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“Just incredible”: Inside the O2’s emotional first shows back

The team behind Gorillaz’ two shows at London’s O2 Arena earlier this week have spoken of their joy in being involved in the UK’s first full-capacity arena concerts in 17 long months.

The Damon Albarn-led virtual band made their return to the O2, the world’s busiest music venue, on 10–11 August, playing a free show for National Health Service (NHS) workers on Tuesday and then a sold-out ticketed event for the general public the following night. Stuart Galbraith, CEO of the shows’ promoter, Kilimanjaro Live – who says he last saw a concert in May 2020 – tells IQ of his excitement at seeing “17,000 people all in one place, having world-class entertainment and just having fun. And [the first night] in particular, it’s brilliant that we could say ‘thank you’ in this way and give these heroes a night of free entertainment.”

Featuring special guests including Shaun Ryder, Little Simz, Leee John, Robert Smith and New Order’s Peter Hook, the shows marked both the return of full-capacity arena entertainment to the UK and Gorillaz to the stage, the O2 dates being the band’s first live performances since October 2018.

“The atmosphere was… I really can’t describe it. It was just incredible,” says Emma Bownes, vice-president of venue programming for the O2’s operator, AEG Europe, for whom the Gorillaz’ shows marked the first arena concerts at the venue since Halsey played on 8 March 2020.

“We’d been talking internally about how great it would be if we could have a really special first show back,” she continues, recalling the genesis of the free gig for healthcare staff, “and then Stuart from Kili got in touch, as he’d been talking to Ian [Huffam at X-ray Touring, Gorillaz’ agent] and also the band about this NHS show, so that was really fortuitous. He said, ‘We want to do this’, and we told him on the venue side we were also trying to think about how amazing it would be to have a special first show back, so it worked really well.”

“It’s brilliant we could say ‘thank you’ and give these heroes a night of free entertainment”

Bownes explains that the venue used a now-familiar system of Covid-status certification to keep concertgoers safe, with entry restricted to those who could prove they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have natural antibodies against the disease, or had returned a negative lateral-flow test in the previous 36 hours. Due to a combination of effective communications ahead of the event, she says, and growing awareness among fans of the need to keep shows provable free of coronavirus as they return, a huge 95% of the 17,000 people who attended the second Gorillaz show had their NHS (National Health Service) Covid Pass ready at the gates – despite it being, in many cases, the first live event they had attended in nearly two years.

“What we spent a lot of time doing in the run-up to the show was trying to make sure that everybody knew what to expect before they arrived,” Bownes says. “For the ticketed show, only 5% of people weren’t quite set up, so the comms worked. Even among those 5%, she adds, “none of them required a test – some, for example, had already taken the it but they hadn’t uploaded the result to the NHS yet – and none of them were turned away.”

Helping with the speedy ingress was the fact that people turned up earlier than for a ‘normal’ gig, continues Bownes. “Because we did all these comms in advance, it wasn’t like it normally is, where you get a massive rush 45 minutes before the band goes on,” she says. “People turned up in good time and had factored into their journeys that we needed plenty of time to check their Covid Passes.”

Covid-status certification like that used at the Gorillaz shows is a “good thing to educate the audience on”, particularly as it could become mandatory for live events in the UK later this year, Galbraith says. “I think it’s a good thing to do it now and get people used to it,” he comments. “In the way that you’re going to use exactly the same system for travel, I think it will become the norm for many things in society for the next few months, and possibly a couple of years. And I don’t think it’s that big of an imposition to be able to just prove to your fellow customers that you’re safe – and that therefore enables us to say to the customers, ‘Come to the show with certainty that everyone around you is virus-free. That also adds to that overall customer confidence, which in itself will add to our ticket sales.”

“I think the vast majority of people are quite happy to do it and show that responsibility to their fellow members of the public,” he continues. “And we’re running similar protocols backstage as well: The ability to get a pass to work in the backstage area is contingent on providing your Covid certification in exactly the way that getting a ticket is in the front of house.”

“I will never take it for granted, being at a gig, again. Everybody says it, but I genuinely mean it”

With a busy diary of upcoming shows – Galbraith notes that ticket sales are picking up across the board, particularly among rock acts and those popular with younger audiences, with acts as diverse as Sabaton, Andrea Bocelli and film composer Hans Zimmer selling particularly well – the Kilimanjaro Live chief says he’s looking forward to getting back to doing what he loves after nearly 18 months of “politicking and lobbying” with LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) to help the UK business survive the coronavirus crisis. And while he’s under no illusion that the industry body will have plenty to deal with over the next few years, particularly the challenges posed by Brexit and the environmental impact of touring, “it’s going to be brilliant to get back to what we should have been doing”, he says.

“It’s been such a weird time because we’ve just been rescheduling constantly. We’ve rescheduled over 200 gigs, and we’ve had to cancel 55, and whereas normally we’d be doing all this work and have all these gigs – actually have something to show for it – the past 18 months have just been reschedule, reschedule, reschedule countless times,” adds Bownes. “So to have the show actually happen was amazing.”

“The bit that did it for me,” she continues, “was walking around the back of the stage to go and see Stuart and Ian. The O2 probably does 200 gigs a year so it was something that you used to do so often, but it was like you’d forgotten that you used to do it – just walking behind the stage on the way to see the promoter and the agent, and hearing the crowd… It was amazing. It was just great.

“I will never take it for granted, being at a gig, again. Everybody says it, but I genuinely mean it. You know what the industry is like: People don’t always go to gigs, or they’ll maybe see a few songs and go home, but I do feel like that will change.”

Another free show for NHS workers headlined by Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher will take place at the O2 next Tuesday (17 August).

 


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Gorillaz, Beck perform in Animal Crossing

Gorillaz and Beck played their new song, ‘The Valley of the Pagans’, on the in-game Animal Crossing talk show on Friday (23 October).

The collaboration, which appears on Gorillaz’ new album, Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez, was performed by Gorillaz vocalist 2-D (aka Damon Albarn) and Beck, who appeared on Animal Talking, a talk show within the popular Nintendo Switch game, as virtual avatars.

The performance followed an interview with Gorillaz creators Albarn and Jamie Hewlett earlier in the programme, which is hosted by screenwriter and author Gary Whitta.

The animated band last week announced a short 2021 European tour, visiting Cologne, Berlin, Luxembourg’s Rockhal and the O2 in London next summer.

Animal Crossing is the latest video game to host a ‘concert’, with Gorillaz joining the growing ranks of artists who have performed as virtual versions of themselves. Notable videogame shows this year include Travis Scott and J Balvin in Fortnite, and several festivals in Minecraft, while 2019 saw Marshmello play Fortnite, Korn play AdventureQuest and the Offspring World of Tanks, among others.

IQ revealed recently that more than three quarters of a billion people – each one of them a potential concertgoer once the live business restarts – play video games regularly.

 


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Robbie, Gorillaz fans scammed by fake ticket site

A fraudulent website which sold non-existent tickets to a number of popular events, including Goldenvoice’s Demon Dayz Festival in Margate and dates by Robbie Williams and Rod Stewart, has been shut down.

Victims who handed money over to Goticketsuk.com were told as the shows approached that tickets could not be sent, with calls and emails requesting a refund left unanswered.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) warned last March that ticket fraud rose in the UK by 55% in 2015, and a year later more than 1,500 people attempted to buy tickets from Surfed Arts, a fake secondary ticketing site set up by the City of London police.

According to NFIB, the site told buyers “they will receive physical tickets along with further correspondence nearer to the event date; however, as the concert or event date has drawn closer and victims have attempted to contact Goticketsuk.com for an update, a response has been received suggesting a number of reasons why tickets cannot be sent.

Ticket fraud rose 55% in the UK in 2015

“These include an overbooking of tickets at the venue, a delay receiving the tickets from a supplier or that the tickets have simply had to be cancelled.

“When victims have responded to the email or attempted to seek further information via Goticketsuk.com’s social media platforms, there has been no further contact. Some reports have also indicated that victims have been promised a refund, though we are currently unaware of any refunds being awarded.”

NFIB says affected events include Demon Dayz and a Robbie Williams (pictured) show, while the Shropshire Star quotes another Goticketsuk.com customer who planned to see Rod Stewart at Shrewsbury Town FC last week.

 


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Gorillaz, AEG ‘planning Demon Dayz Chicago’

Gorillaz have international aspirations for their new Demon Dayz Festival, according to frontman Damon Albarn.

Goldenvoice/AEG Presents has already announced the launch of a UK edition of Demon Dayz, set for 10 June at the new 15,000-cap. venue at Dreamland Margate in Kent, but the promoter is also planning a Chicago event, Albarn said in a recent interview with Q Magazine.

As spotted by KanyeToThe.com user Theef, Q reports Albarn is rehearsing for “Gorillaz’s forthcoming live dates, which include Demon Dayz, two one-day festivals in Margate and Chicago” (emphasis ours).

No location has yet been announced, although it’s probably safe to say Grant Park (the home of Live Nation’s Lollapalooza) is off limits.

Gorillaz, whose new album, Humanz, will be released on 28 April, are already confirmed for the UK Demon Dayz and San Francisco’s Outside Lands this summer.

 


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Dreamland continues live revival with new events

Independent punk and ska event Undercover Festival – it of pissing-off-the-NRA fame – is to relocate to Dreamland Margate for 2017, bringing the theme park’s slate of confirmed music festivals to four this year.

Undercover joins Margate Wonderland, a spin-off of east London hipster festival Hackney Wonderland; Hipsville Seaside-a-Go! Go!, which presents the “wildest rock’n’roll and soul sounds of the 1960s and beyond”; and Gorillaz’ Goldenvoice-promoted Demon Dayz Festival on Dreamland’s 2017 festival calendar, as the Victorian seaside resort bids to recapture former glories by positioning itself as major touring and festival destination for the east of England.

By the Sea, which took place at Dreamland in 2015 and 2016, has not yet announced any dates for 2017, although the festival is promoting a solo show by Slaves in July.

Dreamland, which dates from 1880, was once one of Britain’s best-loved amusement parks, but closed in 2003 after a long period of decline as seaside holidays fell out of favour. It was compulsorily purchased by Thanet District Council in 2013 and reopened two years later, bringing together “lovingly restored vintage rides set against a backdrop of art installations, adventurous street food, unique bars and an eclectic programme of live events”.

“We believe we’ve captured something truly special with this newly imagined incarnation of Dreamland”

Housing its live events offering are the original Hall by the Sea – a 2,000-capacity venue that played host to mod greats including The Who and The Rolling Stones – and a new 15,000-cap. venue, which will debut with Demon Dayz on 10 June and which Dreamland says “sees us put Margate back on the music venue map”.

Jennie Double, Dreamland Margate’s commercial director, says she “cannot wait to unveil the new park to locals and visitors alike. By combining contemporary food and culture with authentic vintage rides and the uniquely British heritage that only we can offer, we believe we’ve captured something truly special with this newly imagined incarnation of Dreamland.”

Undercover Festival 2017, which runs from 8 to 9 September, will feature performances by Tom Robinson, Geno Washington, Doctor and the Medics, Jilted John, UK, Ruts DC and Angelic Upstarts. Its promoter, Undercover Promotions’ Mick Moriarty, says the new venue will provide “an experience that defies all other conventions and festival templates. Not only do we have a cracking alternative line-up, but festivalgoers can experience many retro rides and amusements. Plus, it is once again held undercover –  ie not outdoors – so if it’s peeing down come September it’s not a problem and your beer won’t get diluted.”

Speaking about Demon Dayz, Mags Revell, vice-president of live music at Goldenvoice/AEG Presents, told Music Week in March: “We have been planning the all-new Demon Dayz Festival, which sold out in 10 minutes, for some time, and Dreamland Margate is the ultimate venue for Gorillaz to make their long awaited return to the stage.  The location and the backdrop of the amusement park will be the perfect playground for the full festival line-up.”

 


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Festival Focus: Lollapalooza, Arroyo Seco, Sziget

With the 2017 festival season fast approaching and many events close to finalising this year’s line-ups, we’ve introduced a new, slimmed-down Festival Focus for 2017 to ensure we cover as much news as possible – keeping you abreast of all the latest developments in the festival world with the minimum of waffle.

Read on for all the latest festival announcements (headliners are in bold), or click here for the previous FF. And if we’ve missed something, or you’d like to see your event featured in a future Festival Focus, feel free to drop news editor Jon Chapple a line at jon@iq-mag.net.

 


Gorillaz, 16 December 2010, Adrian Pua

Demon Dayz Festival, UK (Goldenvoice/X-ray Touring, 10 June 2017)
Gorillaz (Gorillaz photo by Adrian Pua)

Arroyo Seco Weekend, US (Goldenvoice, 24–25 June 2017)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mumford & Sons, Alabama Shakes, Weezer, The Shins, Andrew Bird, etc.

Global Citizen Festival Hamburg, Germany (Global Poverty Project/Live Nation, 6 July 2017)
Herbert Grönemeyer, Coldplay, The Chainsmokers, Ellie Goulding

Trnsmt, UK (DF Concerts, 7–9 July 2017)
Stormzy, The View, Cabbage

Deadmau5, Club Answer, 2009, Hyunji Choi

Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, Spain (Maraworld, 13–16 July 2017)
Deadmau5, Stormzy, Crystal Fighters, Pete Doherty, Courteeners, Dua Lipa, Mura Masa, Kaytranada, etc. (Deadmau5 photo by Hyunji Choi)

Glastonbury Festival, UK (Glastonbury Festivals Ltd, 21–25 June 2017)
Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters

FYF Fest, US (Goldenvoice, 21–23 July 2017)
Missy Elliot, Björk, Frank Ocean, Nine Inch Nails, A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, Solange, Iggy Pop, Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus, Anderson .Paak, MGMT, etc.

Karoondinha Music & Arts Festival, US (Hawk Eye Presents, 21–23 July 2017)
John Legend, Odesza, The Roots, Chromeo, Alessia Cara, X Ambassadors, Needtobreathe, St Lucia, Alunageorge, etc.

Rita Ora, 87th Academy Awards, Disney–ABC Television Group

Lollapalooza, US (C3 Presents, 3–6 August 2017)
Chance the Rapper, The Killers, Muse, Arcade Fire, The xx, Lorde, Blink-182, DJ Snake, Justice, Alt-J, Run the Jewels, Cage the Elephant, Wiz Khalifa, etc.

Osheaga, Canada (Evenko, 4–6 August 2017)
The Weeknd, Muse, Lorde, Major Lazer, Alabama Shakes, Justice, Solange, Vance Joy, Cage the Elephant, MGMT, Foster the People, Father John Misty, Die Antwoord, Liam Gallagher, etc.

Sziget, Hungary (Sziget Cultural Management, 9–16 August 2017)
Pink, Wiz Khalifa, Rita Ora, Paul Van Dyk, Alex Clare, Dimension, The Courteeners, The Vaccines, Her (Rita Ora photo by Craig Sjodin for Disney-ABC Television Group)

V Festival, UK (Metropolis Music/SJM Concerts, 19–20 August 2017)
Pink, Jay Z, Rudimental, Craig David, Pete Tong, Ellie Goulding, Jess Glynne, Stormzy, George Ezra, Madness, Jason Derulo, Sean Paul, Dizzee Rascal, James Arthur, etc.

Eminem, Lollapalooza Chile 2016

Glasgow Summer Sessions, UK (DF Concerts, 24 August 2017)
Eminem, Run the Jewels, Danny Brown, Russ (Eminem photo by paniko.cl)

Reading Festival/Leeds Festival,UK (Festival Republic, 25–27 August 2017)
Eminem, Haim, Migos, Giggs, You Me at Six, Blossoms, Frank Carter, The Pretty Reckless, Billy Talent, Everything Everything, Cabbage, Milky Change, Lethal Bizzle, Black Lips, etc.

Rock en Seine, France (Nous Productions, 25–27 August 2017)
At the Drive-In, PJ Harvey, The xx, Flume, The Kills, Franz Ferdinand, Cypress Hill, Frank Carter, The Pretty Reckless, Ty Segall, Mø, etc.

 


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