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Q&A: Russia’s Pop Farm on starting over with a new business

Russian promoter Pop Farm has rebranded and relocated, as Putin’s ruthless invasion of Ukraine continues into a second year.

Formerly based in Moscow, Pop Farm promoted artists including Ed Sheeran, Imagine Dragons, Billie Eilish, Twenty One Pilots, Royal Blood, Kasabian, The Prodigy, Arctic Monkeys and Foals, and organised the international festival, Bol.

Founders Andrey Samorukov and Dmitry Zaretsky have now launched their new promoting business, Honeycomb, headquartered in the Serbian capital of Belgrade and already operating in more than 10 European countries.

In an exclusive interview with IQ, the pair discuss what it was like to see their 10-year business decimated, how they’re building a new life and business, and why they’re feeling strangely inspired…


 IQ: Putin declared war on Ukraine on 24 February 2022. At what point did you realise what it meant for your business?
We knew the week before the war, it was the end of our business. We already had calls from agents saying that the artists wanted to cancel the shows. It was obvious from the start we weren’t going to be able to continue business in Russia. At the same time, we were shocked because a war was happening and it was terrible. We were on the phone with our friends from Ukraine, asking if everyone was safe or not.

What was the damage control like for your business?
When one artist cancels a show, it’s bad. When 20 artists cancel shows, it’s a mess. Our roster was 95% international acts and obviously, all the shows were cancelled. The other 5% of our roster is domestic artists who take an anti-war stance – they are officially banned from Russia, meaning they are so-called enemies of the states. The whole business collapsed for us. The only thing we’re doing in Russia right now is refunding tickets for cancelled shows. It’s a lot of money.

“When one artist cancels a show, it’s bad. When 20 artists cancel shows, it’s a mess”

How much money did you have to refund fans for cancelled shows and festivals?
In our case, 10 million euros. We had to deal with the customers very quickly. Hundreds of thousands of people came to us in one day asking for money. We had people saying ‘I sent you an email five minutes ago. Why didn’t you refund it yet?’.

How were you physically able to process 10 million euros’ worth of refunds?
Most of it has to be managed manually because people were writing from, let’s say, 10 different emails about the same ticket and some people were trying to get refunds for shows that happened during Covid but which they did attend, so we can’t just automatically process refunds. Almost 12 months later we’re still in the process of refunding customers. We’ve got a whole team working on it. However, quite a few of our ticket buyers, especially for the festivals, said “We are going to hold on to our tickets because we want to support you for all the good that you’ve done for us in the last 10 years, so keep the money.”

“Hundreds of thousands of people came to us in one day asking for money”

Did any of the money get stuck with ticketing companies?
The market wasn’t ready to face such difficulties. The money for all of our shows was with ticketing companies, some of which went bankrupt, and it’s still our responsibility. Some were in better positions than others. Something you have to keep in mind is, if you refund the ticket, the ticketing company keeps the commission separate. They’re still doing business; we are not. Also, there were technical difficulties. If people bought tickets with Apple Pay or Google Pay, it’s almost impossible to get the money back because the technology just doesn’t exist in Russia anymore.

Did you already have a financial hangover from the Covid pandemic?
Yes. The Russian live music association called for a moratorium on refunds during the pandemic but it didn’t happen. It was pretty hard to be expected to cover all the losses during the last two years. We expected that the business would be open by summer 2022 – and we had some amazing shows lined up – and then everything we did was lost. We were just spending the money. We moved shows and then we cancelled the shows. Covid was the first blow and the second blow [the war] was the final one.

“Covid was the first blow and the second blow [the war] was the final one”

Tell us about the setup of your new business, Honeycomb.
We just rented an office in Belgrade, where we’ve relocated the whole team. The countries we’re operating in are Serbia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Croatia, Hungary, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In all these countries, we’ve opened companies with our local partners. We found the promoters in those places – or people related to the music business – and offered to build a company together.

And we’re not middlemen who book the shows, we are actually promoters. All the bookings come from both of us. We have a share in all these companies and we are financially involved in every show. What we get from the partners is help with lawyers and accountants, as well as relationships with venues and an understanding of the local scene. We have a centre in Belgrade that sets up marketing, ticketing, logistics and production advancing. We have very skilled production managers and promo people in all offices too. We are building a system and a network – it takes a lot of time. On one hand, it’s difficult and on the other hand, it’s inspiring us – it’s refreshing. It’s pretty difficult to start your business life again but in a strange way, it’s not bad.

“It’s pretty difficult to start your business life again but in a strange way, it’s not bad”

How much do these markets differ from Russia?
Russia is just one country but if you promote across Europe, you have to spend much more time on everything. If you’re working on a one-week tour, it takes three months. We felt there was a lot of potential in these markets. The idea was not to promote in just one market but to find their neighbouring markets and build a chain. We want to provide a service to artists and agents and managers and make their lives easier. Of course, there are financial and economic problems in these countries but we’ve been digging into these markets and there’s huge potential. But also, it’s not just about business and money but about how inspired we are. We have the chance to start from scratch and build something new, that doesn’t exist.

Have you managed to keep any of your Pop Farm clients?
We are talking to everyone and everyone wants to continue to work with us and that inspires us a lot. We had a show with Louis Tomlinson in Russia, for example, which didn’t happen due to Covid and but we have a new show with him in Greece. Last November, we promoted shows with Oliver Tree in Istanbul and Belgrade, which sold out. Those were Honeycomb’s first shows with an international act and we worked very hard on the marketing and everything. It was absolutely fantastic and very emotional. At the moment we are offering tours for international acts – club, arena and stadium levels.

“We will build cultural bridges between our countries and help very talented artists to showcase their talent”

Bol festival was a staple of your portfolio. Do you have any plans to launch a new festival in your new markets?
Yes, but we don’t just want to create a major festival with some cool and huge artists – that’s not something we’re interested in. We want to send a message about music and culture. We want to deliver a unique product that’s more than a festival with some beer and bands. Bol festival was a cultural phenomenon in Russia, it was built around community. In Russia in the mid-2010s – a time of cultural isolation and traditional values – Bol (pain) appeared; a homemade festival of independent music with an anti-commercial name. Over the next seven years, despite all the laws of the market, “Pain” has become the main festival in Russia, which unites a new generation of musicians and listeners around it — and shows how to achieve inner freedom in unfree circumstances.

Bol festival contrasted the illusions of comfort and security, which the Moscow government diligently created, with the feeling of living life in all its uncomfortable complexity. Bol abandoned the model of the festival as a celebration of consumption, focusing on energy, sound and meanings. Instead of careful programming of the user experience, Bol offered a head-on collision of genres and contexts, from which something new, unusual, and important could be born – and was born. Thus, breaking all conceivable industrial rules, Bol has become a unicorn among Moscow music festivals: a space of freedom and self-expression for people who were born in Russia at the turn of two millennia. We made a festival which wasn’t InIt’s something to be discussed with our partners in each market who have a holistic understanding of what exactly their local audience needs right now.

Have you been supported by the international live music industry during the last year?
The business is about people first, not about politics. The centre of business for us is London because all of the major agents are here and we’ve felt great support from them. And now we realise that what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years, wasn’t just about the business, it was forging good relationships and friendships which is very important for us. We will build cultural bridges between our countries and help very talented artists to showcase their talent throughout the world with our help, with our shows and with our professional skills. That’s the most important thing.

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Moscow’s Park Live festival decimated by cancellations

Moscow’s Park Live festival has been called off following a raft of cancellations from international acts.

Placebo, My Chemical Romance, Slipknot, Biffy Clyro, Iggy Pop, Deftones, Royal Blood and The Killers have all pulled out of the festival in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With only a handful of acts left on the bill, the annual international music festival will no longer take place at Luzhniki Olympic Complex in June and July.

“Y’all already understood that Park Live festival won’t be happening this year,” reads a statement from the organisers, posted on Facebook. “The picture of current circumstances does not provide the opportunity to fit our [festival] into it for legal, logistic, or for simple human reasons.”

“The picture of current circumstances does not provide the opportunity to fit our [festival] into it”

Park Live was launched in 2013 by Moscow-headquartered promoter Melnitsa Concert Agency, with the aim of bringing international artists to Russia.

The promoter, which also has offices in Kyiv, Minsk and Tbilisi, is considered one of the leading live music organisers of international and domestic acts in the ex-USSR territory.

Alongside Park Live, the company’s stable of festivals includes UPark in Kyiv, Ukraine, which has also been called off due to the conflict.

As more events are called off in Russia, the country’s live music association is proposing a moratorium on ticket refunds to prevent “the collapse of the industry”.

Other acts that have cancelled performances in Russia include Green Day, Imagine Dragons, Louis Tomlinson, Yungblud, Franz Ferdinand, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Bring Me the Horizon.


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Russian industry pleads for moratorium on refunds

The Russian live industry is pleading for a moratorium on ticket refunds, as concerts and festivals are cancelled en masse.

Green Day, Imagine Dragons, Louis Tomlinson, Yungblud, Franz Ferdinand, Iggy Pop, The Killers, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Bring Me the Horizon are among the artists that have pulled out of performances due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Association of Concert, Theater and Ticketing Organisations (KTiBO), which represents more than 20 of the biggest players in Russia, is proposing a moratorium on ticket refunds to prevent “the collapse of the industry”.

The association wants refunds to be frozen for events scheduled from 9th February 2022 to 3rd September 2023, provided they are/were cancelled or postponed before 6th January 2023.

“Due to circumstances beyond the control of the Russian organisers, such companies fell under the consequences of restrictive economic measures (sanctions) imposed by foreign states against the Russian Federation, including against banks, and do not have the opportunity to receive a refund of advances paid under transactions on time, established by the respective contracts,” it wrote in a letter to the chairman of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation Nabiullina E.S. and the head of the Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation Egorov D.V.

Semyon Galperin, producer, art director and talent buyer for live music venue Tele-Club in Yekaterinburg previously pointed out that the issue of refunds is further complicated by the current sanctions on Russia.

“We will have to refund ticket buyers, but some of the money is already in agencies’ bank accounts, and they won’t be able to send that back – as far as I understand – because most Russian banks will be under severe sanctions.

“Some of the money is already in agencies’ bank accounts, and they won’t be able to send that back”

“So the international part of the business will suffer terrible losses, which will probably make a lot of leading Russian companies either bankrupt or severely in debt…

“There is also this strange question about how we can find some options to rebate ticket fees to customers because of the blocked financial system.”

The issue is being felt by individual promoters across the country including Moscow-based concert agency Pop Farm, which says that at one point “tens of thousands of people” contacted them for ticket refunds.

The promoter has cancelled all of its upcoming live music events including concerts with Foals, Twenty-One Pilots, Pixies, Michael Kiwanuka and Alt-J, as well as its June festival Pain.

“We physically don’t have time to process all the return requests,” reads a post on Pop Farm’s Facebook page. “We need a few days off to figure out how to proceed, so please be patient – returns will take longer than before…”

“We don’t know what will happen to the concerts next,” reads the post. “We don’t know (and no one knows) what will happen next.”

Elsewhere, Moscow-based festival Park Live is also asking fans to be patient during the refund process, as the event continues to shed international acts.

Placebo, My Chemical Romance, Slipknot, Biffy Clyro and Iggy Pop are among the artists that have disappeared from the line-up.


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Russia gives green light to drive-in shows

Russian promoters SAV Entertainment and Talent Concert International (TCI) have joined forces to launch a series of drive-in concerts at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, bringing the show format to another market worldwide.

The Live & Drive series, which is to feature Russian rock, pop and rap artists including Mashina Vremeni, Diana Arbenina, The Hatters and Splean, kicked off on Saturday (18 July), with a 600-carpacity show by Russian rapper Basta.

Two types of tickets are sold for the events, with options for a two- or four-person car. Food and drink is available to order online to be delivered to the vehicle.

“The whole project is a big experience for us,” comments SAV Entertainment CEO Nadya Solovieva. “We are having to work in very limited time frames, and we didn’t have time to popularise this format.

“I’m sure that more and more people will appreciate this new form of entertainment in the near future”

“A lot of people still think that drive-in concerts are unable to replace “ordinary” ones in any way. But Basta’s show proves that drive-in concerts can be as successful and “live” as the ones that we’re used to.

“The atmosphere was fantastic, everyone really enjoyed it and I’m sure that more and more people will appreciate this new form of entertainment in the near future”.

Drive-in concerts have brought the live experience back to music-deprived fans across the world in recent months, with the format making its debut in Latin America earlier this month, in the form of a Move Concerts Puerto Rico-promoted show. A number of drive-in concerts are taking place Mexico in the coming weeks.

Drive-in shows have also offered fans some relief from lockdown in Germany, Denmark, the US, Lithuania and the Netherlands, among other markets.

Tickets for Live & Drive shows are available here.


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Opening gambit: Chess & Jazz on why it’s game on for 2020

With all eyes currently on Exit Festival and its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the  festival season, it’s worth remembering that while the Serbian event is by far the largest European festival to confirm it will go ahead this summer, it’s not (quite) the only one.

In an addition to the raft of music festivals adapted into a digital format, a handful of events are still going ahead physically, including showcase events such as Tallinn Music Week (Estonia) and Reeperbahn Festival (Germany) and Russian music festival Chess & Jazz, originally scheduled for 24–25 July but now expected to be pushed back to September.

IQ caught up with Nick Babin, founder of Chess & Jazz, to discuss the festival’s ethos, preparations for 2020, and why the festival won’t be going online…


Give us a brief history of Chess & Jazz.
Chess & Jazz is international boutique festival which has been held in Moscow since 2018. The festival takes place in the iconic venue of the Hermitage Garden, in the historical centre of Moscow, where Soviet Jazz was born in the early 20th century.

Chess & Jazz has already featured performances from double Grammy award-winner Gregory Porter, the Manchester trio GoGo Penguin, American singer CeeLo Green, London-based band Kamaal Williams and the American soul star Christian Berishai, better known as JMSN, over the past few years.

The festival concept has also drawn attention from international markets, and we organised Chess & Jazz in Singapore and Kazakhstan in 2019.

Why combine chess and live music?
Russia has a significant chess legacy, and it’s probably for that reason that, from the outset, our festival made a large impact on the Russian cultural map.

I also run a booking agency, booking acts for several Russian festivals and private events. But I always wanted to create my own product and realise the ideas that come from my own experience – so, one day, being inspired by chess aesthetic and being a huge fan of jazz music, I did it.

What is your music booking philosophy?
We are a jazz festival. We try to present to our guests stars such as Gregory Porter, but we are not afraid to mix genres, because jazz is a baseline for all music. Our social and cultural mission is to present to our audience new names in the global jazz scene, while also spotlighting Russian jazz artists.

“I don’t believe in online festivals. … Festivals’ main strength is in the live atmosphere and human contact”

Who is the average Chess & Jazz fan?
Our audience is an intelligent, creative class of people from 25 to 40 who love comfort and unusual, interesting events. The first day of the festival is a grand opening with ‘jazz-tie’ dress code and more academic jazz. The second day is more about lifestyle, picnics, more mixed genres, and the best gastronomy Moscow has to offer.

The chess part of the festival is very significant; it has its own line-up with world-famous grandmasters. The opportunity to play chess matches with stars such as the youngest grandmaster in history, world champion in blitz and rapid chess, Sergey Karjakin, attracts a lot of people.

Chess & Jazz is not a mass product. Events like ours are good because they allow you to maintain your personality. At Coachella, for example, you are just one of 50,000 or 100,000 people. You are lost in a crowd. When the event is for a very specific audience, you are significant – you are a personality, not part of the mass.

What is the situation in Russia at the moment? Do you think you’ll be allowed to go ahead?
From April all public events are prohibited by authorities because of Covid-19, so it will be impossible to stage our festival in July. Nevertheless, we haven’t considered changing the format and going online. I don’t believe in online festivals. Offline events will remain offline, as their main strength is in the live atmosphere and human contact.

In the days ahead, we are going to announce new rescheduled dates in September. Our festival is not classified as a mass event, because the capacity is less than 5,000 people, but still we hope that we will be able to conduct our event without any danger to the audience’s health in September – this is our main priority.

Also, we would like to thank our artists and their agents for the support and cooperation in such turbulent period of time.

“We are confident that Chess & Jazz will commemorate the coming together of music fans once more”

Beyond coronavirus, are there any unique challenges involved in organising a festival in your part of the world?
Unfortunately, we have no support from the Russian authorities and no dialogue with the government. To be honest, it has always been like that.

Another challenge is partners. Partners for a niche event should be selected more carefully than for large festivals. In the case of our festival, chess and jazz should be organically presented in every detail. If the brand says it just wants to put up its stand, we’d say that this does not work. We take an individual approach to each partner so that the integration fits harmoniously with the rest of the event.

What are you most looking forward to at Chess & Jazz 2020?
I am just really looking forward to the festival! This year’s Chess & Jazz will be the most anticipated festival yet, as the other Russian festivals are canceled. Our headliners are British soul star Lianne La Havas and Australian musician Jordan Rakei, with the full line-up to be announced at a later date.

We are confident that Chess & Jazz will commemorate the coming together of music fans once more and mark a victory over this crisis.


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Market report: From Russia with live

Global election meddling, Novichok, Syria, Ukraine, London house prices – it’s not hard to find things to blame “the Russians” for. Then again, as Juha ‘Richie’ Mattila, veteran Finnish promoter and frequent Russian tourer points out, how would the rest of us like to be judged for the sins of our leaders and our oligarchs?

“We shouldn’t tour Russia because of Putin? Yeah, well, everybody should quit touring the USA then,” he hoots. “It’s [like] the old saying: don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Russia’s renewed role as the villain of international politics is so entrenched in the western narrative that it’s easy to forget there’s a real country under there – unimaginably huge, rich in culture and with plenty of good guys.

“You need to remember, Russia is part of Europe, even if politically it’s a little different,” says Mattila.

The international sanctions in place since Russia annexed the Crimea nearly six years ago have put a drag on the economy, destabilised the ruble and, from a live perspective, punctured the growth of cities other than St Petersburg and Moscow.

There was a period, not long after the beginning of the sanctions, when the prospect of seeing international acts in even Russia’s wealthiest two cities seemed in doubt. “Moscow Can’t Afford Foreign Performers,” read a 2015 headline in English-language newspaper The Moscow Times, citing a 95% fall in shows by western acts due to unaffordable fees.

“We shouldn’t tour Russia because of Putin? Yeah, well, everybody should quit touring the USA then”

In Moscow and St Petersburg, the market has bounced back – if not all the way, then enough that the relatively lighter schedule of international shows has sharpened demand for what tickets there are.

“It’s an interesting tendency in Russia lately,” says Ed Ratnikov of leading promoter Talent Concert International (TCI), which in October sold a 51% share to CTS Eventim.

“The market is going down due to sanctions and government politics, and people’s income is not getting any better but the business is growing.”

In the absence of a full complement of international stars, Russian acts including Basta, Max Korzh and Zemfira have graduated to stadium status. Leningrad, formed in the 1990s in St Petersburg, the city formerly of that name, made Russian music history this summer with a stadium tour, playing Kaliningrad, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod in June, amidst a series of dates in arenas. Hot local pop stars include Zivert, Artik & Asti, Cream Soda and Shortparis.

“We have a new generation of kids who were born and live in the digital era,” says Ratnikov. “They have their headphones on 24 hours a day, they share tunes fast and make unknown artists well known in hours. Those kids are the majority of our ticket buyers now and are eager for quality entertainment.”

Russia’s instinct, where international music was concerned, was always to go big, and its early outdoor spectaculars – the 1989 Moscow Music Peace Festival at Luzhniki Stadium (featuring Bon Jovi, Ozzy and Scorpions), 1991’s Monsters of Rock at Tushino Airfield (Metallica, AC/DC et al), The Prodigy in Manezh Square in 1997, Chili Peppers and McCartney in Red Square in 1999 and 2003 – live long in the memory.

“The market is going down due to sanctions and government politics, and people’s income is not getting any better but the business is growing”

In spite of ups and downs, that pattern of serial one-offs has given way to a steady, professional business in the past decade or so. The most seasoned Russian promoters now have three decades of experience to draw upon, and the main cities have taken big steps too.

“Russian infrastructure has improved significantly,” says Ratnikov. “We have new airports, world-standard sports arenas and stadiums as well as recognisable hotel chains. Russia has improved very well during the last decade.”

Estimates of the size of the ticket market in Russia range from R45billion (£545m) to R60bn (£727m) per year [source: PwC]. Subject to more favourable economic and diplomatic conditions, there is still an enormous amount of room for growth. Moscow has a population of 12.4m, St Petersburg 5.4m, and in the comparatively dormant secondary markets there are 13 more cities of more than a million, led by Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Partly because prices are often out of reach for average incomes, concerts sit behind cinema and theatre in turnover terms. But an ever-growing contingent of promoters is working hard to shift the balance.

“The market is getting more and more competitive, while the incomes of Russians don’t tend to rise,” says SAV founder Nadia Solovieva. “But we are used to this economic reality –that’s the way things usually are here.”

As infamous art collective Pussy Riot can attest, politicians and the country’s legal system are not against interfering with the Russian music scene. Homemade hip-hop has come under fire for its poor moral character, and a spate of small shows were shut down last year in a crackdown on allegedly seditious youth music that affected artists including Siberian rapper Husky and teen band Frendzona.

Increasingly, big business is taking an interest in the Russian live sector

But increasingly, big business is taking an interest in the Russian live sector. European giant Eventim’s move into promoting follows its ownership of ticketing operation since 2006. However, in practice, the major corporate influence on the Russian live business comes from domestic tech, mobile and finance juggernauts, which have claimed entertainment tickets as a feature of their own wider online offering.

Russian Internet titan Yandex took its share of the e-ticketing market to an estimated 20% in the summer with the acquisition of TicketSteam. Yandex’s rival Mail.Ru Group invested in ticketing aggregator TIWO’s Moscow-based Ticketing Platform at the same sort of time, while Russian bank Tinkoff has held a 20% stake in concert ticketing market leader since 2018, when mobile giant MTS also snapped up leading ticketers Ticketland and Ponominalu.

“It is about creating ecosystems and marketplaces,” Ticketland CEO Vitaly Vinogradov told the IQ International Ticketing Yearbook 2019.

The next step for Russia and elsewhere, believes Katerina Kirillova, co-founder of local blockchain distribution ventures Tickets Cloud and Crypto.Tickets, will be a shift to smart ticketing. When promoters and vendors can track and control tickets using blockchain technology, she suggests, data, marketing and anti-touting value will follow, while consumers are rewarded with secure tickets and music-driven social networking opportunities.

Existing tickets needn’t be threatened by the dawn of crypto, according to Kirillova, who adds that Tickets Cloud is in the process of securing its next funding round. “None of the traditional resellers wanted to integrate with us, because they considered us competitors, but now we have almost all the key resellers integrated as partners,” says Kirillova. “We don’t want to compete with them, but we want to provide the technology.”


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New AEG-backed MTS Live Arena bound for Moscow

MTS, Russia’s leading telecommunications operator and digital services provider, has signed an agreement to be the branding partner of, and help equip, a new 11,500-capacity arena in Moscow, set to open in 2020.

MTS (Mobile TeleSystems) – which also partially owns Russia’s two biggest entertainment ticket sellers – will provide high-speed mobile data network coverage throughout the venue, including 5G connectivity, and install ultra-high-resolution screens and smart parking, navigation, security and access control systems at the new MTS Live Arena, which is being built by developer Safmar Group near the Skolkovo Innovation Center (aka ‘Russia’s silicone valley’).

The deal between MTS and Safmar’s AND Corporation provides for an initial ten-year period of cooperation, with an option to extend. AEG is also on board as an international partner, says MTS – the US venues giant’s first property in Russia, after negotiations to operate Moscow’s VTB Arena fell through.

Alexey Kornya, MTS president and CEO, says the telco will help market events at the new arena via its ticketing platforms, Ticketland and Ponominalu, as well as broadcast performances via on-site VR streaming.

“We continue to expand into the experiential sphere,” explains Kornya. “The MTS Live Arena project complements our strategy to develop an entertainment ecosystem by leveraging synergies across our business lines, including e-ticketing, virtual and augmented reality, interactive OTT [over-the-top] content distribution and our proprietary mobile apps.

“Combining the expertise of AND Corporation, one of Russia’s largest developers, with MTS’s digital product capabilities will enable us to provide a new level of entertainment, including both world-class live performances by leading global stars [and] online content delivery to smartphones and other devices.”

“The MTS Live Arena project complements our strategy to develop an entertainment ecosystem”

When it opens in mid-2020, MTS Live Arena (pictured), the company says, will feature multiple seating levels “with optimal viewing from all areas”, as well as “world-class stage, lighting, and sound equipment”. “AEG’s participation will ensure the arena is on par with leading global concert venues,” it adds.

In addition to the VTB indoor arena, which has a capacity of 13,000 for concerts, other rival venues in Moscow include the 13,926-seat Megasport Sport Palace, CSKA Arena (14,000-cap.) and the 35,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, or Olimpiyskiy.

“Safmar Group is executing a variety of ambitious projects across the full spectrum of commercial real estate. The entertainment complex that we are building near the Skolkovo cluster will be a flagship platform for large-scale concerts in Russia,” comments Sait-Salam Gutseriev, general director of AND Corporation.

“The venue features a unique combination of advanced technologies, architectural solutions, design concepts and logistics accessibility standards. We are confident that MTS is the perfect partner to help develop this project, which can bring the perception of performances in our country to a new level.

“The innovative solutions that our partner plans to install at MTS Live Arena will provide viewers and attendees an unforgettable experience.”


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Rock in the USSR: SAV Entertainment at 30

Russia, to quote American writer Ralph Peters, has “long been a land of contradictions layered upon contradictions.” Straddling East and West, democracy and absolutism, collectivism and capitalism, the world’s largest country has always been a nation of stark contrasts – and never more so than in 1987.

Thirty years ago, as the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) celebrated the 70th anniversary of the October revolution, Russian society stood at a crossroads. A year earlier, general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev had used the 27th congress of the CPSU to introduce a range of reforms, including glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring) and demokratizatsiya (democratisation), paving the way for reduced state censorship, a degree of political liberalisation, and, ultimately, the fall of the Soviet Union and an independent Russia’s transition to a market economy.

Not, then, the kind of stable political environment in which most people would think to start a new company – especially one engaged in the inherently risky business of promoting live music – but then Nadia Solovieva, co-founder and CEO of Moscow-based SAV Entertainment, isn’t most people.

Solovieva, for four decades the matriarch of the Russian live music industry, tells IQ that SAV was initially conceived as a vehicle for promoting Russian artists in the West, capitalising on the USSR’s appeal to capitalist audiences amid the glasnost-era thaw in East–West relations. “The initial idea for SAV was the opposite of what it eventually became,” she explains. “Russia was hip at the time! But we gradually realised there wasn’t much of a business there, and started bringing foreign artists to Russia instead.”

Solovieva cut her promotion teeth at Gosconcert, the Soviet state concert monopoly, where she worked in the late 1970s and early 80s as a tour manager and translator. The first Western artist she worked with at Gosconcert was Elton John, who toured Russia with Harvey Goldsmith in 1979. Solovieva has promoted Sir Elton on numerous occasions since (he played the 7,500-cap. Crocus City Hall in Moscow with SAV on 14 December), but the British singer’s famous first visit to Russia – which set the stage for a lasting friendship between Solovieva and Goldsmith – was actually something of an accident, as the latter recalls.

“Elton went onstage [at Wembley] in 1977 and announced he was never going to tour again,” explains Goldsmith. “Later, we had lunch and he said, ‘I’ve got a new album coming out and I’ve promised to do a show in Paris for the record company – but I’m not touring.’

“Before then, there were no businesses except those owned by the state – even the word ‘business’ was new!”

“Over lunch, he kept saying, ‘I’m not touring, I’m not going to all those places I normally go,’ and that he wanted to play new places: Russia, Israel, Egypt… In the end, ‘not touring’ ended up being 18 months on the road!”

New beginnings
The genesis of SAV – originally Seabeko Alla Venture, after the company’s initial partners, Canadian investment firm Seabeco Group and singer Alla Pugacheva – came in 1987 when Gorbachev legalised private enterprise. Unlike their counterparts in Europe and North America, Russia’s fledgling promoters had little experience of the international live music industry – and, crucially, even less experience running a business, with private enterprise having been illegal since Stalin’s abolition of the New Economic Policy in 1928.

“We were, all of us together, learning how things worked,” Solovieva explains. “Before then, there were no businesses except those owned by the state – even the word ‘business’ was new, for God’s sake!

“Of course, now everything is here: the hotels, the transfers, the infrastructure… The only thing the promoter has to have is the ability to be music-orientated – and have money, of course. But when we started out, we had to learn everything from scratch.”


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