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Weekly round-up: Omicron live music restrictions

Welcome to IQ’s weekly round-up of the latest restrictions affecting major international touring markets.

Below you’ll find the latest information on certification schemes, social distancing requirements, mask mandates, capacity restrictions and lockdowns affecting key live music markets around the globe.

Australia has announced that it will reopen its borders to vaccinated tourists and other visa holders, from 21 February, for the first time in almost two years.

Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border controls throughout the pandemic – in March 2020, the government closed the borders and barred most foreigners from entering the country.

Belgian ministers say the country is close to moving from red to orange on the barometer introduced a few weeks ago “but people still need to exercise caution”.

In orange, the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) is required for both indoor and outdoor events (with the option of requiring an extra rapid antigen test at the entrance for nightclubs).

There would be no enforced closing time for businesses, but the Consultative Committee can decide to limit the number of people allowed to 60-90% of a venue’s maximum capacity, depending on whether the air quality requirements can be guaranteed.

Additionally, crowd management is mandatory for events, and organisers have the option to compartmentalise the public. Air quality requirements will be made stricter than in code yellow.

The Finnish government has recommended that capacity restrictions be lifted as of 14 February

The Ontario government has limited concert venues to 50% capacity until at least 14 March – despite other entertainment spaces such as cinemas, casinos and restaurants expecting to be given the go-ahead to host full houses from 21 February.

Artists including Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd and The Offspring have been forced to postpone tour dates due to provincial restrictions.

Canadian Live Music Association (CLMA) boss Erin Benjamin told The Canadian Press the policy was “really hard to understand”, and would likely deter other top international acts from visiting the country this year.

The CLMA is appealing for the government to extend relief for live music businesses via the Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF).

The Finnish government has announced plans to roll back its Covid-19 restrictions from this month.

The government has recommended that capacity restrictions within the cultural, sports and event sectors be lifted as of 14 February.

From that day, any businesses that primarily serve alcohol will be allowed to serve until 22:00, and remain open until 23:00.

All restrictions on food and beverage service businesses could be lifted completely as of 1 March.

Following the recommendations of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Ministry of Justice, Finland will no longer use Covid passes, at least for the time being. Event organisers and certain establishments were allowed to ignore Covid restrictions if they demanded customers present their Covid passes.

Germany will allow up to 10,000 spectators at major outdoor events

Germany will allow up to 10,000 spectators at major outdoor events, the 16 federal states agreed last Wednesday (2 February).

The decision, which also allows up to 4,000 participants in indoor spaces, aims to harmonise currently varying rules for stadium attendance at a state-by-state level. The new rules take effect as soon as the federal states update their regulation.

Masks must be worn, and proof of vaccination or recovery, as well as a booster shot or negative test status, depending on the state, will also be required.

Events that do not qualify as national major events with over 2,000 spectators still fall under state-specific rules.

Italy is about to enter a “new phase” of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to government ministers.

“In the coming weeks we will continue on this path of reopening,” says Prime Minister Mario Draghi. “Based on the scientific evidence, and continuing to follow the trend of the epidemiological curve, we will announce a calendar for overcoming the current restrictions”.

The next update on the country’s Covid restrictions is due by 10 February, when the outdoor mask mandate and the closure of nightclubs and dance venues are up for review again after both rules were recently extended.

The Italian green pass system itself is not expected to be scaled back anytime soon, with some experts including Walter Ricciardi, an advisor to the health minister, maintaining that it must stay in place over summer “at least”.

These rules can only remain in force however under the nationwide state of emergency, which creates the conditions for the government to pass new laws urgently by decree.

Italy’s state of emergency is currently set to expire on 31 March 2022. It is not yet known whether the government plans to extend it.

Sweden has become the latest European nation to announce it is lifting coronavirus restriction

Sweden has become the latest European nation to announce it is lifting coronavirus restrictions.

On 9 February, capacity limits and vaccine certificates for live events will be discontinued, while the government also intends to lift entry restrictions for the Nordic countries.

Live events in the country have been subject to a capacity limit of 500 people (or 500 per section if the organiser divides the room so that people from different sections do not come into contact with each other).

The Swedish public health agency will also follow Denmark’s lead in submitting a request that Covid-19 should no longer be classified as a socially dangerous disease.

“It’s time to open up Sweden,” said prime minister Magdalena Andersson. “The pandemic isn’t over, but it is moving into a new phase.”


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Dutch lockdown protesters get creative

Venues in the Netherlands temporarily turned themselves into hairdressers and beauty salons in protest at the ongoing shutdown of the sector.

Two barbers set up on the stage of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw concert hall, while a barber and two nail artists tended to visitors at the Van Gogh Museum, reports France24, which says Dutch authorities handed out enforcement notices to a number of venues that took part in the day-long protest.

The stunts came after the country’s live sector’s hopes for a swift reopening were dashed last weekend. While measures were eased for shops and other businesses, the cultural industry remains closed, with a review on reopening venues not now due to take place until 25 January. Music venues have been closed and events banned since a lockdown was imposed on 19 December.

“We have shown over the last two years that it’s very, very safe to go to a concert”

“We do not understand and there is no reasoning for it because we have shown over the last two years that it’s very, very safe to go to a concert or to go to a museum,” said Simon Reinink, director of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw concert hall. “Actually, it’s our profession — crowd management. We know how to deal with large crowds. And we’ve done it in a very, very safe way.”

Culture minister Gunay Uslu tweeted: “The cultural sector draws attention to their situation in a creative way. I understand the cry for help and that artists want to show all the beautiful things they have to offer us. But the opening of society must go step by step. Culture is high on the agenda.”

On 11 September last year, an estimated 150,000 people across 10 cities took part in the second Unmute Us protest on to demand the immediate restart of major events. The march was the largest-ever protest in the Netherlands, more than doubling the attendance of the first demonstration on 21 August which drew 70,000.

Yesterday (19 January), the taskforce for the cultural and creative sector presented its opening and recovery plan to the cabinet and the house of representatives.

The plan outlines six proposals to get out of the crisis in a “flexible and resilient way”, including a roadmap that describes how events can go ahead safely for each risk level of the pandemic. Detailing what the cultural sector needs to recover from the crisis, it calls for emergency support to reach all parts of the cultural chain.


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Dutch biz calls for speedy reopening

The Dutch events industry is calling for a fresh approach to the Covid-19 crisis as prime minister Mark Rutte begins his fourth term in office.

The new cabinet is due to meet today (13 January) to discuss whether to ease the full lockdown that has been in place since 19 December, during which time music venues have been closed and events banned, with plans to implement a 2G system on hold.

As a result of the measures, this month’s ESNS (Eurosonic Noorderslag) European festival and conference in Groningen has moved entirely online for the second consecutive year.

The live sector is seeking “constructive discussions” with government officials, and is appealing for the authorities to show “courage and decisiveness” in their decisions.

“Support packages and guarantee schemes may have been helpful, but a quick opening is now vital”

“It is clear that the approach so far has not resulted in a structurally open society,” says Jolanda Jansen of the Alliance of Event Builders. “It is also clear that society has a great need for a different approach. After two years, we know a lot about the virus and the impact of measures on society.

“Health is more than the absence of Covid. The negative consequences, both social and economic, are greater than ever and support for the policy is declining sharply. The scenarios on which the current lockdown was based have fortunately not turned out to be true; [leading to] this urgent call to lift the lockdown and come up with a reopening plan.”

Last year, the Dutch government announced a €15m fund to compensate promoters and venues for lost revenue from indoor standing shows – on top of its €385m guarantee fund.

“For the events sector, the support packages and guarantee schemes may have been helpful, but a quick opening is now vital,” insists Riemer Rijpkema of the EventPlatform. “The urgency is great for the visitors and the artists, but also for us as organisers, suppliers and locations – to retain staff and offer prospects to entrepreneurs and to preserve and not let the once thriving and internationally renowned sector go to waste.

“The starting point must therefore be: open the [market] as soon as possible and do what is necessary to prevent the damage from being irreparable.”


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AEG Presents France head on ‘patchy’ ticket sales

AEG Presents France head Arnaud Meersseman has told IQ he is hopeful of a strong summer ’22 for the touring business, despite warning of an “iffy” next few months.

As countries across Europe tighten limits on live shows amid an alarming rise in Covid cases, the French authorities went against the grain  last week by lifting capacity restrictions on standing at indoor concerts following a campaign by French live music association Prodiss.

Meersseman says a scheduled meeting of the government’s defence counsel on Wednesday (24 March) could lead to new measures being introduced, but does not expect the country to follow Austria’s lead and return to a full lockdown.

“We’ll see what comes out of it, but cases are rising,” he says. “I think the booster campaign needs to get into gear. Plus, if we get some nice weather from March, April onwards, then summer feels OK. The start of spring feels a bit iffy. Between the booster shot campaign and fair weather returning, it’s going to be iffy from now until March, basically.

“You can see that the weather definitely has an impact. If you look at Spain, Italy and Portugal; on top of having extremely high vaccination rates, they’re having very nice weather and their cases aren’t rising. It’s as soon as you get people back inside, basically, that the cases are rising again.”

Some shows are doing very well, some are doing slow. It’s hard to get a read on the market

The Paris-based promoter says the domestic live circuit has been hard to get a handle on up to this point due to “patchy” ticket sales across the board.

“Some shows are doing very well, some are doing slow,” he says. “It’s hard to get a read on the market. You get weeks where you get huge bumps and you have no idea what it’s due to.”

Meersseman jokes: “I’ll always tell agents, it’s due to my amazing marketing, but it’s really weird. It’s not understandable.”

AEG Presents opened Paris office in 2018, expanding into what it referred to as “one of Europe’s most important and vibrant markets for live music”, and hired Meersseman, formerly of Nous Productions and Fimalac/Miala, as general manager and VP.

Speaking as part of IQ‘s recent feature investigating the impact of the latest Covid surge on the European live business, Meersseman said it was worrying that countries with a similar vaccination rate to France were battling new coronavirus waves. Demonstrations and violence broke out in Belgium and the Netherlands over the weekend in protest at fresh restrictions.

“There is some worry, there is some anxiety,” he said. “We were at 12,000 cases a day a week ago, and now we’re at 20,000. So it’s getting to that point where it trickles and then suddenly, boom, it becomes exponential.

“I don’t think we’ll go back into full lockdown. But in terms of our business, well, there’s not much going on anyway – even for domestic acts – in November and December. I think there could be some impact there, we’ll see. But I’m not very positive about it and I’m not feeling super positive about January/February either.

“Domestic tours, maybe they go ahead in February/March. But for international tours, it feels highly unlikely that anything happens between January and March because you start losing territories like Holland and Germany and suddenly your tour isn’t viable economically anymore.”


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Austrian live biz upbeat despite new lockdown

Goodlive Artists Austria (GAA) co-MD Silvio Huber says the domestic live business has cause for optimism despite the country being plunged back into lockdown.

As Covid cases hit another record high, a nationwide lockdown will come into effect on Monday in a bid to avoid a fifth wave of the virus, with people told to work from home and non-essential shops to close. The measures, announced by chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, will last a maximum of 20 days.

Industry veteran Huber, who anticipated the course of action, describes the tightened restrictions as “like Groundhog Day”.

“It’s a tiring process for sure,” he tells IQ. “We have to move or cancel shows and uncertainty comes back just at the point when people were in the mood for buying tickets and attending shows again.”

We’re still looking positive into 2022

Having previously imposed a lockdown on unvaccinated residents, Austria is also set to become the first European country to make Covid vaccinations compulsory (its current 65% vaccination rate is the lowest in Western Europe) – news of which was welcomed by Huber.

“Today’s announcement of the vaccination mandate for all starting on 1 February is great news for our industry,” he says. “I wish we had that in place already but who would have guessed that some people prefer deworming medicine to vaccination? So we may need some gentle ‘pressure’ to get out of this cycle.”

As a result, Huber, who was head of booking for Arcadia Live before switching to Vienna-based GAA earlier this year, believes the signs for the next 12 months are a lot more promising.

“We’re still looking positive into 2022,” he says, adding: “Let’s get through this bloody winter.”

Prior to today’s announcement, Huber was one of a handful of leading promoters to speak to IQ about the impact the latest Covid spike is having on the European live music business.


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Netherlands concerts postponed amid new lockdown

Scores of concerts in the Netherlands have been postponed after the Dutch government imposed a new partial lockdown in the wake of rising Covid-19 infections.

A capacity limit of 1,250 has been imposed on venues, while sports events will be played behind closed doors.

Restrictions will last at least three weeks until 4 December, with the situation to be reassessed by the government on 3 December. Covid entry passes are already required to attend concerts in the country.

“If we succeed in reversing the current trend in the weeks ahead and the number of positive cases falls, the government believes it will be possible to reopen society as fully and as safely as possible,” it says in a statement. “We will then be able to roll out the coronavirus entry pass system more widely.”

High-profile postponements include shows by Burna Boy, Simply Red and Nightwish at Amsterdam’s 17,000-cap Ziggo Dome, while Burna Boy’s performance at the 16,426-cap Rotterdam Ahoy on 20 November and Nicky Jam on 21 November will also be moved.

Amsterdam’s 1,500-cap Paradiso, meanwhile, has postponed events by acts including Mykki Blanco, Oh Wonder and Spector.

The government says financial support will be available for businesses “directly affected” by the new restrictions. However, the Netherlands’ Alliance of Event Builders and the EventPlatform have declared themselves “deeply disappointed” at the measures, which they claim are not backed up by the scientific data.

Once again, many event builders… suddenly find themselves in a new reality, with mountains of uncertainty

“Professional events with corona ticket control have not or hardly turned out to be a source of contamination, according to the Source and Contact Survey,” says a statement. “They have hardly appeared in the figures of the RIVM since the restart in August, and no significant contamination clusters have arisen at events, while they have been visited by millions of people.”

The statement continues: “Once again, many event builders who were busy with their work today and tomorrow, events that the public longs for, suddenly find themselves in a new reality, with mountains of uncertainty.

“The cabinet still seems to have no answers to the essential questions and continues to make ad hoc and arbitrary adjustments. They mainly react in the short term instead of anticipating.

“The Alliance of Event Builders and the EventPlatform are not only concerned about the short term, but also very concerned about the period after the announced lockdown. There is again no road map, no plan, no end goal. The Alliance and the EventPlatform therefore call on politicians to opt for an approach that is based on facts, figures and clear insights and that provides a dot on the horizon.”

Prior to the announcement, the Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals (VNPF) also said that cancelling concerts was “not a solution to the problem of increased infections”.

“The cancellation of these programmes again is symbolic politics,” it said. “Lockdowns and other restrictive measures are creating new programming uncertainty and the already very shaky finances in the pop sector.”


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Dutch trade body hits out at lockdown plans

The Association of Dutch Music Venues and Festivals (VNPF) has hit out at plans to impose a partial lockdown in the Netherlands.

With Covid restrictions on the cusp of being tightened in several European countries, Dutch media have reported that strict new measures will be introduced from Saturday (13 November) in a bid to combat record numbers of new Covid-19 infections in the country.

The restrictions, due to be announced this evening by prime minister Mark Rutte, are expected to last at least three weeks, sources have told public broadcaster NOS.

However, the VNPF claims that cancelling live events would merely be “symbolic politics”, pointing to figures showing infections are occurring mainly in family circles and schools, rather than at concerts.

“It is clear that the increase in infections is not caused by organisations affiliated with VNPF,” says the organisation. “The concerts and events are professionally organised and the corona [pass]/QR code is strictly checked everywhere.

“Cancelling concerts and other events is therefore not a solution to the problem of increased infections. The cancellation of these programmes again is symbolic politics. Lockdowns and other restrictive measures are creating new programming uncertainty and the already very shaky finances in the pop sector.

“Moreover, such a measure erodes support for the policy of the corona admission ticket and its compliance, which is now working very well.”

Buying a ticket for a concert or event almost becomes a false promise

The body recently published its new Pop Stages and Festivals in Figures 2020 report, based on data from 101 Dutch music venues and festivals, which reported that revenue from ticket sales and catering at domestic shows plummeted from €121.7 million in 2019 to €29.7m last year as a result of the pandemic.

Events in the country have been restricted to 75% capacity and are required to close between 00:00 and 06:00 CET. Insisting the new measures “must be effective and appropriate”, the VNPF warns repeated postponements could have lasting consequences.

“Buying a ticket for a concert or event almost becomes a false promise,” it says. “So much programme has been shifted, so often, so the pop sector is confronted with a relatively large audience that does not show up. In a sector where the ticket proceeds go to the artist and the other public income, including catering, is for the organiser, this is very threatening.

“New restrictions are not necessary within the pop sector and, once again, cause programming and financial hopelessness for pop artists, pop venues, event organisers, producers and pop festivals.”

In its latest weekly report, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) revealed the number of new cases among EU/EEA countries increased 19% week-on-week.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s disease control centre the Robert Koch Institute has called for large events to be cancelled after the country’s infection rate hit a new high, while Austria is mulling introducing a lockdown for unvaccinated people.


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Brussels venue to reopen regardless of restrictions

Brussels venue Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) plans to open its doors on 26 April, defying current restrictions, in a bid to increase pressure on the Belgian government to reopen the cultural sector.

The country’s strict lockdown measures are set to ease on 25 April but venues may not be permitted to welcome audiences until 1 May at the earliest, after the government withdrew its decision to allow outside performances of up to 50 people during April.

The venue’s operators want to demonstrate that it is possible to organise events safely and plans to host 50 people in a 500-capacity room on five consecutive nights for a theatre performance.

According to organisers, the performance will take place under strict precautions concerning ventilation, measuring CO2, guiding and controlling public flows, registering visitors, keeping a safe distance, mandatory mouth mask and disinfection gel.

“This is a signal to the government to finally take our industry and our efforts seriously,” KVS says in a statement on the venue’s website.

“This is a signal to the government to finally take our industry and our efforts seriously”

In the statement, KVS refers to crowded parks, squares and trains: “It is revengeful: after a year of pandemic, we as a society have still not succeeded in organizing what can be organized safely. Culture can be part of the solution. And there are indeed alternatives. And there is indeed a great social need for safe encounters and culture.

“To prevent public support from completely eroding, to prevent dangerous, badly organised gatherings from occurring too often, there is a need for safe ways to enjoy culture.”

Opposition party Groen has called on the minister of culture Jan Jambon to turn the performances into a test event, according to De Tidj.

“By turning KVS’s plans into a test event, people are not forced to take the risk of prosecution just because they want to do their job in complete safety. It is also a constructive signal to the cultural sector and we can use the information later. This could well be a win-win,” says Groen MP Elisabeth Meuleman.

Jonathan will play from 26–30 April at 8 pm in KVS. Tickets, which are priced at €25, have sold out for all five nights.


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French Covid expert: ‘Cultural places are lower risk’

The head of infectious diseases at France’s largest hospital says that the risks of Covid-19 contamination in cultural places are “much lower than in the family, professional or school environment”, provided restrictions are observed.

Appearing on French cable channel BFMTV, Eric Caumes from the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris said that even in cultural places where there are lots of people – such as theatres, stadiums and museums – the risks of Covid-19 contamination is low if social distancing measures are adhered to and masks are worn.

Caumes’ comments are in line with multiple clinical trials which have found little risk of an infected person transmitting Covid-19 in an indoor concert venue, including Spain’s Primacov and two German trials – Restart-19 and Konzerthaus Dortmund. France has announced test concerts of its own, scheduled for the spring.

The infectious diseases chief went on to say that the reopening of culture is essential to avoid a mental health crisis in France and stop citizens from “turning into zombies” – adding the government must consider the “global dimension of health”.

The infectious diseases chief said that the reopening of culture is essential to avoid a mental health crisis in France

“The limit [for hospitals] is not very far, we are so close to the level that we are afraid of…but I am not sure that confinement would improve the psychic parameters which are rather worrying,” he said.

French culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, has said that museums and monuments will be the first to reopen when there is a drop in the number Covid-19 cases but cinemas, concert halls and theatres are to remain closed until further notice.

Bachelot recently met with the organisers of major French festivals as concern mounts over the impact of France’s ongoing health state of emergency, though the participants say it did not result in any concrete guarantees regarding the festival summer.

The culture minister will hold another meeting with the festival sector on 15 February, by which time she will need to have concrete answers and solutions for festival organisers, says live music association, Prodiss.

Meanwhile, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is under pressure from his scientific counsel to impose a third lockdown, warning the leader the country’s curfew and other restrictions are not enough to curb the virus.


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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.


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