A long road to recovery: Promoters in Asia talk Covid-19
As some residents in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease now known as Covid-19 originated in November, leave their houses for the first time in months, IQ turns to promoters in China and the wider Asia-Pacific region to find out if this means a return to business as usual any time soon.
“People are cautiously optimistic,” Archie Hamilton, managing director of Shanghai-based promoter Split Works tells IQ, noting that some clubs – but no live venues – in Shanghai opened their doors for the first time in months last weekend. “We have a while longer until things open up properly.”
Although Split Works has projects ongoing in its brand business, which has been active in China for around 15 years, and is looking into moving into the livestreaming sector, Hamilton states that the core part of his business – live events – “is not coming back any time soon”.
Zhang Ran, director of international business at Modern Sky, echoes this sentiment, saying that “nothing has changed here yet for the music industry” and adding that “some venues likely won’t survive”.
Although the situation “is getting better” with regards to the virus, Zhang believes it will be a month or two until Modern Sky will be able to hold shows again and “probably longer for [shows by] international bands, given the virus situation elsewhere.”
Zhang says that Modern Sky is currently looking to book shows for November.
Elsewhere in Asia, Tommy Jinho Yoon, president of Korea’s International Creative Agency (ICA), says that everything “is calming down” in comparison to a lot of places around the world.
“We just need to band together as an industry and try to make things work, and be good humans at the same time”
Yesterday (23 March), South Korea reported the lowest number of new coronavirus cases since infection rates hit their peak four weeks ago. Although the virus has led to the shuttering of many events and venues in Korea, some popular musical theatre productions have continued to enjoy successful runs over the past few months.
“The Covid-19 madness is not completely over yet, but we are anticipating and hoping that the majority of this gets settled down by May or June,” Jinho Yoon tells IQ.
Matthew Lazarus-Hall, senior vice-president for AEG Presents’ Asia-Pacific division, states that, although China and other countries in Asia appear to be over the curve of the pandemic, the situation in many other parts of the world continues to put the brakes on international touring.
“The challenge is that a lot of artists can’t tour due to quarantine measures,” says Lazarus-Hall. “I anticipate that this situation will continue for many months, with everyone rescheduling tours until the back half of the year, and then maybe longer.”
With government restrictions on events and other public gatherings still in place across much of Asia, domestic touring remains difficult too.
China still has a complete event ban in place, whereas a surge in new cases of the virus led to a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people over the weekend in Singapore and a resumption of social distancing measures in Hong Kong.
“At AEG Presents, the plan is evolving every day based on government regulations, the industry and doing the right thing by our artists and staff, and we are reacting, and modifying our plans in real time,” says Lazarus-Hall.
“There’s no rulebook here, we just need to band together as an industry and try to make things work, and be good humans at the same time.”
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Coronavirus causes ‘immense’ issues for Asian live industry
As the number of cases of coronavirus rises daily around the world, many international tours have put the brakes on visiting China and surrounding countries for the foreseeable future.
Speaking to IQ last month, promoters in China predicted that the coronavirus-related disruption to live shows would worsen in the coming weeks. Cases confirmed of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China at the time stood at 7,700.
Two-and-a-half weeks on, and numbers of the virus have sky rocketed. As of this morning (Tuesday 18 February), it is believed that 72,869 people have been infected by the coronavirus, which has claimed at least 1,873 lives worldwide.
The vast majority of cases have been found in China, where the virus originated. According to the China Association of Performing Arts, around 20,000 shows have been cancelled or postponed between January and March in China and Hong Kong, costing the sector RMB 2 billion (US$286 million).
“As all venues remain closed, we have cancelled more shows in February and March,” Zhang Ran, director of international business at Modern Sky tells IQ. US alt-rockers the Pixies were among artists affected, cancelling upcoming dates in Shanghai and Beijing.
Modern Sky, China’s biggest festival promoter, recently streamed a number of past editions of its Strawberry festival, to “bring an element of fun” to housebound music fans.
“We hope that the festivals and artists (such as Two Door Cinema Club and Mac Demarco) can all be moved to the second half of the year”
The 2020 editions of Strawberry festival, which takes place in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Hangzhou, have also been affected, with Modern Sky in talks with already-booked international artists as the events “will all likely be rescheduled for the second half of the year”.
“We hope that the festivals and artists (such as Two Door Cinema Club and Mac DeMarco) can all be moved to the second half of the year, but we can’t really confirm anything yet because it’s all dependent on how the virus situation develops,” continues Zhang.
“Right now everyone is just staying in doors and working from home, in the hopes it will help it will all be resolved more quickly.”
The Chinese live event sector is not the only one feeling the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, with many promoters halting the entire Asian leg of tours.
AEG, for example, called off the Asian leg of Khalid’s Free Spirit tour on Friday, postponing dates in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Japan and South Korea. UK grime artist Stormzy last week postponed the Asia dates in his HITH world tour, in addition to the cancellation of shows by K-pop artists GOT7, Taeyeon, Seventeen and NCT Dream, among others.
“[The coronavirus] has immensely affected most, if not all, live events in general across the region,” Tommy Jinho Yoon, president of Korea’s International Creative Agency (ICA) tells IQ.
“[The coronavirus] has immensely affected most, if not all, live events in general across the region”
“Most headline shows and some of our festival are being pushed back or even, in a lot of cases, cancelled because of the coronavirus situation,” says the ICA president, who cites shows by artists including Post Malone, Camila Cabello and Kenny G, as well as “many top-drawing K-pop artists”.
In Japan, as well, it seems that a number of shows are being affected by the coronavirus, although not quite to the same extent. Four dates by Korean girl group EXID have been postponed, as well as a few fan meet-and-greets, Katsuhiko Kondo, a spokesperson for Japanese promoters’ association ACPC tells IQ.
ACPC members are taking action to prevent the spread of infection at live shows, including providing disinfectants and mouthwash within venues and encouraging concertgoers to wear surgical masks.
Live entertainment behemoth Live Nation is another promoter focusing on preventative action.
“Live Nation is monitoring the situation closely. The safety of artists, patrons and staff is our top priority and we will continue to act on advice from the authorities on the coronavirus and take precautionary measures in line with prevention efforts,” a spokesperson tells IQ.
As the uncertainty rumbles on and the coronavirus continues to spread, the long-term effects for the Asian live sector remain uncertain. As ICA’s Jinho Yoon states: “We just have to pray and hope that this gets resolved soon.”
Photo: Emilio Herce/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)