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US appointments: OVG360 and MSG Sphere name presidents

Oak View Group has named Gregory O’Dell as president of venue management at the company’s newly rebranded facilities division, OVG360.

O’Dell will oversee venue operations for more than 230 properties that OVG owns and/or operates globally, including stadiums and arenas, state fairgrounds, performing arts centres and convention centres.

His responsibilities will include setting a strategy to strengthen venue staples like sustainability efforts, booking and content development, premium and sponsorship sales, public safety and public health, and parking and transportation.

The live events veteran joins OVG from Events DC, where he was president and CEO since 2009 and oversaw three business lines (conventions and meetings, sports and entertainment, special events).

O’Dell is due to start his role in April and will be based in DC and Philadelphia, reporting to OVG360 CEO Chris Granger.

O’Dell will oversee venue operations for more than 230 properties that OVG owns and/or operates globally

Elsewhere, Lucas Watson, a seasoned executive with over 25 years of global experience accelerating growth and building brands, will join the MSG Sphere as president, effective 28 March.

In the new position, Watson will lead the strategy and execution of all business aspects of MSG Sphere and the company’s planned state-of-the-art venues.

The first MSG Sphere venue, MSG Sphere at The Venetian, is currently under construction in Las Vegas and is scheduled to open in the second half of calendar 2023.

Watson will oversee the global development of the MSG Sphere brand, including selectively extending the MSG Sphere network to other markets.

He will be based in Burbank, CA and report to James Dolan, executive chairman and chief executive officer, MSG Entertainment.

Watson most recently served as SVP commercial operations at Cruise, where he was responsible for leading the development of the commercial strategy and go-to-market operations plan for the self-driving car technology company.


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MSG Ent announces first-ever virtual residency

MSG Entertainment has announced its very first virtual residency with Phish frontman Trey Anastasio at New York City’s historic venue, The Beacon Theatre.

The eight-week residency, The Beacon Jams, will be livestreamed exclusively through video live streaming service Twitch every Friday from 9 October to 27 November.

The Beacon Jams performances will have no live audience and will feature acoustic and electric performances as well as home audience interaction.

All proceeds from The Beacon Jams donations will benefit Phish’s long-running non-profit, the WaterWheel Foundation, and its new Divided Sky Fund (DSF).

The proceeds will be used to deliver help to those affected by addiction and help further plans to open a treatment centre in Vermont.

“As we navigate the live music scene through this socially distant world, we couldn’t think of a more natural way to bring live music to so many fans for such a great cause,” says Darren Pfeffer, executive vice president, MSG Entertainment.

“Trey’s connection not only with the Beacon Theatre, but with all our venues over the years, including Madison Square Garden, The Chicago Theatre, and Radio City Music Hall, have made this unique concept a perfect partnership.”

“Fans of Trey and Phish will be able to attend from anywhere in the world, feeling like they are in the front row of the Beacon”

Will Farrell-Green, head of music content at Twitch says: “We could not be more excited to be part of this amazing partnership with Trey Anastasio and MSG Entertainment to help raise donations for such worthy causes.

“Twitch offers the same intimate experience that artists and their audiences have come to expect from live shows. Over the course of this virtual residency, fans of Trey and Phish will be able to attend performances from anywhere in the world, while feeling like they are right in the front row of the Beacon.”

“I’ve been sober for 13 years,” Anastasio says, “It’s a great blessing in my life. We started talking about the idea of a treatment centre about a year ago.

“I was worried that the project would get derailed because of the pandemic but it didn’t – it actually picked up steam; things are really rolling along now. The Beacon Jams emerged as a way to raise money for it while also allowing me to play for the fans again.”

This is Anastasio’s second residency with MSG Entertainment in recent years after Phish completed a residency at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2017 – a 13-night run known as The Baker’s Dozen.

Alongside Madison Square Garden and The Beacon Theatre, MSG Entertainment’s venues include Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden; Radio City Music Hall and The Chicago Theatre.

The company is also building a new state-of-the-art venue in Las Vegas, MSG Sphere at The Venetian, and has announced plans to build a second MSG Sphere in London, pending necessary approvals.


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MSG sets out further Sphere London commitments

Madison Square Garden Entertainment has set out further details of its London arena project, MSG Sphere.

The futuristic 21,500-capacity arena – which will, if approved, occupy a nearly five-acre site in Stratford, east London – has overcome a major hurdle after Network Rail, which manages much of the UK’s railway network, withdrew its objection to Sphere following consultation with MSG and local partners.

“We are pleased to provide additional details in support of our planning application for MSG Sphere, underlining our commitment to create jobs and boost the local economy,” comments Jayne McGivern, MSG Entertainment’s executive vice-president of development and construction. “The materials reflect the constructive dialogue we have had with a range of local stakeholders, and further demonstrate the careful consideration that has gone into every aspect of our plans.”

The updated documents – issued in response to a request from the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which is considering MSG’s planning application – can be read on the LLDC planning portal here.

In addition to its work with Network Rail, the MSG submission includes a number of voluntary planning conditions the company says addresses feedback from LLDC and local residents.

“The materials reflect the constructive dialogue we have had with a range of local stakeholders”

They include parameters around the hours of operation, event timings and the high-tech venue’s eye-catching external display, including restrictions on overnight lighting, as well as measures to coordinate arrival and departure times for event attendees.

Another contains a proposal to provide 111 disabled parking spaces at Stratford International station with free mobility assistance to the arena.

MSG originally hoped Sphere London could open in 2022 – a year after its sister venue in Las Vegas – but with the planning process continuing well into 2020, that is no longer a “realistic” goal, the company said last November. (The opening of MSG Sphere Las Vegas has since been pushed back to 2023 after construction was halted by coronavirus.)

The latest submission to the LLDC builds on previous commitments made by MSG Entertainment, including a guarantee that all on-site jobs will be paid at least the London living wage, investment in a new entrance and ticket hall for Stratford station, and a commitment to employing local people for least 35% of construction and operational jobs.

“We are confident our proposal thoughtfully sets out how we will deliver a world-class venue, and remain excited about the opportunity to bring MSG Sphere to London,” continues McGivern.


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Ted King to head up content for MSG Sphere venues

Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment has announced that 35-year entertainment industry veteran, Ted King, will join the company as president of creative content and studio productions, effective from 22 June.

Prior to MSG, King served as a senior show producer for Paramont and led creative development of projects at Pictures’ Themed Entertainment. He has also served as principal of Ted King Entertainment, which he founded in 2009, and was executive producer at Granaroli Design & Entertainment, which he joined in 2011.

In his role at MSG Entertainment – MSG’s newly separated entertainment business – King will lead MSG Sphere Studios, focusing on developing content for the multi-sensory MSG Sphere venues, the first of which is being built in Las Vegas with another planned for London, pending necessary approvals.

In addition, King will work with MSG Sphere construction and MSG Ventures, the team behind the venue’s state-of-the-art technologies, to develop tools that help to maximise MSG Sphere’s immersive capabilities, which include a fully programmable LED exterior and spatial sound.

He will report to MSG Entertainment’s executive chairman and chief executive officer, James Dolan.

“Ted understands how to build powerful environments, making him ideally suited to help us unlock MSG Sphere’s potential”

“With MSG Sphere, we’re using cutting-edge technology to transform the entertainment venue and construct an entirely new platform,” says Dolan. “As an experiential storyteller, Ted understands how to build powerful environments, making him ideally suited to help us unlock MSG Sphere’s potential and create experiences that truly transport audiences.

“Ted has spent the last year as a consultant on this project, and we are thrilled to make him an official part of our MSG Entertainment family.”

“This is a tremendous opportunity to be part of an exciting vision for the future of entertainment – fully immersive experiences on a grand scale,” adds King. “I am excited to be joining the team and look forward to building on the rich legacy of the Company.”

MSG Sphere Studios, MSG Ventures and other MSG Entertainment employees will use a new, 48,500 square-foot space that MSG Entertainment is opening in Hollywood’s Burbank Studios.

The space will feature a 10,500 square-foot soundstage – originally home to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson – which is currently being transformed into a full-service studio that includes production, editing, camera testing, and recording space.


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Why young women are the future of construction

It feels odd to me that more women aren’t involved in an industry as interesting and challenging as construction – according to official statistics, women only account for 12.5% of the UK industry today.

This isn’t just a man’s job and, although I haven’t encountered any major obstacles during my career because I am a woman, there’s clearly something going on if construction is still so dominated by men.

So, after the first International Women’s Day of this decade, I think it’s important that we encourage the young women of today to become the future of this important industry and take advantage of the career-defining opportunities available to them.

I’ve led teams delivering some of this country’s most iconic projects, including the O2 Arena and the new Wembley Stadium. And today, in my role as executive vice-president of development and construction at The Madison Square Garden Company, I have the extraordinary opportunity to deliver state-of-the-art venues that represents the future of live entertainment: MSG Sphere.

We are currently building MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, and we’ve also announced plans to build a second MSG Sphere in London, pending planning consent and other approvals.

As a leader in the construction industry, it’s exciting to take on the challenge of transforming a disused and unloved former coach park in east London into a state-of-the-art venue, bringing jobs and investment to Newham and to the country.

I feel strongly that the key to getting more women into our sector is to show them what’s possible

It’s perhaps a happy coincidence that the Women into Construction project was developed on the Olympic Park, just yards from the MSG Sphere site in Stratford, to address the gender imbalance in construction. It was originally created as part of the legacy of the 2012 Olympics with the aim of increasing the number of women working in construction on the Olympic Park and creating a trickle-down effect throughout the industry.

I’d like to think that a project as exciting as MSG Sphere could be just as inspiring and encourage young women who are thinking about their future careers to consider development, construction, engineering, architecture and environmental sustainability – just some of the many job opportunities that MSG Sphere would create.

I feel strongly that the key to getting more women into our sector is to show them what’s possible. That’s one of the reasons MSG is so focused on working with schools, colleges and youth groups in east London: to give today’s students a taster of the sort of work they could do at MSG Sphere in the future.

And I am proud to continually champion the many exceptional women I work with at The Madison Square Garden Company, where so many of our senior management team are female.

It is odd that only 12.5% of the construction industry is female. I believe this is largely the result of an erroneous perception that the industry is not as open to women rather than the reality.

That said, if there are barriers to women joining this profession, then we need to remove them, and I would encourage the current and future leaders in the construction industry to lean in and do this together by example, by encouragement and – most importantly – by deed.


Jayne McGivern is executive vice-president, development and construction, for The Madison Square Garden Company.

Sphere to be first living wage-accredited major venue

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) has been accredited as a ‘living wage employer’ by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF), IQ can reveal. This includes all on-site jobs at MSG’s planned Sphere arena in Stratford, east London, with the Sphere becoming the first major entertainment venue in the UK to receive the accreditation.

The news comes after MSG announced in December 2019 that all jobs directly on site at MSG Sphere – both during construction as well as once the venue is open – will be paid at least the London living wage (LLW) of £10.75, significantly higher than UK minimum wage of £6.15 for 18–24-year-olds and £7.70 for 21–24-year-olds.

Jayne McGivern, MSG’s EVP of development and construction, says: “We are absolutely committed to developing a groundbreaking venue that will not only redefine the future of entertainment, but also deliver tremendous benefits for local residents – including employment opportunities and training initiatives across a wide range of skill sets.

“That’s why we’re proud to have received this accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation and for MSG Sphere to become the first major entertainment venue in the UK to pay the London living wage as a minimum to everyone employed on site.”

The London Sphere – the US venues giant’s first large-scale international property – will be a showcase for a range of technological innovations, including the largest and highest resolution LED screen in the world, an adaptive acoustics system that delivers clear audio to every guest, and a haptic system so the audience can “feel” the experience.

“We are absolutely committed to developing a groundbreaking venue that will … deliver tremendous benefits for local residents”

MSG says the Sphere will bring thousands of jobs to the local area, including 4,300 jobs annually in the construction phase and 3,200 jobs once open. The New York-based company  has also made a commitment to ensure at least 35% of on-site construction jobs and 35% of on-site operational jobs – from senior managers to venue operations staff – go to local people.

MSG recently submitted updated documents relating to its proposals for MSG Sphere to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which manages the former Olympic site in Stratford on which Sphere will be built. The company – which is currently going through the process of spinning off its entertainment companies from its sports business – recently said Sphere London would likely no longer open in 2022, as planned.

Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation, comments: We’re delighted that The Madison Square Garden Company has joined the movement of over 6,000 responsible employers across the UK who voluntarily commit to go further than the government minimum to make sure all their staff earn enough to live on.

“Accredited businesses recognise that paying the real living wage is the mark of a responsible employer and they believe that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.”


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MSG moves forward with ents spin-off

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) has announced that it has reached a “significant milestone” in the proposed spin-off of its entertainment business, set to take place in the first three months of 2020.

The venue giant filed an initial form 10 registration statement with US regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday (3 December), detailing the terms of the spin-off, which would split MSG into two distinct companies – one focused on sports and the other on entertainment.

Structured as a tax-free spin-off to all MSG shareholders, those directly holding shares of common stock would maintain economic interest in both businesses, with MSG executive chairman and CEO James Dolan and his family retaining majority voting control of both companies.

MSG hopes the spin-off will enable investors to evaluate the assets and opportunities of each company more clearly, with the entertainment business in particular offering chances for growth through venue expansion.

MSG hopes the spin-off will enable investors to evaluate the assets and opportunities of each company more clearly

The entertainment company would feature venues including New York’s Madison Square Garden (20,789-cap.); Hulu Theater (5,600-cap.); Radio City Music Hall (6,015-cap.); the Forum in Inglewood (17,505-cap.); and The Chicago Theatre (3,600-cap.); as well as the state-of-the-art MSG Sphere venue in Las Vegas, due to open in 2021, and a second planned Sphere in London.

In addition to its venue portfolio, the post spin-off ents business would include MSG’s booking company, which will also programme sports events; the productions sector, which includes the Radio City Rockettes and the Christmas Spectacular; and majority interests in hospitality group Tao Group Hospitality and Boston Calling Events, which organises the Boston Calling Music Festival.

The New York Knicks (basketball) and Rangers (ice hockey) sports franchises, and the Knicks Gaming esports franchise, would make up the pure-play sports company.

MSG had previously explored a spin-off which would see the entertainment company retain a one-third stake in MSG sports, but later decided there was sufficient financing for venue expansion on the entertainment side without support from the sports division.

The completion of the spin-off remains subject to conditions including final MSG board approval.


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MSG plans full ents spin-off amid UK Sphere delays

Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) expects 2020 to be a “defining year”, as the company prepares to spin-off its entertainment businesses from its sports company and announces changes to Sphere plans.

The announcements were made in an earnings call for the first fiscal quarter of 2020, in which reported an adjusted operating loss of US$41.1 million, compared to $9.9m in Q1 2019. The company puts part of the increased losses down to “additional expenses in MSG Sphere related content and technology”.

The Sphere venues formed a major part of the conversation, with MSG president Andrew Lustgarten confirming that a 2022 opening for the 21,500-capacity London Sphere is “no longer realistic”, as the planning application process looks to continue into 2020.

“As we work through the planning application and design process, our timeline will continue to evolve,” said Lustgarten. “Therefore, we do not have a target opening date at this time.”

MSG vice chairman Gregg Seibert cited the change to the London Sphere opening plans as a reason for the company’s decision to pursue a full spin-off of its entertainment business from its sports business, resulting in no retention of equity interest in the sports company.

“We do not have a target opening date [for the London Sphere] at this time”

“Timeline for the opening of our London venue is evolving and we believe that the entertainment company will have sufficient financial flexibility to pursue its venue expansion plans without the need for the retained interest,” explained Seibert.

MSG had previously explored a spin-off of its sports and entertainment businesses into two distinct public companies, with the entertainment company retaining a one-third stake in MSG sports.

The spin-off remains subject to final approvals by the MSG board and others.

All remains on track for the original MSG Sphere to open in Las Vegas in 2021. MSG believes the venue will be “highly successful”, due to the growing demand for immersive shared experiences, Las Vegas’ positioning as “one of the world’s top entertainment destinations” and a partnership with convention-based resort specialist Las Vegas Sands.

“We expect MSG Sphere to change how we think about the entertainment experience, which is why we anticipate the Las Vegas Sphere becoming the most highly utilised venue in our portfolio.”

The first quarter of 2020 also saw MSG report a quarterly revenue of $214.8m, a 2% decrease year-on-year. The decline was attributed to the absence of a “special event” to replace the MTV Video Music Awards, which took place in Q1 2019.


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MSG Sphere further expands content team

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) has appointed award-winning creator Keri Elmsly to the newly created role of senior vice-president, immersive development and production, in the latest addition to its content team.

Elmsly will be tasked with the development of multi-sensory and immersive elements for the MSG Sphere entertainment venues planned for Las Vegas and London. With programmable LED exteriors, the Sphere venues aim to create immersive experiences both externally and internally.

The first MSG Sphere, in Las Vegas, is expected to be completed in 2021, with its London sister venue following a year later. MSG submitted its plans for the London sphere in March, revealing it will sit on a 4.7-acre former coach park located on the site of the 2012 Olympic games, and have a seated/standing capacity up to 21,500.

Elmsly joins Disney alumni Jennifer Vogt, president of creative content and productions, and Kristina Reed, senior vice-president of creative development and strategy on the MSG Sphere content team.

“MSG Sphere represents a truly unique convergence of art and technology that will create a powerful platform for immersive storytelling”

Prior to MSG, Elmsly served as chief creative officer at Second Story, a network of experience design studios. Previously, she produced the world’s first live drone orchestra – a narrative performance with Velvet Underground founder John Cale and Liam Young – as part of London’s Barbican Centre. As an executive producer at United Visual Artists, Elmsly led projects including the kinetic installation ‘Chorus’ and the stage design for Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 tour.

“Throughout her career, Keri’s work has lived at the intersection of technology, art and immersive experiences pushing the boundaries of technology in the name of creative storytelling,” comments Vogt.

“She perfectly complements our multi-faceted team whose collective expertise spans all areas of entertainment – from live action film to animation, Broadway and more – we are creating a team of talented revolutionaries for MSG Sphere.”

“MSG Sphere represents a truly unique convergence of art and technology that will create a powerful platform for immersive storytelling,” says Elmsly. “I’m thrilled to take on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform how we interact with audiences – creating new types of experiences that encourage them to step outside of their everyday reality.”


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Venue Lab, Broadwick Live talk “disrupting” London venues

Magazine London, a brand-new, multi-use venue in North Greenwich, opened its doors last week, as the latest event space in the fast-growing portfolio of Printworks operators, Venue Lab and Broadwick Live.

Venue Lab’s and Broadwick Live’s first purpose-built destination features a 3,000-capacity indoor, industrial-style space, adaptable to cater for live shows, corporate dinners or conferences. A mezzanine floor and terrace form a “ready-made” VIP area and outside, a 7,000-capacity showground offers a versatile space for brand activations with views across the river to Canary Wharf.

“We wanted to take all the difficult aspects of putting on an event and find solutions in advance,” Venue Lab chief executive Simon Tracey tells IQ. “The idea is to be really versatile, so this can be the right space for any kind of event, on any day of the week.”

Venue Lab is a Vibration Group company, a collective of creative event businesses, specialising in venue management and ownership, production services and event brands. This allows the Venue Lab team to plug their own services into the venues they operate, meaning everything from set design to production to staffing is done “in house”.

Broadwick Live, operator of venues the Drumsheds, Exhibition London and Depot at Mayfield and promoter of festivals such as Snowbombing and Field Day, acts as Venue Lab’s “ticketed culture partner”.

Venue Lab started working with Broadwick Live for the programming of London event space, Printworks. The phone rang “off the hook” with promoters wanting to use the space once Venue Lab took it over, says Tracey, but the team wanted to manage it “properly”, avoid negative impact on the surrounding area and ensure they could rely on those they worked with.

“We wanted to take all the difficult aspects of putting on an event and find solutions in advance”

“We could have booked content from lots of different promoters but we wanted to have more control over what happened at the venue,” explains Tracey. “If someone comes to a ticketed event and doesn’t enjoy it, they immediately think it’s the venue’s fault. We wanted to make sure that every experience someone has in one of our venues is a good one.”

Broadwick Live’s background in destination-based, immersive festivals, such as Snowbombing in the Alps and Festival No.6 in Portmeirion, Wales, made them the perfect fit for Venue Lab. “They’re about more than just a stage in a field,” says Tracey, “they excel in creating interesting experiences, so culturally it was inevitable we’d work well together.”

The content at Printworks is not all wholly owned by Broadwick Live, adds Tracey. “Broadwick Live works with lots of different promoters, but they manage the overall programming and operations, so we know they will always deliver.”

The success of Printworks, which has become a “phenomenon” since opening in 2017, has led to the development of a “brilliant” collaborative relationship between both Venue Lab and Broadwick Live. “Collectively, we can do it all,” says Tracey, “and that makes us really unique.”

Another aspect that allows both Venue Lab and Broadwick Live to stand out from the crowd is the companys’ aim to build “brands” or “spaces” rather than venues, creating something more special than “just another nameless box”.

Tracey points to their current portfolio of spaces – such as disused train station Depot at Mayfield, former printing press Printworks, old gasworks The Drumsheds or more traditional corporate venues Landing Forty Two and grade II-listed The Pumping House – stating they are all “very different from a branding perspective”.

“I genuinely believe there’s a lot more capacity in London for all sorts of venues”

Situated in plain sight of AEG’s O2 Arena and sharing the same underground station, has the creation of Magazine London not led to tension, with worries over competition and accessibility for fans?

On the contrary, says the Magazine team, we are “good neighbours” with the O2 and meet regularly.

“They know we are not running the same kind of venue as them, the only challenge is transport but we have meetings to plan for this and have developed a really coordinated approach,” says Tracey.

In other areas, people would be “more protective” about the space, comments Tracey, but one of the benefits of being part of the Greenwich Peninsular development is that it brings everyone together and diffuses this, with businesses forming partnerships to make the Peninsular as desirable a destination as possible.

Even the impending creation of the 21,500-capacity MSG Sphere, which has caused tension with AEG, does not faze the Magazine team.

“I genuinely believe there’s a lot more capacity in London for all sorts of venues,” says Tracey in reference to a possible saturation of the market. “It’s such a multicultural city and London is actually quite behind in terms of event spaces.”

“People are craving experiences, and as they do, there’s ever more evolution of what that experience is”

Following the success of Printworks, Venue Lab and Broadwick Live have launched three new venues this year – Magazine London, the Drumsheds and Exhibition London, which opens in November – and plans to work collaboratively in opening three to five more venues each year, “for the next three years”, in London, other major UK cities, and across Europe.

Although the old-school nightclub is becoming more challenging and it is getting harder for festivals to “make it work”, the demand for venues that offer interesting experiences to fans and a versatile space to organisers is far from satisfied.

“People are craving experiences, and as they do, there’s ever more evolution of what that experience is,” states Tracey. “Events are getting bigger, better and more immersive – everyone is raising their game.”

Magazine London has already attracted a wide variety of public and private events ahead of 2020. From brand events, awards dinners, conferences, exhibitions, fashion, the arts and ticketed culture; there are 22 events confirmed between September 2019 and the end of the year.

Upcoming events include sold-out Michael Bibi Presents Isolate, World Travel Market’s International Travel and Tourism Awards and Stylist Live LUXE. The venue hosted Desperados’ ‘Epic House Party’ last weekend (Saturday 7 September), in which 3,000 attendees crossed its threshold to mark Magazine London’s official opening.


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