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Pride & prejudice: Promoting behind enemy lines

Palestinian artist Bashar Murad is used to risking his life to perform. As a queer Arab and a resident of East Jerusalem, Murad has learned to live with oppression and the threat of violence, both onstage and on his doorstep. Neither, however, has deterred him from openly addressing loaded issues such as the Israeli occupation and LGBTIQ+ rights in the Middle East. “But the more vocal I become about these issues, the greater the danger is,” he tells IQ.

In 2019, Murad took one of his most daring steps when he performed in a wedding dress at an event in Ramallah, a Palestinian city located in the central West Bank. While the West Bank’s biggest draw for promoters is that it’s the only place where Palestinians from both sides of the barrier can meet, Murad says that the mixed demographic is also where the danger lies.

“Probably the biggest risk is if someone in the audience doesn’t like what I’m doing. Audience members could be from anywhere, from all over the country. There are different kinds of mentalities, people who are extremely open-minded but also people who are uneducated and attached to the traditions and the customs that we are taught in this quite patriarchal society,” he says.

Murad explains that each city in the Palestinian territories has different variations of laws relating to queer people. Jerusalem, where he lives, is under Israeli law but the West Bank is under Israeli military law as well as Palestinian civil law, which presents varying degrees of discrimination and legal challenges for queer people. To make matters more complicated, Murad says, some of the laws aren’t representative of the reality on the ground.

This minefield of laws across the territory means Murad is forced to make a risk assessment before booking a gig. While agents and promoters in liberal nations may book shows based on venue capacities, fees and convenience, Murad has to weigh up how dangerous each city is, the make-up of the audience, and how provocative his show should be. However, Murad has found refuge within the realms of the music industry, “the safe place,” having built relationships and established trust with promoters and record executives.

The international showcase at which Murad performed in the wedding dress, the Palestine Music Expo (PMX), is one such stronghold. Though Murad would not generally view Ramallah as 100% safe for queer artists like himself, PMX is something of a haven “free of oppression, for all human beings.”

PMX co-founder Rami Younis has been something of an outspoken ally for oppressed artists and is eager to give queer artists like Murad “a free and fair platform to do the show they want.” When IQ asks what he thought of Murad’s 2019 performance, Younis says: “I absolutely loved it. In general, we encourage our artists to be as creative and free as they can and to not be afraid to experiment. Murad’s show was a big success and a great example for that.”

Murad says he depends on support from alternative organisations like PMX, as the culture ministries are “too scared” to back queer artists like himself – though his talent has been verified by international press including CBC, The Guardian and the BBC. “They don’t show any support towards me because they’re worried about me being gay,” he says. “They fund music videos and productions for artists who have taken part in competitions like Arab Idol but forget about other artists who are carving their own paths and doing things their own way.”

Not only has PMX provided Murad with a safe space in which to deliver his most thought-provoking show, it has also given him a rare gateway to the international live music business and a world outside of conflict-ridden Palestine.

But establishing a platform like this, which has invited 150+ international music industry professionals each year since 2017, is no mean feat in a state where promoters, agents – and even performance venues are few and far between. “People must understand that we never had a chance to develop a proper industry simply because we never had the proper infrastructure,” says Younis. “Developing art industries organically in war zones is near impossible. So, what we do is push back against that and lay foundations for a proper and healthy infrastructure in the future.”

While agents and promoters in liberal nations may book shows based on venue capacities, fees and convenience, Murad has to weigh up how dangerous each city is

From the ground up
“I can’t believe that any queer person who is living in Poland and looking at the news doesn’t feel personally attacked,” says Kajetan Łukomski, a queer Polish artist, promoter and Keychange ambassador who goes by the name of Avtomat.

Poland is one of just a handful of countries in Europe that is yet to legalise same-sex marriage, and already bans same-sex couples from adopting children. As of June 2020, some 100 municipalities, encompassing around one-third of the majority Catholic country, have adopted resolutions declaring themselves “LGBT ideology-free.”

In a campaign speech when he stood for re-election, President Andrzej Duda called the promotion of LGBT rights an ideology “even more destructive” than communism. Elsewhere, the Archbishop of Kraków recently warned of a neo-Marxist “rainbow plague.”

“We just don’t feel safe in our own country anymore,” says Łukomski. “I started carrying tear gas with me on the street, and every time I go out with my boyfriend and we hold hands, we have to keep looking over our shoulder because there have been occurrences of queer people getting knifed in the street. This is why we need to work so hard to change the status quo.”

According to Łukomski, a shift in paradigm is also needed in the mainstream music scene, which has eschewed queer artists like himself. This segregation has forced queer artists to adopt a do-it-yourself mentality and promote their own shows and establish their own performance spaces. Back in 2017, Łukomski co-founded the Warsaw-based Oramics collective, which acts as a promoter, in a bid to “level the playing field for under- represented groups.”

“No one had really thought of that. All of the line-ups were male and there was no real push towards making women and queer people and so on visible in the scene, so it had to happen as a grassroots movement,” he says. “We’ve had to carve out our own space in the music industry.” Developing their own queer underground scene has also been a means of protecting the artists and fans within it because, like Murad in Palestine, Łukomski has to be selective about where he performs.

“It would be easy to go ‘I’m playing in this huge prestigious club’ but then my community may be in greater danger of, say, harassment. I make it a point to play in spaces that I deem safe for my community,” he says. Łukomski says that as Oramics’ reputation has grown, they have had greater bargaining power to talk to clubs about their safe-space policies and line-up balances. The collective has even brought workshops to smaller, less tolerant cities to show queer people how to organise their own spaces – though Łukomski says they had to organise their own security for these visits.

While the queer community in Poland may be safer existing on the fringes, their exclusion from mainstream culture creates a glass ceiling for artists, which prevents them from performing at larger capacity venues, earning bigger fees or securing representation. On a broader scale, if queer people and creatives aren’t able to assimilate with the rest of society, the oppression will likely perpetuate.

Warsaw-based promoter Follow The Step (FTS), however, is sensing some progression in the acceptance of queer people, which is allowing them to expand their portfolio of queer artists. Next year, the company will promote its first-ever show by a queer artist – American drag star Sasha Velour at Warsaw’s Palladium (1,500-cap.) – which FTS’s Tamara Przystasz says has been a long time coming. “We’ve been trying very hard to promote queer artists, but a lot of agents were saying Poland is not ready for it. But finally, people are much more open-minded than they were before,” says Przystasz. “To do something for the first time, after so many hard months, was a huge risk, but we thought let’s just do it, and it’s going well already. We didn’t expect such amazing feedback,” she adds.

Przystasz says FTS are keen to use Warsaw as a litmus test before promoting queer artists in more rural cities. “We are so lucky because we are living in Warsaw and it always works differently with capital cities, but in the smaller cities, it is hard; we have to fight for their rights. Education via music; I think that is the best option for us.”

Kostrzyn-based festival Pol’and’Rock, which has been running for more than 25 years and typically attracts an audience of almost half a million people, has had a little more time to establish a portfolio of queer artists, and hopes to lead by example. Originally inspired by Woodstock, the community- based festival deems itself an outlier in creating a refuge within the country’s conservative society.

Over the past three decades, the festival has played host to performances by queer artists such as Skunk Anansie and Polish children’s artist Majka Je owska, as well as Polish singers Ralph Kaminski and Krzysztof Zalewski – some of which have incorporated demonstrations for queer rights into their shows.

“We want to show Poland as an open place, a place where people can be themselves, which becomes more and more difficult each year,” says Olga Zawada from Pol’and’Rock. Zawada says that the festival has encountered many challenges since the recent government came into power, including reportedly being saddled with “high-risk” status four times since 2016.

The high-risk label, according to Polish law, applies to events where acts of violence or public disorder are expected to take place, though Pol’and’Rock has never encountered anything of the sort. Zawada believes that this is the government’s way of indirectly jeopardising the festival: “I don’t want to speculate on the government’s motivations, but we’re quite unpopular with the very conservative ruling party.”

The high-risk status means that Pol’and’Rock has been required to introduce different safety measures such as a fence around the perimeter, which Zawada says tarnished the festival’s aesthetic as a free and open festival and proved to be a “massive expense.” Does she think that the government was taking aim at the festival’s Achilles heel – its budget? “Yes. The fence was the biggest thing in our budget and from a crowd management point of view it was completely pointless. But the guests respected the fences and even used them creatively, to dry their laundry and things,” she says.

“We want to show Poland as an open place, a place where people can be themselves, which becomes more and more difficult each year”

Against all odds
“Turkey is a place where two times two doesn’t make four,” says queer senior talent buyer Bura Davaslıgil of Istanbul-based booking agency/promoter Charmenko. “On paper, it hasn’t been illegal to be homosexual since 1858, the Ottoman Empire, but it’s still a taboo.”

Taboo is a light way of putting it. Hate speech, violence, and discrimination have already put Turkey second to last on the advocacy group ILGA-Europe’s ranking of LGBTQ equality – no surprise considering that there is no solid law against discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. Gay Pride has been banned in Istanbul for several years, on pretexts of public order. “Even if a municipality is pro-LGBTQ rights and they want to, say, put on a festival, they wouldn’t dare to do it because of the current political climate,” says Davaslıgil.

According to Davaslıgil, the conservative party, which has been in power for the last two decades, tends to “look the other way” about queer culture, as long as it’s kept relatively quiet. “The discrimination against queer people is not systematic. If Morrissey, Pet Shop Boys or Elton John performed, it wouldn’t be a problem; if an artist’s queerness is not too overt then it’s fine.”

The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC), however, was one artist the government could not ignore. In 2015, the Chorus found themselves at the centre of a political storm ahead of their concert at Zorlu Performing Arts Center in Istanbul. Conservative Islamist papers described the group as “perverts” and thousands of people signed a Change.org petition calling on Zorlu’s owners to cancel the show because it would take place on the tenth day of Ramadan. The venue, reportedly owned by a close confidant to Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who, at the time, was running for re-election and campaigning to get the conservative vote, had reportedly asked the chorus to take the “Gay” out of their name but the group refused. “We weren’t going to let prejudice win… visibility saves lives,” says Craig Coogan, executive director of the BGMC, adding that the group has had the same name since 1982.

The government withdrew their previously issued permit allowing BGMC to perform at Zorlu and no other government agency would issue one. In an admirable display of allyship, the LGBTQ student group at Bosphorus University – a privately held institution, which didn’t need a permit for performances – stepped in and offered the Chorus their outdoor space. In order to keep the group safe, the buses were unidentifiable and the routes that each bus took to the same destinations were varied. Members were encouraged to be cautious on social media, not posting location information in real-time. According to Coogan, the group even collaborated with the US secret service on security issues, and a diplomatic note was sent to the government underlining the importance of the group’s safety to US relations. On the day of the concert, sharp-shooters were stationed around the area, drones surveyed the crowd, and audience members had to go through airport-style security to get into the concert.

The media frenzy, the political tension, and the logistical rigmarole would’ve been enough to discourage any artist from going ahead with the concert but the group found allies in the most unexpected of places. According to Coogan, The Nederlander Organization, which manages Zorlu, were “mortified” that political considerations forced them to cancel their contract. “In fact, to prevent an expensive lawsuit, they paid for the production costs at Bosphorus,” says Coogan. It was not difficult to find supportive professionals to work with. The issues we ran into were political, not with the professionals.”

BGMC hasn’t returned to Turkey since 2015 – the group has been busy touring elsewhere, including other anti-gay territories such as Poland, the Middle East and South Africa. But IQ wonders: could an incident like the one with the Chorus happen in 2021? “As long as this government stays in power, yes,” says Davaslıgil. And would Charmenko ever book BGMC, in spite of all the political and logistical issues? “I wouldn’t think twice,” he answers, underscoring the importance of allyship in the industry.

“Everywhere that we perform is an opportunity to dismantle prejudice and preconceptions about LGBTQ people”

Music as an act of resistance
Queer artists like Murad, Łukomski and the BGMC put their safety on the line again and again to perform in anti-gay countries, but what’s the pay-off?

“Everywhere that we perform is an opportunity to dismantle prejudice and preconceptions about LGBTQ people,” says BGMC’s Coogan. “Live music as a social activism tool works. It did in Istanbul, as it did in so many other cities around the world. I saw the joy and transformation on the faces of thousands of locals. “Music builds bridges, enhances communication, breaks down stereotypes and humanises the ‘other’ in powerful ways. It has the power to transcend boundaries and create connections among people from different backgrounds, languages, and beliefs, and has long been a central part of social justice movements.”

In all three stories, the live music industry has proved itself to be the antithesis of the political wars waging outside of it, thanks to real allyship from promoters and festivals like PMX, Follow the Step, Pol’and’Rock and Charmenko. But what they want, quite simply, is for their respective countries to be recognised for the budding talent, not the conflict. “I want people to know that Palestine isn’t just war, apartheid, and occupation; it’s also music, cinema, art; it’s life,” says PMX co-founder Younis. “There are actual people living here with hopes, dreams, and culture. There’s talent in Palestine and it is just waiting to be discovered. We don’t want to be seen as victims but as equal people who deserve to have their culture and music represented everywhere.”

Pol’and’Rock’s Zawada has a similar message for the international live music industry: “Poland is more than politics and oppression.

It’s important for us to say: ‘You know what? There is this community of people that has a different opinion. There are people who are tolerant and welcoming and accepting, and they would have your back, and everyone else’s.”

 


Read this article in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 101:

 


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Israeli live industry now operating without restrictions

Israel’s successful Covid-19 vaccination programme is allowing event organisers in the country to operate as they did back in 2019, after the country’s government abolished any restrictions for mass gatherings.

The country’s emergence from pandemic restrictions has been rapid, thanks to its hugely effective vaccination regime, which has already resulted in the majority of the Israeli population being double jabbed.

That situation has allowed local promoter Shuki Weiss to press ahead with its national tour of local superstars Fortisakharof, who currently find themselves in the midst of an 11-date tour which will culminate in a headline show at the sold-out, 12,000-capacity inDnegev Festival in late September.

“It’s been a bit of a wild rollercoaster ride, but the thirst for live events is now massive,” says Shuki Weiss managing director Oren Arnon. “Last year we had two periods of shows with restrictions in June and September, but it was disappointing as they were shut down again quite quickly.”

One ability that has been key to the restart is being agile, Arnon tells IQ, as the changing guidelines allow production crews to implement different configurations.

“The original Fortisakharof tour was set for two shows at Ra’anana in May 2020 and both shows sold out with about 16,000 tickets,” he recalls. “They were postponed to September 2020 and then May ’21. In May there were still restrictions here, meaning we could only play to about 3,000-4,000 cap. So we broke down those two shows into a five-night residency at Ra’anana and then essentially sold a bunch more tickets – we’re ending up with about 23,000 in total.

“It’s been a bit of a wild rollercoaster ride, but the thirst for live events is now massive,”

‘But meanwhile, before we played the first show, they lifted the restrictions and in theory we could play 8,000-cap, but we had already set up a design for the show for 4,000 people, which we were able to expand to about 5,000 people.

“And then we had a round of missiles.

“So those two nights back-to-back became five nights over about ten days with some of the other theatres intertwined between, because they were already booked for dates that were after the first run.”

Arnon states that the sad fact of like in Israel is that people are used to military conflict. “But as soon as it’s over, everyone is also just used to getting back to normal and in this case I think that was magnified,” he says. “In Israeli culture, being outside with lots of people is incredibly normal for us and it’s a big part of why concerts have been such a huge draw, disproportionate to the nine million people that live in this country.”

Keen to share his experience of emerging from the pandemic, Arnon reports, “The first month here was such chaos with everything just suddenly opening up. The thirst was incredible and anything that was happening immediately was just getting eaten up.

“Concessions and security teams are having a hard time finding casual staff, but that’s mostly because Israel gave everybody unemployment money up until the end of June. But with the technical crews and especially the more experienced ones, everyone pretty much is back in the game.

International shows will depend on other territories also reaching a status similar to Israel

“But everyone is rusty – the venue is rusty, the audience is rusty – the whole thing has been a weird experience even down to relatively simple things like shows in venues, which we have been doing forever.

“But our shows no longer have to involve social distancing, or masks, and as of last week, we are not even checking for the green passport which was issued to everyone vaccinated here.

“From 1 June, we don’t need any testing or proof of vaccination for any mass gathering in Israel,” he explains, adding that the speed of vaccination and the numbers of people who lined up for the injections helped infection rates drop massively.

“I think we reached 65 or 70% about a month ago and then the infection rate just disappeared, there haven’t been people dying of it, the hospital beds have opened up, meaning now you can go anywhere whether you are vaccinated or not and the only place where there are restrictions are at the borders, where you still need PCR tests and there’s still monitoring of who comes into the country.”

As for the rest of the year, Arnon reveals that discussions with international acts are already happening, but shows will depend on other territories also reaching a status similar to Israel. “A lot of the acts we are speaking to are very hesitant, so we’re going to have to see who else is able to play along because going from the US to Israel for a one-off concert isn’t going to make sense to anyone, but there are some bands who are playing in the UK later this year who are looking at plans to come here, too. So we’re optimistic and keeping busy with what we’ve got in the meantime.”

 


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Industry divided over vaccinated-only concerts

Nearly six months after Maggie Keenan, a 90-year-old Briton, became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial, opinion remains divided among international live music professionals about how, if at all, fans’ vaccination status should be taken into account as live activity resumes.

Nowhere is this more the case than in the United States, where the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) say that those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (i.e. had both jabs of one of the three vaccines, BioNTech/Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson or Moderna, approved for use in the US) may once again attend indoor events, including concerts, with no need for social distancing or mask wearing.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told press at the White House earlier this month. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

Following the CDC’s announcement, some of the country’s most famous concert venues, including the 20,000-capacity Madison Square Garden arena in New York and Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl (17,500-cap.), have signalled they will differentiate between vaccinated and non-vaccinated patrons when they reopen, with the latter planning designated vaccinated seating sections where no social distancing will be required.

MSG, along with other venues in New York, will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity if patrons show proof of vaccination, under plans drawn up by New York state governor Andrew Cuomo. It hosted 15,000 people for a New York Knicks basketball game earlier this week, with vaccinated fans not required to wear a face covering.

New York venues will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity if they require patrons to show proof of vaccination

In Florida, meanwhile, a concert promoter made headlines yesterday (26 May) after announcing plans for a ‘no-vax tax’ that would see concertgoers charged 50 times as much for tickets should they choose not to get the vaccine.

Leadfoot Promotions, which is promoting a show by pop-punk legends Teenage Bottlerocket in Saint Petersburg on 26 June, explains: “DISCOUNTED tickets are available for $18 in advance, $20 day of show. To be eligible for the DISCOUNT, you will need to bring a government issued photo ID and your PHYSICAL COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. […] If you do not care about the discount, tickets are available for a flat rate of $999.99.

“Note that all staff, volunteers, and band members will be vaccinated. Also know if you buy one of these advance tickets and show up without your vaccination card or government issued photo id [sic], you won’t be let in at this price, you will need to pay the remaining $981.99 to enter or go back and get your card. There will be NO REFUNDS. We are NOT telling you what to do here, we are making a business decision and letting the market decide. If someone wants to come in unvaccinated, they will scare off a large number of patrons and will need to pay the difference.”

Speaking to Tampa Bay’s ABC Action News, Leadfoot’s Paul Williams explains: “We’re just trying to do a show safely. And they [fans] should go out and get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families and their community.”

Back in New York, baseball team the Brooklyn Nets is also incentivising immunisation by charging more for tickets sold to fans who have yet to receive both vaccines, as well as introducing a Hollywood Bowl-style vaccinated-only section at its home venue, the 19,000-capacity Barclays Center.

“We are not telling you what to do – we are making a business decision and letting the market decide”

Williams says he came up with idea of a ‘tax’ after realising in Florida he probably couldn’t legally restrict entry to those who can prove their vaccination status.

In contrast to the position taken by Cuomo in New York – where a planned ‘Excelsior pass’ will verify New Yorkers’ vaccination status – Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has taken a hard line on vaccine certification, having signed into law a ban on so-called vaccine passports earlier this month.

“Under no circumstances will the state be asking you to show proof of vaccination,” said DeSantis, “and I don’t think private companies should be doing that either. If you want to go to an event, go to an event. If you don’t, don’t. But to be requiring people to provide all this proof, that’s not how you get society back to normal.”

The launch of the Excelsior pass follows the successful roll-out of the similar green pass in Israel, where promoters were once again putting on (non-socially distanced) shows before the recent flare-up in violence. In fact, so successful is the combination of vaccination + certification that Israel will axe all restrictions – including the green pass – from the beginning of June, though health minister Yuli Edelstein says it could be re-introduced should the situation change. For now, he said, “The economy and the citizens of Israel will get extra room to breathe.”

Despite allowing for concerts of thousands of people in pandemic conditions, the green pass programme is not without its critics: writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph today (27 May), five Israeli doctors say the scheme has ‘backfired’ by creating “two classes of citizens: the upper vaccinated and the lower unvaccinated”. This situation, they say, has resulted in a situation incompatible with the “basic principles of the medical profession”.

Talk of vaccine ‘passports’ is equally controversial in the UK, where critics warn of government overreach and an ‘us and them’ society divided along vaccination lines. As such, the UK live business is pushing for a system of certification that would also include people who have natural immunity to the virus, or who can produce a negative Covid-19 test.

“The intention of Covid-status certification is to find a non-discriminatory solution”

Writing to the government last month, a cross-section of the UK live entertainment, events and sports sector suggested that so-called Covid-status certification is the key to reopening venues safely following the planned abolition of all restrictions on 21 June.

“Not to be confused with the term ‘vaccination passports’, the simple premise is to reduce the likelihood of people who may be infected from attending events and ensure the safety of other attendees and event staff,” say the signatories, who include AEG Europe, the Concert Promoters’ Association, Ticketmaster, ASM Global and umbrella body LIVE. “This would be managed by ensuring that all attendees are either vaccinated OR have natural immunity OR have a negative Covid test within a set period of time prior to arrival.”

Unlike restricting entry only to those who have had the vaccine, certification would not discriminate against those who cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons, or otherwise don’t feel comfortable having being immunised against the virus, they say.

“The intention of Covid-status certification is to find a non-discriminatory solution that is safe, simple, protects privacy and doesn’t cause unnecessary delays or a poor experience for visitors,” the letter reads.

Outside of live events, vaccine passports are also being trialled for international travel, with the European Union, China and Japan among those developing digital vaccination certificates to enable the resumption of overseas holidays from this summer.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Bigger concerts as pandemic ‘dies out’ in Israel

The Israeli government has signed off on plans to allow up to 10,000 people in the country’s largest outdoor venues, as a senior public health official said there is evidence Covid-19 is “dying out” in Israel following a successful vaccination drive.

As of today (8 April), seated events that do not serve food, including concerts and sporting events, may host up to 10,000 people outdoors and 4,000 inside. Non-seated events, and/or those where food is served, are restricted to 750 people, up from 500 at the time of writing.

Additionally, up to 100 people are now allowed to gather outside for private events, though the existing limit of 20 people indoors remains in place.

The new capacity limits will remain in place until 22 April, when they will be reviewed by Israel’s coronavirus cabinet.

“This allows us to open up the economy and give the green light for weddings, concerts and events”

All this is being made possible by Israel’s green pass programme, named for the documents issued to Israelis who have received both doses of Covid-19 vaccine, which has allowed concerts to restart where attendees can prove their vaccine status.

The new, looser limits apply only to those with green passes, though ministers have also eased restrictions for Israel’s Memorial Day (13–14 April), allowing families of the fallen who do not have the green pass to attend remembrance ceremonies.

Dr Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Ministry of Health, said earlier this week that a jump in the R number – the reproduction rate of the coronavirus – in Israel from 0.52 to 0.78 is no cause for concern. “The pandemic is dying out,” she explained, “albeit at a slower pace. But as long as it [the R number] is below one, there is no room for concern.”

“Most of the localities in Israel have low morbidity. Meanwhile, there are almost no significant virus concentrations and no hotspots at all,” she added. “This allows us to open up the economy and give the green light for weddings, concerts and events, as well as gradually opening up the education system.”

 


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Israel rolls out green pass for vaccinated concertgoers

The first concert held as part of the latest reopening of the Israeli economy took place over the weekend, with entry restricted to those who have had two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Singer Ivri Lider, one half of electro-pop due the Young Professionals (TYP) and a judge on The X-Factor Israel, performed to an audience of 500 fans at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium for a show organised by authorities in Israel’s second-largest city. Up to 1,000 people are now allowed at indoor events in Israel, and 1,500 for open-air shows, provided they have a ‘green pass’ – documentation showing they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

In a video posted to the city of Tel Aviv Twitter page, Lider is shown performing to a non-socially distanced – albeit seated and mask-wearing – audience seated in a single stand of the 29,400-capacity Bloomfield Stadium, which is home to Israeli Premier League football team Hapoel Tel Aviv. The stadium has previous hosted a number of major concerts, including shows by Rihanna, Celina Dion, Soundgarden, Phil Collins, Pixies, Barbra Streisand and the Black Eyed Peas.

The 1,000/1,500-person limit currently only applies to venues with over 10,000 seats, although up to 500 people are allowed in indoor venues smaller than that, and up to 750 people in any open space.

The green pass programme, designed to ensure Israel’s third lockdown was its last, is similarly allowing many hospitality, leisure and retail businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, cafés, gyms and shops, to reopen without social distancing, although some have objected on a civil rights basis to what they see as enforcing vaccinations. Over 40% of Israelis have already had both doses of the vaccine.

“After a year of Covid we can finally restart our cultural and entertainment activities”

The Friday 5 March Ivri Lider show was the first of four concerts being organised in Bloomfield Stadium by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, which governs the Mediterranean city. In order to enter the stadium, concertgoers had to produce their green pass – a certificate, either physical or virtual, issued by the Ministry of Health – confirming they had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19.

It was followed by a show on Sunday 7 March by ’80s pop star Yardena Arazi, who similarly played to an audience of 500 green pass holders.

Speaking to the Media Line news agency, Tel Aviv city spokesman Eytan Schwartz said both shows sold out within a quarter of an hour. “People are very eager to come and have a good time,” he says.

One Ivri Lider fan, Reut Gofer, told Agence France-Presse: “This is really cool. I am so happy. I hope this is the beginning of a period when we will return to our normal life.”

“As the majority of our population is already vaccinated, after a year of Covid we can finally restart our cultural and entertainment activities,” Schwartz added.

“We are organising these concerts because we want […] to have access to culture again, we want to regain our previous life. I hope that very soon we will be able to fill this stadium with 30,000 people, as it should be.”

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Ahoy! Floating theatres take to the water

On the back of the first-ever float-in music festival, cinemas are getting in on the aquatic entertainment action, with new floating movie theatres opening up in the UK, Italy, Israel, Canada and the US in the coming weeks.

In Britain, floating film experiences which place moviegoers in socially distanced rowing boats are planned for cities including London, Birmingham and Liverpool, screening a mix of new films and old favourites, while an amphibious theatre under construction in Rome’s EUR district plans to show Italian classics, along with the Italian premiere of stop-motion movie Missing Link.

“During lockdown, when we dreaming of being outdoors, we got a lot of calls from people who wanted us to set up a drive-in,” says creator Gianluca Giannelli. “But we didn’t like the idea of people going from being locked down in their living rooms to being locked down in their cars at a time when nature was taking over. So we thought of a natural space to show movies within the city.”

“We didn’t like the idea of people going from being locked down in their living rooms to being locked down in their cars”

The London cinema, moored on the Regent’s Canal in Merchant Square in Paddington, will feature 16 boats providing seating for up to 128 people. Planned films include Toy StoryThe Lion King and musicals Rocketman and The Greatest Showman.

Another, on Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park lake, opened for a test screening on 20 August, with around 200 people sitting in 70 pedal and rowing boats to watch the film Paddington 2.

“It was an amazing evening. It’s great to see a cinema corona-style,” attendee Galia Resnick told Reuters. “We had an amazing time. The whole family enjoyed it. Good move, Tel Aviv.”

Floating cinemas will also sail into Miami, New York, Vancouver and Houston, Texas, later this summer.

Unlike the cinema events, guests were able to bring their own boats to Laiva, the Latvian festival that pioneered the floating music festival concept earlier this month.

Latvia paves the way for float-in music festivals


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Hackers target livestreamed IPO fundraiser

The disruption of an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) virtual concert and fundraising gala last weekend was caused by a cyberattack, the orchestra has confirmed.

The attack – the first outage of a major livestreamed show since the format took off amid the coronavirus pandemic – crashed the websites of the IPO and its broadcast partner, Medici.tv, during the stream on Sunday 28 June.

More than 13,000 people had registered to view the hour-long event, hosted by Dame Helen Mirren, which aimed to help the orchestra overcome financial losses as a result of Covid-19.

No group has claimed responsibility for hacking the stream.

“Hackers were determined to silence our message and stamp out our voice, but they will not succeed”

“We were thrilled that so many had registered to join us for this event, giving us the opportunity to bring the healing power of music to people who need it at this difficult time,” comments Tali Gottlieb, executive director of the IPO Foundation.

“Our organisation had high hopes that this event would help us raise emergency funds to support the members of the Israel Philharmonic in the face of an unprecedented financial crisis.”

Danielle Ames Spivak, executive director of American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which helped organise the event, adds: “Hackers were determined to silence our message and stamp out our voice, but they will not succeed. More than ever, we are determined to spread the Israel Philharmonic’s message of hope, peace, and beauty around the world.”

 


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Israeli event pros hit back at Covid-19 restrictions

Members of the live event, music and arts community in Israel are expressing their frustration at the government’s coronavirus restrictions, as music venues remain closed and self-employed workers demand compensation for losses.

Many took to the streets in Jerusalem on Monday (15 June) to protest against the government’s handling of the cultural sector during the coronavirus crisis, following a postponement to the reopening date for venues and other cultural institutions.

According to Israli newspaper Haaretz, the protest followed several smaller demonstrations over the past few weeks by artists and others workers in the cultural industry.

Venues in Israel had originally been given the go-ahead to reopen on 14 June for events of up to 500 people and at 75% of full capacity.

However, the government pushed back the date over the weekend, with events halls still only able to reopen for religious ceremonies, such as weddings and bar mitzvahs, for up to 250 people, leading some to question why venues cannot open for events of a similar size.

“The government avoids easing of restrictions in the cultural world, and completely prevents the existence of cultural events”

Shaul Mizrachi, owner of Tel Aviv’s Barby nightclub (600-cap.), has filed a petition with the Israli Supreme Court, demanding that the government be ordered to ease restrictions for the cultural sector as it has for others.

“While authorising, among other things, the operation of bars and pubs and, in particular, the holding of large-scale events, including mass dances, in event halls, the government and its offices avoid similar easing of restrictions in the cultural world, and completely prevent the existence of cultural events,” argues Mizrachi.

The Barby owner has been staging a hunger strike in front of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence to protest against restrictions and lack of clarity from the government regarding the reopening of the live business.

Others are protesting against the lack of financial aid for unemployed event industry workers, many of whom work on a freelance basis. IQ understands that members of the Israeli live business are currently raising the funds to initiate court action over the issue.

In May, over 3,000 people attended a rally-cum-music festival in Tel Aviv in support of the Israeli music industry. The event also marked the launch of a US$1 million fund for out-of-work industry professionals.

“Currently there are over 150,000 unemployed people in the [Israeli] live music and production industry,” Hillel Wachs of Israeli promoter 2b Vibes Music, tells IQ. “People are really hurting. The hope is that everything will get back on track by 2021.”

Wachs adds that he is negotiating several new shows for 2021 and 2022 and is optimistic the situation would slowly get return to normal. “People need live music. It’s a no-brainer.”

 


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Israeli stars perform for 3,000+ at pro-industry rally

At least 3,000 people gathered on Charles Clore beach in Tel Aviv last night (21 May) for a rally-cum-music festival in support of the Israeli music industry.

Initiated by entrepreneurs Inbar and Marius Nacht, the event marked the launch of a ₪3.5 million (US$990,000) fund in aid of the 170,000 music industry professionals out of work as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, reports Calcalist. It was permitted by authorities in the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality, as Israeli law allows protests, even under current restrictions on consent.

The event, dubbed ‘Behind the Scenes’, featured performances by popular Israeli artists including Aviv Geffen, Berry Sakharof, Shalom Hanoch, Yishai Levy, Rita, Si Hyman, Hope 6, Dikla, Rona Keenan and Esther Rada.

The English-language Times of Israel put the number of attendees even higher, at 5,000.

“It is exciting to see the thousands who have come here,” Geffen told attendees. “It is a very strange period, but we came here to support our wonderful friends… Over 170,000 people were left without a living overnight, and I’m here for them.”

“We came here to support our wonderful friends”

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, organisers urged guests to comply with ministry of health guidelines on social distancing. Large Xs were marked on the beach to ensure people kept two metres apart on arrival, and participants were requested to wear face masks.

Life is gradually returning to normal in Israel, with schools, retail businesses and places of worship having reopened in recent weeks. However, live entertainment venues remain closed.

Yoni Feingold, chair of the Association of Show and Performing Arts Producers of Israel, emphasised the need for an urgent return to activity for the sector, telling attendees that “without artists, there is no culture in Israel”.

“Culture is food for the soul; it’s national resilience,” he said. “We must help all those who are now in distress, because without culture there is no future.”

 


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Promoter pulls Bhad Bhabie Jordan show over Israel date

A planned show by American rapper Bhad Bhabie in Amman, the capital of Jordan, has been cancelled following protests from the Jordanian branch of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Bhad Bhabie, real name Danielle Bregoli, was due to perform at Amman’s Opera House on 8 July, a day before playing in Tel Aviv, Israel. According to Middle East Monitor, BDS Jordan and Etharrak, a Jordanian group that “opposes normalisation with Israel”, wrote a joint letter to the concert’s promoter, Pop Agency, urging it to cancel the show in light of Bregoli’s plans to play the “Zionist enemy”.

“As a boycott movement opposing normalisation with the Zionist enemy, we consider these actions destructive towards the Palestinian identity,” it reads, “and in violation of the general public rejection of normalisation with the Zionist enemy.”

A statement from Pop Agency claims that “recent statements” by Bregoli (pictured) “violate our values and the contract between us and artist”, leaving it no choice but to cancel.

 

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Haaretz reports Bregoli was brought to the attention of the BDS movement via a series of tweets by Mohammad Alqadi, a Palestinian Arab marathon runner, who called on Jordanians to boycott the singer for her perceived support for Israel.

According to Live Nation’s Bluestone Group, promoter of the Barby (600-cap.), Tel Aviv, date, the 9 July show will go ahead as planned.

BDS – an international movement urging an international boycott of Israel until it withdraws from the Palestinian territories – last year succeeded in convincing several artists, including Lorde and Lana Del Rey, to cancel shows in Tel Aviv.

It also led criticism of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, with BDS-supporting artists including Roger Waters, Wolf Alice and Brian Eno urging a boycott of the event due to Israel’s “grave, decades-old violations of Palestinian human rights”.

 


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