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Festival Republic plans 38,000-cap Leicester fest

Live Nation’s Festival Republic has applied to Leicester City Council for a licence to launch a new two-day event in the city’s Victoria Park.

The name of the festival has not yet been revealed but, if approved, the multi-genre 38,000-cap event will take place from 16-17 September.

The festival would reportedly have two stages – one featuring around eight artists per day and the other showcasing DJs.

The venue has previously hosted concerts by Kasabian as well as BBC Radio 1’s One Big Sunday events in the early 2000s, which starred the likes of Craig David, Alicia Keys and Busted.

“It puts Leicester back on the map”

The news has been warmly welcomed by the local business community, with Festival Republic set to hold a drop-in event to answer questions this Wednesday (19 April).

“This is absolutely fantastic news, it’s what we’ve been waiting for,” Rachel Granger, professor of urban economics at Leicester’s De Montfort University, tells the BBC. “Leicester’s really had a very difficult run of years, what with Covid. It’s really been trying to find its feet since.

“It puts Leicester back on the map. It outlines the distinctiveness of the city – it’s always been a creative and artistic one.”


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Festival heads debate red line for ticket prices

European festival promoters engaged in a heated debate about increasing ticket prices during a panel discussion at the recent ILMC.

Festival Forum: Mud Baths & Outdoor Pursuits saw Holger Jan Schmidt (Go Group/Yourope) moderate a discussion between Melvin Benn (Festival Republic, UK), Mikolaj Ziółkowski (Alter Art, PL), Nika Brunet Milunovic (MetalDays, SI) and Maiju Talvisto (Flow Festival, FI).

With all agreeing that the supply of artists, customers and infrastructure is stable for the 2023 festival season, the panel’s sticking point was how to keep tickets reasonably priced.

“There is almost always a moment in every economy when you feel you are being ripped off”

Apart from one Festival Republic event, the organisers on the panel said that they had increased prices for all of their festivals.

“We are reaching a red line,” warned Ziółkowski, who promotes Open’er, Orange Warsaw, Kraków Live in Poland. “There is almost always a moment in every economy when you feel you are being ripped off.”

“Generally, prices are higher and people are not earning more money. So probably in summer 2023, people won’t be able to buy two or three festival tickets, they’ll only be able to go to one. We have to be so clever to be more interesting and more flavorful than other cultural offerings,” he concluded.

Benn, who promotes Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Wireless and Download among other festivals, argued: “We don’t know where that red line is. We want to keep the ticket prices down but we have to compete and pay artists what they want. At a point, the public either says we’ll buy the ticket or we won’t buy it. That’s the risk; that’s the business we’re in.”

“The dilemma is: what is too expensive?… it’s relative”

Both Ziółkowski and Schmidt aired concerns high ticket prices may render festivals financially inaccessible for a large chunk of the audience.

“It’s important that we are trying to keep prices for festivals and headline shows reasonable because music should not be for rich people. Music should be for all people,” said Ziółkowski.

Schmidt echoed his point: “I would also argue that if we raise the ticket price [too much], we will exclude people who can’t afford the ticket so they will not be able to come to the festival.”

MetalDays’ Milunovic added: “The dilemma is: what is too expensive? It depends on what you get for the money that you pay for the ticket. It’s relative.”

“There’s no such thing as cuddly capitalism. Entertainment costs”

Benn commented that maintaining a top tier line up for festivals such as Reading and Leeds was crucial to their ongoing success, adding that prices would inevitably rise given the ongoing hikes in costs that all organisers are facing.  “We have to do what the market demands,” he said. “If ticket prices go up and people don’t come, we’ve lost out – so we have to try and balance it.”

Flow Festival’s Talvisto agreed that it’s a balancing act to keep costs down but pointed out that “there aren’t that many pieces in the puzzle where we can increase the revenue”.


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Festival focus: Melvin Benn

Melvin Benn is often regarded as one of the founding fathers of the UK festival industry. Now, as managing director of Live Nation-owned Festival Republic, he is responsible for festivals including Latitude, Wireless, Download, and Ireland’s Electric Picnic. During Covid, he was central to securing the return of live music, through a concerted campaign of lobbying and planning, and by funding test events. In an extended excerpt from IQ‘s recently published European Festival Report, he opens up on the travails of the last three years and explains why festivals remain integral to cultural life…

What did it take for you and the team to get through the pandemic?
“In truth, Covid was one of the most stressful and traumatic periods of my life. Like many people, I had people close to me personally die because of Covid. And the numbers of people getting infected was so high. But what was particularly challenging for all of our industry is that the creative industries are made up of people that are doers. There wouldn’t be a Leeds festival if I hadn’t got off my arse to create it; there wouldn’t be a Latitude and so on. We’re all made up of people that just want to do things and create things and create excitement for the public to enjoy. So the frustration of not being able to do so was immense. So in June 2020, I came up with something called the Full Capacity Plan because it became apparent that transmission was airborne. This plan was based on people wearing masks, and people gathering together that had been tested and proven to be clear, so the rise of Covid would be not substantially greater than the rise in general society.

“I trotted off to every government department that you could imagine, with the industry behind me, and made a lot of effort to try and get us back working. Eventually, when it fitted government plans to get events back on the road, particularly because of the desire to hold Wimbledon and the European Football Championship, they started listening. Initially though, they didn’t accept the music industry as being a test environment – they wanted to put us in the same environment as football fans in a stadium. I felt that left us vulnerable – I could imagine the government’s scientists saying ‘this is great, we can open the football, but we should have done some research around music and we didn’t so music can’t open’. So I spent an intense three weeks hammering on government, for us to be allowed to do that, which resulted in the Sefton Park trial in Liverpool and the Download trial.

“One of the people that was most significant helping me at that time was Sir Nicholas Hytner. He’d been appointed to the government intelligence squad of people that would advise on getting it all back together. And he understood the need for it, and saw the government didn’t want to do one because they didn’t want to pay for it. It was more complicated than that, but it was only my insistence and willingness to pay for the events myself, through Festival Republic and Live Nation that really allowed it to go ahead. The frustration around that was immense.

“I felt a great responsibility in order to help the industry”

“There were lots of people involved in many aspects trying to get us on the back, such as the LIVE group. I felt a great responsibility in order to help the industry. What I found interesting was how much the visibility of the music industry – myself and others constantly being in the press, on the radio, TV, and so on, pushing to get us open – how much that gave encouragement to my team and the general industry. The amount of people that contacted me to say, ‘this is amazing, Melvin’. And even now, I bump into people that I haven’t seen since Covid, and they say ‘listening to you on the radio is one of the things that kept me going – it kept us believing that we would reopen’. There are a number of leaders in this industry and I think they all allowed the wider industry to feel an element of hope that we would get back.

“March 2020 through to May ’21 when we had the first test were probably the worst 16 months of my adult life because of the frustration of being someone that wants to do things been prevented from doing them. Especially when the plan that I’d created in 2020 was the plan that the government rolled out for the whole of the test programme for football and sport around.

“When I did the test events in Sefton Park and at Download in early June, I had a constant belief that I would have been able to do Glastonbury too. But the government didn’t have the appetite for that. And I’m not criticising them for that. What they were dealing with was much bigger than anything that we were dealing with. But what we were dealing with was pretty big in our lives.”

“Audiences are interested in ever-improving standards. And that can only be good for our industry”

So what did it mean to you when your events came back properly for the first time?
“It can’t be described anything other than absolute joy. You know, everybody associated with getting gates open feels joy every time we open a date, every time we open the doors of a venue – it’s because we live to create and invent. So there’s joy all the time, but the feeling when you realised that you could do it after the pandemic was immeasurable. But

“We had huge Covid protocols for the staff. You have to build a significant element of resilience for very large events in order to feel confident that it would happen. At Glastonbury last year, for instance, we had a whole work environment where people could continue working if they caught Covid and felt well enough to be able to continue. And it was pretty busy.”

What trends are you seeing?
“Audiences are interested in ever-improving standards. And that can only be good for our industry. The public forum of TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media can be hard to deal with it, because it’s quite a challenge because everyone can see someone complaining about an overflowing bin, for example. But what it also does, is it helps inform my team about what festival-goers are thinking. My social media teams start talking to the person who’s posted the picture of the bin, asking them where it is, and we can get it rectified in real time. So that direct interactivity between the festival producers and festival-goers, is quite new. The more that you interact with them, the more they’ll come back. They’ll say ‘I saw a problem. I reported a problem, they fixed it.’ I’m okay with that. That level of interaction also informs issues such as sustainability and diversity, which is very important.”

“In 1989 there were only two festivals in this country: Reading and Glastonbury. It’s how much people’s lives have changed. Festivals are a cultural gathering”

What challenges does the industry face?
“The obvious thing is the supply chain and the labour shortage. I would say in the main we overcame those issues because the industry is made up of people that do things. To give you an example, we produce the Electric Picnic in Ireland. It’s the biggest event in Ireland. It takes place in September, and in late May the people we had contracted to provide power told us they couldn’t do it. In any year that hadn’t been preceded by two years of difficulty of Covid that would have been a catastrophe, but after two years of Covid we were just like ‘OK, thanks for telling us’. That we were able to overcome it was with the help of people like Sunbelt. It’s a massive company that owns trackway and all that stuff but they never had a power division. But they said, ‘OK, we’ll create one.'”

What’s the importance of festivals to cultural life?
“Festivals have been around for hundreds of years. We’re bringing, light and enjoyment to people’s lives. People are able to gather among like-minded people at festivals. And that’s a great feeling – it’s a cultural uplift. They make you feel relaxed when society is constantly putting immense pressure on communities and individuals every day. The ability for doctors or nurses, or accountants or office workers to be able to come out and let themselves go gives them a release from the daily pressures that they live under.

“There were lots of people including my staff who would come to me in tears with the emotion of what they’d helped to get back on the road. You just have to look at forums or social media and you’ll see people talking about where they’re going to camp – and it can be almost a year before the next festival – some haven’t even bought their ticket yet. That’s how important it is.

“If you think that in 1989 there were only two festivals in this country: Reading and Glastonbury. It’s how much people’s lives have changed. Festivals are a cultural gathering.”

Benn is one of the confirmed speakers for the Festival Forum session at ILMC on Wednesday 1 March from 2pm. Read the European Festival Report in full below.



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Live veteran John Probyn joins Solotech

Former Live Nation executive John Probyn has joined AV tech specialist Solotech as head of business development in Europe for the company’s live productions division.

In the newly created role, Probyn will be responsible for the business development of the firm’s touring activities in Europe, cultivating new relationships while continuing to service Solotech’s existing customer base.

“With an outstanding track record in music festival, touring and events, Probyn will be an amazing addition to our team,” says Mickey Curbishley, Solotech president, live productions, US, UK. “He has such a broad live production background and vast experience, he will undoubtedly play a crucial role in supporting Solotech’s continued growth in Europe.”

Probyn, who brings almost 20 years’ experience in leadership positions at Live Nation UK, started out in the industry in the late 1980s and was responsible for creating and producing the Party in the Park series of sponsored music events for several radio stations throughout the country.

“Solotech’s global vision for the future in terms of growth and development excites me and I relish the challenge of helping them to achieve their ambitions”

In 1997, he started his own consultancy offering health and safety planning and management, before joining LN forerunner Clear Channel Entertainment as operations director in 2001, rising up the ranks to become Live Nation UK COO. He has worked on stadium tours by the likes of U2, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bon Jovi, along with festivals such as Download, Wireless and Hard Rock Calling, and special events including Live 8, Live Earth, The Concert for Diana, Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday concert and the 2012 London Olympics.

In 2015, Probyn stepped down from LN but later joined Festival Republic in 2017 working for Melvin Benn on a range of festivals and projects.

“I’ve worked with Solotech UK brands Capital Sound, Wigwam and SSE Audio for many years and they have always been an important part of what I have achieved,” says Probyn. “Their global vision for the future in terms of growth and development excites me and I relish the challenge of helping them to achieve their ambitions.”


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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.


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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.

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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.


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