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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.


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Werchter, Tomorrowland off as Belgium extends events ban

Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Dour Festival, Graspop Metal Meeting and Tomorrowland are among the casualties of the Belgian government’s decision to extend its ban on large-scale events until 31 August 2020, announced this afternoon (15 April).

While some lockdown measures will likely be relaxed after 3 May, given that the peak of Belgium’s Covid-19 infections is believed to have passed, the National Security Council (CSN) has reiterated that no major cultural or sporting events will be permitted to take place until at least September.

It is not yet known whether smaller festivals will be allowed to go ahead before then, reports Het Laatste Nieuws.

The CSN’s announcement follows similar extensions in France, which will have no major events until at least mid-July, Austria, where large gatherings are banned until the end of June, and Denmark, which will be festival-free until 31 August.

Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop (owned and partnered with Live Nation Belgium, respectively) say in near-identical statements that they are “not surprised” by the ruling, which is the “right decision” in the face of the coronavirus’s spread through Europe.

“Still, we are devastated,” reads an announcement from Werchter, which was to have been headlined by Pearl Jam, Pixies, the Strokes, Kendrick Lamar, Twenty One Pilots, System of a Down and Volbeat. “We extended our sincere apologies to everyone who was looking forward to it as much as we were. However, there are more important things in life right now.”

“We are crushed, given how prepared we were”

Tickets for all affected festivals will remain valid for 2021.

“We are crushed, given how prepared we were,” adds Dour Festival (15–19 July), whose 2020 bookings included Asap Rocky, Stormzy and James Blake.”We understand and support the preventive measures taken by the public authorities to prevent the spread of the virus.

“While experts agree that the situation could be contained by this summer, it is not yet recommended to gather a large crowd, from Belgium and elsewhere, to Dour 2020. The health and safety of festivalgoers, artists, sponsors, suppliers, employees and volunteers remains our number-one priority at all times.”

“We will triumph together and will continue to unite,” say organisers of long-running EDM fixture Tomorrowland. “But first we have to ensure that the event industry overcomes this.

“Tomorrowland – just like all other major events – is only possible thanks to a network of hundreds of suppliers and thousands of collaborators, working for over a year toward our beloved festival. A lot of talented artists, creative companies, and hardworking and passionate people, including our own team, are now in the eye of the storm and are going through difficult times. We will need to be resilient, support each other, and be flexible to ensure there will still be an event industry at all.”

 


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Black Gold: How metal became a cultural phenomenon

Last year, Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson was bestowed with two very unique honours.

In April, he was made an honorary citizen of Sarajevo in recognition of a concert his solo band Skunkworks played there in 1994, during a prolonged siege of the Bosnian capital. Presenting the award, mayor Abdulah Skaka said: “The arrival of Mr Dickinson in Sarajevo, in 1994, was one of those moments that made us realise that we will survive.”

The other accolade was bestowed upon Dickinson by Dr Cristina Rheims, a Brazilian biologist and metal fan who gave a newly discovered species of spider the name Extraordinarius brucedickonsoni.

If these honours anecdotally demonstrate metal’s soft power, its global reach and the deep devotion of its fans, then the fact that Amon Amarth, a melodic death metal band whose principal lyrical inspiration is Viking folklore, will shake the fields of Wacken Open Air festival with 75,000 roaring fans this summer should be considered testament to metal’s undaunted commercial clout.

“It feels like there’s a cultural movement happening where, if you’re in the metal game and you’re good at what you do, you have a specific brand and you put on a great live show, things are moving,” enthuses Justin Arcangel, president of 5B Artist Management and Touring, who represent Amon Amarth, Babymetal, Slipknot and more.

“All our data – streaming numbers, ticket numbers, merch sales, whatever – are all bigger in 2020 than in 2019. The funny thing is when you speak to some people that don’t work in this genre, they have no idea. Metal is, to this day, outsider music, but let me tell you, it’s a major cultural thing, especially in Europe.”

“What we’ve witnessed across our events is metal is really a community – this outlaw feeling that unites us”

Summer knights
“Some of our hardcore audience think maybe metal is too mainstream now, because in Germany there’s a lot in the charts,” chuckles Thomas Jensen, CEO of International Concert Services and Wacken co-founder, pondering the sea change since he first staged the festival in the German village’s gravel pit in 1990.

Now in its third decade, with all 75,000 tickets for 2020’s edition snapped up in an astonishing 21 hours, Wacken is a major force, with good company in France’s Hellfest (55,000-capacity), Belgium’s Graspop (50,000-cap.), plus the UK’s Bloodstock Open Air (20,000-cap.) and Download, which attracts 110,000 fans over the weekend – a “heavy music summer,” as Jensen calls it. Which is not even to dig into the boom in boutique festivals offering bespoke experiences, such as Italy’s Rock the Castle or the Netherlands’ Roadburn, whose reputation as a tastemaker event means 75% of its 4,000 attendees travel from abroad.

“What we’ve witnessed across Wacken events is that metal is really a community, this outlaw feeling that unites us,” says Jensen. “Our music is a live experience and the whole festival circuit allows bands to survive. For international acts, it’s easier to put a festival run together than it was in the 90s, and you see bands working their way up the bill each year.”

“I’ve only ever seen the metal market over the years grow,” agrees Vicky Hungerford, co-director at Bloodstock, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with headline spots from Polish black metallers Behemoth and the UK’s Judas Priest. As well as fostering new talent with their popular Metal to the Masses series of regional shows, where unsigned bands compete to play the festival, Bloodstock strongly believes in paving the way for tomorrow’s monsters of rock.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 88, or subscribe to the magazine here.


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Market report: Belgium

As it is with property, so it is With smallish European countries: it’s all about location, location, location.

Belgium is the 34th biggest (or 16th smallest) nation in Europe by area – it would fit into France 18 times. But it might just be the best-positioned country on the continental mainland, with French, German, Dutch and Luxembourgian borders, and just two hours by train from London.

“We are the best-situated country in Europe,” concurs Pascal Van De Velde of Ghent-based promoter/agency Greenhouse Talent. “If you come from the UK to Germany, you drive through Belgium, and vice versa. If you come down from Scandinavia to southern Europe, you go through Belgium. Logistically, there is always a date for Belgium. And the market is good.”

Well, that’s true. Belgium might be small, but it’s packed – the 13th most-populous European country, with 11m inhabitants, 97% of whom live in towns or cities. So you’re always near a venue; you’re wealthier per head than the UK and France, and not far behind Germany; and in addition to a fairly world-class calendar of tours, you’ve got some of Europe’s biggest festivals in Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Dour, Graspop and Tomorrowland.

Then again, few countries have escaped entirely without injury these last few years, whether economic or of a more sinister kind. In common with an ever-growing list of countries, Belgium was the focus of a devastating terrorist incident when three co-ordinated suicide bombings in Brussels on 22 March 2016 killed 32 civilians and three perpetrators. One of many results of the attacks was to put a dent in the live business for much of the remainder of the year.

In January, Belgium lowered its threat level from three to two, judging another attack to be ‘unlikely,’ but while the audiences have come back, the promoters don’t soon forget. “The terrorist attacks were rough, especially the times when they were happening,” says Van De Velde. “And then in the slipstream of it, just security-wise – I can’t say that acts cancelled but putting the shows together was really nasty and difficult because the acts were scared and the audiences were reluctant.”

“We are the best-situated country in Europe”

“But it’s picked up,” he reflects. “It picks up again. When first the Bataclan attacks happened, and then, of course the Brussels attacks, that was huge. The market is very vulnerable, but it recovers fast. People want to go out and see shows, and it moves on. People get sort of used to the situation, you know?”

It takes a little while, though. In the summer of 2016, even a super-festival like Rock Werchter had a tricky year, its attendance 4,500 down on the previous year, compounded by heavy rain in the run-up. “Some people stopped going to shows in 2016 due to terrorism,” says Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, “but they seem to have realised in 2017 that it doesn’t make sense to sit at home, and they decided to live again and enjoy shows and festivals in 2017.”

Last year, says Schueremans, things were resoundingly back to normal. “It appears that they made up in 2017 what they missed in 2016. Of course, the bills of the festivals and the multiple, top-quality tours helped to achieve that. And it looks as if that trend is confirming itself in 2018, both festival- and indoor-wise. Religion and politics divide; music unites.”

Sometimes, it unites in unusual ways. In May, Night of the Proms promoter PSE joined with Werchter, Pukkelpop and GraciaLive to protest local performance rights organisation Sabam’s January move to raise tariffs across the board. Among the increases is a 30% spike in festival rates to 3.25% of box-office receipts, and a 16% hike for larger shows to 3.5%.

PSE’s Jan Vereecke accused Sabam of “simply abusing its monopoly – it is offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase.” Since then, talks have been ongoing, with no resolution yet reached. PwC estimates the value of the Belgian live business at $322m (€261m), and the fact that IQ is reporting at a time of ongoing prosperity and restored calm needn’t mask the fact that Belgium is a more unusual country than many.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 76, or subscribe to the magazine here