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Euro festival bosses upbeat ahead of 2023 season

European festival bosses tell IQ they are approaching the 2023 season with positivity as a mixed picture emerges of the sector’s fortunes.

Download’s Germany spin-off was cancelled yesterday, with organisers citing production issues caused by the “massive number of open-air events”. The event joined a number of other major festivals including Falls Festival (Australia), Rolling Loud (US), Summerburst (Sweden), Hills of Rock (Bulgaria), InMusic (Croatia), Wireless GermanyHear Hear (Belgium) and Tempelhof Sounds and Tempelhof Sounds Presents (Germany) in not returning this year.

FKP Scorpio CEO Folkert Koopmans, meanwhile, recently laid bare the post-pandemic financial struggles faced by the scene, reckoning that only 20% are still profitable. However, more encouraging reports have surfaced elsewhere in the marketplace.

DEAG chief Peter Schwenkow tells IQ the business is “on track with our business plan” for the summer ahead. The Berlin-headquartered company added Germany’s electronic music-oriented Airbeat One and psychedelic trance festival Indian Spirit to its portfolio last year, and also runs outdoor events such as the UK’s Live at Chelsea, Kew the Music and Belladrum through its Kilimanjaro Live subsidiary.

In its Q1 report last week, DEAG revealed more than 500,000 tickets have already been sold for its open-air festivals, and Schwenkow describes demand as “strong and late”, adding that cost control is the circuit’s overriding concern.

“Frankly, it’s a challenge to navigate rising costs while keeping the ticket prices as low as possible”

Also in Germany, FKP Scorpio MD Stephan Thanscheidt has a similar viewpoint when it comes to the biggest challenge facing the business.

“That would be, without a doubt, the rising production costs, which averaged across all sectors are over 40% higher than before the pandemic,” he tells IQ. “The reasons for this are the long-term consequences of the pandemic and the terrible war in Ukraine, which have made energy in particular more expensive. This effect is, after all, felt in all sectors of the economy and had in the meantime made itself felt in Germany with the highest inflation in 70 years.”

Thanscheidt continues: “In this climate, we have to finance every single item of our major events ourselves: Every metre of construction fencing, the entire technical infrastructure such as stages, sound, lighting and video technology, but also tent structures, sanitary facilities, space rentals, rapidly rising personnel costs and artist fees, GEMA, insurance, cleaning, innovation as well as sustainability.

“This incomplete list alone makes it clear that a very large part of our turnover is spent on covering these enormous costs. At the same time, we do our utmost to pass on only a fraction of these costs to our guests, as the comparatively moderate increase in ticket prices shows.

“Frankly, it’s a challenge to navigate rising costs while keeping the ticket prices as low as possible. So far, we’ve kept our prices on the lower end of the spectrum at our own expense, but we won’t be able to hold this up forever – the economy as a whole needs to go back to normal.”

“Advance sales for this year have started with record sales in 2022, and the overall demand is still strong”

Speaking to Radio Eins, Stephan Benn from German cultural association Liveinitiative NRW estimates that festival ticket prices have risen by 30% on average in the country (albeit tickets for several 2022 events were frozen at 2020 prices).

Tickets for Nuremberg’s Rock im Park are priced at up to €300 – an increase of around €70 on last year – necessitated by rising costs of 45% “in many areas”, according to spokesperson Carolin Hilzinger. Elsewhere, metal institution Wacken Open Air sold out in five hours after raising its admission price from €239 to €299 and adding an extra day, while Lollapalooza Berlin increased prices by €10 but has sold more tickets than at the same time last year.

Thanscheidt says that ticket sales for FKP’s festival season got off to a record-breaking start, and remain healthy. Its flagship Hurricane and Southside events will welcome the likes of Muse, Die Ärzte, Kraftklub, Placebo, Billy Talent, The 1975 and Queens Of The Stone Age next month.

“Advance sales for this year have started with record sales in 2022, and the overall demand is still strong,” says Thanscheidt. “The fact that our festival brands like Hurricane and Southside are among the very few major festivals in Germany heading for a sell-out this year is a great result in view of the overall economic situation and increased costs everywhere. We’re thankful and happy, although margins are very slim to non-existent – even with a fully sold-out festival.”

“Squeezing festivals and their clients with exploding artist fees is not a sustainable development for the entire industry”

In Switzerland, Paléo Festival booker Dany Hassenstein is toasting a record-breaking sellout for the Nyon event, which will host artists such as Rosalia, Indochine, Martin Garrix, Black Eyed Peas, Sigur Ros, Alt-J, Aya Nakamura and Placebo.

“We are observing increasing general demand from all generations,” Hassenstein tells IQ. “Festivals’ social and environmental responsibility is more and more important. Support from festival for social media content creation by visitors is a must.”

Nonetheless, Hassenstein points out issues regarding “general inflation, overall rental costs and lack of qualified staff”, as well as rising artist fees.

“Squeezing festivals and their clients with exploding artist fees is not a sustainable development for the entire industry,” he adds.

“Sales for 2023 are holding up well, with audiences choosing festivals as good value events that they want to attend”

John Rostron, CEO of the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) tells IQ that sales are “holding up well” within the organisation’s membership, which reached 100 earlier this year.

“There are no plans for any Association of Independent Festival members to cancel their festivals,” notes Rostron. “Sales for 2023 are holding up well, with audiences choosing festivals as good value events that they want to attend. Lots of people are taking up payment plans too, paying a little every month, and that seems to be helping everyone make their way to their favourite events.”

Rostron points out, however, that a few member festivals have announced that this year will be their last event.

“There are some similar themes for each one choosing to come to an end: the rising costs of putting on an event – the fees artists are charging and the supply chain costs, which have risen by around 30% are the two biggest problems – have all increased what was already a risky business into something they no longer want to be involved in.

“Of course, the odd thing is that all of these events are either now sold out, or way ahead in terms of selling tickets, as everyone wants to make sure they go one last time. So at least they’ll all have a really good send off.”

Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn also offered his thoughts on the current state of play. Launching the company’s upcoming series of events in Dublin’s Marlay Park, Benn said the cost of putting on large events in Ireland is “not prohibitive yet” and doesn’t expect it to become so despite costs “going through the roof”.

“We work hard every single day to keep the prices at an economic level,” said Benn, as per the Irish Examiner. “I think we do that successfully which is why we have the equivalent of seven sold-out nights at Marlay Park. I think it’s a testament to how we work so hard to keep them down.”


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Festival heads debate red line for ticket prices

European festival promoters engaged in a heated debate about increasing ticket prices during a panel discussion at the recent ILMC.

Festival Forum: Mud Baths & Outdoor Pursuits saw Holger Jan Schmidt (Go Group/Yourope) moderate a discussion between Melvin Benn (Festival Republic, UK), Mikolaj Ziółkowski (Alter Art, PL), Nika Brunet Milunovic (MetalDays, SI) and Maiju Talvisto (Flow Festival, FI).

With all agreeing that the supply of artists, customers and infrastructure is stable for the 2023 festival season, the panel’s sticking point was how to keep tickets reasonably priced.

“There is almost always a moment in every economy when you feel you are being ripped off”

Apart from one Festival Republic event, the organisers on the panel said that they had increased prices for all of their festivals.

“We are reaching a red line,” warned Ziółkowski, who promotes Open’er, Orange Warsaw, Kraków Live in Poland. “There is almost always a moment in every economy when you feel you are being ripped off.”

“Generally, prices are higher and people are not earning more money. So probably in summer 2023, people won’t be able to buy two or three festival tickets, they’ll only be able to go to one. We have to be so clever to be more interesting and more flavorful than other cultural offerings,” he concluded.

Benn, who promotes Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Wireless and Download among other festivals, argued: “We don’t know where that red line is. We want to keep the ticket prices down but we have to compete and pay artists what they want. At a point, the public either says we’ll buy the ticket or we won’t buy it. That’s the risk; that’s the business we’re in.”

“The dilemma is: what is too expensive?… it’s relative”

Both Ziółkowski and Schmidt aired concerns high ticket prices may render festivals financially inaccessible for a large chunk of the audience.

“It’s important that we are trying to keep prices for festivals and headline shows reasonable because music should not be for rich people. Music should be for all people,” said Ziółkowski.

Schmidt echoed his point: “I would also argue that if we raise the ticket price [too much], we will exclude people who can’t afford the ticket so they will not be able to come to the festival.”

MetalDays’ Milunovic added: “The dilemma is: what is too expensive? It depends on what you get for the money that you pay for the ticket. It’s relative.”

“There’s no such thing as cuddly capitalism. Entertainment costs”

Benn commented that maintaining a top tier line up for festivals such as Reading and Leeds was crucial to their ongoing success, adding that prices would inevitably rise given the ongoing hikes in costs that all organisers are facing.  “We have to do what the market demands,” he said. “If ticket prices go up and people don’t come, we’ve lost out – so we have to try and balance it.”

Flow Festival’s Talvisto agreed that it’s a balancing act to keep costs down but pointed out that “there aren’t that many pieces in the puzzle where we can increase the revenue”.


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Festival focus: Melvin Benn

Melvin Benn is often regarded as one of the founding fathers of the UK festival industry. Now, as managing director of Live Nation-owned Festival Republic, he is responsible for festivals including Latitude, Wireless, Download, and Ireland’s Electric Picnic. During Covid, he was central to securing the return of live music, through a concerted campaign of lobbying and planning, and by funding test events. In an extended excerpt from IQ‘s recently published European Festival Report, he opens up on the travails of the last three years and explains why festivals remain integral to cultural life…

What did it take for you and the team to get through the pandemic?
“In truth, Covid was one of the most stressful and traumatic periods of my life. Like many people, I had people close to me personally die because of Covid. And the numbers of people getting infected was so high. But what was particularly challenging for all of our industry is that the creative industries are made up of people that are doers. There wouldn’t be a Leeds festival if I hadn’t got off my arse to create it; there wouldn’t be a Latitude and so on. We’re all made up of people that just want to do things and create things and create excitement for the public to enjoy. So the frustration of not being able to do so was immense. So in June 2020, I came up with something called the Full Capacity Plan because it became apparent that transmission was airborne. This plan was based on people wearing masks, and people gathering together that had been tested and proven to be clear, so the rise of Covid would be not substantially greater than the rise in general society.

“I trotted off to every government department that you could imagine, with the industry behind me, and made a lot of effort to try and get us back working. Eventually, when it fitted government plans to get events back on the road, particularly because of the desire to hold Wimbledon and the European Football Championship, they started listening. Initially though, they didn’t accept the music industry as being a test environment – they wanted to put us in the same environment as football fans in a stadium. I felt that left us vulnerable – I could imagine the government’s scientists saying ‘this is great, we can open the football, but we should have done some research around music and we didn’t so music can’t open’. So I spent an intense three weeks hammering on government, for us to be allowed to do that, which resulted in the Sefton Park trial in Liverpool and the Download trial.

“One of the people that was most significant helping me at that time was Sir Nicholas Hytner. He’d been appointed to the government intelligence squad of people that would advise on getting it all back together. And he understood the need for it, and saw the government didn’t want to do one because they didn’t want to pay for it. It was more complicated than that, but it was only my insistence and willingness to pay for the events myself, through Festival Republic and Live Nation that really allowed it to go ahead. The frustration around that was immense.

“I felt a great responsibility in order to help the industry”

“There were lots of people involved in many aspects trying to get us on the back, such as the LIVE group. I felt a great responsibility in order to help the industry. What I found interesting was how much the visibility of the music industry – myself and others constantly being in the press, on the radio, TV, and so on, pushing to get us open – how much that gave encouragement to my team and the general industry. The amount of people that contacted me to say, ‘this is amazing, Melvin’. And even now, I bump into people that I haven’t seen since Covid, and they say ‘listening to you on the radio is one of the things that kept me going – it kept us believing that we would reopen’. There are a number of leaders in this industry and I think they all allowed the wider industry to feel an element of hope that we would get back.

“March 2020 through to May ’21 when we had the first test were probably the worst 16 months of my adult life because of the frustration of being someone that wants to do things been prevented from doing them. Especially when the plan that I’d created in 2020 was the plan that the government rolled out for the whole of the test programme for football and sport around.

“When I did the test events in Sefton Park and at Download in early June, I had a constant belief that I would have been able to do Glastonbury too. But the government didn’t have the appetite for that. And I’m not criticising them for that. What they were dealing with was much bigger than anything that we were dealing with. But what we were dealing with was pretty big in our lives.”

“Audiences are interested in ever-improving standards. And that can only be good for our industry”

So what did it mean to you when your events came back properly for the first time?
“It can’t be described anything other than absolute joy. You know, everybody associated with getting gates open feels joy every time we open a date, every time we open the doors of a venue – it’s because we live to create and invent. So there’s joy all the time, but the feeling when you realised that you could do it after the pandemic was immeasurable. But

“We had huge Covid protocols for the staff. You have to build a significant element of resilience for very large events in order to feel confident that it would happen. At Glastonbury last year, for instance, we had a whole work environment where people could continue working if they caught Covid and felt well enough to be able to continue. And it was pretty busy.”

What trends are you seeing?
“Audiences are interested in ever-improving standards. And that can only be good for our industry. The public forum of TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media can be hard to deal with it, because it’s quite a challenge because everyone can see someone complaining about an overflowing bin, for example. But what it also does, is it helps inform my team about what festival-goers are thinking. My social media teams start talking to the person who’s posted the picture of the bin, asking them where it is, and we can get it rectified in real time. So that direct interactivity between the festival producers and festival-goers, is quite new. The more that you interact with them, the more they’ll come back. They’ll say ‘I saw a problem. I reported a problem, they fixed it.’ I’m okay with that. That level of interaction also informs issues such as sustainability and diversity, which is very important.”

“In 1989 there were only two festivals in this country: Reading and Glastonbury. It’s how much people’s lives have changed. Festivals are a cultural gathering”

What challenges does the industry face?
“The obvious thing is the supply chain and the labour shortage. I would say in the main we overcame those issues because the industry is made up of people that do things. To give you an example, we produce the Electric Picnic in Ireland. It’s the biggest event in Ireland. It takes place in September, and in late May the people we had contracted to provide power told us they couldn’t do it. In any year that hadn’t been preceded by two years of difficulty of Covid that would have been a catastrophe, but after two years of Covid we were just like ‘OK, thanks for telling us’. That we were able to overcome it was with the help of people like Sunbelt. It’s a massive company that owns trackway and all that stuff but they never had a power division. But they said, ‘OK, we’ll create one.'”

What’s the importance of festivals to cultural life?
“Festivals have been around for hundreds of years. We’re bringing, light and enjoyment to people’s lives. People are able to gather among like-minded people at festivals. And that’s a great feeling – it’s a cultural uplift. They make you feel relaxed when society is constantly putting immense pressure on communities and individuals every day. The ability for doctors or nurses, or accountants or office workers to be able to come out and let themselves go gives them a release from the daily pressures that they live under.

“There were lots of people including my staff who would come to me in tears with the emotion of what they’d helped to get back on the road. You just have to look at forums or social media and you’ll see people talking about where they’re going to camp – and it can be almost a year before the next festival – some haven’t even bought their ticket yet. That’s how important it is.

“If you think that in 1989 there were only two festivals in this country: Reading and Glastonbury. It’s how much people’s lives have changed. Festivals are a cultural gathering.”

Benn is one of the confirmed speakers for the Festival Forum session at ILMC on Wednesday 1 March from 2pm. Read the European Festival Report in full below.



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Festival Republic to bring grid power to festivals

Festival Republic is partnering with Music Declares Emergency (MDE) to bring grid power to festivals and reduce carbon emissions for the sector.

The Festival Republic-funded collaboration falls under MDE’s No Music On A Dead Planet climate campaign which has previously won support from the likes of Billie Eilish, Foals and Brian Eno.

Live Nation-backed Festival Republic will support the project with the aim of using fully renewably powered, grid-connected stages at three of its events for the 2023 festival season. It will also help create a pathway for other promoters and event organisers to follow suit.

For the first time, Reading & Leeds this year will be powered by 100% HVO biofuel – a renewable form of fuel that has 90% less carbon equivalent emissions than regular diesel.

In addition, Reading will launch a priority car park for car sharers with GoCarShare, as well as a paper cup and rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) bottle deposit return scheme and a ‘Take Your Tent Home’ campaign. Additionally, no virgin single-use plastic will be sold at the festival (all bottles are rPET).

“This project will be a game changer for outdoor live events”

Festival Republic MD, Melvin Benn, says: “This project will be a game changer for outdoor live events. Generating our own temporary power is the highest contributor of on-site Greenhouse Gas emissions at a festival, and by plugging into the grid we will reduce this significantly.

“By doing this, and sharing our knowledge with others, festival goers can have an amazing time at festivals safe in the knowledge that we are doing everything we can as event organisers to create events that have positive rather than negative impacts.”

Music Declares Emergency co-founder, Lewis Jamieson, says: “Festival Republic and Melvin personally have been at the forefront of action on climate and environmental issues within the music industry for years.

“In partnering with MDE to make renewable event power a reality, they are not just continuing FR’s transition towards a greener future but offering the entire live sector an invaluable pathway that will benefit the whole live music community. We are delighted to be working with Festival Republic on such a visible example of the difference positive music businesses can make in relation to the climate crisis.”


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Festival Republic, Louder plan new London festival

Festival Republic and Louder have announced a new festival, slated to take place in London during the August bank holiday.

The inaugural edition of Electricity City will take place on Clapham Common, in southwest London, on Sunday 28 August.

Chase & Status, Headie One, Hybrid Minds and JME Presents are among the acts set to play the one-day event.

The festival has also secured a number of exclusive sets including Sub Focus B2B Wilkinson (UK festival exclusive), Skream UKG set (London festival exclusive) and Chase & Status (London exclusive).

Last year, Festival Republic launched three new one-day festivals on the August bank holiday at Clapham Common

Last year, Live Nation-backed Festival Republic and Louder launched three new one-day festivals on the August bank holiday at Clapham Common – Yam Carnival, Return II Dance and ALT + LDN. Lambeth Council, which presides over the Common, reportedly accumulated £300,000 from the festivals.

This year, Yam Carnival will return to its Saturday slot for a second edition, while Electric City will replace Return II Dance. ALT + LDN is billed to return in 2022 though no further details have been announced.

Festival Republic’s stable of festivals also includes Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Wireless, Wilderness and Download – all of which took place last year, in the UK.


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International Festival Forum 2021 marks a return to form

After 2020’s online-only version, the International Festival Forum (IFF) enjoyed a successful return to a physical event in late September, as more than 600 delegates registered for the event that focuses on booking agents and festivals.

Enthusiasm for IFF was evident at the opening party, hosted by UTA, where many delegates renewed acquaintances with colleagues they had not seen in the flesh since the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) in March 2020.

With agency partners reporting oversubscribed speed-meetings at their pop-up offices around Camden, the conference element included a number of pre-recorded sessions, covering such topics as Your Next Headliner – Climate Action; Festival Playground – the Future of Music Festivals; Festival Insurance in a Post-Pandemic World; and Counting the Cost of Brexit.

The keynote saw CAA’s Maria May interviewing Festival Republic chief Melvin Benn and FKP Scorpio founder Folkert Koopmans, who delivered an optimistic message about the future of the business.

“[Festival Republic] is starting new festivals in 2022… we’ve got to try and keep up with Folkert”

Both men noted that there had been no dialogue between the live music industry and the government prior to Covid, meaning much of the last 18 months had been spent educating politicians and persuading them to help support the business.

Quizzed by May about what could be done to help emerging talent, given that many festival line-ups have rolled over into 2022, Benn revealed that he would be launching new events next year. “I am starting new festivals in 2022,” he said.”I’ve always got to have at least one because I try to keep up with Folkert. So, we’ve got at least one or two next year, and that will give new talent the opportunity to start getting to play to a bigger audience.”

“When I hear that Melvin is doing two or three new festivals, we might do four,” quipped Koopmans. However, he admitted that staffing was a problem and along with spiralling costs it means there will be some tough choices to make, so establishing any new showcase festivals might have to wait.

But he predicted that not only will the 2022 season go ahead, but “It will be the biggest year ever. And I suppose the next years will just grow. I’m super optimistic.”

“There might not be a complete shutdown, but booking a European tour in February, at the height of flu season, will be a huge risk”

Benn concluded that the industry can also take a lead on sustainability. “Now it feels like everybody is on the same page – artists, managers, promoters, agents, suppliers and fans – and collectively there’s a lot we can do together and that needs to be one of the greatest collaborations that the music industry can continue with.”

Elsewhere, The Agency Business panel examined the recently announced CAA and ICM Partners acquisition, with panellists agreeing that the deal could provide opportunities for independent agencies, while former CAA staffer Jon Ollier admitted to being “fascinated” by the merger, noting that CAA will be determined to preserve the company’s culture.

And it was Ollier, now boss of One Fiinix Live, who shared his belief that one potential outcome of the Covid pandemic may be that the industry will lose its winter season. “There might not be a complete shutdown, but booking a European tour in February, at the height of flu season, will be a huge risk. So why not follow the sun around the globe to mitigate that risk?”

ATC Live head Alex Bruford noted that rebuilding consumer confidence would be a major challenge, while he predicted a more flexible approach to touring where acts may put on a series of arena dates at short notice as market conditions change.

“AEG’s Jim King called out the scandal of guest-list ticketing fall-off, which has been 40% on some shows”

The conference’s opener involved a Therapy Session where delegates shared stories from the past 18 months, alongside plans to rebuild and reopen their various markets for live events.

With Barnaby Harrod (Mercury Wheels) and Claire Courtney (Earth Agency) onstage to represent the different parts of the business, those in the room heard a number of tales, with arguably the most inspiring related by Georg Leitner of GLP, who revealed that Syrian refugees are being recruited by security firms in Germany to help that sector get back to full strength ahead of the 2022 season.

Paradigm’s Clementine Bunel, meanwhile, moderated The Roaring 20s? where she and her guests examined whether the rest of the decade could be a golden era for live music. And while the future could indeed be rosy, multiple challenges were identified, not the least of which will be sharp rises in ticket prices to cover spiralling costs – an issue that Lowlands Festival’s Eric van Eerdenburg warned could prevent young fans from attending.

And noting increased drop-off rates at recent live events throughout Europe, AEG’s Jim King called out the scandal of guest-list ticketing fall-off, which has been 40% on some shows, compared to 10-12% normally. “It’s outrageous,” he blasted.

The afternoon and evening programmes at IFF once again featured some of the hottest emerging talent on the rosters of ITB, Earth Agency, Paradigm, Primary Talent & ICM Partners, Marshall Live, X-ray Touring, and ATC Live, while Music Venue Trust used the occasion to bring down the curtain on their nationwide Revive Live Tour, as well as sponsoring the closing IFF party.

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Melvin Benn: “I have reason to feel triumphant”

Just two months after the British government confirmed the full reopening of the country’s live music sector, Festival Republic has completed all seven of its domestic events.

The Live Nation-owned promoter has not only delivered Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Clapham Common, Wireless, Wilderness and Download Pilot – it has also been an integral part of the government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), which paved the way for the UK’s reopening.

On the back of a particularly busy summer, and in advance of Benn’s double keynote interview with Folkert Koopmans at the upcoming International Festival Forum, IQ met with the Festival Republic MD onsite at Wireless Festival to discuss his last event of 2021.


IQ: Amid a global pandemic and frequent uncertainty, you may be one of the only festival promoters in the world to pull off seven festivals in 2021. How triumphant are you feeling right now?

MB: It is an achievement. I think I am probably the only one. The team is exhausted because we have had to work incredibly hard to make these festivals happen. We’re sat here on 12 September, exactly two months from 12 July when the prime minister announced that things could open up again. And actually, until the 12 July, as much as we thought something might happen, we didn’t know. So we’ve literally had two months to put everything together. That’s really tough – particularly, on the back of the pandemic and the difficulty with the supply chain and other post-Brexit issues. I’ve got reason to be triumphant.

Today (12 September) marks another significant win for the British live music sector, as the health minister has said vaccine passports will not be required at events. What was your reaction to the news?

If I’m being really honest, our ideal world is no vaccine certification at all. So we’re really pleased about that. Would we have carried on with Covid certification (as a pose to vaccine certification) if we had to? Yes, we would’ve just got on with it because we want to make shows happen. What the health minister appears to have confirmed… is a massive step forward for us. It means that the government is pretty happy with its control of Covid. It’s a great statement for us as an industry too. The UK live music scene is truly open now.

No Covid certification or vaccine certification is a massive step forward for us

Unlike other Festival Republic events, Covid certification and testing were not enforced at Wireless, only recommend. What was the thinking behind that decision?

Two reasons. One is, legally, I don’t need to. Another is, it’s not a camping festival – people weren’t here for lots of days. And tracing the contraction of Covid to a particular location in London is really hard because people move around London so much – especially with the transport. We’re very largely a London audience. It didn’t seem to make any sense from an economic standpoint. All the crew, staff and artists are being tested though.

Wireless moved from Finsbury Park to Crystal Palace Park for this year only. How have you found the new location?

Amazing, really fantastic. It’s a beautiful, historic park and I’ve loved learning things about it, and about the neighbourhood. The beauty of the park is what really drew me to it. It’s also really special to have an audience arena that’s on two levels. I think it’s probably the best sound in London because of the nature of the way the site is. All the agents have been telling me as much.

I think Wireless probably has the best sound in London because of the nature of the way [Crystal Palace Park] is

It sounds like you’ve got an affinity with Crystal Palace Park. Will you be returning in any capacity?

We’re going to go back to Finsbury Park next year with Wireless but I will be returning to Crystal Palace Park. There are a couple of things that I’m looking at… some concert days. I’ve one activity that I think will be really good – a big American thing that I’m very excited about. I’m not able to say what it is but it’s already contracted for mid-July 2022 and then I’m going to build some concert dates around it. I’ve gone into a long term arrangement with the park and the trust and I’m committed to Crystal Palace now.

One pandemic-related problem is international artists dropping out of lineups. Wireless hasn’t just retained its international lineup, it has also included surprise guest features from the likes of Drake. What’s your secret? 

The thing is, hip-hop acts are generally not travelling with so much backline, or a full band. They rehearse in a smaller space. It’s very expensive for a band to rehearse and get hotels and bring crew and a team. Hip-hop has the ability to travel lighter, with fewer people and therefore, for what is one-off shows, it’s still worth travelling. Bands need to be amortising those costs across lots of festivals around Europe. The drop out of American acts has largely been due to mainland Europe not being able to host shows.

We’re going to go back to Finsbury Park next year with Wireless but I will be returning to Crystal Palace Park

Wireless has a storied past with guest features. Why do you think this is?

What’s really nice about Wireless is, it’s exclusively within the genre. Every hip-hop act, grime act, drill act wants to be here and they all know each other and they all feed off each other. They know each other’s songs inside and out so they can come up and guest really easily. That’s a joy. You can feel the buzz in the backstage area. Friends are bumping into friends. It is the festival they want to play.


More information about how to attend the International Festival Forum (IFF), along with the full event schedule, is online at

Ireland’s MCD: “We are angry and disappointed”

MCD Productions boss Denis Desmond says the Republic of Ireland’s live sector is “frustrated, disappointed and angry,” by the prolonged shutdown of the industry.

Industry representatives held a two-hour meeting with ROI’s minister for arts yesterday (18 August) but still, no date was set for the return of live concerts and cultural events.

“There are 35,000 people who are employed in the sector who haven’t worked in 525 days and it’s terrible,” Desmond tells IQ. “It’s very hard on people who have families and mortgages to pay. The government support is a small amount of money. A lot of people are struggling – not only financially but mentally.”

In comparison, the UK’s live industry has been fully open for a month and Scotland lifted most restrictions on 9 August.

Festival Republic director Melvin Benn told RTÉ’s News at One that the failure to allow live music events to return, including Electric Picnic (co-promoted with MCD), is “unnecessary and wrong,” given Ireland’s high vaccination rate.

He went on to say that Ireland’s situation contrasted with “political leadership” in other countries, including the UK. “It isn’t a different virus [in Ireland].”

“What we really need is a full reopening and a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to the UK”

The promoters’ comments come after their event, Electric Picnic, was denied a licence by the local council on the grounds of the current restrictions.

“We’re still looking at the options and we have written to the government asking why they made the decision. We’ve been assured that we’ll get an answer by next Monday so we’ll wait until we get a reply to review what happens next,” says Desmond.

The government has also promised a roadmap for reopening by the end of next week but it won’t be a silver bullet for the industry, says the MCD boss.

“What we really need is a full reopening and a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to the UK,” he tells IQ. “The most important thing about the UK’s scheme is that the insurance package is valid for 12 months because Covid is not going away. We’ve got to learn to live with it but there needs to be support for businesses.”

Desmond believes the lack of support for Ireland’s live music industry – and other markets in Europe – is down to a lack of understanding. “The reality is, there is little understanding of the contribution this industry makes to the economy and to the wellbeing of people,” he says.

The Republic of Ireland’s perceived lack of understanding is likely exacerbated by a lack of representation in political spheres. It was recently revealed that minister for arts Catherine Martin – whose plan to reopen the sector was snubbed by government – is not yet on the cabinet committee on Covid-19.

The Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) says the lack of representation is “disastrous” for the industry.


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Benn, Koopmans line up for IFF 2021 keynote

Melvin Benn and Folkert Koopmans, two of Europe’s most successful festival promoters, have been announced for a unique double keynote interview at the International Festival Forum in London in September.

For the IFF Keynote, Benn, the managing director of Festival Republic, and Koopmans, who holds the same role at FKP Scorpio, will be interviewed by Maria May, head of electronic/international at CAA, who’ll quiz the two industry leaders on recent events, what shape the recovery will take and what comes next for the summer scene.

“Expect 60 minutes of deep insight and expertise,” say organisers, “in what is sure to be a standing-room only session” for which early arrival is strongly recommended.

After going online only in 2020, the International Festival Forum will return this September as a physical, non-socially distanced event, complemented by an online pass for delegates who are unable to travel.

The first major live music industry gathering in 18 months, IFF 2021 will kick off with the opening party on Tuesday 28 September and end late on Thursday 30 September. The invitation-only event for music festivals and booking agents will feature the usual mix of showcases, conference sessions, keynotes, pop-up up offices, networking events and more.

The two industry leaders will speak on recent events, what shape the recovery will take and what comes next for the summer scene

The first booking agency partners for IFF 2021 were announced earlier this month, with longstanding supporters United Talent Agency (UTA), X-ray Touring, Paradigm Talent Agency, ATC Live and Primary Talent International/ICM Partners all returning for 2021, while Earth Agency joins as a partner for the first year. All partner agencies will showcase their hottest new artists, festival-ready for 2022.

The provisional schedule for IFF, including details of conference panels, showcases and venues, is now live on the IFF website. Some 800 delegates, including all the major international music festivals and agents, are expected to attend this year’s IFF, which returns to Camden, north London, for the sixth year.

New for this year will be an online element which allows all delegates to watch back every conference session on demand for up to 30 days after the event. For anyone who can’t travel to London, meanwhile, an online-only registration is also available.

Over 120 music festivals have already confirmed their attendance at IFF 2021, with a quarter of tickets sold with nearly three months to go. Discounted summer rate passes for IFF, which include meals, drinks and more, are available now for £315, saving £30 on the late-summer rate. Click here for more info.


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10,000 enjoy moshing without masks at Download Pilot

The organisers of Download Pilot – the UK’s first major camping festival of its kind since lockdown – are hailing it a resounding success and are confident that the test will encourage government to green-light other summer events.

The specially created three-day festival took place over the 18–20 June weekend as part of the second phase of the UK government’s scientific Events Research Programme (ERP). The Download Pilot involved 10,000 metal fans welcomed to the hallowed grounds of rock in Donington Park to enjoy a fully-fledged festival experience with no social distancing, no masks and moshing allowed.

All attendees were required to take both a PCR and lateral-flow test prior to the event, sharing details with the NHS contact-tracing system. Attendees had to show proof of a negative result to enter the festival gates and have committed to submitting a second PCR test five days post-event to help scientists monitor any Covid-19 infection activity.

Headlined by Enter Shikari, Bullet for My Valentine and Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, 40 acts in total from the UK’s world-leading rock scene waived their fees, united by the prospect of moving the live events industry forward and playing in front of an audience for the first time in over a year.

As the last of the fans left the venue today, promoter Festival Republic dismissed any notion that live events are not possible while the Covid-19 pandemic continues. “[This] is 100% evidence that this is not true,” stated managing director Melvyn Benn. “This is a very clear demonstration that you can do it.”

“This is a very clear demonstration that you can do it”

He continued, “It’s really fantastic. I am very heart-warmed by it all. The level of compliance around the testing and requirements we have is absolutely extraordinary. It is coupled with a level of normality that is equally extraordinary when you have been out of it for so long.”

Benn believes the data gathered through the festival will prove similar events can take place this summer. “In fairness, the [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] are on board with the message which is that these things can happen and they can happen safely,” he told reporters.

“What we want from Download is data that scientists can analyse that will effectively reinforce that position, and that data is being gathered and I am certain it will do just that.”

Indeed, another Festival Republic gathering, Latitude, has confirmed it will go ahead for its 22–25 July event, while it’s expected that the Reading and Leeds festivals in August will also proceed as planned.

Benn added that following talks with the DCMS in recent days, he felt “sufficiently encouraged” to push ahead with Latitude and he suggested the UK government is finalising plans to launch a limited coronavirus insurance scheme that will allow other festivals to push ahead with their 2021 editions.

“There is no guarantee, but I believe the government will come forward with a limited government-backed insurance scheme,” he commented. “It wouldn’t be everything that we want, by any means, but it would certainly be enough to encourage us to all get going again.”

“We urge the government to reappraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports”

However, while that optimism will buoy the UK business, any government backing has come too late for Kendal Calling festival, which today criticised the government for delaying the publication of ERP report, as it outlined the decision to shelve its festival for the second year running.

“Without this safety guidance, there are numerous aspects of the festival we cannot plan, and which could lay us wide open to last minute unforeseen regulations or requirements which could scupper an already built festival,” reads a statement on the Kendal Calling website. “Capacity or density restrictions, track and trace protocol, testing regime, Covid certification – a host of unknown actions required, yet potentially requested too late to be implemented.

“Our understanding is that the DCMS are keen to publish the ERP findings and guidance, but that it now does not fit around [the British government’s] communications plan. This is insulting to our entire industry, who have been awaiting the results of a pilot event that took place almost two months ago to inform our approach to staging events safely this summer.

“This has been a frankly devastating 16 months for our industry. If calls for a government-backed insurance scheme had been heeded – as recommended by the DCMS, emulating successful schemes now up and running in other countries – we could have potentially continued to plan and invest in the coming weeks. We take this opportunity to urge the government to reappraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports, as the continued lack of leadership hampers the recovery of our live event industry.”

Meanwhile, the iconic Notting Hill Carnival will also not go ahead in 2021, it has been confirmed, for similar pandemic concerns.


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