City focus: Graz
In a market the size of Austria, it is natural that the capital should be the main destination, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one.
“Austria is known to be a rather small market, and many bigger projects happen in Vienna,” says Potocki. “But, as the second largest city, Graz has a thriving cultural scene and thanks to the many students living there, a fairly high density of great venues. There practically is no way past Graz if you want to tour and promote in Austria.” Graz, capital of the southern province of Styria and no great distance from Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary, is a musical hub in its own right.
“Graz is lovely and a great place for shows outside of Vienna,” says Huber. “The city offers plenty of venue options, has a strong catchment area, and a vibrant and creative community. It’s rather difficult to get international artists there because obviously Vienna is the main focus, but we have had memorable evenings with Frank Turner, Cigarettes After Sex, and The Naked & Famous, and we once had a crazy day with Taste of Chaos back in the glorious days of emo and eyeliner…”
“Graz is also a famous indoor festival town – and all our festivals are still made and curated by 100% percent local management”
National and even German promoters are in evidence in Graz when the bigger shows roll through, though they typically team with local co-promoters on the ground.
“The big international touring artists are nearly all done by big promoters from Vienna like Barracuda, Arcadia Live, and Live Nation/Goodlive, or directly from Germany,” says local promoter Dietmar Tschmelak of Soundportal. “But the main part of all these shows are co-produced by local promoters on site. So, it’s more a kind of partnership. There are barely any other options for local [promoters] in these times where booking, ticketing, and promoting are frequently in one hand.”
But the local independent spirit still manifests itself. “Graz is also a famous indoor festival town – and all our festivals – Styrian Sounds, Spring, Elevate, Steirischer Herbst – are still made and curated by 100% percent local management,” adds Tschmelak.
Elevate, which offers “music, art, and political discourse”, enjoyed its first full post-pandemic edition in March
Elevate, which offers “music, art, and political discourse”, enjoyed its first full post-pandemic edition in March and drew a near-capacity audience of 10,000 (non-unique) visitors across its five days. The festival is remarkable for (partly) taking place inside a mountain – the Dom Im Berg club is located inside the Castle Hill of Graz in the centre of the old town – and accordingly it has international pulling power.
“We even had some people coming from the US, but in general, in terms of pre-sale, one-third is from Graz itself and then we have people from the UK, lots from Germany, and a lot from all the neighbouring countries – Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, also France and Spain,” says festival co-founder Bernhard Steirer, who notes that Brian Eno and Caterina Barbieri have been among those who have supplied lift music for the Schloßberg elevator that takes audiences up the hill.
Other exciting venues include the open-air Schloßbergbühne Kasematten above the old town within the walls of the old fortifications. This year, Panda Bear & Sonic Boom, Pharmakon, Attila, and The Gaslamp Killer were on the bill, and next year brings the festival’s 20th anniversary edition. Other shows from the same organisation this year include a visit from Nils Frahm in July.
“I feel a strong wave of young artists in totally different styles. It’s very diverse – underground sounds in the mix with mainstream pop attitude”
As well as promoting and also operating the local Soundportal radio station, Tschmelak runs the local music festival Styrian Sounds and the PPC Club – one of the key clubs in Graz, along with the busy Orpheum – and he believes the local scene is catching a wave.
“Yes, definitely. It’s growing again,” says Tschmelak. “Twenty years ago, we had a big punk-rock scene with some international touring bands and a rising electronic/drum-and-bass scene pushed by the local Spring Festival. In the 2010s, everything went a bit too mellow, but these days I feel a strong wave of young artists in totally different styles. It’s very diverse – underground sounds in the mix with mainstream pop attitude. I really like this development. We have great universities here in town and therefore a lot of students. That’s a main factor for the good vibrations we have felt lately.”
In terms of bigger venues, the Helmut List Halle, a former industrial hall, accommodates shows of up to 2,000, while the Messe Congress Graz (MCG), with its 14,520-cap Stadthalle, Messe Graz Open Air, and six other venues, stages more than 400 events a year, from concerts to conferences, and is the largest provider in the event location segment in Graz and second in Austria.
“Graz is the second biggest city in Austria, with a very well-run Stadthalle”
“Besides the open-air area, the Stadthalle is home to some of the biggest and best-attended shows,” says Christof Strimitzer, MCG head of marketing and communications. “But classical concerts and family musicals take place at the same time as rock & roll open-airs, business conferences, and soccer and ice hockey matches.”
No one disputes that Graz is a welcoming market with impressive infrastructure, even if its size – around 285,000 inhabitants – puts it well short of Vienna, which calls on nearly 2m. “Graz is the second biggest city in Austria, with a very well-run Stadthalle” says Hörmann. “We like to work there, but obviously you can’t compare the market with Vienna. I would see Graz to be around 10% of the total Austrian market. It is a good market but far from the buying power of the Vienna region.”
Read IQ‘s Austria market profile here.
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