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Reading & Leeds unveils ‘groundbreaking’ new stage

Reading & Leeds has unveiled details of a ‘groundbreaking’ new stage called The Chevron, featuring the world’s first floating video canopy.

The 40,000-capacity open-air stage will be positioned in the main arena of both festival sites, signalling “the return of the singular iconic main stage”.

The Prodigy, Sonny Fodera and Skrillex are set to headline The Chevron, which will be largely dedicated to dance and hip-hop acts.

Nia Archives, Barry Can’t Swim, Denzel Curry, Bou, Kenya Grace and Digga D will also inaugurate the stage.

The bespoke structure, billed as a “feat of engineering”, will feature a canopy made up of hundreds of thousands of programmable LED lights. With mesh that is 90% transparent, the LEDs appear to be floating in the air.

“This year I saw the opportunity to do something new and truly special, reflecting the audience’s evolving tastes”

The Chevron will also be the new home of the world’s biggest silent disco, which last year was headlined by SIGMA in a live simulcast set across both sites.

“The Chevron is more than just a physical stage; it’s a testament to Reading & Leeds’ continued commitment to innovation and industry leadership,” says Festival Republic managing director Melvin Benn.

“We demonstrated this previously, with the introduction and success of dual main stages in 2021. This year I saw the opportunity to do something new and truly special, reflecting the audience’s evolving tastes and cutting-edge production the show is known for. This elevates our electronic and hip-hop music offerings, while still delivering six main-stage headliners and a strong representation across other genres. I can’t wait for everyone to experience The Chevron this summer.”

R&L takes place 21–25 August at Richfield Avenue, Reading and Bramham Park, Leeds, and is headlined by Fred again.., Lana Del Rey, Blink 182, Liam Gallagher, Gerry Cinnamon, Catfish and the Bottlemen.

Other recently announced acts include 21 Savage, RAYE, Skrillex, Jorja Smith, The Prodigy, Digga D, Spiritbox, Reneé Rap, Fontaines D.C, Denzel Curry, Kenny Beats, Beabadoobee, Kenya Grace, Nia Archives, Two Door Cinema Club, Neck Deep, The Wombats, Ashnikko, David Kushner, Rachel Chinouriri, Hak Baker and The Last Dinner Party.

 


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Festival Republic plans new three-day UK festival

Festival Republic has applied for a premises licence to stage a three-day music event in Luton, UK this spring.

Luton Borough Council’s licensing panel is due to consider the application today (22 January), with the event pencilled in for the Bedfordshire town’s Stockwood Park across the spring bank holiday.

The promoter is seeking permission to stage the festival between noon and 11.30pm Friday 24 May and 9.30am to 10.30pm on 25-26 May. The licence would allow entertainment including live music, recorded music, dance performances and films, in addition to the sale of alcohol.

Luton Today reports that a representation has been made by a local resident expressing concerns about the suitability of the site, which last hosted concerts by Bad Manners and Levellers in 2010.

“As this is the first large scale event to be held at Stockwood Park, there could be people turning up with the intention of listening to the music, but outside of the event area,” it reads.

The publication notes that a noise hotline would be available during the event, while Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn would consult the local community ahead of the event.

Bristol City Council has approved FKP Scorpio UK’s bid to stage a series of outdoor concerts in the city centre despite local opposition

Also in the UK, Tower Hamlets Council has backed a decision to allow medium and large events at London’s Victoria Park – home of AEG-promoted concert series All Points East – to increase in capacity from 500 to 5,000 and 5,000 to 20,000, respectively. Major events will remain at 50,000-cap, but will rise in frequency from 10 to 12 per year.

According to the BBC, Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman says the council had “no choice” but to hire out the park as another way of making money. The authority is hoping to generate £1.58 million (€1.85m) a year from the increased capacities as it seeks to tackle debt in excess of £68m.

However, some residents have slammed the mayor’s proposal as “a terrible idea that would ruin our park”, and are demanding the council carry out a consultation.

Elsewhere, FKP Scorpio UK’s bid to stage a series of outdoor concerts in Bristol has been approved by the city council despite local opposition. The company will present three 15,000-cap live music events in Queen Square from 9-11 August.

The concerts will be the biggest to take place in Queen Square, which hosts the main stage of Bristol Harbour Festival but is near a growing residential area, since Glastonbury’s Arcadia brought its fire-breathing spider to the square in 2015. Massive Attack also performed at the site in 2003.

 


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Skepta to curate new Festival Republic event

British grime star Skepta is curating a one-day festival in south London, promoted by Festival Republic.

The inaugural Big Smoke Festival will take place on 6 June at Crystal Palace Park and will be the only opportunity to see the Mercury Prize-winner perform in the UK in 2024.

One of the two stages at the festival will be hosted by Más Tiempo – the house music label from Skepta and acclaimed British rapper Jammer – showcasing the best live acts in dance.

Skepta and Más Tiempo recently became the first act to sell out Drumsheds – Broadwick’s new 15,000-capacity warehouse venue in north London – in advance of the show.

Discussing the new Big Smoke Festival, Skepta said: “I’m gassed to finally announce that Big Smoke Festival is official…I’m so excited, it’s been a wild one to do this. I just want to say thank you to all the supporters, it’s been a couple of years that you didn’t see me on a stage…

“I know a lot of people have been wondering when they’ll see Skepta at a festival and I really wanted to save all that energy and put it into something that was for us, by us. There’s going to be a live stage for all your favourite acts – anyone you know that’s affiliated with Skepta. There’ll be a live stage on one side and the Más Tiempo stage which will also be a full lineup. I might bust up one stage, fly over to the other one and link with Jammer. It’s gonna be crazy.”

“There’s going to be a live stage for all your favourite acts – anyone you know that’s affiliated with Skepta”

In recent years, Festival Republic has hosted a number of concerts and festivals in Crystal Palace Park, which is renowned for hosting concerts from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd.

Last year, the Live Nation-backed promoter organised Dog Day Afternoon with Iggy Pop, Blondie and Generation Sex, Community Festival with Two Door Cinema Club, The Wombats and The Vaccines, and a concert with The Lumineers.

In 2021, the promoter took Wireless, its flagship festival for rap and hip-hop, to the south London park for one year only.

That year, Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn told IQ that he had entered a “long-term arrangement with the park and the trust and I’m committed to Crystal Palace now”.

In other news, Live Nation last month signed a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to improve accessibility at Festival Republic’s events.

Under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, Live Nation is legally required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled attendees across its festival portfolio, which includes Wireless, Download, Latitude, Wilderness, and Reading and Leeds Festival.

 


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Electric Picnic date change attracts farmers’ ire

Ireland’s Electric Picnic has raised the ire of local farmers after bringing the festival forward to mid-August for 2024.

The 70,000-cap festival traditionally takes place later in the summer, with its most recent edition held from 1-3 September in Stradbally Hall, Co. Laois, headlined by Billie Eilish, Fred Again.. and The Killers.

But the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) says promoter Festival Republic should revise its plans to stage next year’s event from 16-18 August to avoid clashing with harvest season.

“This changing of the dates came out of the blue and it is going to cause huge problems for local farmers,” says IFA county chair John Fitzpatrick. “The dates announced for 2024… are right in the middle of harvest season. To expect that the harvest and the movement of grain can take place with 70,000 people piling into a small rural town is not realistic.

“It’s a time where there will be lots farm machinery on the roads at the busiest time of the year in one of the busiest tillage areas in the country. There needs to be serious dialogue to resolve this issue and everything must be on the table.”

Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn has denied suggestions the festival was moved to avoid Coldplay’s four concerts in Dublin’s Croke Park, which are set for 29 August to 2 September, stressing that the dates were chosen in order to accommodate certain acts.

“There were some artists we wanted to talk to and were interested in playing but could only make a couple of dates,” said Benn, as per Newstalk. “I just wanted to explore it, really, to see whether it would work, and various circumstantial reasons.

“In fairness I didn’t know it was blinking harvest season”

“Essentially some of the artists that we wanted to play next year could only play two weeks earlier. We just took a decision that we thought was the right thing, really.”

According to Laois Today, Benn played down the controversy when speaking to local media, saying he had already met with farmers to discuss the issue.

“In fairness I didn’t know it was blinking harvest season,” he laughed. “Maybe I should [have known] but I didn’t. I asked the landowner, and he didn’t bloody tell me and I was like, ‘Is everything ok to go?’ And he was, ‘Yeah, it’s all fine.’

“[The farmers] were a bit shocked but they’ve overcome their shock. Yesterday was the only day I didn’t meet them this week. I met them again this morning.

“I’ve given some of them the plan as to how I’m going to overcome it. It’s a good plan, they’ve accepted the plan and I can still get people into the grain store when the festival is on.”

However, Fitzpatrick says the IFA has had no discussions with the promoter, telling Laois Live Leinster Express: “We have never met, there have been no talks, there is no agreement and there was no contact between IFA.”

Benn, who said Electric Picnic would revert to its traditional weekend in 2025, added that he would be applying for planning permission to increase the capacity of the festival by 5,000 to 75,000 from next year.

 


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Top promoters tackle the new headliner debate

Leading UK promoters have spoken out on the live industry’s success rate at developing fresh stadium and festival headliners.

The new headliner question has been a perennial debate in the touring business over the past decade, amid claims of an over-reliance on heritage artists. Yet despite legends including Elton John, KISS, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne and the Eagles all retiring from the road, the pipeline appears to be as healthy as it has been in decades.

The summer of 2023 has witnessed open air spectaculars by an abundance of stars still in their 20s and early 30s such as Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, Burna Boy, The 1975, Arctic Monkeys, Wizkid, The Weeknd, Blackpink, Sam Fender and Bad Bunny, and AEG’s European Festivals chief Jim King is buoyed by the state of play.

“It’s a very interesting question because it comes up a lot,” he tells IQ. “But as I remind everybody: some of the biggest shows this year have been with young, contemporary artists, or certainly will be in the next 12 months.”

Blockbuster tours by Taylor Swift ($300.8 million), Harry Styles ($124m) and Ed Sheeran ($105.3m) all hit the nine-figure mark in H1 2023, with Swift’s Eras Tour on target to become the first concert tour in history to net more than US$1 billion, and Styles recently wrapped Love On Tour generating close to $600m overall.

“Harry Styles could probably still be playing Wembley now if they had the availability”

Only this week, meanwhile, it was announced that The Weeknd pulled in over 1.6 million fans to the European leg of his After Hours Til Dawn Tour. The Canadian shattered Wembley Stadium’s record for sales with a traditional concert set up with the stage at one end with 87,000 tickets sold, having also set a new attendance record for London Stadium after drawing 160,000 fans over two nights in July.

In Milan, the 33-year-old sold over 159,000 tickets, making him the first artist to sell out two nights at Ippodromo La Maura, with his shows in Paris marking the biggest sales for Stade de France this year, totalling to 151,000 across the two dates. His shows in Nice, France sold 70,000 tickets across two shows – the highest in the city’s history.

“We talk our supply chain of new headliners down so often, with other artists sadly no longer with us or retiring,” says King. “But if you look at this great run of stadium shows, there has been no bigger act in London this summer than The Weeknd, with two London Stadiums and a Wembley Stadium.

“Harry Styles could probably still be playing Wembley now if they had the availability. His quality as an artist is unquestionable, not just in terms of his music, but his live performances. Taylor Swift will set records next year, no doubt, as she continues to in North America, and Ed Sheeran continues to do so as well – and those are just the easy ones off the top of your head.”

King oversees the 65,000-cap BST Hyde Park in London, which this year featured seasoned headliners Guns N’ Roses, Take That, Billy Joel, Pink and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, plus contemporary superstars Blackpink and Lana Del Rey.

“Stadium business in the UK has never been stronger”

“The process of developing artists to that level has clearly changed since the 1970s, but most of the cultural industries have changed in some ways since then as well,” he adds. “I don’t feel any lack of optimism about the future – Lana Del Rey could have sold 100,000 tickets in London this summer if she’d have wanted to, such is the love and appreciation of where she is in her career. So I think the industry is in far better shape than people say.

“Stadium business in the UK has never been stronger. Trying to get avails for stadiums in the UK at the moment is beyond a challenge, and we know from The O2 and our other venues that live music is extremely strong – and that’s because of the quality of the artists. When quality sits in place, demand will follow.”

This weekend’s Reading & Leeds Festival (cap. 90,000 & 75,000, respectively) will be headlined by British artists Sam Fender, Foals and The 1975 (subbing for Lewis Capaldi), as well as Billie Eilish, The Killers and Imagine Dragons from the US, and Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn is confident the UK is still developing enough headline talent in relation to its American counterparts.

“Two out of the three Glastonbury headliners [Elton John/Arctic Monkeys] were UK acts, three out of six at Reading and Leeds are UK acts, three out of the three at Latitude [Pulp/Paolo Nutini/George Ezra] were UK acts, three out of the three at Wilderness [Chemical Brothers/Fatboy Slim] were UK acts, well one’s French albeit UK-based [Christine & The Queens],” Benn tells Music Week.

“If you look across festivals as a whole, there are more UK headliners than US headliners. Wireless [Playboy Carti/Travis Scott/D-Block Europe] has a greater propensity of US artists than UK artists because of the nature of the music. But if I was to look across all of the festival headline positions, the UK is very much the strongest generator of headliners.”

“There’s a fresh pipeline of talent coming through, which is needed”

Superstruct-backed UK festival promoter From the Fields booked Nile Rodgers & Chic, Kasabian, Blossoms and Royal Blood to headline its 40,000-cap Kendal Calling and Roisin Murphy, Pavement and Grace Jones for the 25,000-cap Bluedot.

“I’ve always struggled finding the headliners,” company MD and co-founder Andy Smith tells IQ. “I’ve always been the boy who cried wolf thinking that this is the year we won’t be able to find anyone. I remember back in 2011, the festival had completely sold out and we couldn’t find a Sunday night headliner. and that was two months of sheer panic, but eventually Alex Hardee came through and we got Calvin Harris so it worked out in the end. But it’s always difficult. If it wasn’t difficult, everyone would be doing it, but we always come through.

“I’d say it’s as difficult as it’s ever been. But this year, we had one of our strongest, most varied bills and it’s great to see newer acts taking our headline slot. Blossoms have played a number of times at the festival, but this was their first time on the main stage and they were headlining it and they did a great job. Royal Blood, again, had never played at Kendal before. So there’s a fresh pipeline of talent coming through, which is needed.”

Speaking earlier this year, Live Nation boss Michael Rapino praised the emergence of younger headliners such as Bad Bunny, Karol G, Rosalia, Blackpink, BTS and Billie Eilish.

“Six of the top 10 artists were younger artists,” he said. “There’s just a host of great new talent every year coming up, filling the pipe. We didn’t know Luke Combs was going to be selling stadiums out this year, two years ago. We had no idea Bad Bunny was going to be the largest selling artist last year.

“We’re also seeing this encouraging new supply strategy where for many years, it was all about US or UK-based artists that filled the charts and fill the stadium and most other talent was domestic… Now, you can see artists coming from Latin America and Korea and becoming global superstars.”

The debate will take centre stage at this year’s International Festival Forum (IFF) as part of the Headliners: The Winner Takes it All panel from 10am on Thursday 28 September, which will be chaired by WME agent Andy Duggan. Click here for more details.

 


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UK promoters hit out at drug testing ‘U-turn’

UK promoters have accused the Home Office of putting gig-goers “at risk” following an apparent U-turn on drug testing at festivals.

The Guardian reports that Manchester’s 80,000-cap Parklife festival was unable to test confiscated pills last weekend after drug testing nonprofit The Loop was informed it needed to apply for a special licence rather than relying on its agreement with the police.

Parklife co-founder and night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord decries the late intervention by the government department.

“Drug testing onsite has been an essential part of the work we do with the support of Greater Manchester police to keep festivalgoers safe. This move is a disappointing, senseless U-turn of government policy that puts people at risk,” he says.

“This huge misstep from the Home Office could set a potentially dangerous precedent for the summer’s festival season. We call for an immediate reversal of this decision so that organisers can continue to prioritise the safety of festivalgoers.”

“If festival organisers fear their safeguarding measures will be pulled at the 11th hour, then how can we guarantee the wellbeing of our guests?”

The Heaton Park event had worked with police and The Loop to test confiscated drugs on site for the previous eight years. Attendees were previously able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption, with a “push notification” alert subsequently sent to them if the tests show the drugs are a serious threat to health.

Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn describes the latest turn of events is “extremely worrying” for both the industry and fans.

“If festival organisers fear their safeguarding measures will be pulled at the 11th hour, then how can we guarantee the wellbeing of our guests?” he tells the Guardian.

In response, a spokesperson for the Home Office says: “Anyone interested in undertaking lawful activities involving the possession, supply or production of controlled drugs, including those who wish to provide drug testing services, need to apply for a Home Office licence.

“Festival organisers in consultation with local partners are responsible for decisions relating to drug testing at festivals. We will continue an open dialogue with prospective licensees throughout the festival season.”

According to festival organisers, a Home Office licence can cost in excess of £3,000

In 2016, Secret Garden Party became the first British camping festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, told IQ at the time drug testing is a “no-brainer”, adding around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content.

According to festival organisers, a Home Office licence can take more than three months to be granted, and can cost in excess of £3,000 (€3,500).

It was recently announced, meanwhile, that drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by the Irish HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic is being rolled out across a number of other festivals in Ireland.

The Safer Nightlife programme will include “back of house” drug checking through the use of surrender bins, media awareness and a social media campaign. Teams of HSE trained volunteers will available to talk about the scheme, drug trends and harm-reduction practices with attendees, while also supporting people in cases of drug emergencies.

 


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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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