Dark Horses: The resilience of metal
Cranked amplifiers. Pyrotechnic firepower. Mosh-pit mayhem. As a genre where the blood, sweat and riffs of the live experience are both an integral part of fan appeal and artists’ revenues, the fortunes of metal are intrinsically tied to the live market, in sickness and in health.
After nearly two years of silence due to the pandemic, metal is steadily finding its feet again as a return to the summer festival touring circuit continues apace. At the time of writing, Wacken Open Air had recently wound up its 2022 edition, where 80,000 diehard metalheads summed up the loyalty in the genre with more than 95% of them rolling over their tickets from previous years. And just one day after the curtain came down, fans took just five hours to snap up all 80,000 tickets for the 2023 edition.
Elsewhere, live juggernaut Rammstein are resuming their record-breaking global stadium tour after it was rudely interrupted in 2020, concluding with three nights at Mexico City’s 65,000-capacity Foro Sol stadium. Newer boutique events are also performing well, such as Italy’s Rock The Castle, which is offering fans the opportunity to see legendary headliners Judas Priest and Megadeth within Scaligero Castle grounds.
“Metal fans are fans for their whole life,” affirms Andrea Pieroni, CEO of Vertigo who promoted the event. “We sold almost 20,000 tickets over the weekend, which is good if you consider we sell only daily tickets and capacity is 9,000. It’s a new renaissance, literally!”
The road back to live has been rocky, and the issues beleaguering the entire live industry – crew shortages, skyrocketing fuel prices, ballooning production costs – are keenly felt. Yet, unsurprisingly, for a genre that has always punched above its weight and boasts fans regarded as the most loyal in the world, in this report IQ hears how many artists and show organisers have not only survived but thrived, through a mix of passion, community and grit.
“Metal fans are fans for their whole life”
Riders on the storm
When it dawned on the industry that 2021 would not see a return to business-as-usual, several no-table metal festivals embraced digital technology like never before by staging online editions rather than let another year pass unmarked.
One such festival is The Netherlands’ tastemaker event Roadburn, whose organisers launched Roadburn Redux in April 2021, a four-day streaming event with live performances from Tilburg’s lynchpin club venue, 013. “We pulled out all the stops to make Roadburn Redux something really special, and it was affirming, as an independent festival, that we might still have a future,” recalls artistic director Walter Hoeijmakers. Performances were broadcast in real-time by local production specialists, LiveWall, who also created the online portal, which saw 79,000 fans from 132 countries tune in.
The carefully curated programme recreated all the regular hallmarks that have earned Roadburn an engaged following and a reputation for “redefining heavy”: spotlights on emerging underground talent, panel discussions, and exclusive commissioned projects, made possible through grants from the Dutch government. “We approached 16 bands and told them, ‘We want to give you a portion of this grant to create new music that we can premiere at Roadburn 2021,’” explains Hoeijmakers. “That was the main goal: to inspire the community and give bands an opportunity to grow and keep them visible.”
France’s Hellfest also got in on the action, creating a virtual “metalverse” for Hellfest From Home, where visitors could navigate between stages and interact with other headbangers. Alongside live performances, video content catered to the wider festival experience, from cocktail recipes to cooking tutorials with rockstars, racking up nearly three million views overall.
“We don’t treat festival goers as customers: it’s more like a community”
Significantly, both festivals made the online experiences open to all, free of charge. Roadburn opened donations, raising over €56,000 to help cover costs, while Hellfest sold specially produced merchandise. As Hellfest communications manager Eric Perrin explains, the focus was to repay fans for their loyalty: “It was a ‘thank you’ to everyone who had held on to their tickets. We don’t treat festival goers as customers: it’s more like a community. As an independent festival, ticketing is 60% of our budget, so we maintain a special relationship with our community because, ultimately, they’re our lifeline.”
Both festivals have been rewarded this year with sold-out attendance for their respective physical comebacks, with nearly 90% of original tickets purchases rolled over. 5,500 visitors returned to Roadburn this year, with around 80% of attendees travelling from outside The Netherlands. Meanwhile, Hellfest celebrated its 15th anniversary by spreading a stacked bill over two weekends, welcoming 420,000 people to Clisson over seven days.
Younger bands, like Static Dress and Sleep Token, have also been able to build anticipation with fresh music over the pandemic and return to larger audiences. Canadian metallers Spiritbox were on their first tour playing support to 800-cap rooms or less when the world locked down. Now, they are one of the hottest properties in metal, recently notching up a much-anticipated debut at Download Festival and two sold-out nights at Islington’s O2 Academy venue as headliners, selling 1,600 tickets.
Back in the saddle
A few tentpole events can be seen as paving the way for metal’s return to heavyweight commercial performance. Most obvious is The Metal Tour of the Year which packages together Trivium and Lamb Of God with thrash icons Megadeth, which in its first leg in 2021 alone sold over 170,000 tickets across 24 North American dates, grossing nearly $8m (€7.9m) according to Pollstar.
More impressively, demand proved so high that a second leg of 26 dates was undertaken earlier this year. Over in the UK, Bring Me The Horizon launched a fresh tour of six arenas in 2021, which sold over 60,000 tickets, while Don Broco’s 11-date run of academy-sized venues (25,000 tickets sold) has set them up for their first arena tour next year.
“We need to take more chances on new headliners”
But, in Britain’s metal calendar, no event speaks louder than Download Festival. In 2021, the UK government tasked the festival with putting together a 10,000-capacity camping festival with zero social distancing, as part of the wider Events Research Programme that would make the case for large-scale gatherings post-lockdown. Oh, and with just four weeks’ notice. No pressure.
“John Probyn and his team at Festival Republic did an incredible job pulling together the production in such short notice,” recalls Live Nation promoter Kamran Haq. “We managed to confirm the entire line-up in four days. Some bands thought we were joking when we told them we were going to do a festival in four weeks’ time, but thankfully every band we approached jumped at the chance.”
The result was a scaled-down Download featuring a best-of-British line-up headed by Enter Shikari, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, and Bullet For My Valentine. While the event was never going to turn a profit with reduced capacity and reported production costs of £2.7m (€3.2m), Haq affirms that the exercise was worthwhile. “It was a loss leader, but its success allowed other festivals like Reading and Leeds, Creamfields, Latitude etc., to go ahead later in the summer. It also showed us that we need to take more chances on new headliners, and we will do.”
By all accounts, metal festivals and tours have been back in full force this summer, with many circuit mainstays reporting bumper attendance numbers, including: Download (110,000, UK); Rock Am Ring and Rock Im Park (150,000 combined, Germany); Graspop Metal Meeting (220,000, Belgium); Welcome To Rockville (160,000, US); Resurrection Festival (145,000, Spain); and Good Things (90,000, Australia).
Perennial favourites Iron Maiden resumed their mammoth Legacy Of The Beast tour to sweep up 170,000 tickets over five German stadium shows alone. In most cases, ticket retention ranges from 75% up to 90%. Yet that diehard loyalty of holding on to tickets for the past two years has also come at a cost this year – namely that touring budgets and ticket prices drawn up in 2019/2020 do not square with the costs of staging shows in 2022, with many reporting at least a 30% increase in production costs.
“We’re going to be forced to analyse comfort levels for increasing ticket prices”
“I have never seen anything like it,” says Ossy Hoppe of Wizard Promotions who, with almost 50 years’ experience promoting hard rock’s elite under his belt, has seen it all. “We have a completely different situation now, where neither promoters nor bands are making the money they expected on deals. If bands can’t get trucks, they’re getting busses. If they can’t get busses, then they’re chartering planes. The only way we will get through is if we all pull on the same string.”
5B Artist Management president Justin Arcangel observes that 2023 tour sales vary wildly, and while per-head merchandise sales at shows are double pre-pandemic levels, selling VIP packages has become essential to mitigate risk. “Maybe in 2019 our guarantees would pay for the tour and VIP would be a profit centre. Now the VIP is necessary to help the tour break even,” says Arcangel, whose clients include heavy hitters Megadeth, Slipknot, and Behemoth. “We’re going to be forced to analyse comfort levels for increasing ticket prices, but we also have to figure out how to make these tours profit if touring is going to be sustainable.”
Latin America has proven itself to be a hotbed for a thriving, passionate metal fanbase across the continent. In our 2020 report, CKConcerts managing director Christian Krämer stated that development of venues and tour infrastructure would be necessary to truly open up the region. Fortunately, from his perspective, the pandemic has not set back efforts in this area.
“A few venues had to close, but the vast majority are still there, and we are even seeing new venues being opened, such as Coliseo Live arena in Bogotá,” he says. Appetites for continent-spanning tours with Airbourne and Obituary are looking promising, but not all sales are equal. “Both tours are selling very good, but I have seen several other shows that only sold very late. The market will be oversaturated until late 2023 probably, so it is still too early to see how everything will play out.”
But, as Christopher “Bitz” Ruvalcaba of metal powerhouse Cobra Agency observes, uncertainty is par for the course in a territory where political stability and currency values can, and will, vary year-to-year, state to state: “It’s not just Covid for us. You might have riots in Chile or you do a deal where the value of the dollar was worth five pesos, then three months later the dollar might be worth ten pesos. Tour cancellations happen all the time. It’s a case of resilience and adapting to bring the best opportunities to your artists.”
“The metal fans in South America are more passionate than anywhere in the world”
The pandemic and the war in Ukraine may have exacerbated existing problems, such as the costs of flying and freighting, which are a logistical necessity for a band crossing the Andes, but Ruvalcaba’s optimism for metal’s growth in the region remains unchanged. Having worked with promoters from grassroots to stadium-level and built strong relationships with artists such as Slipknot over the past ten years, he has seen touring infrastructure for metal bands across the region go from strength to strength.
The success of Mexico’s Hell and Heaven Metal Fest (30,000 cap), and the high-profile expansion of Knotfest into the territory are proof of long-term commitment bearing fruit. “We have been trying to stage Knotfest in Brazil and Chile for five years, and we have only just found the right bands and right time to do it,” he says proudly of the Slipknot-affiliated festival, which this year will also be staged in Colombia and so far has sold 30,000 tickets for each event before the full bill has even been announced. “You need passion and patience to make shows happen here, but the metal fans in South America are more passionate than anywhere in the world. It’s a culture. It’s a message.”
As a heavy metal summer of festivals and touring draws to a close, conversation naturally turns to how tours set for winter 2022 and spring 2023 will perform. After all, once rollover tickets have been used up and punters start to feel the pinch of winter energy costs, how will tours sell?
Whether at a major league or independent-level, both 5B’s Justin Arcangel and Sarika Rice of London-based Desertfest have noticed a trend for customers to wait until the 11th hour to buy tickets. “I think people are wary of parting with money in advance or [concerned] that the shows are even going to happen,” says Rice, who as Desertfest’s booker and marketing head is finding the last-minute ticket sales challenging when it comes to projecting budgets for 2023’s festivals in London and New York. “Going into this year, we had 1,000 tickets rolled over for London. Will we see a quick uptake when we put tickets on sale or will it be down to the wire? We’ve got to be prepared for that.”
Yet Alan Day of Kilimanjaro Live and Action! Presents is bullish about the sales coming in. “You hear, ‘Oh, this autumn is going to be tough,’ but people say that every year! It’s always busy, but I think the market is very strong for rock and metal bands,” says Day, who has major UK tours with Bullet For My Valentine, Saboton, and Don Broco scheduled for Q1 2023. “I am very wary of the cost-of-living crisis, and we are being careful in how we position younger bands, but people will do everything they can to ensure their pay cheques stretch to go to see a show. The metal audience is loyal – that will never go away.”
“The future of touring itself will be about having much stronger packaging and not an increase in ticket price”
The opinion among many promoters and bookers is that rewarding that loyalty and delivering value-for-money at the barriers will prove crucial when it comes to ensuring good turnouts while navigating the rising costs of touring. As Adam ‘Rad’ Saunders of X-ray Touring cautions, simply offloading touring costs onto the consumer by hiking ticket prices simply won’t cut it.
“The future of touring itself will be about having much stronger packaging and not an increase in ticket price,” says Saunders, who believes that co-headline packages such as Amon Amarth and Machine Head’s upcoming UK arena tour are the way forward. “You need to put more on the table. The ticket buyer needs more value for their money, and I think that is what is needed for the confidence to return and for advance ticket sales to come back to what they were prior.”
One thing everyone IQ spoke to agrees upon is that metal continues to gain a fresh young audience, whether through well-placed syncs creating a “Stranger Things moment” or through rock lifers introducing their children to the visceral thrill of a metal show turned up to 11.
“I see young kids between 12 and 17 going back and listening to UFO and Thin Lizzy, and it’s amazing that there’s a new generation coming up that are really into hard rock and heavy metal,” marvels Ossy Hoppe, concluding that whatever the upcoming years bring for bands and their teams, the future of metal is loud. “Long live rock and roll and hopefully so will we!”
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French festivalgoers unwilling to attend seated festivals
The majority of French festivalgoers would not be willing to attend Eurockéennes de Belfort 2021 if they were required to be seated for the duration, according to a survey conducted by the festival.
The survey aimed to find whether festivalgoers would be willing to attend this summer’s edition with the restrictions recently announced by the government.
The restrictions, announced at the end of last month, require both indoor and outdoor festivals to limit attendance to 5,000 people, who must be seated and socially distanced.
The survey attracted 21,418 respondents, 72% of which said they would not be willing to attend a seated version of Eurockéennes this year.
One per cent of respondents did not answer the questions but 27% of respondents (around 6,000 people) said they would be willing to attend, which is more than the capacity limit.
Almost half of the respondents (48%) said they would not be willing to attend this year’s festival if social distancing was imposed and 73% would not attend if refreshments were not available.
Almost half of the respondents said they would not be willing to attend this year’s festival if social distancing was imposed
However, the majority of festivalgoers would agree to wear a mask (72%) and present results of a Covid-19 screening test for access to the festival (69%).
Eurockéennes, which was cancelled in 2020, is due to take place from 1 to 4 July this year, featuring acts including Massive Attack, the Lumineers, Foals, Simple Minds and Diplo. The 2019 edition was attended by 130,000 people.
Though the minister for culture, Roselyne Bachelot, announced a €30 million compensation fund for organisers alongside the restrictions, the French live industry has criticised the framework.
France’s trade union, the SMA (Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles), said “a seated event bringing together 5,000 maximum people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival”.
AEG Presents France GM and VP, Arnaud Meerseeman, said the “loose framework” and the issues it presents “points to another empty season”.
French metal festival Hellfest Open Air (cap. 60,000) was the first major French festival to cancel, saying that “to accept these overly restrictive rules would go against the very DNA of the festival”.
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French industry reacts to new festival restrictions
France is the first major European market to deliver a framework for this summer’s festival season.
French festivals – both indoor and outdoor – are permitted to take place this summer but attendance will be restricted to 5,000 spectators, who must be seated and socially distanced.
The minister for culture, Roselyne Bachelot, announced the framework yesterday (18 February) along with a €30 million fund which will compensate organisers – both for losses incurred due to the implementation of alternative formats, and in the event that festivals are cancelled due to an increasing Covid-19 infection rate.
Bachelot has committed to a monthly consultation meeting with festivals to adapt the framework according to the development of France’s health situation but France’s live sector already has many questions that have gone unanswered.
“Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters”
AEG Presents France GM and VP, Arnaud Meerseeman, tells IQ: “I feel it’s essentially an act of political communication to gain some time with the sector. The framework is very loose. There is no detail on the timeline of this decision: ie when does “summer” start and end, from what point does this apply? Does this cover festivals in August/September?
“There is also no detail on the protocol to welcome audiences and therefore the impossibility to cost the extra measures needed to welcome the audience. And finally, there is a big sore point of no food and beverage, which is quite problematic for an outdoor event!
“On top of that, all of this is submitted to a monthly revision in link with the evolution of the sanitary situation. All of these issues tend to point to another empty season. Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters. Smaller events, or different aesthetics (ie jazz/classical) or other disciplines (cinema/theatre) might be able to go forward. The positive issue is the financial mechanisms to support events that cancel or that want to adapt has been maintained and boosted,” adds Meerseeman.
“A seated event bringing together 5,000 people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival”
France’s trade union, the SMA (Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles), echoes Meersseman’s concerns, saying: “At the present time and under the conditions announced by [Bachelot], we cannot say that festivals will be held this summer because, for a major part of our audiences, our artists and our teams, a seated event bringing together 5,000 maximum people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival.”
SMA has also expressed concerns that the €30m financial package will “insufficient” to support 6,000 French festivals of all disciplines.
“[Hellfest] makes the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against our DNA”
French metal festival Hellfest Open Air (cap. 60,000) broke the news to IQ that this year’s event is cancelled due to the uncertainty around the health situation and the government regulations.
Hellfest organiser Ben Barbaud tells IQ: “Unlike other festivals, we make the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against the very DNA of the festival. We owe our festival-goers consistency in the project we want to offer them and for which they have agreed to pay a high price.
“Hellfest was born out of a desire to gather all the “extreme” music lovers together in communion and a spirit of celebration. Living with the virus shouldn’t be giving up what makes us happy. The future of Hellfest is compromised and once again it is your trust and solidarity that will get us through this storm.”
The 15th anniversary of Hellfest was due to take place across three days in June, in Clisson, Pays de la Loire, with performances from artists including Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down. Barbaud says the festival will return in 2022.
While France may be the first major market in the northern hemisphere to make a decision on this summer’s festival season, it doesn’t necessarily mean other countries will follow its lead.
France’s vaccination rate is significantly lower than other markets inside and outside of Europe such as the UK, Denmark, Italy and other EU countries, and the government has been continuously criticised for slowing the pace.
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French festivals reschedule as new lockdown looms
French president Emmanuel Macron is set to make a decision this weekend on whether to place France into a third national lockdown, in a move that could be a death knell for the country’s festival summer.
According to local media, Macron is leaning towards a so-called adapted lockdown (confinement adapté), rather than the strict stay-at-home measures seen in March in November, with recent polling suggesting a majority of French now oppose a third ‘hard’ lockdown. The last lockdown was eased just before the Christmas holidays as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital fell; under two months later, however, and hospitals are now again at a nearly “100% occupancy rate” in some regions, health minister Olivier Véran warned yesterday (28 January) .
While the confinement adapté would allow some businesses and organisations to stay open – particularly schools, reports Le Monde – the move towards more stringent rules dampens France’s prospects for a more normal summer, particularly when it comes to live entertainment.
Several French music festivals, particularly those catering to local acts, have already postponed to later this year – among them early summer event Festival Papillons de Nuit (20,000-cap.) in Saint-Laurent-de-Cuves, which has moved to the end of August, and the multi-venue Bordeux Rock, which optimistically rescheduled from January to April – and it is feared that further restrictions, particularly the extension of France’s health state of emergency, will put further pressure on the live music sector.
Several French music festivals have already postponed to later this year
The French Senate voted yesterday to extend the Health Emergency Law, which grants the government special powers, including restricting freedom of movement or assembly, until 3 May (revised from 1 June).
More concerning, however, is the bill’s provision to postpone the end of the state of emergency’s “exit regime” (régime de sortie) – a vaguely defined transitional period designed to be a halfway house between the emergency and relative normality – until 30 September: well after France’s major music festivals and summer shows would have taken place.
Just 15% of France’s music festivals took place as planned in 2020, according to Quentin Thomé, who runs French festival site Tous Les Festivals, meaning operators are more determined than ever to go ahead in some this summer.
Sharing the site’s latest research on the health of the French music festival sector with Les Echos, Thomé revealed 95% of festival operators are counting on staging an event in summer 2021, despite the slower-than-expected vaccine roll-out in France.
“Cultural businesses are still awaiting decisions from the authorities”
The Tous Les Festivals survey additionally reveals that even some of the country’s biggest open-air music events, including the 65,000-capacity Vieilles Charrues, are prepared to go seated-only, with social distancing, if it means they can go ahead – while others, including Printemps de Bourges, have already reduced their capacities.
“Cultural businesses are still awaiting the decisions of the authorities on the resumption of live shows, capacities, health measures, social distancing, masks… so many elements that have still not been [addressed],” said a spokesperson for Papillons de Nuit, announcing its postponement earlier this week. “By organising the festival in August, we at least have the possibility we can do it in good conditions.”
It is hoped France’s festival promoters will have more clarity on what will be possible this summer after a meeting today (29 January) with culture minister Roselyne Bachelot. Among those attending the meeting are representatives for Au Foin de la Rue (2–3 July) and Hellfest (18–20 June), the latter of which wrote to Bachelot earlier this month begging her to “put an end to this unbearable waiting situation”.
The 2021 festival season will come under the microscope at the ILMC panel Festival Focus: Reboot & Reset on 5 March. Tickets for ILMC 33 are available at the discounted winter rate of £119/£139 until 14 February.
Hellfest begs gov to make decision on festival season
French metal festival Hellfest Open Air has penned an open letter to France’s minister of culture warning of the “economic catastrophe” that’ll happen if this year’s festival season cannot go ahead.
The 60,000-capacity event, which is scheduled to take place across three days in June, in Clisson, Pays de la Loire, has begged minister Roselyn Bachelot to act quickly to “put an end to this unbearable waiting situation” that festival organisers are experiencing.
“We have been very attentive to your latest media interventions during the past few days, in which you’ve said: ‘We will go to festivals this summer’, ‘we have time’ and ‘let’s cross our fingers’. Madame minister: excuse our tone but on our side, we do not cross the fingers, we squeeze the buttocks!” the letter reads.
“With less hospital pressure, outdoor organisation combined with the summer period when it is known that this virus is less virulent, and an additional preventive test, is it conceivable to consider holding our mega-events? Or, should we consider now that if collective immunity is not achieved, it will be impossible to set up events hosting tens of thousands?” the Hellfest team asks.
The festival goes on to say that 99.75% of fans who bought tickets to the 2020 edition, which was inevitably postponed, have held onto their tickets in the hope that the 2021 event will go ahead.
Hellfest says that in the run up to this year’s event – the 15th-anniversary edition which is due to be headlined by Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down – it is spending more than €250,000 per month on salaries, fixed expenses and other loan repayments.
“Madame minister: excuse our tone but on our side, we do not cross the fingers, we squeeze the buttocks”
“Without knowing if the festival will take place, what organisation would agree to spend this much without a result guaranteed, without having the assurance that all this money is not thrown out the window?” the letter reads.
In the letter, the festival also highlights that the “economic catastrophe” that would ensue if the festival season cannot go ahead, would not only impact the festival itself but also the region in which the festival takes place.
“From an economic point of view, our festivals are invaluable drivers of activities for territories that welcome them. The hotels, restaurants, bars, and other shops that are around us are all sectors that are suffering enormously from this crisis and that expect a lot from the event we hold. To speak only of the territory of the Nantes Vineyard, the fallout is estimated at more than 25 million euros,” the letter states.
The letter concludes with a plea to the minister to “put everything into allowing the resumption of life,” once again emphasising that if the summer season is a “disaster” again, “everything that will be lost, will be lost”.
During an interview regarding the recently announced test shows in France, Bachelot said she wants “to send a message of hope: we must be able to achieve a summer of festivals”.
Currently, museums, cinemas, theatres and music venues in France remain closed after prime minister Jean Castex announced at the beginning of January that there would be “no relaxation” of the restrictions yet.
French biz pushes for full capacity shows by Sept
Over 3,000 members of the French live music industry have signed an open letter to the government, asking for “clear and coherent” forecasts on the reopening of the sector after more than four months of shutdown.
In the letter, French industry professionals including concert promoters, venue owners, technicians, service providers, producers, artists, freelance workers and others, ask for a decision from the government regarding a possible date for the resumption of standing shows.
“As we can no longer live in a state of expectation, we ask you for clear and coherent scenarios and deadlines so that we can work to restart our activities.”
The industry representatives say they are committed to restarting shows at 100% capacity from 1 September, but state this date is getting increasingly difficult to envisage due to issues related to programming and the organisation of tours.
The live professionals also state they have “demonstrated our sense of responsibility and our ability to rigorously apply government decisions and regulatory framework”, as well as submitting “concrete proposals” with a view to working with the government to restart business.
“As we can no longer live in a state of expectation, we ask you for clear and coherent scenarios and deadlines so that we can work to restart our activities”
However, unlike other French sectors such as sport and hospitality, the live music business has not received a concrete timetable for reopening.
“Nobody understands the silence concerning us,” say the industry representatives, “starting with the public who question us insistently and who tell us their desire to go back to concerts.”
“We feel abandoned and despised by our public partners.”
The number of signatories of the letter has more than doubled since being sent to French president Emmanual Macron, prime minister Jean Castex and culture minister Roselyne Bachelot on Thursday (23 July), with festivals Hellfest Open Air, Eurockéennes de Belfort, Les Rencontres Trans Musicales de Rennes and Vieilles Charrues; venues the Bataclan and Zénith Paris; and trade union Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles (SMA) and industry body Prodiss among those to show their support.
Large-scale events (over 5,000 capacity) are currently banned in France until September. Social distancing measures are still in place for all shows, with masks obligatory at indoor venues from 1 August.
The letter is available to read in full here.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
Macron: No French festivals until mid-July
French festival favourites including Eurockéennes de Belfort, Solidays, Festival d’Avignon and Main Square are no longer taking place this year, as the government extends its ban on large gatherings until mid-July at the earliest.
French president Emmanuel Macron announced yesterday (13 April) that the country’s lockdown will last until 11 May, with schools and day centres reopening on that date. However, many businesses including restaurants, bars, music venues, and theatres will remain shuttered.
No festivals or other public events are expected to take place until “at least mid-July”.
The cancellations of Eurockéennes, Solidays and Festival d’Avignon add to those of fellow French festivals Hellfest and Lollapalooza Paris, which were called off last week. The Stockholm edition of the Lollapalooza festival brand was also cancelled last week, although the franchise’s Berlin event is going ahead from 5 to 6 September.
“From the very first news of the lockdown, this cancellation seemed unavoidable,” reads a statement from the organisers of Eurockéennes, winner of the best festival award at this year’s Arthurs.
The event, which was attended by 130,000 people in 2019, was due to take place from 2 to 4 July, featuring acts including Massive Attack, the Lumineers, Foals, Burna Boy, Cage the Elephant and Marc Rebillet. Refund information will be available from 20 April.
“It has now become a reality. Unfortunately this cancellation presents some serious questions about the future of the festival and of (non-profit festival organiser) Territoire de Musiques. Facing a complex financial situation, Eurockéennes will suffer long-term from this dark year.”
“The decision to cancel the festival is one of the most difficult ones we have ever had to make”
Main Square festival, due to take place from 3 to 5 July in the city of Arras, is another event to lose its 2020 edition. “This is obviously a blow to all of us, but your enthusiasm gives us the energy we need to offer you next year what will be the most beautiful edition of the festival in Arras,” reads a statement from organisers.
Sting, Twenty One Pilots, Tones and I, Black Eyed Peas, Sum 41 and Roger Hodgson were among artists billed to play the sold-out event. Tickets will remain valid for the 2021 event, with details of the refund process to be announced in coming weeks.
Solidays festival (70,000-cap.), scheduled to take place at Paris’ Longchamp Hippodrome from 19 to 21 June featuring Anderson Paak, Aya Nakamura, Black Eyed Peas and Metronomy, also announced its cancellation following Macron’s announcement.
Refunds will be available from the start of May, say organisers, adding that, given the situation, “perhaps some will choose not to ask for one”.
Festival d’Avignon, a multi-venue festival of theatre due to take place from 3 to 23 July across the city of Avignon, is another to cancel due to the ban extension, with organisers saying: “We have held out hope for as long as it was possible but the situation has called for another outcome. Our duty now is to preserve and invent the future of Avignon Festival.”
The drama festival was set to celebrate its 74th outing in 2020.
Other French festivals including Festival de Nîmes, scheduled from 16 June to 24 July, Lyon’s Nuits Sonores, which was initially postponed from the end of May until 22 to 26 July, and Vieilles Charrues, set for 16 to 19 July, have also called off their 2020 outings.
Cancelled Hellfest tells insurer: “F**k you!”
French metal festival Hellfest Open Air has hit out at what it calls the “shameful” behaviour of its insurance company after being forced to cancel its 2020 edition, originally scheduled for 19–21 June.
In an extraordinary statement posted to the festival’s website, promoter Hellfest Productions – which has been ordered by French authorities to pull the 2020 event because of Covid-19 – says Albingia is refusing to pay out, despite Hellfest having taken out cover specifically for pandemics, as the “type” of pandemic represented by the novel coronavirus is apparently not covered by the festival’s insurance policy.
With a capacity of around 60,000, Hellfest, in Clisson, Pays de la Loire, is France’s biggest hard rock festival. Hellfest 2020, which would have been headlined by Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down, is officially ‘postponed’ to 18–20 June 2021, with tickets for the 2020 festival remaining valid for next year.
While organisers say they agree with the government’s decision to cancel the festival on health grounds, Hellfest Productions has some choice words for Albingia, which they accuse of prioritising its own financial wellbeing at a time of national crisis.
“For the modest amount of €175,000,” Hellfest says, the festival had taken out a ‘no exemptions’ policy which “clearly stipulates that financial losses due to possible pandemics will be covered, provided that the contract was signed before the outbreak and recognition of the pandemic by the French authorities or by the WHO. Our contract was signed on December 17, 2019, before the virus appeared in China.”
“For Albingia, solidarity is for other people”
Responding to Albingia’s assertion that the current coronavirus outbreak is not covered by Hellfest’s policy, organisers add: “We obviously contest this. For Albingia, solidarity is for others…
“Their reasoning is simple: take our contributions for cancellation insurance? YES. Compensate us? NEVER.”
Hellfest Productions says the impasse will likely result in a legal battle lasting several years. “Meanwhile, the company will keep the money that is owed to us.”
“In short,” it adds, “while are waiting for the start of this long [legal] process, two words come to mind for an insurance company that is supposed to specialise in the events industry: FUCK YOU!”
IQ has contacted Albingia for comment.
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”
“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.
Festival Fever: a further glance at 2020 line-ups
Continuing the series of 2020 line-up announcements, IQ takes a peek at what organisers of Hellfest, Longitude, Lollapalooza Stockholm, Rock am Ring/Rock im Park and NorthSide have up their sleeves for the summer to come.
(See last week’s edition of Festival Fever here.)
When: 19 to 21 June
Where: Clisson, France
How many: 50,000
French metal festival Hellfest celebrated one of its best editions ever last year, which included an extra day to host the Slipknot-fronted Knotfest within the festival site.
The 2020 festival will feature headliners Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down, playing alongside Incubus, Korn, Deep Purple and Judas Priest.
Earlier this year, a man was sentenced to a month in prison for hacking into the onsale of the French festival. The hacker, who works in cybersecurity, claimed he had only wanted to buy tickets to Hellfest 2020 “without having to queue”.
Tickets for Hellfest 2020 are sold out. Organisers advise fans to use fan-to-fan resale site TicketSwap to buy or sell tickets to the festival.
The 2020 festival will feature headliners Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down
When: 5 to 7 July
Where: Marlay Park, Dublin, Ireland
How many: 40,000
MCD Productions’ Longitude festival is returning in 2020 with headline performances from Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator and Asap Rocky.
The event will also see performances from the likes of J Hus, AJ Tracey, Young Thug, Aitch, Playboi Carti and Dababy.
The Longitude line-up announcement comes shortly after the news that Denis Desmond-led MCD is bringing back alternative-rock festival Sunstroke in 2020. The event, which takes place from 13 to 14 June at Punchestown Racecourse near Naas in Ireland, features headliners Faith No More and Deftones.
Tickets for Longitude festival are available here, priced at €89.50 (£75) for a day ticket and €199.50 (£168) for a weekend pass. Tickets for Sunstroke can be bought here, with day tickets costing €79.50 (£67) and weekend camping tickets costing €169.50 (£143).
Longitude festival is returning with headline performances from Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator and Asap Rocky
When: 26 to 28 June
Where: Gärdet, Stockholm, Sweden
The debut edition of Lollapalooza Stockholm took place last year, signalling the festival franchise’s first edition in Scandinavia and third in Europe after Lolla Berlin and Paris.
The festival, which is produced by Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell, WME, C3 Presents and Live Nation Sweden with subsidiary company Luger, features headline performances from Post Malone, Pearl Jam, the Killers and Kendrick Lamar, as well as appearances from Ellie Goulding, Zara Larsson, Kacey Musgraves and Camila Cabello.
Launched in Chicago in 1991, Lollapalooza events now take place in Sweden, France, Germany, Chile, Brazil and Argentina, as well as the US.
Three-day early bird passes are available here for SEK 2,295 (£185).
The debut edition of Lollapalooza Stockholm took place last year
Rock am Ring/Rock im Park
When: 5 to 7 June
Where: Nürburgring race track/Zeppelinfeld, Nürnberg, Germany
How many: 90,000
Marek Lieberberg’s twin festivals Rock am Ring and Rock im Park, the biggest in Germany and among the largest in the world, are turning 35 and 25 respectively in 2020.
Headliners for the anniversary events come in the form of System of a Down, Green Day and Volbeat, with performances also coming from Babymetal, Korn, Gojira, Deftones, the Offspring, Weezer and Yungblud.
The past two editions of the festivals have proved successful, following three years plagued by inclement weather and possible terror threats.
Headliners for the anniversary events come in the form of System of a Down, Green Day and Volbeat
When: 4 to 6 June
Where: Aarhus, Denmark
How many: 40,000
The 2020 edition of Down the Drain’s NorthSide festival will be the last at its current site in the Ådalen river valley, near the Danish city of Aarhus, as the event prepares to move to a new site, more than twice the size of its original home, in Eskelund, also near Aarhus.
Described as ‘a controlled chaos’ by festival CEO Brian Nielsen, NorthSide has already confirmed acts for 2020 including Green Day, Robyn, Weezer, White Lies, Johnny Marr, Franc Moody and Jung.
Down the Drain Group, which wholly acquired the festival from FKP Scorpio in 2018, earlier this year received investment from Providence Equity-backed Superstruct Entertainment.
Tickets for NorthSide 2020 are available here, priced at DDK 1,935 (£218) for a full festival pass and DDK 1,195 (£135) for a day ticket.