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Pukkelpop announces alternative event

Belgium’s Pukkelpop has announced an alternative event in lieu of the flagship festival, which was axed in late July due to new government Covid-19 regulations.

The event, dubbed Pukkelpop Kwartier, will take place between 19–22 August at the Muziekodroom site in Hasselt.

Pukkelpop Kwartier will comprise four separate outdoor events featuring several of the Belgium artists that were due to perform at the flagship festival.

Zwangere Guy, The Opposites, Whispering Sons, Bazart and Charlotte de Witte are among the repurposed acts.

A maximum of 1,500 attendees will be admitted to each of the four events. Aside from a valid festival ticket, festivalgoers will have to bring a form of ID and a valid Covid Safe Ticket, to prove they are fully vaccinated as of 14 days, recently tested negative or recently recovered from the virus.

The organisers have created a circulation plan with adapted walking routes to guide the public, however, there will be no social distancing once inside the festival and attendees are not required to wear a mask.

Day tickets for Pukkelpop Kwartier went on sale today and three of the four events have already sold out

Day tickets for Pukkelpop Kwartier (€35) went on sale today and three of the four events have already sold out. Friday tickets are still available here. See the full line-up here.

The 66,000-capacity flagship festival would have taken place near Hasselt between the same dates, with artists including Liam Gallagher, Editors, Future, Anne-Marie and Marshmello.

The festival was cancelled as a result of new government regulations that would have required it to almost triple its on-site testing capacity with less than a month to go until gates open.

Pukkelpop was the last remaining major international music festival in Belgium following the cancellation of Tomorrowland in June and Rock Werchter in March.

Rock Werchter, Live Nation Belgium’s marquee festival, also opted to hold an alternative event in lieu of its 88,000-capacity flagship event.

Werchter Parklife, the socially distanced open-air concert series, welcomed 63,000 fans to Werchter’s Festivalpark from 1 July to 1 August.

 


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Belgium PM: Indoor events could return in autumn

Large indoor events should be able to take place in Belgium this September, provided residents are “motivated” to get vaccinated, according to prime minister Alexander De Croo.

Belgium’s vaccination campaign has been relatively successful so far, with almost 70% of the total population having received one jab and more than 50% receiving two doses, according to Our World in Data.

“It remains a bit uncertain, but if you look at how fast our vaccination rollout is going, then by the beginning of September, those who should be fully vaccinated will be and so far, there is no reason to believe that the protection would not be good, so in autumn, those kinds of concerts and events where you are standing close to other people should be possible,” De Croo told Studio Brussels.

The statement follows the announcement that Pukkelpop – the last remaining major international music festival in Belgium following the cancellation last month of Tomorrowland – will not take place again this year.

“Multi-day festivals are more difficult, especially if you have a young audience [who] have not yet been fully vaccinated”

The cancellation was a result of new government regulations that would have required the festival to almost triple its on-site testing capacity with less than a month to go until gates open.

“Multi-day festivals are more difficult, especially if you have a young audience. Many 16-year-olds, for example, have not yet been fully vaccinated,” De Croo said.

The full reopening of Belgium’s live music sector will be facilitated by the Covid Safe Ticket (CTS), which was announced last week.

The domestic health pass, which will certify the Covid-19 status of attendees to major entertainment and sports events, will apply to outdoor events from 13 August and indoor events from 1 September.

The CTS eliminates the need for social distancing, promoters must implement a crowd management plan, as well as ensuring adequate ventilation (in the case of indoor shows) which is measured by a CO2 meter, according to the Belgian government.

 


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“Our heart bleeds”: Belgian government axes Pukkelpop 2021

There will be no Pukkelpop this year after all, the festival announced today, as a result of new government regulations that would have required it to almost triple its on-site testing capacity with less than a month to go until gates open.

Pukkelpop – the last remaining major international music festival in Belgium following the cancellation last month of Tomorrowland – has been told by the Belgian federal government it may not proceed this year its current form, according to a statement from organisers. The 66,000-cap. festival would have taken place near Hasselt between 19 and 22 August with artists including Liam Gallagher, Editors, Future, Anne-Marie and Marshmello.

Amid ongoing uncertainty over the political situation, the festival suspended ticket sales and halted its build yesterday before confirming its cancellation this afternoon (23 July).

“The current framework has made it impossible for us to organise Pukkelpop,” say organisers. “The additional demands in terms of testing would require us to almost triple the testing capacity at and in the run-up to the festival.”

The festival has initially planned for a daily Covid-19 testing capacity of 7,000. However, recent changes in the minimum time for festivalgoers to take rapid antigen (lateral-flow) and PCR tests ahead of the event, announced by the Belgian government on Monday, have finally rendered Pukkelpop 2021 unfeasible, the statement continues.

“The government finds itself in an unenviable position and so do we,” it explains. “Originally a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours of arrival was enough but on Monday this was reduced to 48 hours. In addition, a negative antigen test was no longer sufficient for fans to be admitted to the festival. Since Thursday antigen testing is allowed again, but the initial validity of 48 hours has been reduced to 24 hours.

“For a multi-day mass event with such a young audience, daily testing is simply not feasible”

“Initially we planned for a capacity of up to 7,000 tests per day at the Pukkelpop site but the 24/48 hour limit for the validity of, respectively, a rapid antigen test or a PCR test means that we would have to triple this capacity. To put things into perspective: this is 21 times the capacity of the Park Spoor Noord testing village in Antwerp at the height of its activities. The 24/48 hour limit effectively means tripling the number of tests, but there is no way we could guarantee the government we can organise this under safe circumstances. This is simple [maths] and a healthy dose of common sense.”

Organisers say the limited vaccine take-up among its young-skewing audience meant 80% of festivalgoers would have had to take a test on site.

“Despite the best efforts of [Belgium’s] vaccination task force and the many vaccination centres in the province of Limburg and beyond, we are forced to conclude that the vaccination rate within our target demographic is not as we had hoped,” they explain. “Almost eight in ten of our young audience would have to submit to testing. For a multi-day mass event with such a young audience, many of which haven’t had the opportunity to get vaccinated, daily testing of so many youngsters is simply not feasible.

“Pukkelpop mainly targets youngsters. They are the DNA of Pukkelpop, our core audience. Their happiness, but also their safety, is one of our number one concerns.

“We deeply regret the fact that the authorities made this decision just one month before the start of the festival but the Covid measures were always going to be subject to the latest developments. As a result, Pukkelpop 2021 can no longer take place as planned.”

“Our heart bleeds, especially for all those youngsters who were so looking forward to Pukkelpop this year,” they add. “More than anything we were rooting for them, but in the end a favourable outcome wasn’t on the cards.”

 


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Belgium OKs 75,000-cap. open-air festivals

In what will be welcome news to Belgium’s remaining late-summer festivals, the country’s federal government has announced that large-scale events of up to 75,000 people may take place from 13 August.

In a press conference on Friday (4 June) afternoon, Belgian health minister Frank Vandenbroucke confirmed that mass events held in the open air, such as festivals like Pukkelpop (66,000-cap.), would be permitted from that date, providing attendees can present a ‘Covid safety ticket’ (proof of full vaccination) or a negative Covid-19 before entry.

The federal announcement follows the publication of the Flemish reopening roadmap – the so-called ‘Freedom Plan’, which advised that large events should be able to go ahead from the end of July – last month.

Speaking during the federal government’s press conference, Vandenbroucke suggested festival organisers could also offer their own on-site rapid antigen facilities, reports the Brussels Times.

In addition to Pukkelpop, large events which are now cleared to go ahead include another mega-festival, dance music event Tomorrowland (70,000-cap.), and the Formula 1 Belgian grand prix in Spa-Francorchamps. Both festivals have yet to announce a 2021 line-up.

“We look forward to organising a festival at the end of August”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Tomorrowland, which is scheduled for 27–29 August and 3–5 September, says: “We are very happy to receive this news, but we will wait for the conditions and rules before we will communicate about the organisation of the festival. We are very positive, and we look forward to organising a festival at the end of August.”

Pukkelpop (19–22 August) is aiming for “full capacity, 66,000 people a day,” organiser Chokri Mahassine tells radio station Studio Brussel, adding that the festival will be “without social distancing and without masks.” “You will be able to walk around and hug each other,” he says.

In a statement, Mahassine says the lifting of restrictions comes after months of lobbying by the industry. “These past few months our sector has made a deliberate choice to engage in constructive cooperation behind the scenes, and we would like to continue in the same vein, with expertise and equal input on all sides,” he comments.

“The safety of our visitors, artists, crew and local residents remains our top priority. Everything else will follow from there. Now it’s full speed ahead to a wonderful new edition of Pukkelpop.”

13 August ushers in the second-to-last stage of Belgium’s easing of lockdown, with the final restrictions planned to be lifted from 1 September.

As IQ reported last week, festival season is also on in Austria, with full-capacity events allowed to resume from 1 July.

 


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Flemish gov optimistic about Pukkelpop, Tomorrowland

The Flemish government says large events such as Pukkelpop and Tomorrowland should be able to go ahead in late summer, under certain conditions.

The reassurance for Belgian festival organisers comes after the government unveiled its summer ‘Freedom Plan’ yesterday (9 May), which ventures that all adults would have had the chance to be vaccinated by mid-August.

Flemish minister of health Frank Vandenbroucke says the implementation of the Green Pass – the European corona passport which shows vaccination status and test results – will be key to restarting large events.

Other conditions include on-site Covid-19 testing and limiting access to events to Europeans: “We will not invite the whole world. Within Europe, too, we have to be careful who we admit,” says Vandenbroucke.

The Flemish minister of health says the implementation of the Green Pass will be key to restarting large events

According to the Freedom Plan, large events can restart in July under certain conditions. Events can take place with 5,000 outdoors or 3,000 indoors provided attendees adhere to social distancing and mask-wearing.

In August, the maximum number of people allowed at outdoor events is increased to 10,000, and 4,500 indoors.

Pukkelpop (cap. 60,000) and Tomorrowland (70,000) are set to take place in late August and early September respectively and are the last major Belgian festivals still planning to go ahead after Rock Werchter and Graspop cancelled their 2021 events.

The cancellations came despite the Flemish government’s €60 million pot to help the region’s organisers kickstart preparations for this summer’s festival season.


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Flemish government earmarks €60m for festivals

The Flemish government has designated a total of €60 million to help the region’s organisers kickstart preparations for this summer’s festival season.

Flemish minister of economy, Hilde Crevits, has allocated €50m in repayable advances for the broader events sector to “to get the engine going and offer insurance against the risk of organising an event in uncertain times”, she says.

This is in addition to the €43m worth of repayable loans Crevits has already released, which went to 150 organisers including music festivals such as Sfinks, Laundry Day and Gent Jazz.

For the new round of funding, the maximum amount an organiser can apply for has been raised from €800,000 to €1.8m and larger organisations will be eligible to apply this time.

All events that secure funding must comply with the measures applicable at the time they take place and, according to Tidj, in most cases, the advance is non-refundable if the event is cancelled.

The remaining €10m from the €60m pot – allocated by Flemish minister of tourism, Zuhal Demir – will subsidise Covid measures for small music festivals, such as the construction of rapid test villages, additional entrances and exits, or the rental of a larger site.

“Flanders has the best festivals in all of Europe…it is in everyone’s interest that the festival summer can take place”

“Smaller events with a total cost of at least €250,000 can count on the support of up to €75,000, while larger players with budgets of at least €7.5 m can count on support of up to €500,000,” says Demir.

The application process for corona-proofing grants is already open on Event Flanders. Organisers can combine both types of support.

Demir is working with Event Flanders, which sets out the event policy for Tourism Flanders, along with virologists and festival organisers, to work out the conditions under which festivals can take place safely. The plan should be ready by the end of this month.

“Flanders has the best festivals in all of Europe,” says Demir. “From large mass manifestations to the more intimate niche events, it is in everyone’s interest that the festival summer of 2021 can take place in the best possible way, for organisers, for visitors and for the rest of Flanders.”

Flanders is one of three Belgian regions which encompasses major cities including Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges, and is home to the country’s biggest festivals including Tomorrowland (pictured), Pukkelpop and Rock Werchter.

Last month, Flemish prime minister, Jan Jambon, also responsible for culture, announced that there will be clarity for festivals by mid-March at the latest.

 


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Werchter, Tomorrowland off as Belgium extends events ban

Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Dour Festival, Graspop Metal Meeting and Tomorrowland are among the casualties of the Belgian government’s decision to extend its ban on large-scale events until 31 August 2020, announced this afternoon (15 April).

While some lockdown measures will likely be relaxed after 3 May, given that the peak of Belgium’s Covid-19 infections is believed to have passed, the National Security Council (CSN) has reiterated that no major cultural or sporting events will be permitted to take place until at least September.

It is not yet known whether smaller festivals will be allowed to go ahead before then, reports Het Laatste Nieuws.

The CSN’s announcement follows similar extensions in France, which will have no major events until at least mid-July, Austria, where large gatherings are banned until the end of June, and Denmark, which will be festival-free until 31 August.

Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop (owned and partnered with Live Nation Belgium, respectively) say in near-identical statements that they are “not surprised” by the ruling, which is the “right decision” in the face of the coronavirus’s spread through Europe.

“Still, we are devastated,” reads an announcement from Werchter, which was to have been headlined by Pearl Jam, Pixies, the Strokes, Kendrick Lamar, Twenty One Pilots, System of a Down and Volbeat. “We extended our sincere apologies to everyone who was looking forward to it as much as we were. However, there are more important things in life right now.”

“We are crushed, given how prepared we were”

Tickets for all affected festivals will remain valid for 2021.

“We are crushed, given how prepared we were,” adds Dour Festival (15–19 July), whose 2020 bookings included Asap Rocky, Stormzy and James Blake.”We understand and support the preventive measures taken by the public authorities to prevent the spread of the virus.

“While experts agree that the situation could be contained by this summer, it is not yet recommended to gather a large crowd, from Belgium and elsewhere, to Dour 2020. The health and safety of festivalgoers, artists, sponsors, suppliers, employees and volunteers remains our number-one priority at all times.”

“We will triumph together and will continue to unite,” say organisers of long-running EDM fixture Tomorrowland. “But first we have to ensure that the event industry overcomes this.

“Tomorrowland – just like all other major events – is only possible thanks to a network of hundreds of suppliers and thousands of collaborators, working for over a year toward our beloved festival. A lot of talented artists, creative companies, and hardworking and passionate people, including our own team, are now in the eye of the storm and are going through difficult times. We will need to be resilient, support each other, and be flexible to ensure there will still be an event industry at all.”

 


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Summer’s gone: EU festivals talk the season that was

The rising cost of putting on large-scale live events and difficulties in booking top-tier talent were among the challenges overcome by festival organisers this year, according to a cross-section of Europe’s major music events.

Ahead of this year’s festival season, several festival organisers and associations told IQ that 2019 was shaping up to be a slow year. Across the board, they said, sell-outs were down and sales were lower, and many complained of a lack of top-shelf talent on tour. A typical sentiment was that of Jean-Paul Roland, festival director of French rock festival Eurockéennes, who said “the season seems more subdued than last year”, with organisers facing “more difficulties to reach a point of profitability”.

IQ’s annual analysis of Europe’s festival market, the European Festival Report, will return for 2019 in the end-of-year issue #87, providing an in-depth look at capacity and attendance, ticketing and pricing, VIP sales, challenges and concerns, new technology and much more.

But the end of 2019 is (thankfully) still some time away. So, with autumn setting in across Europe, and the International Festival Forum (IFF) fast approaching, IQ conducted an informal festival ‘exit poll’ –interviewing one festival apiece in seven key markets to find out how their events panned out, and whether those early-summer doubts were well-founded. Here’s what we learnt…

 


Hurricane/Southside

2019 headliners: Foo Fighters, Mumford and Sons, Die Toten Hosen, the Cure, Tame Impala
Capacity: 70,000/60,000
Date: 21 to 23 June
Country: Germany

FKP Scorpio managing director Stephan Thanscheidt says he is “more than happy” with the performance of twin festivals Hurricane and Southside this year, attributing a “strong” line-up, investment in the festival grounds and “perfect weather” to the success.

The festivals saw a combined attendance of 380,000 over three days, with around 68,000 visiting Hurricane and 60,000 people attending Southside per day. Next year is looking promising, too: FKP Scorpio celebrated its best-ever presale, selling 40,000 tickets in two days for the 2020 editions of Hurricane and Southside.

Thanscheidt states that bad weather and a higher awareness of the threat of terror attacks have led to a “decreased momentum in demand” across the festival sector over the past few years. The present phase of consolidation, with a few major companies snapping up a majority of events, may leave many “new and inexperienced players” behind, according to the FKP boss.

Rising costs “in all areas” are also affecting the festival and touring sector, particularly in relation to artists fees. “Ticket prices cannot and should not be scaled limitlessly,” says Thanscheidt, “so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate these expenses.”

However, things look bright for FKP, which recently acquired Swedish promoter Woah Dad Live, with Thanscheidt confirming that the provisional results of its festival season “indicate a significant upward trend”.

“Ticket prices cannot and should not be scaled limitlessly, so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate expenses”

Mad Cool

2019 headliners: Lewis Capaldi, the Cure, Bon Iver, the Smashing Pumpkins
Capacity: 80,000
Date: 11 to 13 July
Country: Spain

“This year everything has run smoothly and we are happy about it,” Mad Cool festival director Javier Arnáiz tells IQ.

Live Nation’s Mad Cool festival has seen substantial growth since its inauguration in 2016, increasing capacity by 60%, from 45,000 to 75,000. The rapid growth threw up problems for the Mad Cool team in previous editions.

“Our main goal for this year was to improve on all the incidents that happened in the previous edition, as a result of the massive growth,” says Arnáiz. Thanks to the team’s effort and changes made “through our own process of self-criticism”, the customer experience was much improved this year.

Sales for the festival’s fourth year were lower than usual, which Arnáiz puts down to “the lack of headliners” available. “We have all suffered from this in Europe during 2019,” states the Mad Cool director. “It’s been a tough year for all of us.”

Additionally, last year’s line-up, which featured Pearl Jam, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and Kasabian, “set the bar high”, ensuring “it was not an easy task” to produce a bill to rival it.

Looking to the future, the Mad Cool team say they’re concentrating on strengthening other aspects of the headliner-focused festival. “We are already working on the 2020 edition and we hope we can deliver what is expected from a festival like Mad Cool,” states Arnáiz.

“We have all suffered from a lack of headliners in Europe during 2019”

Pukkelpop

2019 headliners: The National, Post Malone, Prophets of Rage, Twenty One Pilots
Capacity: 60,000
Date: 15 to 19 August
Country: Belgium

Pukkelpop promoter and programmer Chokri Mahassine tells IQ that “we can look back with great satisfaction” following a “completely sold out edition”.

Unlike in previous years, says Mahassine, the Pukkelpop team had no problem shifting tickets this year thanks to a “stellar line-up”, with the balance between musical genres, as well as between young and old acts “clearly paying off”.

Two “unique” shows by rock band the National and a “landslide victory” for fast-rising star Billie Eilish were particular highlights of this year’s festival.

Speaking to IQ in 2017, Mahassine revealed that ticket prices for the independently promoted festival had not changed in four years, although the price of food and drinks tokens did rise. Ticket prices for the past two years have seen a slight increase, from €199 for a weekend pass in 2017 to €205 in 2019.

The Pukkelpop promoter admits that rising prices are due in part to the ever-increasing penchant for comfort among festivalgoers and high expectations in terms of food, transport, accommodation and overall experience. Providing this kind of quality proves more and more difficult each year, says Mahassine, “both on a production and financial level”.

The Pukkelpop promoter admits that rising prices are due in part to the ever-increasing penchant for comfort among festivalgoers

Pohoda

2019 headliners: The 1975, Liam Gallagher, Mac Demarco
Capacity: 30,000
Date: 11 to 13 July
Country: Slovakia

“We had the best year in history,” Michal Kaščák, founder and chief executive of Pohoda, or Peace in English, tells IQ. The festival – Slovakia’s biggest – sold out for the fifth time in its 23-year history and for the second consecutive year.

A packed music programme, an accompanying arts and science schedule, “smooth production” and “super weather” contributed to the festival’s strong performance.

Among a list of high-profile artists including Skepta, the 1975, Liam Gallagher and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kaščák states that Zohra – Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra – were the stand-out act.

Having the band perform at the festival “gave us a strong opportunity to emphasise the goals of Pohoda,” explains Kaščák. “Their story is the perfect base for speaking about gender equality, the power of art to change things for the better and how important it is to stay united.”

A last-minute cancellation by Swedish singer Lykke Li gave an opportunity to “unknown artist” Sink Your Teeth. “We decided to take a risk and let them play on the main stage in prime time,” says Kaščák. “And it was super decision, they did very well.”

The booking process in general is “much harder” than it used to be, says the Pohoda boss, with rising artist fees, late confirmations and the need to clarify running times early on being major factors.

At the end of the day, says Kaščák, “we are an independent festival in a small country, with all the difficulties and advantages that come with that.”

“We are an independent festival in a small country, with all the difficulties and advantages that come with that”

Hellfest

2019 headliners: Slayer, Kiss, Tool, Anthrax
Capacity: 50,000
Date: 21 to 23 June
Country: France

French metal festival Hellfest had one of its “best editions ever”, according to the festival’s communication and event manager Alexxx Rebecq.

Hellfest did not experience any slowdown at all in terms of sales, selling all three-day tickets in 90 minutes, in what Paul-Henri Wauters, co-president of festival association De Concert!, pointed to as an exception for its member festivals this year.

The festival had around 200 bands on the bill for one of its biggest years to date. Organisers also added an extra day for its 2019 edition, to host Slipknot-fronted Knotfest within its festival site.

“We were really proud to welcome the Knotfest festival to Hellfest last year,” Rebecq tells IQ. “Four days in a row was not easy, and certainly exhausted our whole crew, but we did it and what a day it was.”

It was not all plain sailing for the 2019 edition, however, with booking also proving an issue. The last minute cancellation of headliner Manowar was “really tough to manage” and resulted in “a lot of wasted time, pressure and stress” for the Hellfest team.

“We had the support of our crowd though, because they have known us for a long time and obviously know we are capable of welcoming a band like Manowar,” explains Rebecq.

“Manowar’s last minute cancellation was really tough for us to manage”

Sziget

2019 headliners: Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Florence and the Machine
Capacity: 80,000
Date: 7 to 13 August
Country: Hungary

Majority Superstruct-owned Sziget festival saw its biggest crowd ever this year, with 60,000 attending Ed Sheeran’s opening-night headline performance.

“Although our overall visitor number throughout the week was a bit less than during the 2018 festival, we still closed our second-most attended festival in the 27-year history of Sziget,” Ákos Remetei Filep, the festival’s sales director, explains.

530,000 people attended the week-long festival, in what was hailed as its most headliner-focused edition yet. Local newspapers reported that organisers spent US$1.7 million more than last year on securing headline acts.

The main stage also became a platform for important topics this year, with talks by the UN Refugee Agency’s Emitithal Mahmoud and former US vice-president and climate-change campaigner Al Gore.

Although attendances have been high in recent years, Filep states that “the biggest challenge is to make [an international audience] aware of the festival and convince them to come”.

“Sziget is a very unique festival experience compared to other events in Europe,” explains Filep, which makes it difficult to sell to international audiences, as “there’s nothing you can really compare it to”.

“The biggest challenge is to make [an international audience] aware of the festival and convince them to come”

Blockfest

2019 headliners: Asap Rocky, Tyga, G-eazy
Capacity: 25,000
Date: 16 to 17 August
Country: Finland

Finland’s largest hip-hop festival, Blockfest, sold out seven weeks prior to the event this year, which saw its largest capacity ever.

“We couldn’t be happier with the turn-out,” Live Nation Finland’s head promoter, Zachris Sundell, tells IQ. “The weather was sunny and all artists – both domestic and international – put on great performances.”

Live Nation took full control of the festival this year, following years of collaboration with the Blockfest team.

Despite concerns regarding the availability of Friday-night headliner Asap Rocky, “everything worked out so he could perform as planned.” The rapper had been forced to cancel multiple festival appearances over the summer, while held on assault charges in Stockholm.

Rocky received the verdict of the trial just days before his Blockfest appearance, avoiding jail time with a two-year suspended sentence.

Taking place in Tampere Stadium in the city of the same name, the “challenges” that go with a city-centre festival are always to be expected, says Sundell. However, all in all, “everything worked out great”.

 


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Market report: Belgium

As it is with property, so it is With smallish European countries: it’s all about location, location, location.

Belgium is the 34th biggest (or 16th smallest) nation in Europe by area – it would fit into France 18 times. But it might just be the best-positioned country on the continental mainland, with French, German, Dutch and Luxembourgian borders, and just two hours by train from London.

“We are the best-situated country in Europe,” concurs Pascal Van De Velde of Ghent-based promoter/agency Greenhouse Talent. “If you come from the UK to Germany, you drive through Belgium, and vice versa. If you come down from Scandinavia to southern Europe, you go through Belgium. Logistically, there is always a date for Belgium. And the market is good.”

Well, that’s true. Belgium might be small, but it’s packed – the 13th most-populous European country, with 11m inhabitants, 97% of whom live in towns or cities. So you’re always near a venue; you’re wealthier per head than the UK and France, and not far behind Germany; and in addition to a fairly world-class calendar of tours, you’ve got some of Europe’s biggest festivals in Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Dour, Graspop and Tomorrowland.

Then again, few countries have escaped entirely without injury these last few years, whether economic or of a more sinister kind. In common with an ever-growing list of countries, Belgium was the focus of a devastating terrorist incident when three co-ordinated suicide bombings in Brussels on 22 March 2016 killed 32 civilians and three perpetrators. One of many results of the attacks was to put a dent in the live business for much of the remainder of the year.

In January, Belgium lowered its threat level from three to two, judging another attack to be ‘unlikely,’ but while the audiences have come back, the promoters don’t soon forget. “The terrorist attacks were rough, especially the times when they were happening,” says Van De Velde. “And then in the slipstream of it, just security-wise – I can’t say that acts cancelled but putting the shows together was really nasty and difficult because the acts were scared and the audiences were reluctant.”

“We are the best-situated country in Europe”

“But it’s picked up,” he reflects. “It picks up again. When first the Bataclan attacks happened, and then, of course the Brussels attacks, that was huge. The market is very vulnerable, but it recovers fast. People want to go out and see shows, and it moves on. People get sort of used to the situation, you know?”

It takes a little while, though. In the summer of 2016, even a super-festival like Rock Werchter had a tricky year, its attendance 4,500 down on the previous year, compounded by heavy rain in the run-up. “Some people stopped going to shows in 2016 due to terrorism,” says Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, “but they seem to have realised in 2017 that it doesn’t make sense to sit at home, and they decided to live again and enjoy shows and festivals in 2017.”

Last year, says Schueremans, things were resoundingly back to normal. “It appears that they made up in 2017 what they missed in 2016. Of course, the bills of the festivals and the multiple, top-quality tours helped to achieve that. And it looks as if that trend is confirming itself in 2018, both festival- and indoor-wise. Religion and politics divide; music unites.”

Sometimes, it unites in unusual ways. In May, Night of the Proms promoter PSE joined with Werchter, Pukkelpop and GraciaLive to protest local performance rights organisation Sabam’s January move to raise tariffs across the board. Among the increases is a 30% spike in festival rates to 3.25% of box-office receipts, and a 16% hike for larger shows to 3.5%.

PSE’s Jan Vereecke accused Sabam of “simply abusing its monopoly – it is offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase.” Since then, talks have been ongoing, with no resolution yet reached. PwC estimates the value of the Belgian live business at $322m (€261m), and the fact that IQ is reporting at a time of ongoing prosperity and restored calm needn’t mask the fact that Belgium is a more unusual country than many.

 


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Belgian festivals sue Sabam over rates rise

A coalition of festival and concert promoters is suing Sabam, the Belgian performance rights organisation (PRO), over the live music tariff increases which came into force at the beginning of this year.

As of 1 January, the largest festivals have seen their payments to Sabam increase 30%, to 3.25% of box-office receipts, while promoters of shows whose artistic budgets exceed €1.6 million will pay 16% more (3.5%). Rates have increased across the board, with smaller events also facing increases and Sabam now including sponsorship, subsidies and production costs in festivals’ budgets.

“The new tariffs Sabam pushed through in January are a bridge too far,” says Jan Vereecke of Night of the Proms promoter PSE, who brought the suit with festivals Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop and concert promoter GraciaLive, reports HLN. (Rock Werchter promoter Herman Schueremans had previously said the tariff increase would “kill the goose that lays the golden egg”.)

“Sabam has unilaterally decided to raise their tariffs by 30%. It is justifying this by saying neighbouring countries charge similar rates, but it is simply abusing its monopoly [on public performance royalty collection].

“The new tariffs are a bridge too far”

“For Sabam, nothing has changed: it is offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase.”

Vereecke says the PRO (Société d’Auteurs Belge/Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij) has justified the rises by saying promoters in Belgium had it too easy while creators were being underpaid. This, he says, simply isn’t true: “We calculated after Justin Bieber’s world tour that in the United States he will be paid 12 times less than here.”

“Actually, the whole system is outdated,” he continues. “Sabam takes a percentage of the income from tickets. But shows these days are different from ten years ago – more attention is paid to the entertainment value: larger screens, more fireworks, drones… you name it.

“As a result, tickets are more expensive and Sabam knows it can skim more off the top. That is wrong.”

 


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