Festival Republic to bring grid power to festivals
Festival Republic is partnering with Music Declares Emergency (MDE) to bring grid power to festivals and reduce carbon emissions for the sector.
The Festival Republic-funded collaboration falls under MDE’s No Music On A Dead Planet climate campaign which has previously won support from the likes of Billie Eilish, Foals and Brian Eno.
Live Nation-backed Festival Republic will support the project with the aim of using fully renewably powered, grid-connected stages at three of its events for the 2023 festival season. It will also help create a pathway for other promoters and event organisers to follow suit.
For the first time, Reading & Leeds this year will be powered by 100% HVO biofuel – a renewable form of fuel that has 90% less carbon equivalent emissions than regular diesel.
In addition, Reading will launch a priority car park for car sharers with GoCarShare, as well as a paper cup and rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) bottle deposit return scheme and a ‘Take Your Tent Home’ campaign. Additionally, no virgin single-use plastic will be sold at the festival (all bottles are rPET).
“This project will be a game changer for outdoor live events”
Festival Republic MD, Melvin Benn, says: “This project will be a game changer for outdoor live events. Generating our own temporary power is the highest contributor of on-site Greenhouse Gas emissions at a festival, and by plugging into the grid we will reduce this significantly.
“By doing this, and sharing our knowledge with others, festival goers can have an amazing time at festivals safe in the knowledge that we are doing everything we can as event organisers to create events that have positive rather than negative impacts.”
Music Declares Emergency co-founder, Lewis Jamieson, says: “Festival Republic and Melvin personally have been at the forefront of action on climate and environmental issues within the music industry for years.
“In partnering with MDE to make renewable event power a reality, they are not just continuing FR’s transition towards a greener future but offering the entire live sector an invaluable pathway that will benefit the whole live music community. We are delighted to be working with Festival Republic on such a visible example of the difference positive music businesses can make in relation to the climate crisis.”
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The latest on live music’s supply chain crisis
The perfect storm impacting touring’s supply chain ahead of the industry’s biggest summer in years took centre stage at ILMC.
Chaired by Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith, The Supply Chain: Restock, repair and recruit panel focused on the ongoing issues caused by the sector’s staffing exodus since the onset of Covid-19.
Galbraith noted that, with tens of thousands of freelance workers – and full-time staff – having left the industry over the past 24 months to find jobs elsewhere, shortages remained across the board.
“One of the key problems at the moment – and that’s been the case from last August, September and then through Christmas and now, as we head into what will be undoubtedly the busiest festival season ever in the UK and many other territories – is actually there just aren’t enough staff,” said Galbraith. “So many people have left our industry, whether it be riggers, bar staff, security, truck drivers, etc.”
It’s the task of everybody to bring in new talents and teach them”
Okan Tombulca of eps said that the uncertainty around the restart had deterred a significant section of the workforce from returning.
“A lot of people from the industry had other jobs and they said, ‘Listen, I’m happy to come back. But not only for two or three months, because then I’ll lose my other job,'” he said. “A lot of promoters brought in a lot of young people without any experience and the workload was really high. We saw many people burned out after the three months… It was just too much.”
Tombulca said that training the next generation of backstage talent was of paramount importance.
“It’s the task of everybody: promoters, service companies, that we bring in new talents and teach them,” he said. “We, as eps, were fortunate that we didn’t lose too many people. Nevertheless, we are very, very concerned about staffing.”
“We were trying to do eight months’ work in three months, with probably half the number of people”
Festival Republic’s Becky Grundy, event manager for festivals such as Reading and Creamfields South, described last summer’s season as the most challenging of her 25-year career.
“We were trying to do eight months’ work in three months, with probably half the number of people,” she said. “There was the uncertainty about when things would open up and the availability of equipment, because most of it was tied up on government testing sites. Working under those circumstances, you’re making 1,000 phone calls when you could be normally making 10. But it increased the dialogue between everyone in the industry. We couldn’t have got through it without the support of the suppliers.
“We did seven or eight full capacity events from July through to September and we didn’t really start bringing people back to work on those until May, so it was a lot of work to achieve in a very short space of time.”
ASM Global’s Ailsa Oliver, general manager of Utilita Arena Newcastle, called the circumstances around last year’s restart in the UK as a “nightmare” and said the situation was still some way from returning to normal.
“I’d like to say it’s fine [but] it’s not fine,” she said. “I think we’re possibly getting used to it. Our resilience plans are working. We’re working very collaboratively with our providers locally and really thinking about how we value our workforce and how we encourage people to come back to the industry, or just to join the industry. Because there’s been two years where they didn’t even know there was an industry to come back to.”
Oliver added that staffing costs were up “25 to 50%” in some cases. “Some of that is linked to Covid and hygiene protocols, and additional work is required from that,” she said. “But yeah, it is up to 50%-plus in certain roles.”
“There are no restrictions, but we have a lot of artists coming in who are still very much aware of Covid and want the safety procedures”
CEO of UAE-based Flash Entertainment John Lickrish said the company’s biggest challenge related to content.
“Getting content in a six-hour minimum flight, logistics and operations was really challenging during the Formula One [Abu Dhabi Grand Prix of December 2021] where we had four big concerts and Foo Fighters cancelled at the last minute,” he said. “Trying to get a backup artist, or anyone to come and perform, was next to impossible.
“We were working directly with the airlines and with the authorities to make concessions about Covid, but we couldn’t get the equipment in. We ended up sourcing two people who happened to be in the UAE: one was in Dubai and one was in Abu Dhabi for F1, so it was a bit of a challenge. We used to be able to snap our fingers.”
Xenia Grigat of Copenhagen-based promoter and booking agency Smash!Bang!Pow, brought the session up to speed on the state of play in Denmark.
“We didn’t have a festival season last year, but we did some headline shows,” she said. “Of course, the majority was with local artists – it’s just recently that we have had international artists coming in, with all the challenges that that brings with it.
“There are no restrictions, but we have a lot of artists coming in who are still very much aware of Covid and want the safety procedures that we cannot uphold because we can’t enforce that on the audience any longer. We get it that they want to have the audience wearing face masks and want crew to be tested, which we can do to some extent. But backstage, it’s still taking up resources.”
“Every change is also an opportunity to get to the next level”
Galbraith said that while Covid was “pretty much done” in the UK, there were still knock-on effects relating to neighbouring markets.
“It’s certainly done in the public areas of concerts and backstage pretty much too, but we’ve got artists that are coming in to the UK and touring who are still working on protocols based on what’s happening in Europe,” he said. “And they’ve got to, because they’ve got to go back there – and they can’t go back there with Covid because they have to quarantine there and they’ll lose the shows.”
Ending on an upbeat note, Tombulca suggested how the business could use the crisis to improve its inner workings.
“Every change is also an opportunity to get to the next level,” he said. “This situation is also bringing a lot of new ideas. From the vendors to the service companies, we’re developing a lot of new products, which are more sustainable and need less labour and transport capacities.
“We are forced to do that because we all know at the moment, we might be in a good position, because the demand is higher than the offer. But we all know in two years time, you guys will squeeze us again. So we have to be prepared for it, without doubt.”
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Festival Republic, Louder plan new London festival
Festival Republic and Louder have announced a new festival, slated to take place in London during the August bank holiday.
The inaugural edition of Electricity City will take place on Clapham Common, in southwest London, on Sunday 28 August.
Chase & Status, Headie One, Hybrid Minds and JME Presents are among the acts set to play the one-day event.
The festival has also secured a number of exclusive sets including Sub Focus B2B Wilkinson (UK festival exclusive), Skream UKG set (London festival exclusive) and Chase & Status (London exclusive).
Last year, Festival Republic launched three new one-day festivals on the August bank holiday at Clapham Common
Last year, Live Nation-backed Festival Republic and Louder launched three new one-day festivals on the August bank holiday at Clapham Common – Yam Carnival, Return II Dance and ALT + LDN. Lambeth Council, which presides over the Common, reportedly accumulated £300,000 from the festivals.
This year, Yam Carnival will return to its Saturday slot for a second edition, while Electric City will replace Return II Dance. ALT + LDN is billed to return in 2022 though no further details have been announced.
Festival Republic’s stable of festivals also includes Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Wireless, Wilderness and Download – all of which took place last year, in the UK.
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Green Code of Conduct consultation launched
Sustainability initiative Vision:2025 has launched a consultation for a music industry Green Code of Conduct to provide clear, minimum, environmental standards for all UK outdoor events.
The code has been developed by trade bodies including AIF, AFO, NOEA and EIF, as well as organisations such as Festival Republic and Julie’s Bicycle, with support from live event promoters across the UK.
“Developing a code of conduct by the industry for the industry has multiple benefits,” says Chris Johnson, chair of Vision:2025. “It will provide standards for sustainable practices that are credible, realistic, and crucially, workable, for all event organisers. It will bring the clarity, along with national consistency, that stakeholders across the sector are asking for, as we take steps to reduce emissions and impacts as part the industry’s journey to net zero.”
Creating a Green Code of Conduct is a practical and potentially effective step that the industry can take to show leadership and improve standards
The Green Code is a direct response to recommendations made by the select committee on the future of music festivals, in May. It also relates to the framework set out for the wider music sector in the LIVE Green vision, launched earlier this year.
“Creating a Green Code of Conduct is a practical and potentially effective step that the industry can take to show leadership and improve standards,” says Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn.
Steve Heap, general secretary of the AFO, and chair of the Event Industry Forum (EIF), which oversees health and safety publication the Purple Guide, says: “The Purple Guide is an established publication that advises how our industry manages health & safety best practice. This Green Code of Conduct could provide the blueprint for a new sustainability chapter.”
Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) adds: “The development of the Green Code of conduct will help AIF members and all outdoor events to manage their impacts and agree on some top-level shared principles. It is vital that we continue to work together as an industry and with government to mitigate impacts and take collective action.”
The online survey is open for comments here until 14 January.
International Festival Forum 2021 marks a return to form
After 2020’s online-only version, the International Festival Forum (IFF) enjoyed a successful return to a physical event in late September, as more than 600 delegates registered for the event that focuses on booking agents and festivals.
Enthusiasm for IFF was evident at the opening party, hosted by UTA, where many delegates renewed acquaintances with colleagues they had not seen in the flesh since the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) in March 2020.
With agency partners reporting oversubscribed speed-meetings at their pop-up offices around Camden, the conference element included a number of pre-recorded sessions, covering such topics as Your Next Headliner – Climate Action; Festival Playground – the Future of Music Festivals; Festival Insurance in a Post-Pandemic World; and Counting the Cost of Brexit.
The keynote saw CAA’s Maria May interviewing Festival Republic chief Melvin Benn and FKP Scorpio founder Folkert Koopmans, who delivered an optimistic message about the future of the business.
“[Festival Republic] is starting new festivals in 2022… we’ve got to try and keep up with Folkert”
Both men noted that there had been no dialogue between the live music industry and the government prior to Covid, meaning much of the last 18 months had been spent educating politicians and persuading them to help support the business.
Quizzed by May about what could be done to help emerging talent, given that many festival line-ups have rolled over into 2022, Benn revealed that he would be launching new events next year. “I am starting new festivals in 2022,” he said.”I’ve always got to have at least one because I try to keep up with Folkert. So, we’ve got at least one or two next year, and that will give new talent the opportunity to start getting to play to a bigger audience.”
“When I hear that Melvin is doing two or three new festivals, we might do four,” quipped Koopmans. However, he admitted that staffing was a problem and along with spiralling costs it means there will be some tough choices to make, so establishing any new showcase festivals might have to wait.
But he predicted that not only will the 2022 season go ahead, but “It will be the biggest year ever. And I suppose the next years will just grow. I’m super optimistic.”
“There might not be a complete shutdown, but booking a European tour in February, at the height of flu season, will be a huge risk”
Benn concluded that the industry can also take a lead on sustainability. “Now it feels like everybody is on the same page – artists, managers, promoters, agents, suppliers and fans – and collectively there’s a lot we can do together and that needs to be one of the greatest collaborations that the music industry can continue with.”
Elsewhere, The Agency Business panel examined the recently announced CAA and ICM Partners acquisition, with panellists agreeing that the deal could provide opportunities for independent agencies, while former CAA staffer Jon Ollier admitted to being “fascinated” by the merger, noting that CAA will be determined to preserve the company’s culture.
And it was Ollier, now boss of One Fiinix Live, who shared his belief that one potential outcome of the Covid pandemic may be that the industry will lose its winter season. “There might not be a complete shutdown, but booking a European tour in February, at the height of flu season, will be a huge risk. So why not follow the sun around the globe to mitigate that risk?”
ATC Live head Alex Bruford noted that rebuilding consumer confidence would be a major challenge, while he predicted a more flexible approach to touring where acts may put on a series of arena dates at short notice as market conditions change.
“AEG’s Jim King called out the scandal of guest-list ticketing fall-off, which has been 40% on some shows”
The conference’s opener involved a Therapy Session where delegates shared stories from the past 18 months, alongside plans to rebuild and reopen their various markets for live events.
With Barnaby Harrod (Mercury Wheels) and Claire Courtney (Earth Agency) onstage to represent the different parts of the business, those in the room heard a number of tales, with arguably the most inspiring related by Georg Leitner of GLP, who revealed that Syrian refugees are being recruited by security firms in Germany to help that sector get back to full strength ahead of the 2022 season.
Paradigm’s Clementine Bunel, meanwhile, moderated The Roaring 20s? where she and her guests examined whether the rest of the decade could be a golden era for live music. And while the future could indeed be rosy, multiple challenges were identified, not the least of which will be sharp rises in ticket prices to cover spiralling costs – an issue that Lowlands Festival’s Eric van Eerdenburg warned could prevent young fans from attending.
And noting increased drop-off rates at recent live events throughout Europe, AEG’s Jim King called out the scandal of guest-list ticketing fall-off, which has been 40% on some shows, compared to 10-12% normally. “It’s outrageous,” he blasted.
The afternoon and evening programmes at IFF once again featured some of the hottest emerging talent on the rosters of ITB, Earth Agency, Paradigm, Primary Talent & ICM Partners, Marshall Live, X-ray Touring, and ATC Live, while Music Venue Trust used the occasion to bring down the curtain on their nationwide Revive Live Tour, as well as sponsoring the closing IFF party.
Melvin Benn: “I have reason to feel triumphant”
Just two months after the British government confirmed the full reopening of the country’s live music sector, Festival Republic has completed all seven of its domestic events.
The Live Nation-owned promoter has not only delivered Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Clapham Common, Wireless, Wilderness and Download Pilot – it has also been an integral part of the government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), which paved the way for the UK’s reopening.
On the back of a particularly busy summer, and in advance of Benn’s double keynote interview with Folkert Koopmans at the upcoming International Festival Forum, IQ met with the Festival Republic MD onsite at Wireless Festival to discuss his last event of 2021.
IQ: Amid a global pandemic and frequent uncertainty, you may be one of the only festival promoters in the world to pull off seven festivals in 2021. How triumphant are you feeling right now?
MB: It is an achievement. I think I am probably the only one. The team is exhausted because we have had to work incredibly hard to make these festivals happen. We’re sat here on 12 September, exactly two months from 12 July when the prime minister announced that things could open up again. And actually, until the 12 July, as much as we thought something might happen, we didn’t know. So we’ve literally had two months to put everything together. That’s really tough – particularly, on the back of the pandemic and the difficulty with the supply chain and other post-Brexit issues. I’ve got reason to be triumphant.
Today (12 September) marks another significant win for the British live music sector, as the health minister has said vaccine passports will not be required at events. What was your reaction to the news?
If I’m being really honest, our ideal world is no vaccine certification at all. So we’re really pleased about that. Would we have carried on with Covid certification (as a pose to vaccine certification) if we had to? Yes, we would’ve just got on with it because we want to make shows happen. What the health minister appears to have confirmed… is a massive step forward for us. It means that the government is pretty happy with its control of Covid. It’s a great statement for us as an industry too. The UK live music scene is truly open now.
No Covid certification or vaccine certification is a massive step forward for us
Unlike other Festival Republic events, Covid certification and testing were not enforced at Wireless, only recommend. What was the thinking behind that decision?
Two reasons. One is, legally, I don’t need to. Another is, it’s not a camping festival – people weren’t here for lots of days. And tracing the contraction of Covid to a particular location in London is really hard because people move around London so much – especially with the transport. We’re very largely a London audience. It didn’t seem to make any sense from an economic standpoint. All the crew, staff and artists are being tested though.
Wireless moved from Finsbury Park to Crystal Palace Park for this year only. How have you found the new location?
Amazing, really fantastic. It’s a beautiful, historic park and I’ve loved learning things about it, and about the neighbourhood. The beauty of the park is what really drew me to it. It’s also really special to have an audience arena that’s on two levels. I think it’s probably the best sound in London because of the nature of the way the site is. All the agents have been telling me as much.
I think Wireless probably has the best sound in London because of the nature of the way [Crystal Palace Park] is
It sounds like you’ve got an affinity with Crystal Palace Park. Will you be returning in any capacity?
We’re going to go back to Finsbury Park next year with Wireless but I will be returning to Crystal Palace Park. There are a couple of things that I’m looking at… some concert days. I’ve one activity that I think will be really good – a big American thing that I’m very excited about. I’m not able to say what it is but it’s already contracted for mid-July 2022 and then I’m going to build some concert dates around it. I’ve gone into a long term arrangement with the park and the trust and I’m committed to Crystal Palace now.
One pandemic-related problem is international artists dropping out of lineups. Wireless hasn’t just retained its international lineup, it has also included surprise guest features from the likes of Drake. What’s your secret?
The thing is, hip-hop acts are generally not travelling with so much backline, or a full band. They rehearse in a smaller space. It’s very expensive for a band to rehearse and get hotels and bring crew and a team. Hip-hop has the ability to travel lighter, with fewer people and therefore, for what is one-off shows, it’s still worth travelling. Bands need to be amortising those costs across lots of festivals around Europe. The drop out of American acts has largely been due to mainland Europe not being able to host shows.
We’re going to go back to Finsbury Park next year with Wireless but I will be returning to Crystal Palace Park
Wireless has a storied past with guest features. Why do you think this is?
What’s really nice about Wireless is, it’s exclusively within the genre. Every hip-hop act, grime act, drill act wants to be here and they all know each other and they all feed off each other. They know each other’s songs inside and out so they can come up and guest really easily. That’s a joy. You can feel the buzz in the backstage area. Friends are bumping into friends. It is the festival they want to play.
More information about how to attend the International Festival Forum (IFF), along with the full event schedule, is online at www.iff.rocks.
Electric Picnic cancelled: “We have run out of time”
Electric Picnic 2021 has been cancelled following the local council’s refusal to grant the organisers a licence.
The Irish festival was scheduled for 24–26 September at Stradbally Hall Estate, County Laois but, at the beginning of August, the council declined to issue a permit based on “the most up-to-date public health advice”.
Electric Picnic’s promoters, Festival Republic and MCD, had previously petitioned Laois County Council to reverse its decision.
The council has since said it cannot legally revisit its previous refusal of an event licence for Electric Picnic 2021 and that statutory timelines would not allow for the processing of a new application in time for the original date.
“We would not be able to do the festival justice this close to show day”
“We have now run out of time,” the promoters wrote in a statement.
“Regrettably, we have no other choice but to cancel this year’s edition. We would not be able to do the festival justice this close to show day, and it would be unfair to ask ticket holders who’ve stood by us throughout this pandemic to come to EP and not get the full experience they are used to and deserve.”
Snow Patrol, Foals, Chemical Brothers, Rage Against The Machine, Lewis Capaldi, Skepta, James Vincent McMorrow, Denzel Curry were due to perform.
Ticketholders now have the option of obtaining a full refund or holding onto them for next year’s event, scheduled to take place from 2–4 September 2022.
A day before the festival was cancelled, the Irish government announced a new phased reopening plan which Festival Republic and MCD among others have long been calling for.
Ireland’s MCD: “We are angry and disappointed”
MCD Productions boss Denis Desmond says the Republic of Ireland’s live sector is “frustrated, disappointed and angry,” by the prolonged shutdown of the industry.
Industry representatives held a two-hour meeting with ROI’s minister for arts yesterday (18 August) but still, no date was set for the return of live concerts and cultural events.
“There are 35,000 people who are employed in the sector who haven’t worked in 525 days and it’s terrible,” Desmond tells IQ. “It’s very hard on people who have families and mortgages to pay. The government support is a small amount of money. A lot of people are struggling – not only financially but mentally.”
In comparison, the UK’s live industry has been fully open for a month and Scotland lifted most restrictions on 9 August.
Festival Republic director Melvin Benn told RTÉ’s News at One that the failure to allow live music events to return, including Electric Picnic (co-promoted with MCD), is “unnecessary and wrong,” given Ireland’s high vaccination rate.
He went on to say that Ireland’s situation contrasted with “political leadership” in other countries, including the UK. “It isn’t a different virus [in Ireland].”
“What we really need is a full reopening and a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to the UK”
The promoters’ comments come after their event, Electric Picnic, was denied a licence by the local council on the grounds of the current restrictions.
“We’re still looking at the options and we have written to the government asking why they made the decision. We’ve been assured that we’ll get an answer by next Monday so we’ll wait until we get a reply to review what happens next,” says Desmond.
The government has also promised a roadmap for reopening by the end of next week but it won’t be a silver bullet for the industry, says the MCD boss.
“What we really need is a full reopening and a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to the UK,” he tells IQ. “The most important thing about the UK’s scheme is that the insurance package is valid for 12 months because Covid is not going away. We’ve got to learn to live with it but there needs to be support for businesses.”
Desmond believes the lack of support for Ireland’s live music industry – and other markets in Europe – is down to a lack of understanding. “The reality is, there is little understanding of the contribution this industry makes to the economy and to the wellbeing of people,” he says.
The Republic of Ireland’s perceived lack of understanding is likely exacerbated by a lack of representation in political spheres. It was recently revealed that minister for arts Catherine Martin – whose plan to reopen the sector was snubbed by government – is not yet on the cabinet committee on Covid-19.
The Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) says the lack of representation is “disastrous” for the industry.
Ireland’s Electric Picnic presses gov for reopening plan
Electric Picnic is calling on the Irish government to interrupt its summer recess and “immediately issue reopening guidelines,” after the festival was refused a licence for this year’s event.
The event, which would usually take place with 70,000 attendees per day, was scheduled to go ahead from 24–26 September at Stradbally Hall Estate, County Laois.
However, despite the organisers’ proposal to ensure that everyone attending the event would be fully vaccinated and registered in advance for contact tracing, the local council has declined to issue a permit based on “the most up-to-date public health advice”.
The council cited current government guidance in relation to “events of this nature being restricted to an attendance of 500 people only”.
“This was a very difficult decision for the council to make and I’m sure it will be disappointing to thousands of music fans and the live music industry,” says Laois County Council’s chairman, councillor Conor Bergin. “However, in the current climate, it’s the lack of certainty over Covid. We’d all love to see it go ahead but with no certainty, it’s very hard.”
The promoters, Festival Republic and MCD, described the news as a “huge blow and set back to our entire sector, which was mandated to close on the 12th March 2020 (over 500 days ago).”
The statement said that the decision means “the further loss of employment for over 3,000 people, who had clung to the hope that Electric Picnic would bring an end to their period of hardship”.
“This is a huge blow and set back to our entire sector”
“To see Scotland, a country with a similar population and virtually identical vaccine rollout and uptake as our own, only announce yesterday that they were easing restrictions and allowing events such as Trnsmt in Glasgow go ahead in September makes this decision even more difficult to accept,” it said.
It was announced yesterday that Trnsmt was granted ‘gateway event’ status by the government, exempting it from the capacity limit for outdoor events.
The three-day event will take place this September with up to 50,000 non-socially distanced fans per day.
Electric Picnic is now calling on the Irish government to reopen the live music sector “on a phased basis” from 14 August, building to the lifting of restrictions from 1 September onwards.
The organisers say they’re now “reviewing their options” and will be in contact with ticket holders over the next week.
Should Electric Picnic 2021 be cancelled, it will mark two years in a row without the festival. The festival has been staged annually since 2004.
10,000 enjoy moshing without masks at Download Pilot
The organisers of Download Pilot – the UK’s first major camping festival of its kind since lockdown – are hailing it a resounding success and are confident that the test will encourage government to green-light other summer events.
The specially created three-day festival took place over the 18–20 June weekend as part of the second phase of the UK government’s scientific Events Research Programme (ERP). The Download Pilot involved 10,000 metal fans welcomed to the hallowed grounds of rock in Donington Park to enjoy a fully-fledged festival experience with no social distancing, no masks and moshing allowed.
All attendees were required to take both a PCR and lateral-flow test prior to the event, sharing details with the NHS contact-tracing system. Attendees had to show proof of a negative result to enter the festival gates and have committed to submitting a second PCR test five days post-event to help scientists monitor any Covid-19 infection activity.
Headlined by Enter Shikari, Bullet for My Valentine and Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, 40 acts in total from the UK’s world-leading rock scene waived their fees, united by the prospect of moving the live events industry forward and playing in front of an audience for the first time in over a year.
As the last of the fans left the venue today, promoter Festival Republic dismissed any notion that live events are not possible while the Covid-19 pandemic continues. “[This] is 100% evidence that this is not true,” stated managing director Melvyn Benn. “This is a very clear demonstration that you can do it.”
“This is a very clear demonstration that you can do it”
He continued, “It’s really fantastic. I am very heart-warmed by it all. The level of compliance around the testing and requirements we have is absolutely extraordinary. It is coupled with a level of normality that is equally extraordinary when you have been out of it for so long.”
Benn believes the data gathered through the festival will prove similar events can take place this summer. “In fairness, the [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] are on board with the message which is that these things can happen and they can happen safely,” he told reporters.
“What we want from Download is data that scientists can analyse that will effectively reinforce that position, and that data is being gathered and I am certain it will do just that.”
Indeed, another Festival Republic gathering, Latitude, has confirmed it will go ahead for its 22–25 July event, while it’s expected that the Reading and Leeds festivals in August will also proceed as planned.
Benn added that following talks with the DCMS in recent days, he felt “sufficiently encouraged” to push ahead with Latitude and he suggested the UK government is finalising plans to launch a limited coronavirus insurance scheme that will allow other festivals to push ahead with their 2021 editions.
“There is no guarantee, but I believe the government will come forward with a limited government-backed insurance scheme,” he commented. “It wouldn’t be everything that we want, by any means, but it would certainly be enough to encourage us to all get going again.”
“We urge the government to reappraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports”
However, while that optimism will buoy the UK business, any government backing has come too late for Kendal Calling festival, which today criticised the government for delaying the publication of ERP report, as it outlined the decision to shelve its festival for the second year running.
“Without this safety guidance, there are numerous aspects of the festival we cannot plan, and which could lay us wide open to last minute unforeseen regulations or requirements which could scupper an already built festival,” reads a statement on the Kendal Calling website. “Capacity or density restrictions, track and trace protocol, testing regime, Covid certification – a host of unknown actions required, yet potentially requested too late to be implemented.
“Our understanding is that the DCMS are keen to publish the ERP findings and guidance, but that it now does not fit around [the British government’s] communications plan. This is insulting to our entire industry, who have been awaiting the results of a pilot event that took place almost two months ago to inform our approach to staging events safely this summer.
“This has been a frankly devastating 16 months for our industry. If calls for a government-backed insurance scheme had been heeded – as recommended by the DCMS, emulating successful schemes now up and running in other countries – we could have potentially continued to plan and invest in the coming weeks. We take this opportunity to urge the government to reappraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports, as the continued lack of leadership hampers the recovery of our live event industry.”
Meanwhile, the iconic Notting Hill Carnival will also not go ahead in 2021, it has been confirmed, for similar pandemic concerns.