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Jung at Heart: Switzerland market report

While the Swiss live music business has always been robust, the recent period of intense consolidation, company mergers, and corporate acquisitions is undoubtedly changing the landscape, with promoters claiming the market is oversaturated and a fierce battle for headline acts. IQ reports.

In a live industry always hungry for wealthy, eager consumers, markets like Switzerland, while small, are to be cherished. In this famously neutral Alpine corner of west-central Europe, there is a billionaire for every 80,000 people – behind only Luxembourg and Hong Kong – as well as one of the lower levels of income inequality among wealthy western nations.

Covid, of course, brought with it grim times that took a while to dispel, but those are emphatically in the rear-view mirror now, having given way to a booming 2023 and a quieter but still prosperous 2024.

“The average ticket prices in Switzerland are significantly higher than in most European countries, while overall expenditure remains relatively consistent,” says Philipp Musshafen, CEO of Zurich’s Hallenstadion, which hosted approximately 100 events in 2023 and welcomed around 800,000 visitors.

“The rebound from the pandemic in the realm of public events has largely dissipated, and subsequent events have taken place. It’s safe to say that a certain level of normality has returned both in the lead-up and planning of events.”

Like everywhere else, production is still a challenge. The mid-market is a hard sell, and no one is quite as certain as they once were of what works. Meanwhile, festivals are losing out to arenas and stadiums for headliners, and maybe a new venue or two would be nice. But all the same, Switzerland remains an extremely good prospect for a show or two.

“I have to say, if I compare to our German colleagues, the market is very small, but it works very well”

The country is small – 8.7m people in all – but urban centres such as Zurich, Basel, and Geneva, globalised and highly cosmopolitan, keep it punching above its weight. Promoters have historically focused on their own parts of the country – either the German-speaking cities, such as Zurich, Bern, Basel, and St. Gallen, or the French-speaking, notably Geneva, Lausanne, and Montreux – though corporate-backed promoters are less likely to recognise such distinctions. Many shows are co-promoted, and very few promoters operate in isolation.

“I have to say, if I compare to our German colleagues, the market is very small, but it works very well,” says Stefan Matthey, co-managing director of DEAG’s newly reconfigured rock specialist Good News Productions. “We talk to each other, sometimes we co-promote. It’s not a war situation like in Germany.”

No surprise that Switzerland tends to be peaceful, possibly helped by the fact that there is plenty to go round. PwC/Omdia’s Switzerland Entertainment & Media Outlook 2023-2027 report puts this year’s projected Swiss live music revenues of CHF430m (from ticket sales and sponsorship) back near their 2019 pre-Covid peak of CHF437m and on a slow climb towards CHF441m by 2027.

“The feeling in the market remains positive globally, although it varies depending on the sector,” says Julien Rouyer, CEO of Lausanne-based Soldout Productions. “Ticketing is doing great, for instance, while production is struggling with cost increases and staff shortages. The key is to find a balanced scale to maintain a positive trend and stay profitable.”

And, of course, a further imperative is to tend to the health of all parts of the market – the smaller shows and towns, as well as the big shows in the big cities.

“The market is generally heathy – especially in the main cities like Zurich, Bern, Geneva, and Lausanne where concert attendance remains strong,” says Mainland Music managing director Derrick Thomson. “Ticket purchases are generally occurring closer to show dates, reflecting shifting consumer behaviour post-pandemic. While this trend may cause initial apprehension among promoters and artists, sales typically ramp up as events approach. However, we’ve observed challenges in smaller markets, particularly for grassroots clubs facing slowed demand.”

“We are at the very beginning of a totally new adventure”

Promoters
Once a stronghold of independents, Switzerland, like so many other markets, bears the heavy stamp of the leading corporate groups these days, with CTS Eventim, DEAG, and Live Nation all strong.

And in a time of adjustment across the promoting sector, some longstanding players are targeting fresh growth, prominent among them long-serving indie TAKK, which last July climbed aboard the CTS Eventim train, before re-launching in its new TAKK ab Entertainment guise earlier this year under three generations of promoters: Swiss industry forefather André Béchir, TAKK founder Sebastien Vuignier, and comparative youngster Théo Quiblier, promoter of Caroline Polachek, the National, and Wet Leg, among others.

“We are at the very beginning of a totally new adventure,” says Vuignier. “Thanks to the advisor agreement with André Béchir, who is a proper legend in Switzerland – the pioneer, with 50 years’ experience – we have access to inestimable knowledge and very strong content. It allows us to have an amazing first year of activity with Taylor Swift, AC/DC, and Pink shows, just to name a few.

“But we haven’t forgotten the DNA of what the old TAKK was – breaking new acts, doing 300-500-cap shows. The Last Dinner Party is the highlight of the start of this year. And we can’t wait to have Idles, Beth Gibbons, Khruangbin, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and others.”

Vuignier characterises the new company not as a buy-out but as a new venture in its own right – and one that has been a surprisingly long time coming.

“CTS Eventim didn’t buy TAKK Productions, but both companies joined forces to create a new one,” he says. “I first met [CTS Eventim CEO] Klaus-Peter Schulenberg back in 2010, just one year after founding TAKK Productions. I [was] impressed by his personality and what he [had] built up. But I think it was too early for me to join at that time.

“Fast-forward, when we got in touch again in January 2023 and the idea of teaming up with André Béchir came up, it was obvious. A few months later, the company was on its feet. We are now a team of 12, with offices in Zurich and in the French part of Switzerland, and with hundreds of shows lined up.”

“We still have this wonderful service where we take our artists from baby bands to stadiums if we can”

Also in transition has been Good News, which has rebuilt its team from the top down this year with the addition of Christian Gremelmayr and Santosh Aerthott, former joint managing directors of Live Nation’s Mainland Music, as well as marketing specialist Patrizia Demont and artist booker Steven Mandel.

“The company is growing, and we have positioned ourselves as the leading rock promoter in Switzerland,” says Matthey. “We still have this wonderful service where we take our artists from baby bands to stadiums if we can.”

Shows at the Hallenstadion for larger acts including Slash and Five Finger Death Punch, meanwhile, round out the upper end of Good News’s range.

The departure of Gremelmayr and Aerthott, along with fellow co-founder Marc Lambelet, represented an end-of-an-era moment for Mainland earlier this year. Founded in 2012 by a group of independent operators including Gremelmayr, Aerthott, Lambelet and Thomson, Mainland was acquired by Live Nation GSA in 2019 and these days organises more than 650 shows annually from Zurich and Lausanne, with Thomson at the wheel.

“We’ve embraced these changes as opportunities,” says Thomson, who notes that 2023 was Mainland’s most successful year to date. “Talented promoters and staff have stepped into elevated roles, contributing to our success. Our strategy remains focused on expanding our presence across the Swiss market, promoting a diverse range of shows, and further developing our artist roster. Additionally, we’re committed to incorporate more non-music events, including comedy and family shows.”

Forthcoming tours include Olivia Rodrigo, the Jonas Brothers, Troye Sivan, Rod Stewart, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Nickelback, and Karol G – to add to booking responsibilities for Openair Frauenfeld, Gurtenfestival, Openair Gampel, Lakelive Festival, Open Air Lumnezia, Open Air Gränichen, and Big Air Chur.

“”The pandemic has reshaped consumer behaviours, disrupted supply chains and altered business models, making it harder to predict what will succeed in this new landscape”

Another leading Swiss promoter is Gadget abc Entertainment Group, a one-time indie, now one more Eventim-backed big-hitter. “We had a really good 2023 and a very busy summer, with stadium shows of Bruce Springsteen, Rammstein, and Muse,” says Stefan Wyss, director, concerts and touring. “The festivals were very strong in 2023, and overall, the concert and touring business was solid.

“We expect 2024 to be a little less busy – the schedule for the touring segment is a bit less intense this year. A lot of domestic and German artists are taking a break after intense touring in 2022 and 2023, and the focus is more on international artists, which means more competition. The demand is still here, but we feel that it’s getting more difficult to sell out shows with regular touring artists in the middle segment.”

Nonetheless, this isn’t a quiet year for Gadget abc by any standard definition, with two sold-out Taylor Swift shows at Zurich’s Letzigrund Stadium – co-promoted with AEG Presents and TAKK – among the bigger shows. Meanwhile, an ever-expanding festival portfolio now includes Schaffhausen’s Stars in Town festival, in which Gadget abc took a majority stake in March, to add to OpenAir St.Gallen, Summerdays, Radar, Seaside, and Unique Moments.

Sister company act entertainment, meanwhile, runs a widely diversified entertainment business, with big concerts and major festivals alongside exhibitions, motorcycle extravaganzas, circuses, and comedians in various languages.
Promoter and artist booking agency Soldout Productions remains independent 18 years since it launched, and in addition to forthcoming shows including PLK, Freeze Corleone, and Gazo at Arena Genève, it recently acquired its first outdoor festival: the long-established Caribana in Crans, on the shore of Lake Geneva. The promoter’s ranks were also recently bolstered by the arrival of Mainland’s Lambelet.

The market outlook remains a slightly mixed one, according to Rouyer. “It does feel different compared to the pre-pandemic period, with a mix of cautious optimism and lingering uncertainty,” he says. “While there’s been some return of
certainty, predicting market trends remains challenging. The pandemic has reshaped consumer behaviours, disrupted supply chains and altered business models, making it harder to predict what will succeed in this new landscape.

“Other challenges facing promoters include evolving regulations and compliance standards; managing cybersecurity risks in an increasingly digital environment; and addressing sustainability concerns as environmental awareness grows. Additionally, talent acquisition and retention, especially in a highly competitive market, can pose significant challenges for promoters striving to build long-term relationships and maintain effective teams.”

“You can’t start the same way I did 30 years ago. I would even argue that with the density and the speed of the business, it’s no longer possible to start from scratch”

Another stalwart independent, Winterthur’s Sheeran-promoting AllBlues Konzert, marks 30 years in 2024, on the back of a strong year with shows by José González, Brad Mehldau, Joe Satriani, Diana Krall, Ana Moura, Ludovico Einaudi, and others, including the farewell concerts of John McLaughlin, Gilberto Gil, and the Manhattan Transfer.

“Oh yes, 30 years with around 3,000 self-promoted concerts is a long time,” says founder Johannes Vogel. “But it was great, and we are grateful for the privilege of rolling out the concert carpet to such wonderful musicians and artists. And above all, to be economically very successful in our niche, with jazz, world, funk, soul, blues, singer-songwriters – and Ed Sheeran!”

Vogel remains an outspoken indie with strong views on the market as a whole, and he makes no bones about how the market has changed in three decades. “You can’t start the same way I did 30 years ago,” he says. “I would even argue that with the density and the speed of the business, it’s no longer possible to start from scratch. The big ones are getting bigger and bigger, but that’s also the chance for the small ones in the niche like us.”

And while Vogel agrees that the market is strong, he also believes it is over-saturated.

“We have too many shows,” he says. “This may be due to the fact that the majority of the bigger Swiss annual promoters are no longer independent and belong to one of the event giants. Everyone is fighting for every show. Whether it’s working well or not is not that important, as long as you have the show. No wonder, because who benefits from this overplay? The event giants with their ticket companies or vice versa, starting from ticket one.”

Festivals
While Switzerland may be prosperous and packed with festivals, from Paléo and OpenAir St.Gallen to Openair Gampel, Openair Frauenfeld, Greenfield, and Rock the Ring on downwards, it isn’t immune to the currents of the global business.

“Fewer domestic and German artists are touring in 2024. The competition for international headliners was very intense”

“It was a difficult year to book the festivals,” says Christof Huber, director festivals & events at Gadget abc. “Fewer domestic and German artists are touring in 2024. The competition for international headliners was very intense. We were able to get very solid lineups for our festivals, and they are selling well. However, if I look at the European festival lineups, 2024 isn’t as strong as in previous years.”

Nonetheless, Huber professes satisfaction at a job well done in a challenging environment.

“We have finalised the billings for all of our festivals and sales are very good for all of them,” he says. “We are very happy that the beautiful Stars in Town festival is now part of Gadget. That underlines our strong festival stream, with quality brands such as OpenAir St.Gallen, Summerdays, Seaside, Unique Moments, and Radar.

“The rising costs for artists and infrastructure remain the biggest challenge for festivals,” he adds. “We were able to book good lineups with a lot of young domestic and international artists, which attract the young audiences. Besides this, we constantly work on our festival brands with experiences, look and feel, and new attractions. We are less dependent on our billing than some of our competitors.”

Paléo programmer Dany Hassenstein echoes the point. “It’s been a tough year, but we are very happy with the outcome: Burna Boy, Sam Smith, Nile Rodgers, Royal Blood, Patti Smith, Mika, Major Lazer, Sean Paul, Khruangbin, the Blaze, Aurora, and Paul Kalkbrenner are the top international names. And we have major French acts such as Booba, Gazo & Tiakola, and PLK completing the bill. We are in particular very proud of a great second tier of the bill, with most of the hot up-and-coming French acts such as Zaho de Sagazan, Sofiane Pamart, Worakls, just to name a few.”

Hassenstein expects the current trend to be a finite one but nonetheless welcomes the invitation to innovate.

“There’s currently an important lack of available headline acts for festivals and that drives fees to a new max for those available”

“2024 was tough, and 2025 will be, too, but I believe it goes in cycles,” he says. “Ticket sales for headline shows seem to be back to an all-time high, and like everybody else, we can observe all major acts aiming for these tickets and not the festival money. But this can turn around again in a few years. So yes, there’s currently an important lack of available headline acts for festivals and that drives fees to a new max for those available. It’s a bidding situation we are not fully ready to work with. It is pushing us to look out for or create new content. At Paléo, we are doing so in 2024 by opening our stages to new types of performance, humour, crossover opera, and even classical music.”

Montreux was recently added to UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network in the music category, and the town’s world-famous jazz festival is reinventing itself in the heart of the town for this year’s edition. A stage will be built on the lake, below the Place du Marché, while the festival will also make a return to its old home at the Casino, once the site of the 1971 fire memorialised in Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. A large number of free stages complete the new layout for this 58th edition, which will accommodate its usual capacity of 250,000 attendees.

In a similarly refined vein, Baloise Session in Basel, with its small-scale, supper-club feel, plots a course through rock, jazz, and world music every October and November. Last year, Norah Jones, Ellie Goulding, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and the opening night of Dave Stewart’s Eurythmics Songbook tour, featuring Joss Stone, were among the more mainstream highlights.

“Last year was extraordinary,” says CEO Beatrice Stirnimann. “We sold our tickets very fast; we had a great lineup,” she adds, though she notes that reinvention is not on the agenda for 2024.

“The design of our event is not going to change, because it is already very special. We have 1,500 seats, with the club tables and the candlelight. People never get bored of that. We just want to bring new artists. We sometimes bring artists back, but there’s so many artists out there, and we just want the brightest variety possible.”

In the past two years, the city of Basel itself has become more directly involved in supporting the festival, which was launched in 1985. “The city is into it – they are our hosting partner. Baloise is an international festival, artists come from everywhere, and they see how it goes out to the world. Maybe it’s a little bit like what happens in Montreux.”

“We aim to preserve the popular and festive spirit of the festival that has made it so beloved while also seeking opportunities for improvement in hospitality”

In February, Soldout Productions announced the acquisition of a majority stake in Caribana Productions, owner of the Caribana Festival brand, taking the promoter into business with festival founder Tony Lerch and artistic director Samuel Galley. The 32nd edition of the 32,000-cap festival will take place in June, with Tom Odell, Birdy, Ofenbach, Bad Omens, Martin Solveig, and Sam Ryder on an eclectic bill, having showcased Lou Reed, Patti Smith, ZZ Top, Katy Perry, and Maroon 5 over the years.

“We’re thrilled about the Caribana acquisition,” says Rouyer. “We aim to preserve the popular and festive spirit of the festival that has made it so beloved while also seeking opportunities for improvement in hospitality, including a new VIP offer and developing measures related to sustainability and environmental responsibility. We’re also looking into enhancing infrastructure, logistics, and overall visitor experience to make Caribana even more enjoyable and accessible for attendees.”

Also on Soldout’s slate in January was a sold-out edition of the Beat Festival at the 9,000-cap Geneva Arena, including French rap superstar Booba among a strong hip-hop lineup.

“We have launched a new edition of the festival that will happen in Lausanne, at the [10,000-cap] Vaudoise Aréna in December,” says Rouyer. “The Beat remains our flagship indoor event in wintertime, while Caribana – our first open-air festival – opens up a whole range of new opportunities during the summer.” Elsewhere, Good News recently entered into a collaboration with rock/metal festival Rock The Lakes – “Switzerland’s most beautiful metal festival” – which takes place at Lake Neuchatel in August.

Meanwhile, CTS Eventim-backed act entertainment launches a new boutique music festival in Zurich this summer. Waterfront Festival will debut at the Kongresshaus Zurich in July, when performers will include Stephan Eicher, Katie Melua, the BossHoss, and the Gipsy Kings.

Other events organised by act include Interlaken’s the Greenfield Festival, which will be headlined by Green Day, Bring Me the Horizon, and the Prodigy between 13 and 15 June.

“Even though there are many cultural offerings in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It seems that people are happy with our programme”

Venues
Between the Hallenstadion, X-TRA, and Komplex 457 in Zurich, the 9,500-cap Geneva Arena and Lausanne’s Les Docks, Switzerland has plenty of well-known venues. It also added a number of new ones in the years before the pandemic, including the Hall (5,000-capacity) and 3,500-cap Halle 622, both in Zurich.

Lausanne’s Vaudoise Aréna opened in September 2019 – a 12,000-cap arena for ice hockey and concerts managed by ASM Global – and this year, among much sport, it will see André Rieu, Patrick Bruel, and Ana Moura, Soraia Ramos & Pedro Abrunhosa.

Geneva’s biggest concert venue, the Geneva Arena, brings big-name gigs and large-scale entertainment and sporting events, with J Balvin, Patrick Bruel, and Mika all booked in this year among a host of tribute and family entertainment shows. Located next to Geneva International Airport, it draws audiences from both France and Switzerland.

In Lausanne, Les Docks attracts medium to large travelling names to its 1,000-cap hall. This summer’s shows including The Pretenders, Garbage, Fontaines D.C. and Sleater-Kinney.

“This new year is off to a great start, with many sold-out shows – even though there are many cultural offerings in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It seems that people are happy with our programme,” says director and programmer Laurence Vinclair, who strikes a note of caution about diminishing bar takings but is otherwise optimistic.

“And the coming months are shaping up well, too,” she adds. “June is an incredible month, like it was in the years before the pandemic, partly because we benefit from festival tours. I don’t have any secret, except the fact that our venue is well-renowned in the music business for its high-quality welcome – good food, good PA. Also, I’ve good relations with booking agents from 17 years working here. They trust us.”

In Basel, the St. Jakobshalle arena, refurbished just a few years ago, features 11 halls, including one that accommodates 12,400.

“In 2023, we experienced a very strong second half of the year,” says CEO Thomas Kastl. “Due to our multifunctionality, we were able to accommodate numerous requests. We hosted large-scale events, such as concerts and sports gatherings with thousands of attendees, as well as smaller sports and business functions. “Looking ahead to 2024, our calendar is brimming with exciting events. We anticipate hosting the EHF Euro 2024 Women’s Handball and the European Fencing Championship. Additionally, our lineup includes concerts featuring renowned artists such as Bryan Adams, Laura Pausini, Avenged Sevenfold, Judas Priest, and Hans Zimmer.”

 


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‘End of an era’: Mainland Music founders move on

Three of the four remaining co-founders of Mainland Music have parted ways after more than a decade of operating one of Switzerland’s principal promoting companies together.

Founded in 2012 by Christian Gremelmayr, Derrick Thomson, Marc Lambelet, Martin Schrader and Santosh Aerthott, Mainland organises more than 650 shows annually from its offices in Zurich and Lausanne. In 2019, the company was acquired by Live Nation GSA, when Schrader departed.

With immediate effect, Aerthott and Gremelmayr will join the management of Good News Productions, the Swiss rock and metal promoter backed by DEAG. Along with current managing director Stefan Matthey, the trio will be responsible for driving the expansion of the company. Former Mainland employee and ticketing and marketing specialist, Patrizia Demont, already joined Good News in October 2023.

“We see excellent opportunities in Switzerland and want to continue to grow profitably with Christian and Santosh and expand our range,” says Detlef Kornett, co-CEO and executive board member of DEAG.

Stefan Matthey, managing director of Good News adds: “I am really looking forward to working with Christian Gremelmayr and Santosh Aerthott. They have extensive experience in the live entertainment industry and a strong network of artists and promoters. We have already worked together closely and trustingly on various events in recent years. Together we want to develop new event formats and offer visitors first-class entertainment at many events and concerts.”

“This is the end of an era. I am very proud of what we have accomplished with Mainland Music as a team over the last 10 years”

Meanwhile, Marc Lambelet will turn his focus to Soldout Productions, a Lausanne-based promoter (est 2006) in which he owns shares.

“This is the end of an era. I am very proud of what we have accomplished with Mainland Music as a team over the last 10 years,” says Lambelet.

“My 32-year-old partner in crime Derrick, will carry on running the show on his own. I wish him good luck. I also want to send my congrats to my ex-partners Santosh and Christian. Godspeed to them on their new venture with Good News.

“After 33 years in the live music business, I’m as passionate as ever for a job that is more a lifestyle than proper work. I am looking forward to opening a new chapter in my career.”

Derrick Thomson remains at the helm of Mainland, with upcoming tours including Olivia Rodrigo, Jonas Brothers, Troye Sivan, Rod Stewart, Nickleback and Karol G.

 


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OpenAir Gampel returns for 35th edition

Organisers of Switzerland’s OpenAir Gampel have hailed the staff, artists and fans who made it possible for the festival to celebrate its 35th edition in challenging circumstances last weekend.

The festival, which was forced to cancel its 2020 edition, welcomed the legal limit of 10,000 festivalgoers a day – just under a third of its usual capacity of 33,000 – from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 August, as well as more than 25 live acts and 50 DJs, all of whom (with the exception of Swiss citizen Jeremy Loops, who was born in South Africa) are from Switzerland, Germany or Austria.

In a statement, Rock Hock Verein says it is “extremely happy about the successful event and draw a very positive [conclusion].” “Not only the numerous musical highlights and the perfect weather,” continues the promoter, “but above all the overwhelming gratitude of the audience, the artists and everyone working behind the scenes.”

In addition to the reducing the capacity and booking only local artists, Rock Hock Verein also shrunk the physical size of the festival site by around 100 metres to comply with the guidelines in the canton of Valais, where Gampel is located.

Four people were given a voucher for the 2022 festival after testing positive for Covid-19

Performers included headliners Jan Delay and Disko No. 1 (the Germans delivering “probably one of the best concerts in the history of Gampel”, according to organisers), Parov Stelar and Fritz Kalkbrenner, as well as Swiss artists such as Besides Lo and Leduc, Faber, Loco Escrito, Dabu Fanstatic, Mimiks and 77 Bombay Street.

Only those who could certify their Covid-19 status were allowed on site, and 88% of visitors were ready with their certificate at the gates. The remaining 12% of festivalgoers were tested on site, with all but four people testing negative. (Those four were given a voucher for the 2022 edition of OpenAir Gampel.)

OpenAir Gampel will return at full capacity next year (18–21 August 2022), with international artists booked by Derrick Thomson at Mainland Music.

 


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Mainland Music hires Andrej Malogajski

Swiss promoter Mainland Music has hired Openair Frauenfeld booker Andrej Malogajski.

The 35-year-old joins Mainland Music, since 2019 part of Live Nation GSA, from Pleasure Productions, which he joined in 2008 and co-owns. Live Nation acquired Openair Frauenfeld, Europe’s biggest hip-hop festival, itself in summer 2017.

In addition to booking Frauenfeld (50,000-cap.), Malogajski has since 2017 handled international booking for Openair Lumnezia and since 2018 Lakelive Festival, and is part of the booking team for major rock/pop event Gurtenfestival (20,000-cap.) in Bern. He was also one of IQ’s New Bosses in 2016.

Malogajski will work in the same position for Zurich-based Mainland

From 1 August, Malogajski will be working in the same position for Zurich-based Mainland, with which Thun-based Pleasure Productions is connected “on a business and friendly basis”, according to a statement from the two firms. Additionally, Pleasure will remain a partner of Openair Frauenfeld in all areas apart from booking.

Led by Christian Gremelmayr, Derrick Thomson and Santosh Aerthott, Mainland Music, formed in 2012, is one of Switzerland’s leading concert and festival promoters, organising more than 650 shows a year.

 


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