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Nordic test shows: Too little, too late?

After effectively ruling out the 2021 festival season, the governments in Denmark and Norway are now in the process of organising large-scale test events to determine how big gatherings can take place during the pandemic.

According to Denmark’s live association, Dansk Live, such experiments were proposed in December 2020 and also in March 2021 by the government-backed ‘Restart Team’.

Both proposals were “kicked to the corner by the authorities,” according to Dansk Live’s Esben Marcher, but it seems that Denmark’s minister of culture has had a late change of heart.

This week, minister Joy Mogensen asked the government’s Restart Team to assess the possibilities of conducting experiments with large events this summer.

The minister’s request comes three weeks after the government’s roadmap was published, which stated that a maximum of 2,000 participants will be permitted at festivals between 21 May and 1 August 2021.

The announcement was followed by a raft of cancellations from 15+ festivals including Roskilde (26 June to 3 July), Smukfest (4–8 August), Northside (3–5 June) and Tinderbox (24–26 June) – rendering the country’s 2021 festival season over.

“The hope was that knowledge could be created that could ensure better opportunities for this summer’s events”

While Dansk Live’s Marcher has welcomed the news of potential test concerts, he also expresses disappointment that large-scale pilots weren’t approved earlier in the year.

“Already at the end of 2020, we proposed to the minister of culture that experiments be carried out in events that bring many people together,” he says.

“The hope was that knowledge could be created that could ensure better opportunities for this summer’s events. Although it is positive that there now seems to be support for making trial arrangements, it is, of course, a pity that there has been no political will to launch trials in the past.”

The Norwegian government has also shown little political will to organise test concerts up to this point – though, after some uncertainty, this morning the cabinet finally approved a pilot series proposed by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The institute is planning five test concerts in Bergen and Oslo with up to 5,000 people attending each one. As previously reported in IQ, 15,000 participants will be recruited for a control group and will not actually attend the concerts.

The series is expected to kick off in June and concerts will take place in a number of venues including Oslo Spektrum and Grieg Hall in Bergen.

The Nowegian government this morning approved a pilot series proposed by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health

The research project will investigate whether the risk of the spread of infection is reduced to such an extent that rapid testing can replace the distance requirement during events.

Bergen Live, Øya festival, Palmesus and other Norwegian concert organisers will be involved in the test events – many of which were forced to cancel festivals due to the government’s preliminary guidelines, which restrict festivals to 2,000 attendees until June, 5,000 attendees until August and 10,000 thereafter.

Live Nation-owned festivals Bergenfest and Tons of Rock, Superstruct-backed Øya Festival, Over Oslo, Picnic in the Park, Stavernfetsivalen, Seljord Festival and Country Festival among events have been cancelled since.

Compared with other countries in the northern hemisphere, Norway and Denmark have been slow off the mark with arranging test shows.

Germany began conducting test shows as far back as August 2020, with Restart-19, prompting other nations including Spain, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and Luxembourg, to follow suit. See an extensive timeline of pilot projects here.

While the test shows haven’t necessarily guaranteed the security of the 2021 festival season – many of the aforementioned markets have already seen the summer season obliterated due to government restrictions – nations like the UK are surging towards a full reopening thanks to reassuring results from the government’s Events Research Programme.

 


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Positive signs but a long way to go, say Nordic promoters

Live music was allowed to return to Norway earlier this month, but event organisers in the country – as well as those in neighbouring Sweden, which has not seen a blanket ban on shows – say the return to business for the live industry is still some way off.

After almost two months of silence, concerts of up to 50 people were permitted to take place in Norway from 7 May, providing a one-metre space is kept between attendees, with capacity limits set to increase to 200 people by mid-June if all goes well and, possibly, to 500 by September

“It’s great to see that some concerts can take place again,” says Anders Tangen of Norwegian live music association Norske Konsertarrangører (NKA), “but to make it very clear – it’s not something that can keep our industry economically afloat.”

In a similar vein to responses from those in the Spanish music industry when reopening plans were unveiled, promoters in Norway suggest that initial restrictions are not viable for live events.

“A capacity of 50 works for private events like weddings and anniversaries, but I don’t see a concert boom returning with these restrictions,” Tonje Kaada, CEO of Norway’s Øya Festival tells IQ. “Maybe if the limit increases to 200 like they say it may from 15 June, but I think most promoters need a 500 limit before finding it financially healthy to restart their businesses.”

“It’s great to see that some concerts can take place again, but it’s not something that can keep our industry economically afloat”

Øya was among major festivals in Norway to cancel its 2020 edition following the extension of the government’s large-scale event ban to 1 September. Although having to cancel is “every festival organiser’s nightmare”, Kaada states it was helpful to be able to do so “in such controlled circumstances”, with time to discuss with other organisers and the wider industry.

“It’s been an incredibly tough time for our whole eco system, but at least we’re in the same boat and I really feel that everyone is doing what they can to support each other.”

Mark Vaughan from All Things Live Norway agrees that there is “no financial reward for anyone” putting on an event under current restrictions. However, the reopening, albeit slight, does “give people a chance to work in many different sectors of the business”, says Vaughan, adding that putting on shows, even under the restrictions, is “a positive step for everyone”.

In addition to capacity limits, the need to maintain social distancing at events provides more problems for promoters. FKP Scorpio Norway head promoter Stian Pride says the one-metre distancing guideline means it is “very difficult to make [shows] work”.

“The economic margins for venues and festivals were tight before the crisis, and this makes it even worse”

In order to facilitate easier and safer reopening, the NKA has developed guidelines for venues and organisers on how to meet regulations from the health authorities. “It’s a lot to consider and implement,” says Tangen, “but at the same time there is of course eagerness to open up and get back to come sort of normality.

“The economic margins for venues and festivals were tight before the crisis, and this makes it even worse.”

The situation in Norway is much the same as that in neighbouring Sweden which, unlike its western European counterparts, has yet to impose a full lockdown, keeping bars, restaurants and shops open and allowing events of up to 50 people.

However, the country’s live industry is facing the same issues as most others. “No concerts at all are taking place,” Edward Janson of Swedish promoter Triffid and Danger tells IQ. “We were supposed to promote 42 concerts from mid-March to late May and all of these have either been cancelled or postponed.” Janson adds that he is “more and more sceptical” as to whether shows rescheduled to autumn will be able to go ahead.

Indeed, unlike in many other countries, no end-date for restrictions or plan for resuming normal business has been given in Sweden, making it difficult for promoters to plan for the future, says Joppe Pihlgren of Swedish live music organisation Svensk Live.

“Our focus is to help our members to survive this spring and summer.”

 


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Norway festivals cancelled, but small events to return

Concerts of up to 200 people will likely once again be permitted in Norway as of Friday 15 June, as the country’s live music sector begins its slow return to normality.

The first live events will return this week, with shows for up to 50 people permitted from this Thursday (7 May), providing a one-metre (3’3”) distance is kept between attendees. From 15 June, the government will also consider allowing events for up to 200 people should infection rates be kept under control, said health minister Bent Høie last week.

The concrete timetable for the lifting of restrictions on concerts – which follows a similar, much-talked-about announcement by Spanish authorities, where events of 30 people (in venues with over 90 capacity) may return from 11 May – welcomed tentatively by promoters’ association NKA, nevertheless comes too late for Norway’s large live events, with the country’s largest and best-known music festivals finally called off last week.

Bergenfest (scheduled for 10–13 June) and Tons of Rock (25–27 June), both owned by Live Nation, and Øya Festival, part of the Superstruct stable, will no longer take place in 2020, after the Norwegian government extended its ban on major live events until 1 September.

“For the larger industry players, events of up to 200 people will not even be close to being financially viable”

Large-scale live events are banned in most of continental Europe this summer to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Going further than Norway, the Netherlands has prohibited all festivals, concerts and club nights until 1 September, while in SwitzerlandIrelandGermanyBelgium and Denmark a ban is in place until 31 August. Hungary has banned mass gatherings until at least 15 August, and Luxembourg and Finland until 31 July. France, meanwhile, has given mid-July as the earliest date when events could go ahead, while Austria has identified the end of June.

“While it is positive that there are now clear signs that society can gradually be reopened, at the same time it will be a long time until we can be together as normal,” comments Norwegian Live Music Association (NKA) head Tone Østerdal. “Our industry was among the very first to be shut down, and will most likely be among the very last to open completely. In the meantime, the focus must be to keep concert organisers and the rest of the players in the music industry afloat.

“For some of the smallest, allowing events for up to 200 people could represent such an opportunity, and I think we will see many positive initiatives going forward. At the same time, we should not underestimate what maintaining the infection prevention rules will require of promoters – and for the larger industry players, events of up to 200 people will not even be close to being financially viable.”

 


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Festivalgoers’ data for sale in latest email scam

Email marketers are offering to sell lists of festival attendee data to music business professionals, in the latest suspected email scam to target the live industry.

IQ has learnt that alleged fraudsters have offered to sell the data of attendees to “many events across Europe”, including Norway’s Øya Festival and the UK’s Tramlines, to booking agencies and record labels.

The majority of the emails, all sharing the same format, come from several email addresses traced by IQ to one Vikram H, operating from an apartment block in Bangalore, India. If one takes Vikram up on his offer, respondents are directed to a company registered anonymously in Arizona. None of the people involved responded to multiple requests for comment.

The alleged scam entails offering music businesses the opportunity to purchase attendees’ full names, email addresses, job titles, complete mailing addresses and phone numbers.

“My guess is that they either don’t have the information they claim to have, or they have nicked the info from our Facebook event somehow”

It is suggested that the data, which is supposed collected from “permission-based, double opt in contacts”, compliant with the new GDPR regulations, be used for “pre-show and post-show marketing campaigns, appointment setting and networking”. It is unclear whether said individuals are actually in possession of the information.

A list of data for 25,127 Øya attendees is priced at US$298. The number is a small proportion of the more than 100,000 visitors expected at this year’s festival – which takes place from 6 to 10 August – but was “very much the same number” as those attending on Øya’s Facebook event at the time of the quotation, says the festival’s chief executive, Tonje Kaada.

“They claim to have gathered the data from surveys, and that all the contacts have agreed to receive emails and calls from third-party companies,” Kaada tells IQ. “My guess is that they either don’t have the information they claim to have, or they have nicked the info from our Facebook event somehow.”

The live music industry has seen several similar scams in recent months. In June, Asian promoters received emails from fraudsters posing as agents of high-profile acts. A scam also targeted artists, with bogus UK festival directors offering acts non-existent headline slots.

 


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“It’s important to be a role model”: Øya gears up for 20th year

Norway’s Øya Festival will next week mark its 20th anniversary with the biggest event to date, according to festival founder Claes Olsen.

Øya Festival (Øyafestivalen), held since 2014 in Tøyen Park, Oslo, has sold out every year since 2004, when it was headlined by the Streets and Air and attracted 38,000 visitors. For 2019’s event, on 6–10 August, the Øya team have boosted capacity to 20,000 per day at the festival site – with more than 100,000 visitors expected over the course of the event, including at Øyanatt (Øya Night) club shows at venues across Oslo.

“We’ve had record sales this year,” says Olsen, who reveals full-week tickets sold out before the summer. “Saturday day tickets, with Norwegian headliners Karpe, sold out before Christmas,” he adds, while “Wednesday, with the Cure, James Blake and Blood Orange, sold out months ago; Friday, with Robyn, Christine and the Queens and Girl in Red, sold out weeks ago; and we only have a few hundred tickets left for Thursday, with Tame Impala, Erykah Badu and Sigrid…”

Part of the increase in capacity for 2019 was necessitated by soaring artist fees – 30% over the last two years alone, reckons Olsen – but it has enabled the festival to book arguably its most impressive international line-up yet, complemented by a strong contingent of Norwegian talent.

Olsen, who is also Øya’s lead booker, attributes the festival’s run of back-to-back sell-outs to “believing in our own profile” – booking acts the team want to see, rather than “desperately chasing trends” – as well its progressive attitude towards the issues of the day, including sustainability and gender parity among staff and performers.

“It’s important to think about the future and not be too nostalgic about our history”

For the third year in a row, Øyafestivalen has a gender-balanced bill (49% women this year, 48% in 2017–18), which “proves that we can sell tickets with lots of amazing female acts all over the line-up”, says Olsen, who adds that 65% of the festival’s volunteers are female, along with more than half of its staff. (As is Øya’s CEO, Tonje Kaada.)

Olsen says that while festival bookers “spend a lot of time talking about this issue” (gender parity), it’s “not too difficult to manage it, or to sell tickets or anything. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re heading in the right direction – there are more and more female artists coming through and, especially among the Norwegian acts, there are a lot to choose from.”

As for staff, Olsen says even 20 years ago, “as a group of friends doing the festival voluntarily alongside other jobs, it was important [to us] to be a professional organisation and always recruit the best people – and naturally lots of them were female. But you need to be conscious of it and not overlook it; it’s important to be a positive role model and get new people on board, rather than scaring them away from getting into the music industry…”

On sustainability, meanwhile, the festival has been run on completely renewable energy since 2009, and all food is organic, with almost 40% of the 100,000 portions of food sold being meat free. Additionally, all food packaging is compostable, all beverages are served in reusable cups – a reduction of 90% in plastic use since 2016 – and over 60% of the festival’s waste is reused for new products.

The event’s “environmental- and climate-friendly operations, food and drink that’s gone far beyond sausages and beer, and social consciousness in addition to all the music” were among the factors that impressed Superstruct Entertainment, James Barton’s private equity-backed festival group, enough to invest in Øya in 2018, Olsen’s fellow co-founder, Linn Lunder, told DN.

“We always recruited the best people, and naturally lots of them were female. But you need to be conscious of it”

How has that deal – which saw Øyafestivalen and Superstruct invest in each other, with Olsen and Lunder acquiring an ownership interest in Superstruct – affected, positively or otherwise, Øya 2019? Not much, according Olsen, who says the first year has been “mainly been getting to know each other better, with new festivals coming aboard”.

However, he expects the Superstruct network – which now includes Denmark’s Down the Drain, Flow Festival in Finland and several ex-Global events in the UK, among others – to include “more collaboration in future years”, especially in coordinating artist booking.

Other than handing out a big 20th birthday cake to the first people on site, Olsen says Øya’s 20th year – unlike, say, Glastonbury’s 40th, which saw festival founder Michael Eavis join Stevie Wonder for an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ – will be a low-key affair.

“We’re keeping it a little bit quiet; we don’t have it on the posters or the ads, for example,” he says. “We feel like it’s important to think about the future and not be too nostalgic about our history – and I don’t think people really care that much about it when they’re buying tickets anyway. Besides, every festival is better than the last year anyway…”

Øya Festival 2019 takes place Tuesday 6 to Saturday 10 August.

 


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Superstruct invests in Norway’s Øyafestivalen

Øyafestivalen, one of the biggest festivals in Norway, has entered into an investment agreement with Superstruct Entertainment, adding a fourth festival brand to Superstruct’s expanding roster of European events.

The deal is the latest development in what has been a busy year for Superstruct – led by CEO James Barton, the founder of Creamfields and former president of electronic music at Live Nation – following May’s acquisition of Sónar festival in Barcelona, February’s investment in Spanish promoter Elrow and the acquisition in January of a majority stake in Sziget.

The company is backed by private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners, and describes its mission as “building a group of leading music festivals in Europe and other parts of the world with the same level of quality and unique position in their home market” as Øyafestivalen, Sónar and others.

Øyafestivalen (60,000-daily cap.), founded in 1999, is held annually in Tøyen Park in Oslo. This year’s edition, which is taking place now (from 7 to 11 August), sold out in advance, with a line-up featuring acts including Kendrick Lamar, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Lykki Li, Fever Ray, Patti Smith and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

“This partnership is about the festival becoming part of a larger group with common interests”

As part of the deal with Providence, the festival’s senior leadership will join Superstruct’s management team.

“We are happy to have been given the opportunity to become investors in Superstruct and join forces with them at this stage of their expansion, and are confident that our new position will allow us to promote Norwegian music through channels we would otherwise not have had access to while also boosting Oslo as a festival city,” says Claes Olsen, Øyafestivalen’s booking manager.

“This partnership is about the festival becoming part of a larger group with common interests. However, our festival will continue to be run by the same management, it will maintain the profile that our audience knows and loves and Øyafestivalen AS will remain a Norwegian company based in Oslo. Additionally, as part of this agreement, our award-winning environmental work will become international.”

Barton adds: “We are delighted to be partnering with Øyafestivalen, one of Europe’s leading urban festivals and the leading festival in Norway. We look forward to welcoming their senior leaders to our management team and continuing to promote outstanding live music events.”

 


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