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Weak currency a challenge for Norwegian festivals

The weakness of the Norwegian krone is an ongoing challenge for the country’s music festivals, according to Bergenfest festival director Frank Nes.

Echoing the post-Brexit concerns of festival bosses in the UK – and following Friday’s cancellation of Pemberton Music Festival, with the weak Canadian dollar partially to blame – Nes says the two biggest difficulties his festival is facing are “a weak Norwegian currency” (which makes it more expensive to book artists, who are generally paid in US dollars or euros) and “stiff competition for artists in what seems to be an ever-increasing international festival circuit”.

Bergenfest, promoted by local independent Bergen Live, has taken place in the west-coast city of Bergen since 1993 – initially as a multi-venue, city-centre event, and later in an open-air setting in the grounds of Bergenhus Fortress. It currently has a daily capacity of roughly 9,000, and will this year welcome Pet Shop Boys, Liam Gallagher, Ellie Goulding, Richard Ashcroft, Rag’n’Bone Man and Emili Sandé over three days from Wednesday 14 to Saturday 17 June.

Currency concerns aside, Nes is upbeat about both Bergenfest and the state of the Norwegian festival market as a whole. Tickets for the 2017 event are selling “really well”, he tells IQ: “We are way up from last year and expect to sell out at least two of the days.

“Friday” – headlined by local rap heroes Karpe Diem – “is already sold out, and Saturday and possibly Thursday are good candidates as well. We have also sold many more four-day festival tickets than in previous years, which is great.”

Part of that success, says Nes, is that large festivals underpinned by major international acts are still relatively scarce in Norway. “There are a lot of festivals, but most are pretty small and attract mostly a local audience,” he explains, “so there is not too much competition for the punters.”

“There’s high degree of Darwinism involved in the festival market”

According to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2016, Norway has a disproportionately high number of music festivals for a country of its population, and 1.8 million people – or 40% of the country – visited a festival in 2014. However, not all of them are in it for the long haul, explains Nes, with market forces swiftly putting paid to unsustainable events.

“There’s high degree of Darwinism involved in the festival market, and I think most of the ones that are not sustainable have closed shop now,” he comments. “Some of the smaller, but really nice, festivals are also closing down or taking breaks due to organisers needing to face the realities of workloads, financial pressure and an increased focus on health and security…”

Despite a relative lack of competition than in some other markets, Nes is clear that Bergenfest – a four-day pass for which costs 2,325 kr (US$279) – more than holds its own when it comes to programming and the overall festival experience: “Where else will you be able to see Liam Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft perform on the same day and stage this summer?” He also praises the “sensational” Rag’n’Bone Man, who will play “an intimate 2,500-cap. open air stage on the same day as those two British giants…”

It’s also telling that the best-selling day for Bergenfest 2017 is the one with a Norwegian headliner, as a country whose population is two-thirds that of London continues to produce a plethora of internationally renowned native acts.

“Local talent is, of course important,” comments Nes, “but I have to stress that local acts play our festival because they are good at what they’re doing, not that they’re locally based. There is so much talent coming out of Bergen in particular, and Norway in general, these days that it would be plain stupid not to include these acts in the programming.”

The Norwegian live business was worth $229m in 2015 – a 5% year-on-year increase in revenue.


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