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 www.iff.rocks.
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.
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.
Festival Republic planning 10,000-cap. camping pilot
Festival Republic plans to follow up its recent Sefton Park Pilot event in Liverpool with a second test festival, this time with camping, next month.
Sefton Park Pilot, along with Tuesday’s Brit Awards one of two live music events held as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme (ERP), took place on 2 May, welcoming 5,000 fans to Sefton Park in Liverpool for a one-day music festival headlined by Blossoms.
Speaking during IQ’s first Recovery Sessions event yesterday (13 May), Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn revealed that while previous test events in Liverpool, including Sefton Park Pilot and the two club shows held in the preceding days, aimed to show how live entertainment could restart with little or no Covid-19 transmission, the camping festival in June will focus on dealing with an outbreak at the event.
“While the Circus club shows and the Sefton Park Pilot were effectively events that were designed to ensure the enablement of reopening on 21 June,” Benn explained to chair Maria May (CAA), “the camping event, because its three or four days, will actually be about testing the protocol of how to deal with anyone that might have Covid at the event. It’s about testing the protocols around using Covid certification on the NHS [National Health Service] app, and it’s also around testing the protocols of what the SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] scientists here in the UK want, which is at-home testing for all attendees that don’t have the vaccination and that are not immune.”
According to Benn, the festival will take place in the “middle of June” and have a capacity of 10,000 people.
“The camping event will actually be about testing the protocol of how to deal with anyone that might have Covid”
“It’s not like Reading or Lollapalooza Chicago or anything like that, but it’s a decent number, and certainly a number that they can adequately take data from and multiply,” he continued, adding that while “the politicians are a little more reticent”, he is confident “the scientists will persuade them, because [home testing] is the only practical way forward” as long as a large enough proportion of the population are vaccinated. “So, in essence, that’s where we seem to going,” he continued. “Remarkably, the UK government appears to have a coherent plan, and it seems like we’re going in a good direction.”
Benn added that he believes the government are now more concerned about the potential for Covid-19 transmission on public transport than at live events.
“The area that they are significantly most concerned about actually is not so much the venues – they know [the operators] will look after everybody at the venues – it’s public transport. It’s large amounts of people squashed with no circulation on buses coming into Glasgow City Centre, or coming on tubes into Wembley Stadium,” he explained. “I believe that’s the area they are more concerned about, compared to the actual venues themselves, particularly outdoor venues…”
In welcome news for UK festival organisers, the Festival Republic boss also predicted that there should be news on the cancellation insurance front by 14 June, with a government-backed solution potentially in place from mid-July onwards.
IQ subscribers can watch the ‘Industry Heads: Leading the way back’ panel, which also featured AGI’s Marsha Vlasic and ASM Global’s John Sharkey, on demand on the Recovery Sessions mini-site. To subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month, click here.
UK festival pilot builds hope for reopening
A successful outcome from yesterday’s 5,000-person Sefton Park Pilot in Liverpool will provide a lifeline to the entire UK live music business by proving that festivals can go ahead safely with no social distancing this summer, organiser Melvin Benn has said.
Featuring music from Zuzu, the Lathums and Blossoms, the one-day music festival took place on 2 May as part of the British government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), following two 3,000-person club nights, dubbed The First Dance, held at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock on 30 April and 1 May. Like all ERP events, there was no requirement to socially distance or wear a face covering at the three pilots, though all ticketholders required a negative Covid-19 test to gain entry.
Festival Republic MD Benn described the model as a “prototype” to reopen the industry after more than a year without any significant live music events. “Will we always need it? I hope not,” he told IQ, “but we’ve learnt a lot and we’re ready to pass it onto the industry.”
For the Sefton Park event, attendees and guests underwent a supervised lateral-flow test (LFT) at a local tennis centre up to 32 hours before the event. Each test was registered directly with the National Health Service (NHS), and results communicated via text and email within 30 minutes, with a negative test result activating each ticket. An additional testing site was positioned directly outside Sefton Park.
Testing for staff, guests and press was overseen by Caroline Giddings and Solo Agency, one of a number of live music businesses to offer its support to the event, which was pulled together in the space of three weeks. (That’s not quite a record, said Benn – the One Love Manchester show with Ariana Grande was organised in even less time – but it was “pretty quick!”.)
“It’s important for the industry … that events like this happen”
In addition to Festival Republic, “there are people working on it from SJM, from DF, from Cream, from Isle of Wight Festival – it’s a bit of an industry effort,” explained DF Concerts’ Geoff Ellis. “It’s important for the industry and for fans that events like this happen to help us get there.”
For Ellis, who described Sefton Park Pilot as a “monumental occasion”, it was “really surreal being here because it feels dreamlike,” he said. “You’re seeing people from the industry and you bump into them and you’re wondering, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’”
Speaking to IQ, Benn related the event in similar terms, saying organisers, fans and artists alike were conscious of participating in a “historic moment” paving the way towards an overdue return to something approaching normality.
Benn is as confident as he was in summer 2020 that rapid testing (now coupled with vaccinations) is the key to unlocking the return of live events. “It’s something I’ve been saying since June last year, and it’s taken a long time for government to listen, but I think they do believe in it now,” he explained. “They did have faith in this [Sefton Park Pilot], and certainly [from conversations with] the scientific teams from government and outside of government that I’ve been working with, the modelling of this seems to suggest to me that it can work.”
“What we are learning is that a festival isn’t going to need to look different to how it did look, or behave different to how it behaved,” pre-coronavirus, he continued. “Putting on a festival, as any festival promoter will tell you, is a series of hurdles, and we’ve all learnt how to jump every single hurdle that’s ever put in front of us. Covid one is another one. We’ll find ways of overcoming.”
The other hurdle at present, of course, is the non-availability of event cancellation insurance, though Benn expects more news on that front in the coming weeks.
“What we are learning is that a festival needn’t look different to how it did”
“The government provided insurance for this event, to give us the backing we needed, and in doing so they demonstrated there’s a need for insurance,” he explained. “There’s a team working very hard to find a way […] out of this, and hopefully by the beginning of June there’ll be something in place.”
As in Barcelona, where a recent pilot arena show demonstrated a lower incidence of Covid-19 than in the city as a whole, Sefton Park Pilot needn’t record zero cases to be considered a success, Benn continued. “It’s not necessarily about no infections,” he said. “The ideal outcome is that there is no greater spread of the virus in Liverpool than there already was. We want to prove you can have these events and it doesn’t present a greater risk to the area than already exists.”
While interim findings from the ERP events will be reported to the prime minister in a matter of weeks, Benn revealed that a second FR-organised outdoor pilot show is in the pipeline. While details are yet to be announced, it will likely be similar in format to Sefton Park Pilot, and “greenfield, for certain”, according to Benn.
Like Sefton Park Pilot, that second pilot event will again mobilise an army of festival staff and music fans in numbers not seen since the summer of 2019. But Benn, like everyone involved with the pilots, is hopeful those events won’t be a one-off.
“There have been a huge amount of people who made the effort to give up their time for this, and they all put an enormous amount of work into it,” he said. “So what we’re learning, we want to tell everybody – because this is for the whole industry.”
Johnson: Covid ‘pass’ could herald safe return to live
The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, said today (9 September) that mass testing for Covid-19 could allow live events to restart without social distancing before a vaccine is available.
In a 4pm press conference, Johnson floated the idea of temporary ‘passes’, issued to people following a negative Covid-19 test, that would allow them to attend a live entertainment or sporting event and “mingle” with other healthy attendees.
The UK is working towards increasing its testing capacity to 500,000 a day, Johnson told journalists, which would allow those who don’t have the disease to behave “normally”, including at major events such as concerts.
He added that such a scheme – which would see venues turning away those who don’t have a Covid pass or who test positive at the door – will be piloted in Salford, Manchester, in the coming months, with plans to roll it out more widely should it prove successful.
Johnson described the idea for virus ‘passports’ as his “moonshot” to restart live events
Johnson described the idea for virus ‘passports’ as his “moonshot” to restart live events, and said he hopes it could be live by next spring.
The press conference follows similar reports in the UK press over the weekend, with health secretary Matt Hancock even more optimistic, telling LBC on Saturday that he hopes 24-hour passes could be available by Christmas.
Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn told IQ in July he is “incredibly optimistic” about the UK’s 2021 festival summer, even in the absence of a vaccine, saying testing for Covid-19 has come on leaps and bounds since the start of the pandemic. He expressed similar sentiments at yesterday’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing at parliament, emphasising the need for widespread testing of would-be festivalgoers.
The UK had 2,460 daily cases of the coronavirus yesterday (8 September).
Melvin Benn: ‘I’m very optimistic about 2021’
Amid a challenging summer 2020, Festival Republic is feeling “incredibly optimistic” about next year’s European festival season, managing director Melvin Benn has said.
Speaking to IQ, Benn says Festival Republic (FR) – whose festival portfolio includes the UK’s Download, Wireless and Reading/Leeds Festivals, Germany’s Lollapalooza Berlin and the Republic of Ireland’s Electric Picnic – is working to the assumption that its open-air events will “be back in full force next summer”, most likely after the release of a vaccine against Covid-19.
With UK scientists now said to be 80% sure a vaccine will be ready by September, Benn (pictured) says festivalgoers being immunised against the coronavirus is currently FR’s “plan A” for 2021, with some sort of test-and-trace system also a possibility should the vaccine not be ready in time.
“I take great confidence in the fact that test and trace is a plan B for me,” he explains. “I don’t think we could have imagined the unity the scientific community has showed in working together to find a vaccine against this disease.”
Underscoring his optimism that a vaccine for Covid-19 is close, Benn adds: “If you look back at all the incredible inventions and creations – aeroplanes, cars, medicines; everything we take for granted in our normal lives – and then you think that, cumulatively, there are more scientists alive and working now than ever existed before… Are we going to solve this? Of course we are!”
“I’m already getting companies contacting me and offering tests”
IQ caught up with Benn the week after Wireless Connect, one of two virtual festivals the Festival Republic team has staged this summer (three if you include parent company Live Nation UK’s Isle of Wight Festival) in lieu of the physical events.
“The learnings” from all three, says Benn, are “immense”, and allowed FR to “discover what people respond to” in a digital event.
“Download TV was very much more a linear TV broadcast, just using YouTube rather than a terrestrial channel, and we learnt a huge amount,” he continues. “It was really the first time we’d done an as-live broadcast like that.
“With MelodyVR [for Wireless Connect], that was even more complicated, as we did a 360° virtual-reality broadcast, with artists going into a studios in London and the US. Whereas people were performing in their kitchens for Download…” (The virtual Isle of Wight Festival, meanwhile, was a simpler affair, broadcasting past performances on Sky television.)
While Benn says the definition of a successful year for him is having “fans in a field”, he says the FR team has done “extraordinary things with the three outings we’ve had so far”. “I hope we can build on that in future,” he adds.
By charging for online events, IQ wonders? Benn is tight-lipped, though he concedes that, “as an add-on, [virtual festivals] have potential”. “There’s a lot of discussion going round, but it’s really too early to say,” he continues. “What we do know is that there’s an appetite for live – in all its forms – that can’t be replaced.”
“We’re feeling very optimistic about next year. I think the pent-up demand is absolutely there”
On that topic, Benn notes that of the three 2021 festivals Live Nation/Festival Republic has on sale – IoW, Download and Creamfields – all are “selling really well, so we’re feeling very optimistic about next year. I think the pent-up demand is absolutely there.”
Even in the event of a vaccine not being available by next summer, Benn is adamant that FR, and the wider UK/European festival market, is “in a really good position”.
“I’m already getting companies contacting me and offering tests that are incredibly reliable, and can be done in a short amount of time,” he explains. “At the moment [in July] they’re too expensive – but given that they didn’t even exist in March, I assure you that by the time April or May comes around next year, there’ll be a testing company on every street corner and it will be relatively inexpensive.”
As for how fans might respond to mandatory testing, which has mooted as a requirement for entering festivals in the absence of a vaccine, Benn adds: “I’m very optimistic about human beings. We’re incredibly versatile creatures and we’ll change and do what we need to do in order to participate in the things we enjoy.
“So if that’s the only way, so be it. You can’t beat the experience of a festival.”
FR boss unveils plan to restart industry at full capacity
Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, has designed an incentive-based plan to allow the restarting of live shows at full capacity, through an increase of testing and contract tracing.
Social distancing has proved a controversial topic within the live industry, with many sharing doubts as to the viability of putting on reduced-capacity shows.
The Full Capacity Plan aims to facilitate the reopening of the leisure sector without capacity limitations, by increasing public use of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) Trace App and upping participation in testing through an incentive-based scheme.
The plan would see those who have bought tickets to shows or booked a table at a restaurant invited to attend a high-street shop to collect a home-testing kit and download the NH tracing app.
Those who test negative and agree to use the tracing app would be allowed to return to concerts, pubs, theatres and sporting events.
Although the UK government currently has the capacity to test 1.4 million people a week, fewer than 700,000 weekly tests are taking place, “because there is no incentive”, says Benn, who oversees events including Wireless, Download, Latitude and Reading and Leeds festivals.
“I am proposing the Full Capacity Plan to stimulate the debate about getting back to normal opening rather than partial opening”
“My plan is to create incentive, to test at least double the current capacity and be aiming for 12 to 15m people a month being tested minimum,” explains Benn.
“I am proposing the Full Capacity Plan to stimulate the debate about getting back to normal opening rather than partial opening because partial opening is financial disaster opening.
“[The plan] is simple and easy, inexpensive in comparison to the subsidies that the government is currently paying and very achievable with good organisation.”
A provisional timeline foresees a pilot scheme beginning later this month, in partnership with the British government, with the first events going ahead in accordance with the plan in August.
If all goes well, the industry may be able to restart at full capacity by November.
The virtual edition of Download Festival, Download TV, is taking place from 12 to 14 June, with exclusive footage from headliners Kiss, Iron Maiden and System of a Down, whereas the virtual-reality Wireless Connect will air from 3 to 5 July.