Tomorrowland 2021 officially cancelled
In a major blow to the Belgian festival season, there will be no Tomorrowland in 2021, organisers have confirmed.
Despite a last-minute plea from the prime minister of Flanders, the mayors of the towns of Boom and Rumst, where the 70,000-capacity festival has taken place since 2005, are unmoved in their decision not to grant Tomorrowland a permit to go ahead, citing concerns about the safety of local residents.
Although the Belgian government has cleared 75,000-capacity festivals from 13 August 2021, Tomorrowland – which was scheduled for 27–29 August and 3–5 September – confirmed earlier this week that mayors Jeroen Baert (Boom) and Jurgen Callaerts (Rumst) had decreed the event, the world’s largest dance music festival, would not be allowed to go ahead this summer.
A delegation of Flemish and Belgian government ministers headed by Flanders’ minister-president, Jan Jambon, met with Baert and Callaerts on Monday but the pair reiterated their previous decision. “It was a constructive conversation, but our position on the matter does not change,” they say in a joint statement.
According to local media, the ministers had attempted to convince the mayors to issue the permit by saying there would be fewer non-Belgians at Tomorrowland than usual, as well as offering help from the federal and Flemish governments to manage the flow of people and provide rapid Covid-19 testing of guests. But Baert and Callaerts stuck to their guns.
“We cannot reconsider our decision regarding the requested permit”
“After our announcement, we were contacted by Flemish minister of the interior and society Bart Somers, Flemish [minister-president and] minister of culture Jan Jambon and federal minister of the interior Annelies Verlinden to clarify our decision,” reads a press release issued by Baert. “Of course we were happy to discuss this in an open dialogue and it was a very constructive conversation with the three excellencies. We understand, of course, all the economic interests at stake and especially the eagerness with which everyone wants a festival summer back, but the responsibility to ensure public peace, safety and health rests with us as mayors. In view of the current circumstances known to us, we cannot reconsider our decision and our position regarding the requested permit.”
In light of the mayors’ decision, the festival has been forced to throw in the towel, leaving Pukkelpop (19–22 August) as the last remaining major music festival in Flanders in 2021.
“It is with a heavy heart our organisation must announce that the 16th edition of Tomorrowland Belgium cannot take place in 2021,” reads a statement from the Tomorrowland team, which warned earlier this week that a cancellation would have a huge impact on the festival’s thousands of employees, freelancers and suppliers.
“The entire team fought till the end and did everything in their powers to write a new chapter in the history of Tomorrowland. Our dream was to welcome the People of Tomorrow, who we’ve been missing for too long, to celebrate life to the fullest. But unfortunately, the local government has not given the permit to organise Tomorrowland.”
“The main stage was finished … 140 people were working full time to make the festival”
While Somers said this morning (24 June) that Tomorrowland would not have to pay back in full the €1.8 million aid it received from the Flemish government earlier this year, the cancellation still leaves the festival in financial trouble, according to a spokesperson.
“[It] is a lot of money and we are very happy with the support, but it is a drop in the ocean,” Debby Wilmsen tells the Brussels Times, adding that the festival has already cancelled orders worth €50m.
“We were starting up already,” she explains. “The main stage was finished, we had to pay the advances for ordering materials, the delivery of the wristbands had been ordered, 140 people were working full time to make the festival, artists were booked… Organising a festival like Tomorrowland costs a lot of money, and a lot of things have to be paid in advance.”
The second edition of Tomorrowland: Around the World, a virtual festival with Armin van Buuren, Nicky Romero, Charlotte de Witte and other international DJs, will take place on 16 and 17 July. Over 1m people bought tickets for last year’s Around the World event.
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Flemish gov optimistic about Pukkelpop, Tomorrowland
The Flemish government says large events such as Pukkelpop and Tomorrowland should be able to go ahead in late summer, under certain conditions.
The reassurance for Belgian festival organisers comes after the government unveiled its summer ‘Freedom Plan’ yesterday (9 May), which ventures that all adults would have had the chance to be vaccinated by mid-August.
Flemish minister of health Frank Vandenbroucke says the implementation of the Green Pass – the European corona passport which shows vaccination status and test results – will be key to restarting large events.
Other conditions include on-site Covid-19 testing and limiting access to events to Europeans: “We will not invite the whole world. Within Europe, too, we have to be careful who we admit,” says Vandenbroucke.
The Flemish minister of health says the implementation of the Green Pass will be key to restarting large events
According to the Freedom Plan, large events can restart in July under certain conditions. Events can take place with 5,000 outdoors or 3,000 indoors provided attendees adhere to social distancing and mask-wearing.
In August, the maximum number of people allowed at outdoor events is increased to 10,000, and 4,500 indoors.
Pukkelpop (cap. 60,000) and Tomorrowland (70,000) are set to take place in late August and early September respectively and are the last major Belgian festivals still planning to go ahead after Rock Werchter and Graspop cancelled their 2021 events.
The cancellations came despite the Flemish government’s €60 million pot to help the region’s organisers kickstart preparations for this summer’s festival season.
More than 130 Belgian venues reopen illegally
Some 130 cultural venues in Wallonia and Brussels have reopened illegally after six months of closure, in protest of government restrictions.
Since 30 April, the venues have been welcoming the general public for a number of cultural activities including concerts, screenings, shows, debates, performances and public rehearsals.
The nine-day protest, which is being held by the campaign group ‘Still Standing for Culture’, culminates on 8 May when 50-capacity outdoor events are permitted.
According to the group, all activities will be carried in accordance with the health protocol, which includes social distancing, mask-wearing and the separation of household bubbles.
“We will do this without underestimating the dangerousness of the virus, but we recall that experiments and studies show that the opening of cultural places has only a minimal impact on the contamination curves in the face of the effects attributed to the activities. businesses, shops and services,” reads a statement on the Still Standing for Culture website.
“We will do this to defend the diversity of places and practices”
“We will do so to refuse that certain sectors of activity and certain categories of the population are the only ones to carry the weight of measures on their shoulders. And to defend the diversity of places and practices.”
Brussels venue Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) was the first Belgian venue that pledged to open its doors regardless of any restrictions in place but ultimately, the government agreed to turn its scheduled performances into test events.
According to Flemish business newspaper Tidj, the Flemish region is not participating in the demonstration as the regional government has provided a range of support measures for affected culture workers, artists and cultural entrepreneurs – including a €60 million safety net for festival organisers.
However, the Flemish events sector may be inclined to join the demonstrations if the regional government does not provide a reopening plan after the next meeting of the Consultation Committee on 11 May.
The full programme of activities for the Still Standing for Culture protest can be found here.
Flanders to make decision on festival season ‘as late as possible’
Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon says he will wait as long as possible to make a decision on whether domestic festivals can take place this summer.
Jambon was quizzed on the matter of whether festival season could resume in the Flemish parliament yesterday but failed to give concrete answers.
“If I can arrange with the sector that they can wait a little longer, then I would like to take all the time I have,” Jambon said, according to The Brussels Times.
However, Jambon is now under pressure from the live sector to whom he promised to make a decision by mid-March at the latest as to whether or not summer festivals could take place after cancelling in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“If I can arrange with the sector that they can wait a little longer, then I would like to take all the time I have”
The minister-president said he first wanted to get a clearer picture of the progress of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout and also receive the results from the Netherlands’ Back to Live test events, which he says would play an important role in Flanders’ decision.
The Flemish government recently designated a total of €60 million to help the region’s organisers kickstart preparations for this summer’s festival season, however, metal festival Graspop became the first major Belgian festival to cancel its 2021 edition because of the uncertainty surrounding the summer.
Other major festivals in Flanders, including Rock Werchter, Tomorrowland, and Pukkelpop, are still waiting to hear the government’s decision.
Flemish government earmarks €60m for festivals
The Flemish government has designated a total of €60 million to help the region’s organisers kickstart preparations for this summer’s festival season.
Flemish minister of economy, Hilde Crevits, has allocated €50m in repayable advances for the broader events sector to “to get the engine going and offer insurance against the risk of organising an event in uncertain times”, she says.
For the new round of funding, the maximum amount an organiser can apply for has been raised from €800,000 to €1.8m and larger organisations will be eligible to apply this time.
All events that secure funding must comply with the measures applicable at the time they take place and, according to Tidj, in most cases, the advance is non-refundable if the event is cancelled.
The remaining €10m from the €60m pot – allocated by Flemish minister of tourism, Zuhal Demir – will subsidise Covid measures for small music festivals, such as the construction of rapid test villages, additional entrances and exits, or the rental of a larger site.
“Flanders has the best festivals in all of Europe…it is in everyone’s interest that the festival summer can take place”
“Smaller events with a total cost of at least €250,000 can count on the support of up to €75,000, while larger players with budgets of at least €7.5 m can count on support of up to €500,000,” says Demir.
The application process for corona-proofing grants is already open on Event Flanders. Organisers can combine both types of support.
Demir is working with Event Flanders, which sets out the event policy for Tourism Flanders, along with virologists and festival organisers, to work out the conditions under which festivals can take place safely. The plan should be ready by the end of this month.
“Flanders has the best festivals in all of Europe,” says Demir. “From large mass manifestations to the more intimate niche events, it is in everyone’s interest that the festival summer of 2021 can take place in the best possible way, for organisers, for visitors and for the rest of Flanders.”
Flanders is one of three Belgian regions which encompasses major cities including Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges, and is home to the country’s biggest festivals including Tomorrowland (pictured), Pukkelpop and Rock Werchter.
Last month, Flemish prime minister, Jan Jambon, also responsible for culture, announced that there will be clarity for festivals by mid-March at the latest.
PlayPass named most promising business in Flanders
RFID technology firm PlayPass has been named ‘most promising business of the year’ by the Flemish government in recognition of its rapid international growth. The award was presented by Flanders’ minister of work, economy, innovation and sport, Philippe Muyters, to David De Wever, CEO and co-founder of PlayPass.
This achievement follows PlayPass’s biggest year to date, with its RFID solutions for cashless payments, access control, accreditation and brand activation delivered at more than 100 events, including music festivals, concerts, sports and other live events, in 16 countries across five continents.
Founded in Antwerp in 2012, the company employs more than 30 staff internationally, with clients including Lollapalooza (Berlin and Santiago), Live Nation Belgium, Rock Werchter, Lowlands, Bilbao BBK, Graspop Metal Meeting and Melt Festival.
“This award can open many doors for our business”
“This award can open many doors for our business,” says De Wever. “It will boost our plans to double our headcount and open new offices around the world in 2018 while significantly expanding our current operations in the UK, Spain and Germany.
“The potential applications of our technology are endless, and we are experiencing exponential growth in demand for our services in every part of the world.”
Geert Noels, chairman of the jury that selected PlayPass as this year’s winner, adds: “This young company is a prime ambassador for entrepreneurship in Flanders, and is a source of inspiration for others having developed a new digital business model in the local region and successfully scaled it on a global basis.”