Unsung Hero: Fabian Müller, Castello
He studied law but readily admits that he found working in the live entertainment sector far more enjoyable, so he dropped the law degree and underwent training as a specialist in event engineering.
“Straight after that I pursued further qualifications to become a master for event engineering,” he tells IQ, while he later added qualifications such as the Professional Certificate in Event Safety & Security Management from the International Training Centre for Crowd & Safety Management (IBIT) to boost his professional credentials.
“I basically began working in the live entertainment sector when I was 14. At the time, apart from going to school, I did casual work as a temporary helper for event [organisers] and wedding DJs. However, I quickly noticed that there was more than just bouncy castles and DJs, and after a short while I began to work as a helper for a local service provider before commencing my studies and training.”
Having completed his training, Müller became self-employed and worked as a technician and operator in the lighting trade before kickstarting his career at one of the world’s biggest events: “My first job as freelancer was as a light technician at the Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf,” he reports.
“I was fascinated by the opportunities at D.Live, a company that operates all event venues of a metropolis is unique in Europe”
His relationship with D.Live started through work at then-parent company Düsseldorf Congress Sport & Event GmbH on behalf of a local event organiser and venue operator, meaning his first contact with the company was as a client.
“I therefore knew Michael Brill, our CEO,” explains Müller. “When Michael went to D.Live, I was fascinated by the opportunities offered there – a company that operates all event venues of a metropolis is unique in Europe.
“They also have a team brought together from all over Germany, with each one of them an expert in their own field. However, what was really special for me was the common interests shared by all colleagues – the love of their profession, the love of live music, and the dynamism, which really impressed me right away.”
A native of Düsseldorf, Müller’s first concert experience was at the Mitsubishi Electric Halle (then called PhilipsHalle), so coming full circle to putting on shows and concerts in the venue is particularly pleasing.
“My personal highlights have been when I went against recommendations and the success proved that I had been right”
“Each of our venues tells a tale of my personal history,” he says. “As a matter of principle, I put 100% of my efforts into working for D.Live. Nevertheless, you will see me every year with one or two bands as production manager at festivals or on medium-sized tours.
“I find it extremely important to collect new experiences, to see what other people are doing and to support colleagues. And if we are really honest about it… you can’t and don’t want to completely give up touring.”
Müller admits that taking on the seemingly insurmountable is his favourite aspect of working in production. “My personal highlights have been when I really put my heart and soul into projects, went against the recommendations of others or even had to face up to people who wanted to prevent something, and at the end of the day, the success proved that I had been right,” he says.
“One of these highlights was undoubtedly the Horst Festival in Mönchengladbach, which – as an outdoor, free festival – was completely organised and staged by volunteers to enable their fellow citizens to enjoy culture.” He also cites ARAG Big Air, a ski and snowboard event, as another highlight, while the recent drive-in shows in Düsseldorf are another project that he is immensely proud of.
“Every task was a challenge with the drive-in cinema…there were no references or tips that we could have fallen back on”
“Every task was a challenge with the drive-in cinema,” he states. “We developed a completely new product and we were the first in the world to stage drive-in concerts. There were no references, experiences or tips that we could have fallen back on.
“We had to consider various issues, such as lines of sight from cars, distances between the vehicles and heights of stages. After all, the windscreen of a passenger car always restricts the field of vision.
“The whole behaviour of fans travelling to the show was new. Who comes? When do they come? We discovered that the first step taken by guests was going to the toilet, since some of them had already spent hours in their cars. But there were also new learnings with regard to the productions.
“Here, occupational safety was once again highlighted from another perspective. Issues such as distancing rules and, in particular, measures to protect crews against infection were constantly relevant. One of the great things about our profession, namely sitting together with the crews and drinking a beer after the show, was suddenly forbidden.”
“The amount of work required has considerably increased, while possible capacities have decreased exorbitantly”
Müller and the D.Live team had to persuade the on-stage talent to participate in public announcement tasks. “We had to urge the artists to motivate the guests to stick to the applicable rules… and not lose sight of corona.” And he reveals that fan interaction took on another dimension during the vehicle-centric shows.
“There are few possibilities for communication and reaction from inside the car. To protect local residents from noise during the cinema, we had to ban honking the horn and develop an app that enables interactive clapping, cheering, rejoicing and laughing, and which can be integrated in the transmission sound.”
Addressing the pandemic situation that led to the necessity for the drive-in shows, Müller notes, “Corona accompanies us everywhere. Unfortunately, that will remain so for a long time and we currently do not expect that the market will be able to settle down by the middle of next year or recover its former strength.
“Nobody regarded themselves as being too good to do something on behalf of the event”
“Every event that we are considering is looked at from the perspective of current findings and regulations. The amount of work required has considerably increased, while possible capacities, which I always refer to as ‘our currency,’ have decreased exorbitantly.
“Despite this burden, my employees perform excellent work. The way my boys and girls put their hearts and souls into implementing the drive-in cinema at lightning speed was incredible. Everyone did everything: nobody regarded themselves as being too good to do something on behalf of the event.”
He adds, “The set-up phase particularly reminded me of ‘the good old days.’ It was all just a super experience. And, as a team, the time once again brought us even closer together.”
D.Live drive-ins attract 100,000 fans
Düsseldorf-based venue operator D.Live, one of the pioneers of the drive-in concert format, has welcomed around 100,000 fans to its drive-in space over the past three-and-a-half months.
More than 90 events have been held at D.Live’s Autokino Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf drive-in cinema) since the company transformed a car park near the shuttered Messe Düsseldorf exhibition centre into a lockdown-friendly drive-in venue in April.
In addition to over 20 concerts by acts including SSIO, Alligatoah, Brings, Tim Bendzko, Max Giesinger, Nico Santos, Hämatom, Sondaschule, Schiller, Tom Beck and Pietro Lombardi, the Autokino has also hosted an opera gala, DJ sessions, sporting events, stand-up comedy, circus shows, film screenings and religious events.
The Local Hero Festival, the last event scheduled for the makeshift venue, took place on Sunday 19 July, with local artists performing alongside Düsseldorf band The Buggs.
“Working with brave artists, event organisers and partners, we have managed to produce something unique in this difficult time”
D.Live managing director Michael Brill says the “response and feedback” for Autokino Düsseldorf were “overwhelming”.
“Working with brave artists, event organisers and partners, we have managed to produce something unique in this difficult time,” says Brill. “The fact that around 100,000 people came to the Autokino is a brilliant result.
“My thanks to the entire D.Live team for their passionate commitment to this project, to the event organisers and artists for their bravery, our service providers who all put up a great performance at such short notice, the local authorities for their trust in us and Messe Düsseldorf for providing the space.”
D.Live will now turns its focus to bringing business back to its venues, the Merkur Spiel-Arena (54,000-cap.), Iss Dome (13,000-cap.), Mitsubishi Electric Halle (7,500-cap.) and Castello Dusseldorf (3,000-cap.), as lockdown restrictions around Europe ease.
Since D.Live started its drive-in concerts earlier this year, the format has taken off around the world, with fans enjoying live experiences from the comfort of their cars in Lithuania, Denmark, the United States, the Netherlands and, more recently, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Russia.
Drive-in concerts get live back on the road
Drive-in concerts have been getting the green light from music fans in recent weeks, as former open-air cinemas, empty car parks and disused outdoor exhibition spaces are repurposed to bring vehicle-bound fans their live music fix.
“The beauty of a drive-in concert is that it is a safe place – you are in your car, you don’t get out of it and you can leave the show whenever you want. It’s all under your control,” Michael Brill, CEO of D.Live, which has so far staged 12 live drive-in shows, as well as 22 films and several weddings, tells IQ.
“This makes it a very well accepted type of event. Drive-ins seem to be the right answer to the current situation.”
D.Live, which operates five venues in the German city of Düsseldorf, was one of the first adopters of the coronavirus drive-in concert. Each summer, the company puts on open-air film screenings, so had both the experience and the equipment to quickly set up a drive-in alternative in a car park near the shuttered Messe Dusseldorf exhibition centre.
Transitioning from films to live events, the company erected a 60 metre-wide stage and built a spacious back-stage area to ensure both performers and crew were able to adhere to social distancing measures.
Fans tune in to the performance via their car radios for “crystal clear stereo sound”, adjusting the volume to personal taste. Tickets are scanned through closed car windows, food and drink re pre-ordered before the show and spaced-out queueing systems in place for those wishing to use the restrooms.
“Drive-ins seem to be the right answer to the current situation”
“The only possible obstacle was that people may not like this idea,” says Brill. “It could have been a big flop!”
However, D.Live’s drive-in events have proved to be anything but, with 40,000 people attending the drive-in during its first month of operations to see a range of performers including rapper Sido, hip-hop act Alligatoah, electronic band Schiller, DJs from the World Club Dome club night and comedians Markus Krebs, and Oliver and Amira Pocher.
Ticket prices range from €22 for a film screening up to €120 for a car of two for some concerts, with fans driving for up to six hours to attend the more popular shows. Some concerts, such as those by Sido and Alligatoah, were also livestreamed to those unable to make the drive-in.
A lot of “local and national” competition has sprung up in the past six weeks, says Brill, so shows are no longer selling out in “half an hour or so” as they did in the beginning. “It takes a bit longer now, but we still have constant interest.”
The format has indeed taken off the world over, with drive-in venues opening all over Germany, as well as in Lithuania, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United States and the UK.
In the United States, United Talent Agency (UTA) is working on one of the first-ever drive-in tours with electronic musician Marc Rebillet, in collaboration with promoter Hotbox.
“We were brainstorming out-of-the-box opportunities for artists to not only engage with their fans, but to actually provide live entertainment during this lockdown,” Adam Ogushwitz, who is part of the team representing Rebillet at UTA, tells IQ.
“We quickly deduced that the only way to make this financially viable was to string as many shows together as possible”
“We began hearing about single shows happening in Europe, but quickly deduced that the only way to make this financially viable was to string as many shows together as possible.”
Rebillet is set to play at drive-in venues in Charlotte, Kansas City, Tulsa, Fort Worth and Houston in June and July, with tickets starting from US$90 (€83) for a car of two. The planning of the tour was a far cry from that of a traditionally routed, plug-and-play tour, says Ogushwitz. As regulations across the US vary, the team had to identify open markets and then work backwards in order to find suitable venues.
“Once we found the drive-in locations, there was the process of educating the owners, the majority of whom are not in the music industry, about why they would want to host these shows versus just playing movies,” says the UTA agent.
“We enlisted a producer partner, Hotbox, to help standardise the actual production of the show to ensure continuity and uniformity across the tour.”
Rebillet, who has never relied on big production or massive stage or sound design to drive his shows, seems like the perfect candidate to trial the new drive-in format, but the UTA team is confident that “many of our artists will be able to adapt and thrive within this format”.
“Ticket sales have been fantastic,” says Christian Bernhardt, who also represents Rebillet at UTA. The team expects all shows to sell out and are in the process of adding a few more markets.
“What we’re seeing is that fans are so hungry for entertainment that they don’t need much convincing”
“What we’re seeing is that fans are so hungry for entertainment that they don’t need much convincing.”
Bernhardt adds that while “we recognise that it may not currently make sense for all large production acts to perform in this way, it’s clear to us that this is something that can work for other artists.”
Indeed, one of the pleasantly surprising factors for D.Live has been the way in which fans and artists alike have taken to the drive-in model.
Performing to a sea of steel, there was the potential for artists to feel their efforts were falling flat. However, “artists have loved it” and whether via beeping horns, flashing headlights or an applause-generating smartphone app, fans have been able to show their appreciation.
D.Live is the first venue operator in Germany to use the MeinApplaus app, which allows concertgoers to select from options including cheering, clapping, laughing or shouting. The response is then translated into audio and played back as part of the show to heighten the interaction between fans and artists.
The success of drive-in concert pioneers such as D.Live has driven the interest of other players in the live space.
Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino referenced his intention to explore alternative concert formats, such as drive-ins, in a recent earnings call. Indeed, the Danish division of Live Nation has teamed up with local partners to launch the 600-carpacity (© 2020 IQ) Drive In – Live tour, which sees acts including Danish singers Mads Langer, Claus Hempler and Annika Aakjær and rap group Malk de Koijn visit four drive-in venues in the cities of Herning, Aalborg, Odense and Aarhus.
“Drive-in shows have been a great learning experience for the restart of the real thing”
In the UK, Mainstage Festivals, which is behind events including Snowboxx and Kala, has launched the @TheDriveIn event series, bringing film screenings, stand-up comedy nights and silent car discos to 11 cities. Ten free tickets per screening, usually priced at £35 (€40), will be held back for healthcare workers. Tickets are available from 27 May.
A 100-carpacity drive-in venue is also being planned for the Jaarbeurs convention centre in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with family entertainer Juf Roos performing the first show on 13 June.
As more and more clamour for their piece of the drive-in pie, what is the key to ensuring your drive-in concerts aren’t relegated to the scrap heap?
Communication has been a key factor for the team at D.Live. “Booking a drive-in show is not like booking a normal gig,” says Brill. “Rather than everything hinging on capacity and dates, it is now about communicating to clients what they are able to do now, that they couldn’t do last week.”
To keep on top of the rules and successfully translate constantly changing regulations into reality, Brill believes event organisers must develop close relationships with local authorities and prove their credibility.
“This is the key to being ahead of the game and has been our priority so far,” says Brill. This will continue to be vital once venues begin to reopen again, adds the D.Live boss, who describes the drive-in events as “a great learning experience” for the restart of the real thing.
“We have decided we will end the drive-in at the end of July,” says Brill, “and then turn our focus to bringing business back to our venues.”