeable. But the main lesson is that we – as in the British music industry – have been late to wake up to inflation, be it concerts or streaming. We’ve been asleep at the wheel – me included.”

Page references the plight of the independent sector in particular, describing the situation as “brutal”.

“Of that list of 53 [cancelled] festivals, most of them are independent where the impact of costs is so much more pronounced,” he says. “The ability to accommodate these costs is much more limited. Also, the motives for independent festivals are not necessarily profit maximising – many have admirable charitable goals as their focus. What’s more, it’s these smaller stages where the headliners of tomorrow often start out – we should all be worried.

“But let’s also recognise the tail is getting snapped, but the head of the distribution – the big festivals – are not finding it easy either. It’s a sensitive subject, for sure, but you won’t find the words ‘sold out’ next to many big events and we’re in mid-July.”

“Festivals of the future need to double down on curation”

In addition, Page, who authored the books Pivot and Tarzan Economics, reflects on the extent to which the headliner shortage is responsible for the struggles of many events.

“Glenn McDonald, author of the brilliant book You Have not Heard your Favourite Song makes a insightful point: ‘A genre-unfocused festival-poster lineup starts to just look like a playlist that has been made and personalised for somebody else,'” says Page. “Let’s think about that – festivals work when we all gather around the same headline stage together and sing those same songs like they are hymns. That very notion, as simple as it is, is beginning to creek.

“Now, the algorithm has turned us into a field of niches. We are all catered for by our unique tastes and we’re stuck down our own rabbit hole as a result. That’s us — our demographic.

“So, what about the next generation coming through? Festivals of the future need to double down on curation. The next generation may not have much in “musical-common” with each other but there will still be demand for intimacy – something the internet can’t deliver but festivals can.”

Debating whether 2024 is more of an off-year or a sign of things to come, Page finds some positives to be drawn while offering his prediction for where the market is headed in the coming years.

“Headline inflation is now under control – that’s a big plus, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into production costs,” he says. “Promoters and venue owners are agile though so I’d be hopeful they are coming down too.

“As for how things might look, I keep thinking about the analogy of a supermarket and specialist butcher. Everything you can find in the butcher, is also for sale in a supermarket – so why do consumers afford the hassle of two visits? The specialist butcher in this sense is the genre-focused festival – and I think the near-term future may be found in this lane. Festivals with a clear musical USP. From a field of niches all the way to a niche headliner to a packed field. Envisage a pendulum swinging away from scale and towards intimacy. That.”

 


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UK festival cancellations reach 50: The full list

The number of UK festivals to have announced a postponement, cancellation or complete closure in 2024 has now reached 50.

Northwich’s Geronimo children’s festival, scheduled for 23-26 August at Arley Hall, Cheshire, has become the latest casualty over the past few days, as the crisis affecting the sector deepens.

“The great British weather is not always kind and with a huge percentage of festival-goers holding off booking until the last week, the event has become an unsustainable financial risk,” say organisers.

Other fresh cancellations include Chelmsford’s ZENfest and Hertfordshire’s Starry Village, while Wrexham’s Another World Music Festival and South Yorkshire’s Askern Music Festival have been postponed to 2025 due to licensing issues. London’s 51st festival has also called off its 2024 gathering, citing “the cost of living crisis, a significant increase in operational costs and operational issues”.

In addition, Oxfordshire’s family-oriented Beacon Festival held its final event from 21-22 June and Underneath the Stars’ 10-year celebration in Barnsley between 2-4 August will be its last edition “for now”.

“This is the most challenging time for independent festivals who desperately need an intervention from the incoming government”

“This is a regrettable landmark for the UK’s festival sector,” says Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) CEO John Rostron. “This is the most challenging time for independent festivals who desperately need an intervention from the incoming government before more events inevitably fall.”

Without intervention, AIF predicts the UK will see over 100 festivals disappear in 2024 due to the pressures of unpredictable and rising costs.

Earlier this year, the trade association launched the Five Percent For Festivals campaign to encourage festivalgoers to contact their MPs to lobby for a VAT reduction on tickets. AIF states that a reduced VAT from 20% to 5% on ticket sales for the next three years will give festival promoters the space they need to rebuild.

“Our research suggests around 100 festivals will throw in the towel before the year is out, and more will go into 2025 at risk if there is not the temporary fiscal support they need,” adds Rostron.

The full list of 50 festivals also comprises:

 


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Report demands greater support for Oz festivals

A senate inquiry into Australia’s national cultural policy has called for greater support for the country’s crisis-hit festival sector, amid mounting cancellations.

NSW’s Return to Rio became the latest event to call off its 2024 edition last week, citing a 529% rise in police and medical costs, following in the footsteps of the likes of Splendour in the Grass, Groovin the Moo and Falls. Other casualties have included Coastal Jam, Summerground, Vintage Vibes, Tent Pole: A Musical Jamboree and ValleyWays.

The authors of the interim report are pleading with the Albanese government to provide an arts support package in next week’s federal budget as businesses struggles to cope with rapidly rising overheads.

“The arts in Australia are being crunched in the cost of living crisis and they need support in Tuesday’s Federal Budget,” says senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens spokesperson for the arts, who chaired the inquiry. “The senate has heard compelling evidence that the government should step in to mitigate the rapidly rising cost of overheads, like insurance premiums, particularly for those small, medium and local Australian music and arts festivals.”

“This is not just about the big name, corporate backed festivals, but more importantly, it’s about supporting local and independent festivals”

She continues: “This is not just about the big name, corporate backed festivals, but more importantly, it’s about supporting local and independent festivals.”

More than one-third of Australian festivals lost money in the 2022-2023 financial year, according to a recent report from Creative Australia, while over 40 have been cancelled, postponed, or evacuated due to heat, fires, rain or floods over the past decade.

“Live performance events bring significant economic benefits that flow through to jobs in hospitality, tourism, trades and other sectors,” adds Hanson-Young. “This would be a minor budget measure that would make a significant difference. I am hopeful that the government will respond to the needs of the sector in next week’s budget.”

 


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We Are FSTVL cancelled for 2024

Promoters of We Are FSTVL have announced the cancellation of the 2024 edition “for reasons beyond our control”.

The independent London dance music festival, which launched in 2013, was scheduled to take place from 25-26 May with a lineup headed by Eric Prydz and Chase & Status.

Last November, it was revealed that the event would be upping sticks from Damyns Hall Aerodrome, Upminster to Central Park, Dagenham. But the local authority has now made the “difficult decision” to call off this year’s festival a month out for health and safety reasons after record levels of rainfall.

“Last year, when we were looking for a new home, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham [LBBD] offered us the beautiful Central Park and we worked with them to create detailed plans for how the festival would work this year and be better than ever before,” says organiser Rebelia.

“We had invested time and money into the new site, new stages and brought in a new creative team to bring the weekend to life with immersive experiences and large art installations, alongside the already fantastic lineup, which we couldn’t wait to share with you.

“London Borough of Barking and Dagenham accepted that they could not deliver a safe event space that was fit for the purpose of allowing us to stage We Are FSTVL 2024”

“Sadly, and just days before we were due to attend on site to start the build, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham accepted that they could not deliver a safe event space that was fit for the purpose of allowing us to stage We Are FSTVL 2024. We are heartbroken by this decision and can’t wait to dance with you again in 2025 and show you everything we have been working on.”

Ticket-holders will be contacted with refund information via email shortly.

“We are sorry to announce that the We Are FSTVL event organised by Rebelia Ltd and scheduled to take place in Central Park, Dagenham on the weekend of 25-26 May has had to be cancelled,” adds an LBBD statement.

“This difficult decision has been made due to health and safety concerns. LBBD’s recent assessment of Central Park, after record levels of rainfall this year, has found the site cannot safely host the physical demands of We Are FSTVL’s equipment and audience. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.”

We Are FSTVL joins a growing list of UK festival cancellations for 2024, while a further 100 are at permanent risk without action according to trade body the Association of Independent Festivals.

 


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Two more UK festivals cancelled

Two more UK festivals have announced they will no longer take place in 2024.

Connect Music Festival and 110 Above Festival join a growing list of UK festivals to have announced some form of cancellation already this year, including NASS Festival, Leopollooza, Long Division, Bluedot, Barn On The Farm and Splendour, as well as Nozstock The Hidden Valley, which says its 2024 edition will be its last.

Meanwhile, organisers of a third event – Norfolk’s Wild Fields – are battling to reconfigure the planned three-day camping event into a two-day city-based gathering. A collaboration between ATC Group and the team behind Norwich-based multi-venue festival Wild Paths, the 10,000-cap Wild Fields was set for Raynham Estate in North Norfolk from 15-18 August.

The festival was aiming to offer “a truly diverse range of festival performers,” having signed up to Keychange’s 50/50 pledge. Artists booked included Ezra Collective, SBTRKT, Los Bitchos and Nightmares on Wax.

However, festival director Ben Street tells IQ that the team are trying to salvage the festival and are awaiting licensing approval to move to a city park. A statement from Wild Fields reads, “As a team we’ve platformed some of the most exciting, progressive line-ups and sought to challenge convention, outdated attitudes and trends in the industry. Making these choices has never been easy but we’ve been tenacious and stuck to our values.”

DF Concerts says its Connect Music Festival, held at Edinburgh’s Royal Highland Showgrounds, will “take a break” in 2024.

“We’ve decided to take a break with Connect Music Festival in 2024 to take the time to build the next edition of the festival, to make sure it flourishes, evolves, and continues to offer wonderful experiences for all the fans,” says a statement shared on social media.

“Week by week, day by day, one by one these brilliant, vital independent music festivals are disappearing”

The 110 Above Festival, meanwhile, was scheduled for Gopsall Hall Farm, Leicestershire from 10-13 August, with acts such as Circa Waves, The Mysterines, Jack Garratt and Twin Atlantic.

“Having considered carefully and explored various options we have taken the tough decision to give 2024 a miss,” explain organisers. “The current economic climate means it would be reckless to plough on with such uncertainty and volatile costs – particularly for a fully independent festival like ours.

“We already had a feel for this in 2023 where conditions were challenging and the festival made a sizeable loss. This could have been much worse if it wasn’t for the amazing support from team members, contractors and supporters. What’s next? The break will give us a chance to re-group, and re-energise. We really want to keep 110 alive as it’s a passion that we see bring joy to so many.”

In response, UK trade body the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) is repeating calls for a three-year reduction in VAT on festival tickets from 20% to 5%.

“Week by week, day by day, one by one these brilliant, vital independent music festivals are disappearing,” says AIF CEO John Rostron. “With it, we lose the pipeline of talent development for artists and a space for audiences to find new music across the UK. Future headliners were made here.

“The costs of putting on these festivals has risen so much, way beyond the price of the ticket, and so independent festival promoters – already losing money – are having to call time.

“This is a long tail impact of Covid and of Brexit. If the UK wants to be a world leader in music, then the UK government needs to do as other countries across the world have done, and support the festival sector for a few years to make its recovery. Lower VAT on tickets to 5% for three years, and we’ll prevent more festivals having to say enough is enough and goodbye.”

A similar situation is unfolding in Australia, where at least six festivals have been called off since the beginning of this year, in what some executives are calling a crisis.

 


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Moscow’s Park Live festival decimated by cancellations

Moscow’s Park Live festival has been called off following a raft of cancellations from international acts.

Placebo, My Chemical Romance, Slipknot, Biffy Clyro, Iggy Pop, Deftones, Royal Blood and The Killers have all pulled out of the festival in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With only a handful of acts left on the bill, the annual international music festival will no longer take place at Luzhniki Olympic Complex in June and July.

“Y’all already understood that Park Live festival won’t be happening this year,” reads a statement from the organisers, posted on Facebook. “The picture of current circumstances does not provide the opportunity to fit our [festival] into it for legal, logistic, or for simple human reasons.”

“The picture of current circumstances does not provide the opportunity to fit our [festival] into it”

Park Live was launched in 2013 by Moscow-headquartered promoter Melnitsa Concert Agency, with the aim of bringing international artists to Russia.

The promoter, which also has offices in Kyiv, Minsk and Tbilisi, is considered one of the leading live music organisers of international and domestic acts in the ex-USSR territory.

Alongside Park Live, the company’s stable of festivals includes UPark in Kyiv, Ukraine, which has also been called off due to the conflict.

As more events are called off in Russia, the country’s live music association is proposing a moratorium on ticket refunds to prevent “the collapse of the industry”.

Other acts that have cancelled performances in Russia include Green Day, Imagine Dragons, Louis Tomlinson, Yungblud, Franz Ferdinand, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Bring Me the Horizon.

 


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Sweden’s capacity limits: How low can they go?

While markets across Europe charge towards a full reopening, the Swedish live industry is still crawling to the finish line thanks to its government’s ever-stringent capacity limits.

The Scandinavian nation yesterday (28 June) announced that it will move to the second stage of its reopening roadmap on 1 July, permitting indoor standing concerts with a grand total of 50 people.

As of tomorrow, seated indoor concerts will be allowed to take place with 300 people, standing outdoor concerts with 600, and seated outdoor concerts with 3,000.

The government presented the five-step plan for removing Covid restrictions on 27 May, which commenced on 1 June.

Capacity limits for public gatherings, public events and private gatherings aren’t due to be removed until September

In the first stage of Sweden’s roadmap, the government imposed a capacity limit of just eight people for indoor standing shows – one of the lowest in Europe at that time.

Capacity limits for public gatherings, public events and private gatherings in Sweden aren’t due to be removed until step four, which is due to be initiated in September.

Meanwhile, FranceBelgiumthe Netherlands, DenmarkAustria and the UK have set a date this summer for the resumption of large, non-socially distanced shows.

The removal of restrictions comes too late for Swedish festivals, the majority of which have already been cancelled.

Major events such as Way Out West (12–14 August), Sweden Rock (9–12 June), Lollapalooza Stockholm (2–5 July) and Statement Festival (3–4 September) were called off earlier this year.

 


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FKP Scorpio cancels August festivals

FKP Scorpio has cancelled three more of its summer festivals, saying the spread of the highly transmissible Indian (Delta) variant of the coronavirus in Germany makes going ahead with Highfield, M’era Luna and A Summer’s Tale this year impossible.

Alternative music event M’era Luna, which was scheduled for 7–8 August, and Leipzig rock festival Highfield, which was to have taken place 13–15 August, have both been postponed until 2022, while the relaunch of boutique event A Summer’s Tale, which went on hiatus in 2020, has also been delayed by a year.

Like flagship events Hurricane and Southside, which were called off in March, all tickets for the rescheduled events remain valid. Kraftklub, Casper, Deichkind and Limp Bizkit will headline Highfield 2022, with goth icons Sisters of Mercy newly announced for next year’s M’era Luna.

“The situation is still unpredictable because of the Delta variant, among other things”

At press time, FKP’s autumn events, including November’s Rolling Stone Beach and Metal Hammer Paradise, are still on.

There are currently no nationwide rules for major events in Germany, with the continually changing state-by-state rules making planning a festival a near impossibility at the time of writing.

“As with the Hurricane and Southside, we have done everything in consultation with experts to ensure that our August festivals can take place,” says FKP Scorpio managing director Stephan Thanscheidt. “However, despite falling incidences [of Covid-19], we were ultimately forced to postpone it again, as the situation is still unpredictable because of the Delta variant, among other things.

“For this reason, in order to protect the health of our guests and the teams, we have to wait another year until we can finally meet again in 2022 for an unforgettable festival summer. ”

 


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Festivals axed after UK lockdown easing delay

As predicted, a number of UK festivals, among them Black Deer in Kent, have been forced call off their 2021 events at the last minute after yesterday’s government U-turn on lifting remaining coronavirus restrictions on 21 June.

Black Deer, which has a daily capacity of 10,000, was scheduled for 25–27 June, having already postponed by a week to be after the 21st, the final date for lifting all restrictions in England under the UK government’s now-abandoned roadmap. The Americana event, which debuted in 2018, would have featured a line-up that included Van Morrison, Robert Plan’s Saving Grace, Jake Bugg, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Imelda May, Band of Skulls and Foy Vance.

Trade body LIVE had warned that any delay to the 21 June reopening date would wipe an estimated 5,000 concerts, festivals and events from the calendar and cost the live music industry hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenues.

“We can’t quite put into words how we are feeling right now,” say Black Deer organisers on social media. “The delay by the government on the easing of restrictions means we’re unable to bring you Black Deer Festival 2021. It’s devastating news for all connected with Black Deer. But we’ll be back in 2022.”

Elsewhere, several other smaller events have also thrown in the towel, with Glastonferry (5,000-cap.) in Warrington, Bingley Weekender (5,000-cap.) in West Yorkshire and Noisily (2,000-cap.) in Leicestershire among other festivals saying the four-week delay makes their 2021 events untenable.

A statement from Noisily, scheduled for 8–12 July, says: “It is with heavy heavy hearts that we write this message. Today’s announcement was the one that we dreaded – a delay to the release from Covid restrictions. The woods and fields in which Noisily takes place are a part of a working farm, meaning that there is no scope to delay until later in the summer, which means that Noisily 2021 cannot go ahead.”

“We can’t quite put into words how we are feeling right now”

“We know how gutting this is for you all,” organisers continue. “We needed that soul food of meeting in the woods once again, and after pouring our heart and soul into the event on a wing and a prayer, hoping against hope – to have all of that dashed again is beyond devastating.”

Other festivals under threat include popular Sheffield event Tramlines (30,000-cap.), which begins on 24 July, just five days after the new ‘freedom day’.

As the Sheffield Star reports, “that means it could legally still go ahead if the government sticks to the new date”; however, “any further postponement of lockdown easing would force its cancellation, with the existing limit on capacity for outdoor events standing at 4,000, leaving little time to react should that happen.”

Latitude (35,000-cap.), meanwhile, is still on at the time of writing, according to Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn.

In an update posted to the Latitude Twitter account, Benn asks ticketholders to give the company “a little more time” to digest yesterday’s announcement, saying that a decision on the festival should be made by the end of the week. However, the delay doesn’t mean “the end of our hopes for Latitude this year”, says Benn.

Latitude 2021, headlined by Wolf Alice, the Chemical Brothers and Bastille, takes place from 22 to 25 July.

 


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Report: UK’s inaction over insurance blamed for ‘lost summer’

The UK government’s “refusal” to back insurance for events at risk of cancellation due to Covid-19 restrictions is “directly” responsible for the festival sector’s second consecutive ‘lost summer’, a report has found.

The report is a result of a January inquiry into the future of UK music festivals, conducted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee.

The findings come after culture secretary Oliver Dowden stated that the government would not provide commercial insurance until 21 June at the earliest, when all restrictions are due to be lifted. However, MPs say that at that point, it would “simply be too late” for summer festivals.

Now, MPs express caution on whether the government’s roadmap will enable festivals to go ahead at all this summer, raising doubts about the scope of the government’s Events Research Programme and uncertainty over the spread of new Covid-19 variants.

“Music festivals have been treated as the poor relation by the government,” says DCMS committee chair, Julian Knight. “Despite the huge economic and cultural contribution they make, few have benefited from the Culture Recovery Fund, and without our efforts the sector would have been left out of the pilot events programme on the safe return of audiences.

“It has been made very clear to us that the vast majority of music festivals do not have the financial resilience to cover the costs of another year of late-notice cancellations. If the commercial insurance market won’t step in, ministers must, and urgently: events need to know now whether the government will back them, or they simply won’t take place this year.

“Events need to know now whether the government will back them, or they simply won’t take place this year”

“We repeat our call for the government to announce an insurance scheme to cover festival organisers if events need to be cancelled as a result of Covid-19 restrictions continuing beyond 21 June. There’s still time to get the music playing, but no more room for excuses.”

The UK live industry, along with the DCMS Select Committee, has repeatedly called for a contingency fund for live events, as more and more marquee festivals have cancelled.

Glastonbury, Download, Bluedot, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, Bluedot, Boomtown and Shambala are among the UK festivals that have already called it quits, citing a lack of security for large events.

Commenting on the DCMS Select Committee report, a spokesperson from LIVE, the representative body for the UK live music industry, says: “The DCMS Select Committee is right when it says that the government is letting UK festivals down by refusing to deal with the absence of commercial insurance. After months of fruitless discussions with the DCMS and Treasury, the sector is exasperated at the government’s unwillingness to step in to help prevent the collapse of the festival sector for a further 12 months.

“Without some form of insurance the risk of going ahead will simply be too great for many festivals this year and, whatever happens with the reopening timetable, the vast majority of events could pull the plug in the coming weeks.”

Compensation schemes have been announced in Germany (€2.5bn), Austria (€300m), the Netherlands (€300m), Belgium (€60m),  Norway (€34m), Denmark (DKK 500m) and Estonia (€6m).

But while the UK government has underwritten the cancellation costs of all forthcoming Events Research Programme pilot shows – to a maximum of £300,000 per event – officials have been reticent to agree to a scheme more broadly.


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