The New Bosses 2021: Age Versluis, Friendly Fire
The New Bosses 2021 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual celebration of the brightest young talent in the live business today, as voted for by their peers – was published in IQ 103 this month, revealing the 12 promising promoters, bookers, agents, entrepreneurs that make up this year’s list.
To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2021’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.
Catch up on the previous 2021 New Bosses interview with Jenna Dooling, agent at WME in the UK here.
As one of the worst drummers in his hometown, Utrecht, Age Versluis realised that organising shows was a better option. During his music management studies, he interned for a festival, a venue, a record label and a promoter to help him decide what his next step would be.
Having interned at the first edition of Best Kept Secret festival in 2013, Versluis remained at Friendly Fire, where he became a promoter five years ago. He has since developed a roster that includes Khruangbin, Fontaines D.C., Black Pumas, Cigarettes After Sex, Phoebe Bridgers and many others.
Friendly Fire also runs an open-air venue in Amsterdam throughout the summer, which Versluis operates.
Do you have a mentor or anyone you turn to for advice?
Roel Coppen [agent, promoter, co-owner, Friendly Fire] has taught me everything about spotting talent and working out a long-term approach for an artist. For the last couple of years, I have been learning more about bigger shows and collaborations from Rense van Kessel and Lauri van Ommen in our office.
What has been the highlight of your career, so far?
The biggest highlight is convincing an artist to trust and play multiple shows in the Netherlands early on in their career and then to see that confidence pay off. For example, with two amazing sold-out nights for Khruangbin in Paradiso, December 2020.
“Go to shows, lots of them, talk with the people at the door, at the stand, at the FOH, production staff, everyone”
What advice would you give to anyone trying to find a job in live music?
Go to shows, lots of them, talk with the people at the door, at the stand, at the FOH, production staff, everyone. Volunteer for as many things as you can sustain. Go to conferences, panels, and try to get a quick meeting in for some advice/feedback with someone that inspires you.
The pandemic has been hard on us all – are there any positive aspects that you and Friendly Fire are taking out of it?
Yes, it’s been hard but we’ve also seen relationships improve with the people we work with. We’ve tried out new things, dipped our toes into livestreaming, have unwillingly learned everything on socially distanced shows and have kept on a few of those new things.
As a new boss, what one thing would you change to make the live music industry a better place?
Several things. We should work to diversify the people we work with and in all aspects of what we do, in regards to underrepresentation.
“We have all been busy juggling shows and limitations, now it’s important that we plan for shows that are actually happening”
Also, accommodating and setting boundaries for work and personal life – although that’s been getting a lot better the past years. As a young new promoter with no network, I loved gaining managers’ and agents’ trust at that earliest stage. I believe in spreading out who you work with, so you can learn from all sorts of people.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I’d love to work on new outdoor concepts and specialise in that part of live music, as I really like the novelty of it. So far the majority of my shows were in the Netherlands, but we are doing more outside our territory now, and that’s something that I hope is going to stick.
What’s the biggest challenge for you and the Friendly Fire team now that the business is emerging from lockdown restrictions?
We have all been very busy juggling shows and limitations, now it’s important that we focus and plan a workflow for shows that are actually happening. The biggest challenge will be building up customer trust to buy tickets again.
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Dutch gov plots 80+ test concerts over nine days
The Netherlands will host more than 80 concerts across nine days as part of an extensive pilot programme of cultural activities, announced last night (6 April) by the Dutch government.
The programme, which stretches across April and includes theatre shows and museum openings, will trial the use of test certificates which display Covid-19 test results or vaccination status.
Participants must show either a negative Covid-19 test result or proof of vaccination upon entry, and adhere to the 1.5-metre social distancing rule once inside the concert.
“There is close consultation with the municipalities about the feasibility and enforceability of the pilots,” says minister for education, culture and science, Ingrid van Engelshoven. “If these are successful, a good start can then be made with test evidence on a large scale.
“If these [pilot events] are successful, a good start can then be made with test evidence on a large scale”
“It is important that we start with this, also for all those cultural institutions that have not been able to receive an audience for a long time. The monuments, museums, theatres and music venues can now carefully open their doors.”
The pilot scheme will run alongside Fieldlab Events’ forthcoming test shows, which includes the Eurovision Song Contest in May and the 3FM Awards, which was announced today (7 April).
The 3FM Awards will be presented on 15 April at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht with 1,000 people in attendance. Live performances will be delivered by Son Mieux and The Vices.
The most recent Fieldlab Events pilots, two test festivals held at the Lowlands site in Biddinghuizen on 20 and 21 March, were used to trial the government’s new CoronaCheck app.
The calendar for the full pilot programme can be viewed on the central government website. Artists for the concerts are yet to be announced.
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Live and Proud: The vibrant LGBTQ+ music scene
Live music has long served as a platform for those of non-normative sexual identities to make their voices heard, spread values of love and tolerance, and express themselves to the full.
Many music festivals now come with clear messages of respect, inclusivity and love for all, club nights specifically serve the LGBTQ+ community, Pride events host some of the biggest names in live music today and, now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Digital Drag Fest, the “biggest drag festival in history” is among those embracing a new, virtual festival format.
However, as heteronormative songs, artists and practices continue to dominate the live scene, IQ asks how many live music events are all-inclusive, all-welcoming, safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and questions what the industry is doing as a whole to ensure everyone within it feels as comfortable as possible.
A legacy fit for a Queen
“The live music world wouldn’t exist without the LGBTQ+ community,” states Maz Weston, a programmer at Dutch nightclub Paradiso and part of the team organising Amsterdam’s Milkshake festival.
Weston cites Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, David Bowie’s “androgynous glory,” Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Divine as having paved the way for later acts such as Marc Almond, Boy George, and later still Scissor Sisters – the queer icons consituting the cream of live entertainment’s crop.
Despite this great musical legacy and improvements to equality and representation across the industry, it remains itally important to have spaces dedicated to LGBTQ+ people within live, says Weston.
“The live music world wouldn’t exist without the LGBTQ+ community”
“The community needs spaces where people can meet, socialise, explore their own identity and feel safe enough to express themselves.”
In order for live events themselves to provide safe and dedicated spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, it is becoming apparent that an inclusive environment must first be fostered within the industry itself.
Cross-industry body Pride In Music aims to provide such a space, creating a community of LGBTQ+ people and giving them a voice within the music business. Groups dedicated to LGBTQ+ issues have also formed within some of the industry’s leading companies.
Sean Hill, a member of the Proud Leadership Team at UTA, speaks of the importance of having such teams within institutions to “provide a support network, breakdown stereotypes, offer mentoring and raise issues affecting those who identify as LGBTQIA+.” For those unaware of the acronym, LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Genderqueer, Queer, Intersexed, Agender, Asexual, and Ally community.
UTA’s Proud Leadership Team organises events “from networking opportunities to informative talks and charity fundraisers” to drive openness and promote a culture of inclusivity, also working with the agency’s offices in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville.
A recent industry event in London saw some of UTA’s LGBTQ+ clients performing in front of record label executives, promoters, managers and agency representatives.
“We all try and support one another’s events when we can,” says Hill.
“The community needs spaces where people can meet, socialise, explore their own identity and feel safe enough to express themselves”
Pride of place
The role that live music can play in providing a safe, joyful and inclusive space is a common thread throughout the conversations IQ has with event organisers and promoters.
Bringing people together is the main aim of Ireland’s The Outing Festival. An LGBTQ+ music and matchmaking festival, the Outing hopes it can help people together form lasting friendships, as well as initiating romantic unions.
Festival founder Eddie McGuinness tells IQ that the event aims to unite different kinds of people and fuse different genres of music and art forms. “There’s a lot of heteronormative music out there,” says McGuinness. “Here, people can express themselves properly and freely.”
Jamie Tagg, the co-founder of East Creative, which puts on the 25,000-capacity Mighty Hoopla pop festival in London, and runs the LGBTQ+ collective Sink The Pink, explains that “inclusivity, creativity and positivity” are the driving forces behind his events.
The same core ethos goes for one of the most famous gatherings for the LGBTQ+ community – Pride.
Taking place in multiple cities and countries around the world each year, Pride has evolved and grown over the years to host some of the biggest names in live music today.
Criticism has been levelled at some event organisers for losing sight of Pride’s essence, especially when non-LGBTQ+ artists top the bill for the community’s largest celebrations
Criticism has been levelled at some event organisers for losing sight of Pride’s essence, especially when non-LGBTQ+ artists top the bill for the community’s largest celebrations.
However, as Paul Kemp, director of Brighton Pride, points out, popular music has been a feature of Pride since the 90s, with acts including Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue, Madonna and Jake Shears performing at events over the years.
The important thing, says Kemp, is that “in amongst the music and dancing we always make sure the campaign messages are front and centre.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic causes the cancellations of Pride events in London, Toronto and Chicago, among others, and postponements in cities including Dublin, Madrid and Buacharest, Brighton organisers say that “multiple contingency plans” are being put in place to ensure the “safe and successful” delivery of the 2020 edition of Brighton Pride, currently scheduled for 1 and 2 August, given
Dan Brown of Birmingham Pride, which will now take place from 5 to 6 September due to the coronavirus outbreak, admits “there is a danger” of live music detracting from Pride’s main message, but affirms that the evolution of the event indicates “progression.”
“People don’t like change,” says Brown. “The problem is, people don’t shout enough about the good these events do.”
“[Pride] events are becoming more like music festivals in a way – but they’re still so much more than that”
When Britney Spears played Brighton Pride in 2018, for example, the organisers raised £250,000 – “a life-changing amount of money.” Brown also references the controversy surrounding Ariana Grande’s performance at Manchester Pride this year, and a perceived hike in ticket prices for the headline show.
“That one weekend funds everything else,” says Brown. “The Manchester team are putting on free, locally focused events through the year – and I don’t think people realise that.” The same goes for Birmingham, with free-to-enter venues in the gay village depending on the income from Pride and the support of its organisers.
“It’s a massive transition phase for Pride right now,” explains Brown. “The events are becoming more like music festivals in a way – but they’re still so much more than that.”
Pride & joy
LGBTQ+ artists have enjoyed a greater representation in recent years. The 1975’s Matt Healy and Years & Years’ Olly Alexander are just two examples of mainstream, high-profile artists using their platform to talk openly about their sexuality.
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 88, or subscribe to the magazine here
Paradiso makes gig archive available online
To celebrate 50 years in business, Paradiso has created an archive of show dates, posters, photos and more from the last six decades at the legendary Amsterdam venue.
Paradiso Archief details the history of the 1,500-cap. venue from its first shows in 1968 – when it was known as the Cosmisch Ontspanningscentrum (Cosmic Relaxation Centre) – featuring psychedelic luminaries such as Pink Floyd, the Pretty Things, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Traffic and Group 1850, through to the present day, by the way of James Brown, Amy Winehouse, Nirvana, Lady Gaga and Arctic Monkeys.
“Paradiso first opened its doors on 30 March 1968,” according to the venue. “The ‘Cosmic Leisure Centre’ of the hippies grew into a professional concert hall with several shows per day and at various locations in Amsterdam.
Along with other former hippie haunt Melkweg, Paradiso is one of the Dutch capital’s most famous venues
“Stroll through the entire Paradiso archive, which is added to every day, find that memorable show and refresh your memory!”
Along with other former hippie haunt Melkweg, Paradiso – housed in a former church on the Weteringschans – is one of the Dutch capital’s most famous mid-sized venues and cultural centres. Upcoming shows include the Fratellis, the New Power Generation, George Ezra, Marlon Williams , Yo La Tengo and Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor.
It celebrated its fiftieth birthday (dubbed #Paradi50) on the weekend of 31 March with two days of music, a book launch and the opening of an exhibition in Amsterdam Museum.