IFF ’22: The new kids take centre stage
The teams behind the multitude of new companies and events to launch post-Covid took the spotlight on the final day of this year’s International Festival Forum (IFF) in London.
Moderated by IQ‘s Lisa Henderson, the New Kids on the Block quickfire presentation session heard from the key new festival and agencies to have emerged in the last 18 months.
The panel featured FKP Scorpio MD Stephan Thanscheidt, Mother Artists co-founder Natasha Gregory, Barbara Hexges of Goodlive’s Superbloom, Runway Artists founder Matt Hanner and Jess Kinn and Emma Davis from booking agency One Fiinix Live.
Thanscheidt discussed the success of the debut edition of FKP’s new open-air festival Tempelhof Sounds, launched with DreamHaus and Loft Concerts on the grounds of Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport in June. The event was headlined by Florence + The Machine, Muse and The Strokes.
“We had strong media partners and huge media reach, so the brand got established really quickly”
“We announced it last October, and four weeks later Omicron kicked in,” sighed Thanscheidt. “But we had a fantastic premiere. We had 40,000 people per day, which made us really happy because we were pretty much restricted because of Corona in Germany until this April. So the first edition went really well and we had strong media partners and huge media reach, so the brand got established really quickly. The city of Berlin also welcomed us with open arms, which was fantastic for us.
“It was cool to book our new festival because most of the festivals we do were booked the second half of ’19 and then got postponed and postponed and postponed. So we had to wait until this year and there were a lot of bands who couldn’t get the slots at other festivals, so we had a fantastic line-up that was fresh and was really well received by the audience.
“We had a very good audience that was also interested in all of the topics that are part of the philosophy of this festival, like diversity, gender equality and all these kinds of things. We had a huge sustainability programme, and we set ourselves clear goals from the very start.”
Gregory, meanwhile, spoke about the progress of artist management and live agency called Mother Artists, which she launched in 2020 with her brother, music manager Mark Bent. The agency represents the likes of Idles, First Aid Kit, Amy Macdonald, Bombay Bicycle Club and Foster the People.
“It’s just about being honest with each other and realising that you’re dealing with humans”
Detailing the firm’s patented “no-bullshit” policy, Gregory said: “It’s just about being honest with each other and realising that you’re dealing with humans. When we’re talking about festivals and budgets, we’re having an honest conversation [with promoters] and we come to the same number – there isn’t this working against each other.
“The pride I have in teams like Idles is that I don’t feel like I’m going to lose my job every day and I hope that the promoters feel the same way. We are all the same team, you leave your egos on the side. We’re all in it for the same reason, and there is zero tolerance for bullying. If someone writes a shitty email to someone in my team, we don’t accept it, I support them… That sounds like a great place to work.”
Hexges reported on the two-day Superbloom, which finally launched in Munich’s historic Olympic Park in September after two postponements due to Covid-related restrictions. Calvin Harris, Macklemore, Megan Thee Stallion, Rita Ora, Skepta and David Guetta were among the acts that performed across 11 stages during the event.
Alongside live music, the festival delivered a multi-faceted programme of art, culture, diversity, lifestyle, society, research and development, sustainability and science, with the aim of “redefining the music festival concept”.
“We had 50,000 visitors per day on a huge, historic location in the heart of Munich”
“We had 50,000 visitors per day on a huge, historic location in the heart of Munich,” said Hexges. “It was our first edition and we sold out. It had eight stages, including three main stages – one indoor – and the concept includes 50% music and 50% experience. We had 11 experience areas and it was a tough ride to be honest, but it worked and I was surprised at how well it went.”
Former ATC Live agent Hanner recalled taking a leap of faith and setting up Runway in spring 2020, having been made redundant shortly after the onset of Covid-19. The company made Steve Backman, formerly of Primary Talent International, its first agent appointment last year and expanded its team with four new hires in early 2022.
“The pandemic forced my hand,” he said. “I had a choice to make at that stage. And having spoken to a few artists and knowing that they’d come with me to be part of a fledgling roster, I was made redundant on the Friday and I think Runway began to exist in some form the following Monday. So it was a pretty swift turnaround.”
“We try to get involved building careers, for artists in meaningful ways, not just for the ones who are going to make us a bit of money next week”
He continued: “We are very independent, and we work with a lot of independent managers, a lot of independent artists and that is broadly what ties a lot of our roster together, even more so than stylistically. It also means that we’re pretty involved with our artists and our teams. We like to think of ourselves as boots on the ground, part of a core artist team.
“We try to get involved building careers, for artists in meaningful ways, not just for the ones who are going to make us a bit of money next week, but hopefully the ones that are going to make us some money maybe in eight years’ time. It also means that we’re growing our team organically. We’re not able to throw money at things.”
Booking agency One Fiinix Live was launched by Ed Sheeran agent Jon Ollier following his departure from CAA in late 2020. Davis – who served as Ollier’s assistant at CAA – joined the company from its inception, with ex-Paradigm agent Kinn coming on board in February 2021. The duo debated the benefits of working for a growing independent company.
“One of the most important is that we kind of make the rules,” suggested Davis. “The job is the same and you’re working with the same people but we have the power to go the way we want to, which is exciting.”
“It is also making sure we’re not just putting an artist out there for the sake of it and really sticking to the strategy of only touring at the right time, especially now,” adds Kinn. “Being able to pick and choose helps.”
Jess Kinn on Years & Years, One Fiinix Live and 2022
One Fiinix Live agent Jess Kinn has spoken to IQ about her first year at Jon Ollier’s agency, her drive for a more inclusive industry and the challenges facing the agency business in 2022.
Kinn was the first agent to be hired by Ollier at One Finiix Live, who hailed her an “exciting and forward-thinking talent with a fantastic reputation and a huge future ahead of her”.
She joined the agency from livestreaming company LiveNow, having worked on some of 2020’s biggest music live streams, such as the Pete Tong Heritage Orchestra, Gorillaz and Dua Lipa’s record-breaking Studio 2054.
Kinn began her career with the Leighton Pope Organisation and worked her way up from receptionist to agent at Paradigm (formerly Coda Agency).
Her current roster at One Fiinix Live comprises more than 20 artists including Years & Years, Cat Burns, Mallrat, Tessa Violet, Beka and July Jones.
How did you come to be the first agent at Jon Ollier’s One Finiix Live agency?
JK: I heard really great things about Jon – everyone said he was one of the ‘good ones’. So I just called him up in November 2020 and asked for a chat – I think he thought it was about live streaming. I said, ‘Look, Jon, you don’t know me, but this is what I’m doing, this is who I am’. He invited me for lunch and we had this amazing four-hour chat about everything; our love of music, what we wanted from a company and the kind of culture we wanted to build. It just totally made sense. The next day we were both like ‘yeah, let’s do this’.
You’ve been at the agency for a year now. Tell us about some of the successes you’ve had with your roster in the past 12 months.
Olly [Alexander, Years & Years] had an amazing year. I guess it started with [Channel 4’s hit drama] It’s a Sin and then we had the Elton John performance at the Brits 2021 and the New Year’s Eve BBC show. It was amazing that we could do a 15-track show, featuring Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys and queens from RuPaul’s drag race. It was a real celebration of all that we’d all done that year and that geared us up for the album [Night Call] which charted at number 1 [in January].
We have festivals coming up in the summer and our arena tour at the end of May. Cat Burns has had an incredible start to the year. We put up her debut headline show at Omeara which sold out in 30 mins so we put up another and it sold out in an hour. We’ve got a ton of exciting supports and festivals coming up this year.
“I think we’re all going to have to be malleable and adaptable this year”
Covid and Brexit are presenting huge challenges for touring, do you have a strategy to navigate the pitfalls?
Jon and I were quite sure that a lot wasn’t going to happen at the beginning of this year so we made a decision to avoid booking shows in early Q1. I’ve booked a lot of my European tours from May onwards. Especially US-based or Australia based artists I’m touring them from Q3 onwards as it still feels risky. I’m making sure my artists only play shows when it makes total sense and everything aligns. It’s about thinking: ‘why are we doing these shows? Is the world ready to hear this artist? Is the road ready to see this artist live? Is the timing right?’ This resonates more now than it ever did because every artist is out touring this year.
How are you dealing with the oversaturation of the concert market?
Venue availability is just crazy. But I think as more changes happen with, say, US acts having to push back their UK/EU dates, there will be more availability. You’ve got to be thinking so much further ahead than you ever did. I think we’re all going to have to be malleable and adaptable this year. You’ve got to be quick to change plans and try to find different ways to do things. If you can’t get the venue that you want, try and find a more unique location. If you’ve missed a certain market, try another one. It’s important to remember that things can’t be perfect, you can only do what you can do and you can only plan so much.
“I think we need to make sure that every show is special so that fans feel confident to buy and want to come to shows again”
UK promoters have reported an astounding amount of no-shows since the industry reopened. What has been your experience with this?
All of my newer artists like Ellie Dixon, Beka, Michael Aldag sold out their shows in 2021 and there weren’t many no shows. I think it was a case of good timing. Jon [Ollier’s] idea was to follow the sun around so the last show I booked was at the end of November. Post-Nov-Dec was when things started plateauing again with Covid. So, again, it’s about making sure that you only book things with intention and good reason.
How have you found ticket sales since the industry reopened?
Across the board, it has been hard to sell tickets. The amount of artists touring vs the amount of money people are able to spend on shows makes it super hard. Also, buyer confidence has plummeted because so many fans have bought tickets to shows that have been moved or cancelled. I think we need to make sure that every show is special so that fans feel confident to buy and want to come to shows again.
“Live streaming from an empty venue – which feels like a reminder of a time when we couldn’t attend shows – won’t continue”
With promoters having to honour line-ups that were booked two years ago, are there enough opportunities in 2022 for the newer artists on your roster?
There are definitely far fewer opportunities this year. I’m telling my artists and managers that we should aim for two or three opportunities that we really want and then try and build around that. They’re all aware of how difficult this year is – it’s going to be rough and tumble. Things will come late, plans will change. Last year, when promoters were going through the worst of it – not even knowing if they had jobs I checked in on them and made sure they were ok rather than demanding slots on festivals that might not happen.
You worked in the livestreaming business during the pandemic boom. What is your point of view on the format now?
It depends. Live streaming a concert from an empty venue is very different to live streaming a concert with an audience there. That’s why the Dua Lipa [Studio 2054] stream and the Gorillaz stream worked so well because they were hybrids between a music video and a live stream and something you could never see live. Live streaming from an empty venue – which just feels like a reminder of a time when we couldn’t attend shows – won’t continue. You just cannot replace going to a concert and being there in person.
“What I’ve realised now, at One Finiix Live, is that my main asset is being myself”
How have you found gender diversity in the industry, during your career?
It has been really hard. It’s still a very male-dominated industry. I’ve been surrounded by female assistants but few female agents or bookers and so I’ve often been the only woman in the room with artists, managers and promoters. I’ve been told I have a big personality, I’m confident and outspoken, but I feel that’s been misjudged at times and used against me, especially because I’m a woman. I used to feel like I had to dim myself down to make others feel comfortable, what I’ve realised now, at One Finiix Live, is that my main asset is being myself.
Who are some women you admire in the live music industry?
Kelly Chappell is a huge inspiration and should have also won ‘best speech’ at the Women in Music Awards! Laura Davidson who started her own company Amigas is super important to me. I try to work with female promoters like her, as well as Maddie Arnold at Live Nation, Chloe Pean at AEG and Alexandra Ampofo at Metropolis. On the agency side, I love Alice Hogg [ATC Live], Sally Dunstone [Primary Talent International] and Whitney Boateng [WME] – we worked together at CODA. There’s also an incredible team of women at One Fiinix Live – Emma Davis and Eve Thomas. Caroline Reason at Mata Agency is also an absolute queen!
“Before I confirm Years & Years for a festival, I insist on building [an inclusive] lineup together with promoters”
What are you doing to further diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry?
We’re making sure every UK festival Years & Years are playing are real inclusive spaces for everyone and the lineups are diverse across gender, race and sexuality. Before I confirm Years & Years for a festival, I insist on building the lineup together with promoters. So far, promoters – even the ones lacking in expertise in that area – are super open to it. I’m fortunate because most of the Y&Y shows are headlines so we are in a great position to enforce this.
I am also working with an incredible award-winning collective called Queer House Party which has built this insane following in lockdown by putting on safe and accessible spaces for people to come together within the queer community. The night has now made a leap from online to IRL selling out nights at iconic venues across UK. We are now bringing radical and queer excellence to festivals across the summer. I’m also speaking to the Trans Creative, co-founded by Charlie Deakin-Davies, who are working on creating opportunities for trans and non-binary production crews.
With all the issues agents are currently faced with, are you able to protect your mental health?
I actually feel that it has been harder to keep the work-life balance than it was pre-pandemic, there’s much more work but the demand is still the same. Everyone wants something now now now; dates are moving all the time. It feels way more intense than it did before. I’m hoping that the pressure dies down soon and, meanwhile, people do their best to be kind and patient because we’re all going through it. For me dancing and playing football is a great help!
Jon Ollier’s One Fiinix Live makes first agent hire
Jon Ollier’s new booking agency, One Fiinix Live, has made its first hire, recruiting ex-Paradigm agent Jess Kinn.
Kinn joins from livestreaming company LiveNow, and was formerly an agent at Paradigm Talent Agency, where her roster included Mallrat, Years and Years and Rebecca Garton.
“Jess is everything we are looking for as we build our new business,” comments Ed Sheeran agent Ollier, who launched One Fiinix in November following his departure from CAA. “She is an exciting and forward-thinking talent with a fantastic reputation, and we are really thrilled to have her join us. I believe she has a huge future ahead of her and I am excited to be a part of it.”
“Jess is everything we are looking for as we build our new business”
Kinn began her career with the Leighton Pope Organisation and worked her way up from receptionist to agent at Paradigm (formerly Coda Agency). With LiveNow, she worked on some of 2020’s biggest music live streams, including the Pete Tong Heritage Orchestra, Gorillaz and Dua Lipa’s record-breaking Studio 2054.
It is unclear which of her former acts will join her at One Fiinix Live.
“On my first conversation with Jon, we immediately clicked over our shared values and ideas about the future of the live industry,” comments Kinn. “Being part of a growing agency with progressive and innovative thinking at its heart is exactly where I want to be in this ever-changing landscape of live events.”