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.
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Festival Republic planning 10,000-cap. camping pilot
Festival Republic plans to follow up its recent Sefton Park Pilot event in Liverpool with a second test festival, this time with camping, next month.
Sefton Park Pilot, along with Tuesday’s Brit Awards one of two live music events held as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme (ERP), took place on 2 May, welcoming 5,000 fans to Sefton Park in Liverpool for a one-day music festival headlined by Blossoms.
Speaking during IQ’s first Recovery Sessions event yesterday (13 May), Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn revealed that while previous test events in Liverpool, including Sefton Park Pilot and the two club shows held in the preceding days, aimed to show how live entertainment could restart with little or no Covid-19 transmission, the camping festival in June will focus on dealing with an outbreak at the event.
“While the Circus club shows and the Sefton Park Pilot were effectively events that were designed to ensure the enablement of reopening on 21 June,” Benn explained to chair Maria May (CAA), “the camping event, because its three or four days, will actually be about testing the protocol of how to deal with anyone that might have Covid at the event. It’s about testing the protocols around using Covid certification on the NHS [National Health Service] app, and it’s also around testing the protocols of what the SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] scientists here in the UK want, which is at-home testing for all attendees that don’t have the vaccination and that are not immune.”
According to Benn, the festival will take place in the “middle of June” and have a capacity of 10,000 people.
“The camping event will actually be about testing the protocol of how to deal with anyone that might have Covid”
“It’s not like Reading or Lollapalooza Chicago or anything like that, but it’s a decent number, and certainly a number that they can adequately take data from and multiply,” he continued, adding that while “the politicians are a little more reticent”, he is confident “the scientists will persuade them, because [home testing] is the only practical way forward” as long as a large enough proportion of the population are vaccinated. “So, in essence, that’s where we seem to going,” he continued. “Remarkably, the UK government appears to have a coherent plan, and it seems like we’re going in a good direction.”
Benn added that he believes the government are now more concerned about the potential for Covid-19 transmission on public transport than at live events.
“The area that they are significantly most concerned about actually is not so much the venues – they know [the operators] will look after everybody at the venues – it’s public transport. It’s large amounts of people squashed with no circulation on buses coming into Glasgow City Centre, or coming on tubes into Wembley Stadium,” he explained. “I believe that’s the area they are more concerned about, compared to the actual venues themselves, particularly outdoor venues…”
In welcome news for UK festival organisers, the Festival Republic boss also predicted that there should be news on the cancellation insurance front by 14 June, with a government-backed solution potentially in place from mid-July onwards.
IQ subscribers can watch the ‘Industry Heads: Leading the way back’ panel, which also featured AGI’s Marsha Vlasic and ASM Global’s John Sharkey, on demand on the Recovery Sessions mini-site. To subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month, click here.
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UK festival pilot builds hope for reopening
A successful outcome from yesterday’s 5,000-person Sefton Park Pilot in Liverpool will provide a lifeline to the entire UK live music business by proving that festivals can go ahead safely with no social distancing this summer, organiser Melvin Benn has said.
Featuring music from Zuzu, the Lathums and Blossoms, the one-day music festival took place on 2 May as part of the British government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), following two 3,000-person club nights, dubbed The First Dance, held at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock on 30 April and 1 May. Like all ERP events, there was no requirement to socially distance or wear a face covering at the three pilots, though all ticketholders required a negative Covid-19 test to gain entry.
Festival Republic MD Benn described the model as a “prototype” to reopen the industry after more than a year without any significant live music events. “Will we always need it? I hope not,” he told IQ, “but we’ve learnt a lot and we’re ready to pass it onto the industry.”
For the Sefton Park event, attendees and guests underwent a supervised lateral-flow test (LFT) at a local tennis centre up to 32 hours before the event. Each test was registered directly with the National Health Service (NHS), and results communicated via text and email within 30 minutes, with a negative test result activating each ticket. An additional testing site was positioned directly outside Sefton Park.
Testing for staff, guests and press was overseen by Caroline Giddings and Solo Agency, one of a number of live music businesses to offer its support to the event, which was pulled together in the space of three weeks. (That’s not quite a record, said Benn – the One Love Manchester show with Ariana Grande was organised in even less time – but it was “pretty quick!”.)
“It’s important for the industry … that events like this happen”
In addition to Festival Republic, “there are people working on it from SJM, from DF, from Cream, from Isle of Wight Festival – it’s a bit of an industry effort,” explained DF Concerts’ Geoff Ellis. “It’s important for the industry and for fans that events like this happen to help us get there.”
For Ellis, who described Sefton Park Pilot as a “monumental occasion”, it was “really surreal being here because it feels dreamlike,” he said. “You’re seeing people from the industry and you bump into them and you’re wondering, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’”
Speaking to IQ, Benn related the event in similar terms, saying organisers, fans and artists alike were conscious of participating in a “historic moment” paving the way towards an overdue return to something approaching normality.
Benn is as confident as he was in summer 2020 that rapid testing (now coupled with vaccinations) is the key to unlocking the return of live events. “It’s something I’ve been saying since June last year, and it’s taken a long time for government to listen, but I think they do believe in it now,” he explained. “They did have faith in this [Sefton Park Pilot], and certainly [from conversations with] the scientific teams from government and outside of government that I’ve been working with, the modelling of this seems to suggest to me that it can work.”
“What we are learning is that a festival isn’t going to need to look different to how it did look, or behave different to how it behaved,” pre-coronavirus, he continued. “Putting on a festival, as any festival promoter will tell you, is a series of hurdles, and we’ve all learnt how to jump every single hurdle that’s ever put in front of us. Covid one is another one. We’ll find ways of overcoming.”
The other hurdle at present, of course, is the non-availability of event cancellation insurance, though Benn expects more news on that front in the coming weeks.
“What we are learning is that a festival needn’t look different to how it did”
“The government provided insurance for this event, to give us the backing we needed, and in doing so they demonstrated there’s a need for insurance,” he explained. “There’s a team working very hard to find a way […] out of this, and hopefully by the beginning of June there’ll be something in place.”
As in Barcelona, where a recent pilot arena show demonstrated a lower incidence of Covid-19 than in the city as a whole, Sefton Park Pilot needn’t record zero cases to be considered a success, Benn continued. “It’s not necessarily about no infections,” he said. “The ideal outcome is that there is no greater spread of the virus in Liverpool than there already was. We want to prove you can have these events and it doesn’t present a greater risk to the area than already exists.”
While interim findings from the ERP events will be reported to the prime minister in a matter of weeks, Benn revealed that a second FR-organised outdoor pilot show is in the pipeline. While details are yet to be announced, it will likely be similar in format to Sefton Park Pilot, and “greenfield, for certain”, according to Benn.
Like Sefton Park Pilot, that second pilot event will again mobilise an army of festival staff and music fans in numbers not seen since the summer of 2019. But Benn, like everyone involved with the pilots, is hopeful those events won’t be a one-off.
“There have been a huge amount of people who made the effort to give up their time for this, and they all put an enormous amount of work into it,” he said. “So what we’re learning, we want to tell everybody – because this is for the whole industry.”
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FR announces biggest UK pilot show to date
Sefton Park in Liverpool will host a new music festival, simply called the Sefton Park Pilot, as part of the British government-backed Events Research Programme (ERP).
The ERP, details of which were announced earlier this month, will also include several sporting fixtures, a business conference and a club night, also in Liverpool, among other events. IQ reported at the time that a live music pilot event was still to be announced.
Sefton Park Pilot will take over a small area of the 235-acre park on Sunday 2 May, with performers including Blossoms and the Lathums, as well as Liverpool singer-songwriter Zuzu. After doors open at 4.30pm, concertgoers will not have to socially distance or wear face coverings, given the show’s status as a research study on the transmission of Covid-19 in an outdoor festival setting.
Scientists monitoring the festival, which is being produced by Festival Republic (Reading and Leeds Festivals, Download, Wireless), will observe how crowds mixing outdoors increases the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.
Ticketholders will take a lateral-flow test at a community testing site 24 hours before the event, and will have to produce a negative test result to gain entry. Those attending will also be urged to take an at-home PCR test on the day of the event, as well as five days afterwards, to ensure any transmission of the virus is properly monitored.
“This event is not about pushing vaccines or passports – we do not want to limit attendance in any way”
So-called vaccine or health ‘passports’, of the kind being used in Israel, New York and elsewhere, and considered by the EU, are not part of the ERP in Liverpool, though they are being trialled at other ERP events.
“Festival Republic is delighted to be able to support the Government’s efforts to get the live music industry back up and running. The Sefton Park Pilot is a vital, science-led event which will help open up the live music industry in a safe and secure way,” says FR managing director Melvin Benn.
“This event is not about pushing vaccines or passports – we do not want to limit attendance to our events in any way. Working with the government we want to create a universal blueprint for reopening and demonstrate we can do it safely.
“Secretary of state Oliver Dowden and his team at DCMS are showing real commitment to making this a reality by launching the Event Research Programme and the Sefton Park pilot.”
Dowden, who leads the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), says: “We’re one step closer to a summer of live events now our science-led programme is underway. Testing different settings and looking at different mitigations is key to getting crowds back safely and the Sefton Park Pilot is an important addition to the programme.
“After many months without live audiences, Festival Republic are bringing live music back to fans with this very special event and I hope it won’t be too much longer until gigs are back for good.”
“I hope it won’t be too much longer until gigs are back for good”
Under the current ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, the British government hopes to lift all restrictions on gatherings and events after 21 June.
“It is good to see Liverpool bringing a live, outdoor music festival to the Events Research Programme. The festival in Sefton Park will make the most of an iconic, accessible fresh-air venue,” comments Prof. Iain Buchan, dean of the Institute of Population Health at the University of Liverpool. “Restarting this part of community life is important to society’s wellbeing and therefore is of public health importance, as well as minimising Covid-19 risks.”
“Live music is a vital part of so many people’s lives,” Benn continues. “This event is the first step in getting festivals back on track this year. It’s about demonstrating our absolute commitment that we can and will open on 21 June.
“We want to get festival fans back at events safely this year. We all need a summer of live music.”
Tickets for Sefton Park Pilot, which may only be purchased by residents of Liverpool, are on sale now, priced at £29.50.
The poster for the event, which shows the festival-style ‘big top’ venue in which the concerts will be held, is pictured below:
New UK festivals seek to ‘reinvent the wheel’
The UK is to gain a number of new festivals this year, each boasting a concept that puts a spin on the traditional greenfield affair.
Velio Festival is hoping to reinvent the wheel by bringing together cycling, music, comedy, gastronomy and wellbeing across a three-day event.
The debut edition is projected to take place from 17–20 September in the grounds of Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire.
Five cycling routes will be set out around the castle’s grounds, varying from 3km to 100km to cater for cycling enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.
The line-up is yet to be announced, but organisers have promised performances from international artists and comedians across the festival’s five stages.
The festival will also offer a physical wellbeing programme comprising talks, workshops, wood-fired hot tubs, yoga, meditation, wild swimming, walks, runs and games – plus an array of gastronomical offerings; feasts, long-table banquets, award-winning chefs, local produce and speciality bars.
Velio Festival is for “the late-night dancers, early morning meditators, weekend feasters and mid-week riders”
Organisers say the event is for “the late-night dancers, early morning meditators, weekend feasters and mid-week riders”.
The event is the concept of Mustard Media, which has grown festivals worldwide including Afronation, Lost & Found, Elrow, and locally Manchester Pride, Parklife, The Warehouse Project and Lightopia.
One Island Festival is also set to make its debut this September (3–5) on a 380-acre private island in Essex.
Touted as ‘the UK’s very own island getaway’, the hyper-exclusive festival will host a maximum of 500 people across 23 island properties including yurts, bell tents, village cottages, penthouses, courtyard apartments and manor houses.
The three-day event, organised by global party brand Candypants, will cater to fans of disco, R&B and hip-hop with sets from Chesqua, Colin Francis, Dave Robinson and Drew Moreland.
Tickets for the festival start from £497.50 plus booking fees for a basic bell tent.
One Island Festival is to make its debut on a 380-acre private island in Essex owned by record producer Nigel Quentin Frieda
Elsewhere in the UK, London’s newest event Yam Carnival promises a unique combination of carnival and music festival and ‘an unrivalled celebration of black culture from around the world’.
Produced by Festival Republic, Smade Entertainment and Event Horizon, the one-day festival will pay tribute to afrobeat, hip-hop, dance, afro-swing and R&B.
The inaugural edition on 28 August at Clapham Common will feature performances from Davido, Kehlani, Ari Lennox, IAMDDB, Ms Banks, Princess Nokia and Nao across three stages, ‘Carnival Stage’, ‘Afrika Shrine Alive’ and ‘Afrotronic’.
The celebration of black culture will extend to the festival’s F&B offering, which will comprise ‘traditional home comforts and contemporary bites’ from African-influenced food trucks and chefs from around London.
General release tickets starting from £65 are now on sale.
Download festival 2021 cancelled
There will be no Download festival in the UK this summer, promoter Festival Republic confirmed today (1 March).
Iron Maiden, Kiss and Biffy Clyro will headline the 2022 edition of the 110,000-capacity rock and metal festival, which returns to Donington Park in Leicestershire next 10–12 June. Tickets for Download 2022 go on sale this Friday (5 March) at 10am GMT, priced from £250 for a standard weekend camping pass.
Download, which would have taken place from 4 to 6 June 2021, is the first of Live Nation-owned Festival Republic’s events to announce it will be unable to go ahead for a second consecutive year, with the likes of Wireless (2–4 July) and Latitude (22–25 July) still on for now and Reading and Leeds (27–29 August) having already sold out.
Download Australia, which would have debuted in 2020, is on hiatus, as are Download Madrid and Download France in Paris (both of which last took place in 2019).
“Ware determined to make the show one hell of a party and the greatest homecoming ever”
“Downloaders, your 2022 headliners are here,” comments Download booker Andy Copping. “Rock’n’roll legends Kiss will be kicking off Friday in style, Iron Maiden will return, bringing with them mascot Eddie and more fire than we can handle, and what better way to end the festival than with Biffy, who will leave us awestruck with their energy. I’m counting down the days already.”
“Like everyone, we were all hugely disappointed when the global pandemic forced the cancellation of Download 2020, which would have been Maiden’s seventh time headlining here,” says Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, “so we are delighted to be invited back and fulfil our ambition of playing Donington Park in every decade since the 1980s.
“As most people know, this festival is hallowed ground for us – and Eddie – and our fans’ vocal support and enthusiasm is always phenomenal and much appreciated. We can’t wait to see everyone again, and are determined to make the show one hell of a party and the greatest homecoming ever.”
Further Download 2022 artists will be announced in the coming months.
UK festivals plot comebacks as optimism grows
A growing number of UK festival operators are confident their events should take place in some capacity this summer, bolstered by plans to allow full-capacity outdoor shows in England from June (as well as a viral tweet from Reading and Leeds Festivals).
British prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (22 February) that all lockdown measures should be lifted in England from 21 June, theoretically allowing large outdoor events such as festivals to take place with no restrictions. Industry response to the announcement was largely positive, though live music businesses and associations are seeking more clarity as to what will be possible.
Speaking after the announcement, Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals, said he is “optimistic that many of our member festivals may be able to go ahead in some capacity later on this year. There are still, however, some urgent points of clarity that need to be made around the exact requirements that festival organisers will need to meet, in particular around testing and Covid certification.”
Also optimistic about this summer is Festival Republic, which tweeted yesterday that, “following the government’s recent announcement”, its Reading (105,000-cap.) and Leeds Festivals (75,000-cap.) “can’t wait to [welcome] fans back to the fields” this summer:
The sister festivals are scheduled for Friday 27 to Sunday 29 August and boast a largely British line-up, though there are several international artists – including Americans Madison Beer, Fever 333, Ashnikko and, notably, headliner Post Malone – booked to perform.
“We cannot wait to open our gates and welcome both fans and artists”
Speaking to the NME last month, Festival Republic managing director Melvin Benn said that while the festival sector is relying on “the vaccine first and testing second”, his ‘Full-Capacity Plan’ would allow for major events to go ahead even before the UK achieves herd immunity to the virus. “It could be a mix of both,” he explained. “I feel that we can get away with shows purely on testing. It’s immensely hard work, but operationally doable and hopefully unnecessary. The Full Capacity Plan was always based on verification of being clear of Covid, or clear of being in danger of Covid.
“The vaccination, and verification that you’ve had it, would give you that safety of knowing that you’re not going to get super ill. It will work, providing that they can get the majority of the people in the country vaccinated, and as long as there are enough people at the event who have been vaccinated.”
Among the other UK festivals that have indicated they will take place this summer – all after the key date of 21 June – are pop-punk event Slam Dunk, Americana weekender Black Deer, drum’n’bass festival Hospitality Weekend in the Woods and a new one-day London event, Wide Awake.
Slam Dunk said on Tuesday (23 February) that both Slam Dunk North in Leeds and Slam Dunk South in Hatfield (both 22,000-cap.) would be pushed back to September from their original dates in May.
In a statement, the independent festival said it had already predicated that the original dates would not be feasible and had, “of course, been working hard on rescheduled dates”.
Slam Dunk has yet to announce its 2021 line-up although organisers say it should “remain very similar” to 2020’s cancelled event, which would have featured Sum 41, Don Broco, NOFX, Billy Talent, the Used and more.
“Following the government’s recent announcement, we can’t wait to get back to the fields this summer”
Black Deer, meanwhile, is taking place just a week after originally planned, returning to its 20,000-capacity Eridge Park site in Kent on 25–27 June.
The 2021 festival is headlined by Van Morrison, Wilco, the Waterboys and Robert Plant’s band Saving Grace, with other performers including Lucinda Williams, the Dead South, Imelda May and Drive-By Truckers.
Speaking to Access All Areas, Black Deer promoter Gill Tee said the festival is “planning for a full-capacity event” in June, and that “ticket sales are moving towards that number”.
Wide Awake, a new festival of “leftfield indie, post-punk, electronic, techno and jazz” which was originally due to debut in 2020, takes place on 3 September at Brockwell Park in south London (formerly home to Field Day) with artists including Black Midi, Songhoy Blues, Tinariwen, A Certain Ratio and Erol Alkan.
Organiser Marcus Weedon, who co-founded Field Day in 2007, comments: “We’re incredibly excited to finally be able to bring this very special show to London this September. It’s been a tough year for everyone, not least the festival and event industry, and we have been working very hard to ensure Wide Awake is brilliantly curated with the safety of everyone at the forefront.
“We cannot wait to open our gates and welcome both fans and artists in what is going to be an incredibly special event this year.”
NTIA publishes return-to-live roadmap
Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) and operators from the UK’s night-time industry have presented the government with a science-backed reopening plan in an attempt to stop the sector from collapsing.
Festival Republic and Music Venue Trust are among the organisations that have commissioned the report, supported by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, which examines the science behind Covid-19 and how to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Key findings from the report include: the core market for clubs and venues are amongst the lowest at risk in the hospitality sector and that that overall capacity restrictions to 75% of legal building occupancy based on regulations will ensure distancing is possible throughout the venue.
Now, the night-time industry is using the report to urge the government to provide a clear reopening plan for music venues, nightclubs, late-night bars and events spaces, as well as more financial support after the furlough scheme ends.
Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, says: “We have now reached a critical point. In the absence of a clear reopening strategy from government, or the promise of financial support, huge numbers of businesses within our industry are facing financial collapse and thousands of job losses.
“We implore the government to give us the opportunity to reopen in a safe, risk-assessed way”
“The report we have launched today clearly shows that there is a case for the safe reopening of night-time leisure venues, including nightclubs, late-night bars, live music venues and event spaces. Whilst many of these are large capacity venues, it is important to note that they already have many of the safety protocols in place to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
“We implore the government to give us the opportunity to reopen in a safe, risk-assessed way. Doing so will protect thousands of jobs, contribute to the struggling UK economy and ensure our towns and cities remain economically healthy and culturally vibrant.”
New research from the NTIA shows that almost 60% of night-time venues will not survive longer than two months without further government support, and more than 70% of night-time operators will be making more than half their workforce redundant from September, and 83% of night-time sector businesses will be making people redundant following the end of the Covid Job Retention Scheme.
However, the new report and roadmap highlight the plausibility of a safe return to night-time establishments. It says the safe operation of these venues can be assured by implementing a range of mitigating measures, many of which are already in place such as ID scans upon entry, contactless payment and sophisticated ventilation systems.
Socially distanced live indoor performances were permitted to resume in England from 15 August, but a number of industry bodies expressed scepticism about the economic viability of live music returning.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
European festivals reveal line-ups for 2021 editions
The UK’s Download Festival, Serbia’s Exit Festival and Rolling Loud Portugal are among the first major European festivals to unveil line-ups for next year, after cancelling their 2020 editions due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Kiss, Biffy Clyro and System of a Down have been announced to headline the UK’s heavy metal festival, which will take place between 4 and 6 June in Donnington Park next year.
In place of Download Festival 2020, promoter Festival Republic created a virtual version of the festival, airing footage of previous live performances from the acts billed to play including Kiss, Iron Maiden and System of a Down.
Exit Festival has also revealed the first wave of headliners including David Guetta, Tyga and DJ Snake for its 2021 edition, which will take place from 8 to 11 July in Novi Sad.
Rolling Loud will make its European debut next summer with performances from A$AP Rocky, Future, Wiz Khalifa
The Serbian mega festival was one of the last major European events to cancel this year’s edition after hopes of postponing from July to the end of August were dashed due to new outbreaks of the virus in the country.
Elsewhere, Rolling Loud will make its European debut next summer with performances from A$AP Rocky, Future, Wiz Khalifa. The hip-hop festival will take place between 6 and 8 July next year at Praia da Rocha beach in Portimao, Portugal.
Among the festivals that have already announced line-ups for 2021 are Primavera Sound Barcelona, which reported a record sell-out for next year’s edition, and Mad Cool in Madrid, which will welcome performances from Twenty One Pilots, Placebo and the Killers.
The UK’s Isle of Wight Festival has also announced the first wave of artists for next year’s edition, taking place from 17 to 20 June including Lionel Richie, Snow Patrol and Duran Duran.
Melvin Benn: ‘I’m very optimistic about 2021’
Amid a challenging summer 2020, Festival Republic is feeling “incredibly optimistic” about next year’s European festival season, managing director Melvin Benn has said.
Speaking to IQ, Benn says Festival Republic (FR) – whose festival portfolio includes the UK’s Download, Wireless and Reading/Leeds Festivals, Germany’s Lollapalooza Berlin and the Republic of Ireland’s Electric Picnic – is working to the assumption that its open-air events will “be back in full force next summer”, most likely after the release of a vaccine against Covid-19.
With UK scientists now said to be 80% sure a vaccine will be ready by September, Benn (pictured) says festivalgoers being immunised against the coronavirus is currently FR’s “plan A” for 2021, with some sort of test-and-trace system also a possibility should the vaccine not be ready in time.
“I take great confidence in the fact that test and trace is a plan B for me,” he explains. “I don’t think we could have imagined the unity the scientific community has showed in working together to find a vaccine against this disease.”
Underscoring his optimism that a vaccine for Covid-19 is close, Benn adds: “If you look back at all the incredible inventions and creations – aeroplanes, cars, medicines; everything we take for granted in our normal lives – and then you think that, cumulatively, there are more scientists alive and working now than ever existed before… Are we going to solve this? Of course we are!”
“I’m already getting companies contacting me and offering tests”
IQ caught up with Benn the week after Wireless Connect, one of two virtual festivals the Festival Republic team has staged this summer (three if you include parent company Live Nation UK’s Isle of Wight Festival) in lieu of the physical events.
“The learnings” from all three, says Benn, are “immense”, and allowed FR to “discover what people respond to” in a digital event.
“Download TV was very much more a linear TV broadcast, just using YouTube rather than a terrestrial channel, and we learnt a huge amount,” he continues. “It was really the first time we’d done an as-live broadcast like that.
“With MelodyVR [for Wireless Connect], that was even more complicated, as we did a 360° virtual-reality broadcast, with artists going into a studios in London and the US. Whereas people were performing in their kitchens for Download…” (The virtual Isle of Wight Festival, meanwhile, was a simpler affair, broadcasting past performances on Sky television.)
While Benn says the definition of a successful year for him is having “fans in a field”, he says the FR team has done “extraordinary things with the three outings we’ve had so far”. “I hope we can build on that in future,” he adds.
By charging for online events, IQ wonders? Benn is tight-lipped, though he concedes that, “as an add-on, [virtual festivals] have potential”. “There’s a lot of discussion going round, but it’s really too early to say,” he continues. “What we do know is that there’s an appetite for live – in all its forms – that can’t be replaced.”
“We’re feeling very optimistic about next year. I think the pent-up demand is absolutely there”
On that topic, Benn notes that of the three 2021 festivals Live Nation/Festival Republic has on sale – IoW, Download and Creamfields – all are “selling really well, so we’re feeling very optimistic about next year. I think the pent-up demand is absolutely there.”
Even in the event of a vaccine not being available by next summer, Benn is adamant that FR, and the wider UK/European festival market, is “in a really good position”.
“I’m already getting companies contacting me and offering tests that are incredibly reliable, and can be done in a short amount of time,” he explains. “At the moment [in July] they’re too expensive – but given that they didn’t even exist in March, I assure you that by the time April or May comes around next year, there’ll be a testing company on every street corner and it will be relatively inexpensive.”
As for how fans might respond to mandatory testing, which has mooted as a requirement for entering festivals in the absence of a vaccine, Benn adds: “I’m very optimistic about human beings. We’re incredibly versatile creatures and we’ll change and do what we need to do in order to participate in the things we enjoy.
“So if that’s the only way, so be it. You can’t beat the experience of a festival.”