Germany could face fresh winter Covid restrictions
The German concert industry could face fresh Covid restrictions this autumn and winter as health chiefs bid to prevent another seasonal spike in infections.
A proposed amendment to the Infection Protection Act would make masks mandatory on public transport and care facilities from 1 October to 7 April, while giving individual states the power to introduce additional regulations – potentially impacting the live music business.
“If event organisers have to reduce capacities at short notice because state governments – even without clear pandemic definitions – determine a tightening [of restrictions], it is not possible to plan seriously,” says Christian Eichenberger, chair of events trade body Fwd, as per Pollstar.
“The consequence is maximum uncertainty”
“The consequence is maximum uncertainty among clients and guests of events. If the draft is not revised, extensive event cancellations from October onwards will be the inevitable consequence.”
A press release from the country’s ministry of health says: “Autumn and winter are associated with a seasonal surge in Covid-19 cases to be expected – and with an increased burden on the health system and other critical infrastructure. Therefore, modified connection rules are required.”
Under the proposals, IQ understands that capacity limits on concerts would only be deemed necessary in the worst cases, and exemptions would be given to those who receive the new Omicron-adapted Covid vaccine, which is expected to become available later this year.
“At the moment, it’s just a plan,” an industry source tells IQ. “We are fighting against any restrictions.”
“Music clubs can only survive without capacity restrictions, distance rules and the obligation to wear masks”
Earlier this summer, live event organisers in Germany issued a preemptive warning to the government against potential further restrictions.
The Event Management Forum said it is “imperative” any future containment measures did not include capacity limits or social distancing requirements for concerts.
“Music clubs can only survive without capacity restrictions, distance rules and the obligation to wear masks,” said LiveKomm chair Axel Ballreich. “We can come to terms with the need for PCR tests at the highest risk level – if the hospital and KRITIS burden make it absolutely necessary. However, the cost of the tests must be borne by the state. The social and societal aspects of the pandemic must not be neglected.”
Some live music promoters in Germany reported sluggish ticket sales in the aftermath of Covid restrictions being lifted, and BDKV president Jens Michow warned the overall economic situation remained precarious.
“Ticket sales for cultural events are extremely poor for many events,” he said. “The industry is therefore still in a very desolate situation, in which it only takes a small gust of wind to finally tip it over.”
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Korea concert market showing signs of recovery
Concert ticket sales in Korea are rebounding following the lifting of Covid restrictions.
A total of 353 concerts were planned for Q2, up 43.5% from last year’s 246, with ticket sales jumping 267% year-on-year, reports Yonhap.
South Korea eased its coronavirus protocols last month and lifted its ban on clapping and cheering at gigs.
“Because the number of spectators that can be accommodated per show has increased as Covid-19 rules, such as sitting apart and the capacity limit of spectators, have disappeared, many popular concerts were sold out,” says a statement by local online reservation service Interpark.
“Pent-up demand from consumers seems to have been unleashed”
The most popular events were K-pop artist’s Sung Si-kyung’s first live concerts in three years, followed by the annual Seoul Jazz Festival. Six of the top 20 best-selling shows were outdoor concerts.
“Pent-up demand from consumers seems to have been unleashed with the resumption of outdoor music festivals as they prefer festivals that make them feel like they are out for picnics to those in closed spaces at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet,” adds the service.
Prior to restrictions being lifted, fans were handed plastic clappers to emulate crowd noise at BTS’ Permission To Dance On Stage – Seoul three-night residency in March, which marked the K-pop group’s in-person concert return in their homeland.
Just 15,000 people per night were permitted to attend the 70,000-cap Jamsil Olympic Stadium in Seoul on 10, 12-13 March due to social distancing restrictions. But with the number of Covid cases stabilising, most measures were dropped.
German live industry reports sluggish return
Live music promoters in Germany have reported sluggish ticket sales for upcoming concerts, despite the lifting of Covid restrictions.
BDKV president Jens Michow reports weak advance sales for shows planned for autumn 2022 and spring 2023, exacerbated by staffing shortages and an oversupply of events, while no-show rates have ranged from 15-40%
LiveKomm chair Axel Ballreich tells Backstage Pro that outdoor gigs are proving significantly more popular than indoor shows. Older music fans have been more hesitant to return to shows since the restart, he adds, and at least a third of the workforce is yet to return since leaving the touring business due to the onset of Covid-19.
Ballreich says that his costs have already risen by 20-30%, and increases in catering and security are anticipated to be between 30% and 50%, with industry figures fearing the economic effects of the pandemic will continue to rumble on until 2024.
“Our dependence on state aid will not end anytime soon”
A special fund introduced for cultural events is currently set to expire at the end of June, but BDKV president Jens Michow stresses that some live music companies will not be able to generate income again until mid-2023 at the earliest.
“Our dependence on state aid will therefore not end anytime soon,” he says. “That’s why I make it clear to politicians every day that organisers cannot go back to 100% overnight.”
Michow also notes a lack of confidence among consumers due to repeat concert cancellations during the pandemic, while there remains uncertainty as to whether capacity limits will need to be re-introduced in the autumn.
“In the event that there are restrictions again, we need an economic rescue package now… that we can use if there are capacity restrictions again or even a new lockdown for our industry,” he adds.
“The industry is still a long way from the economic level of 2019”
Full capacity shows have been permitted in Germany since March, but the country’s much-trumpeted “freedom day” was met with a muted response from event professionals due to federal states retaining the power to impose “hot-spot regulations” to deal with future outbreaks.
“With the temporary end of the Corona measures, the event business is starting up again in small steps,” says Germany’s Event Management Forum, which includes BDKV and LiveKomm, among other cultural organisations. “However, the industry is still a long way from the economic level of 2019.
“Above all, there is a lack of sufficient planning security. The bridging aid expires at the end of June [and] a programme ‘Neustart Kultur 3’, which would be urgently needed in the coming year, is not yet being planned.
“The situation in the economic sector is made more difficult by the public’s considerable reluctance to buy, rising inflation and the expected economic effects of the war in Ukraine. And since nobody knows how the pandemic situation will develop after the summer, there is an urgent need for a rescue package that takes effect.”
South Korea lifts ban on cheering at concerts
South Korea has eased its coronavirus protocols and lifted its ban on clapping and cheering at gigs.
Fans were handed plastic clappers to emulate crowd noise at BTS’ Permission To Dance On Stage – Seoul three-night residency last month, which marked the K-pop group’s in-person concert return in their homeland.
Just 15,000 people per night were permitted to attend the 70,000-cap Jamsil Olympic Stadium in Seoul on 10, 12-13 March due to social distancing restrictions. But with the number of Covid cases stabilising, most measures have now been dropped, although the indoor and outdoor mask mandate has been retained for the time being.
The news coincides with the release of a report by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, which estimated the huge economic impact when BTS perform in South Korea.
“Holding K-pop concerts can have a huge impact on our economy”
“If BTS normally holds a concert in Korea during the post-coronavirus period, the economic ripple effect will reach 677.6 billion won ($550 million) to 1.22 trillion won ($989m) for one performance,” it concluded, according to Allkpop.
The study also referred to the group’s 2021 run at Los Angeles’ 70,000-cap SoFi Stadium, which marked the first time they had been able to be face-to-face with fans since the 2019 BTS World Tour. Internal data showed that more than 70% of the attendees at the LA concerts were from states outside California or overseas.
“This analysis took BTS concerts as an example, but it shows that holding K-pop concerts can have a huge impact on our economy,” it added.
New Zealand removes indoor capacity limits
Indoor concerts in New Zealand can now go ahead without capacity restrictions after the country’s traffic light system switched to ‘orange’.
The system, which came into effect last December, assigns a colour (green, orange or red) based on vaccination rates and the spread of Covid-19 in the community, as well as a set of corresponding restrictions. It was previously set at ‘red’, meaning venues using vaccine certificates were limited to 200 people with 1m social distancing.
However, a “sustained reduction” in Covid infections has prompted the move to orange, which means venues face no limits on gatherings at events, retail and hospitality.
“Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a sustained reduction in cases and hospitalisations despite the relaxation of settings”
“Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a sustained reduction in cases and hospitalisations despite the relaxation of settings, so we’re confident a move to orange can lock in those gains while helping the country return to a greater degree of normality,” says Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.
“Under orange there are no indoor capacity limits and the seated and separated rule for hospitality venues lifts, so bars, cafes and restaurants are able to fill up again.”
Last month, prime minister Jacinda Arden announced the removal of vaccine pass requirements, most vaccine mandates, QR code scanning and outdoor gathering limits, while doubling the limit for indoor gatherings from 100 to 200 people.
However, festival organisers and promoters argued the rollback of restrictions was “meaningless” at that point in the events calendar.
Live Nation-owned Rhythm and Vines was cancelled for the first time in its 19-year-history and will now celebrate its 20th anniversary at the end of the year instead. Elsewhere, Auckland’s Outerfields festival, which has twice been beset by Covid delays, is now scheduled for 3 December and Lorde’s Solar Power tour has shifted to February/March 2023.
NZ promoter quits after 30 years due to restrictions
A New Zealand promoter has called it quits after 30 years in the business, blaming the government’s lack of support for the events and entertainment sector.
Phil Sprey, owner of Wellington’s Capital C Concerts, counts Elton John, Alice Cooper and Bon Jovi among his clients but says two years of Covid-19 restrictions has ruined the business he built over 30 years.
He says the “final straw” was the government’s decision yesterday to remain in the red traffic light setting, which limits indoor concerts to 200 people.
“Nobody’s giving clear, long-term answers – and on that basis you can’t do international deals,” Sprey told The Stuff.
“For domestically based promoters it’s becoming nigh on impossible at the moment because you can’t write a contract.”
“We haven’t had an artist in over two years, so I thought, let’s finally pull the plug”
Before the pandemic, Capital C specialised in major stadium-sized concerts. Since Covid-19 hit there had been no bookings to keep the business afloat, and no help from the government, he said.
“We haven’t had an artist in over two years, so I thought, let’s finally pull the plug.
“Instead of passing my business on to my eldest son, I had to make him redundant, unemployed and now can’t even leave him anything more than a memory,” Sprey said.
The long list of shows brought to Wellington by Capital C also includes KISS, Moody Blues, Ozzy Osbourne, Poison, Sol3mio, Little River Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Herman’s Hermits and The Searchers.
The government announced last month it was extending the Events Transition Support Payment scheme, which offers a 90% subsidy of unrecoverable costs to events with more than 5,000 people cancelled due to restrictions.
For Sprey, who couldn’t arrange international acts because of the pandemic, there were no bookings in place to claim on.
John Giddings on getting Genesis back on the road
Solo boss John Giddings has told IQ how Genesis’ The Last Domino? Tour has navigating the challenges of Covid to triumph over adversity.
The legendary Phil Collins-fronted band last toured in 2007 before announcing a reunion in 2020. The European leg of the tour is due to finally wrap up at the fourth time of asking with a three-night stand at The O2 from 24-26 March.
The London arena dates were originally scheduled for November 2020 before being postponed multiple times thanks to the pandemic, including last October, when they were due to wrap up their UK run.
Giddings, who will appear alongside Paradigm agent Alex Hardee as part of ILMC’s popular Dragons’ Den sessions at next month’s conference, explains the course of events.
“Last November, two of the band got Covid the first night in Glasgow, so we had to cancel the second night in Glasgow and postpone the three O2s,” he says. “So I postponed the three O2s to the end of March and suggested to the band that we play some European shows prior to The O2 – because you can’t just do it on its own – as a farewell thank you to all the European fans.”
However, the emergence of the Omicron variant late last year – and the subsequent tightening of restrictions on gatherings – threatened to derail plans once again.
“Getting it all together at two weeks’ notice was pretty hard”
“We sold all of the tickets, then something called Omicron came along and all the countries kind of closed down again,” sighs Giddings. “So three weeks ago, we had three shows at The O2 [lined up], but we couldn’t play France, Holland or Germany.
“I think the first country that opened up was France, so we could play two Paris shows and three Londons, with a week in between, then Holland said it was looking likely.”
But going ahead with the German stretch – two nights at each of Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Hanover’s Zag Arena and Lanxess Arena in Cologne – was not as straightforward.
“I wrote a letter to the minister of culture in Germany asking for special dispensation because they said we could the play gigs, but only to 60% capacity,” says Giddings, “and anybody in the music business knows that just pays for the costs of the show.
“Germany consists of five different countries really, five different states – so we had to go to the local governments of each of them and beg to be able to do them, saying everybody has to wear a mask, tests have to be shown, anything to make the shows happen.
“Eventually, we got permission. The first to give us permission was Hannover, then Cologne and then, with about two weeks to go, Berlin. Getting it all together at two weeks’ notice was pretty hard with equipment, trucking, coaches for the crew, etc, but here we are and it’s going incredibly.”
“Germany is their biggest market, France second and Holland is probably third”
The tour, which has been met with glowing reviews, continues tonight (17 March) at the 40,000-cap Paris la Défense Arena in France before returning to Germany’s Lanxess Arena in Cologne, followed by two nights at Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome in the Netherlands (21-22 March).
“The responses are phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” reports Giddings. “Audiences love this group, love their history and realise it’s the last time they’ll ever see them live. Phil sits down for the whole show, but his personality shines through. He’s singing better than ever, and the band are playing better than ever.
“Germany is their biggest market, France second and Holland is probably third, but some people were flying in from Ukraine to come and see some of these shows and obviously they can’t get here, which is horrible. Phil refers to it during the show and dedicates a song to them, Land of Confusion, which was originally written about a different subject, but is pertinent in today’s world.”
The trio – Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, toured North America last November/December. The tour was the 54th best seller of 2021, according to Pollstar, shifting 134,323 tickets for a total gross of $23,743,403 (€21,461,200).
“We did 21 shows just ahead of the new wave of the variant,” notes Giddings. “America was interesting because you talk about different countries in Germany, the different states in America had different rules. The Democrats had certain rules, obviously in New York you had to show Covid passes and all that, and in the Trump states, nobody gave a fuck! You had to remember where you were.”
Isle of Wight Festival promoter Giddings is currently appearing in the four-part BBC Two series Rock Till We Drop, which offers the chance for a band of musicians aged over 64 a chance to appear at the festival. He gives a brief update on this year’s IoW, which will be headlined by Lewis Capaldi, Kasabian and Muse from 16-19 June.
“It’s shaping up really well,” he says. “We’re just under 40,000 tickets so far and it’s picking up like there’s no tomorrow, it’s going to be lovely.”
Netherlands to drop all restrictions on live events
After tireless lobbying from the Netherlands’ live music sector, the Dutch government has finally announced plans to lift all remaining restrictions on live events.
The final restriction to be lifted is pre-admission testing (1G) for indoor locations accommodating more than 500 people where there is no assigned seating (eg nightclubs and festivals).
From Wednesday 23 March, this rule will not apply and there will no longer be a requirement to show a coronavirus entry pass to gain access to any events or venues.
“In recent weeks, coronavirus infection rates have once again increased,” the government said of its decision. “However, the current variant is making people less ill and the number of people being admitted to intensive care is limited”.
“The current variant is making people less ill and the number of people being admitted to intensive care is limited”
Since 25 February, large nightclubs, festivals and events have been permitted to open without limitations. In addition, social distancing, assigned seating, masks and capacity limits were scrapped.
The Netherlands follows in the footsteps of England, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Austria and Switzerland in lifting all remaining measures on live music events.
In Germany, most Covid curbs will be axed from Freedom Day – 20 March – although “low-threshold basic protective measures,” such as mask-wearing, will still apply. Italy’s live music sector is still waiting for the green light to restart.
Belgium rolls back restrictions on live events
Belgium has transitioned to ‘code yellow’ on its coronavirus barometer, meaning the majority of restrictions have now been lifted.
As of today (7 March), the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) will no longer be required to gain entrance to events, bars and gyms, given the “favourable evolution of the epidemic conditions”.
The maximum capacity for activities, concert halls and theatres has also been lifted, meaning that concerts and other shows can take place in full venues again.
The mandate to wear face masks in public spaces has also been ditched. “However, in places where no safe distance can be maintained, it is still recommended,” prime minister Alexander De Croo said during a press conference Friday (4 March).
The testing and quarantine rules have not changed, but Belgium’s health ministers are expected to discuss this topic on Wednesday (9 March).
The testing and quarantine rules have not changed, but Belgium’s health ministers are expected to discuss this topic
Prior to today, Belgium was operating at ‘code orange’ on the barometer, in which the CST was mandatory for all indoor activities with more than 50 participants and for all outdoor activities with more than 100 participants. Face masks were mandatory for indoor concerts.
The CST, initially introduced in July 2021, certifies that a person has either been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, has tested negative for Covid-19 or has recovered from Covid-19.
Elsewhere in Europe, England, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland have all announced plans to lift all remaining limits.
In Germany, most Covid curbs will be axed from Freedom Day – 20 March – although “low-threshold basic protective measures,” such as mask-wearing, will still apply.
Italy’s live music sector was still waiting for the green light to restart.
Creativeman: “We can see light at the end of the tunnel”
Japan’s leading promoter Creativeman says it is “seeing light at the end of the tunnel” as restrictions are gradually lifted.
The Japanese government recently announced plans to increase the cap on the number of people entering Japan from 3,500 to 5,000 per day starting in March.
In addition, the quarantine period for arrivals will be shortened from seven days to three from March, when the country opens to returning foreign residents (not tourists).
However, the quarantine requirement for international artists won’t be determined until next week, according to Japanese promoters’ association ACPC.
Regardless, Creativeman is bullish its marquee festival Summer Sonic will return to Tokyo and Osaka this summer for the first time since 2019 – international artists and all.
“We are confident Summer Sonic will happen this August,” says Creativeman’s Layli Odamura. “The reception at the announcement was so fantastic on every platform. Everyone is very eager and ready for it to happen and feel the heat.”
“We are confident Summer Sonic will happen this August”
The 1975 and Post Malone were recently announced as headliners of the festival, due to take place on 20–21 August simultaneously at Zozomarine Stadium & Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba, a suburb of Tokyo, and at the Maishima Sonic Park in Osaka.
Other international artists lined up for the event are Carly Rae Jepsen, Kasabian, The Libertines, Maneskin, Megan Thee Stallion, One OK Rock, The Offspring, Primal Scream, St. Vincent, Yungblud, All Time Low, Beabadoobee, Easy Life, Fishbone, Kacey Musgraves, Inhaler, Kula Shaker, Rina Sawayama, Squid and the Linda Lindas.
“More and more artists are reaching out and eager to visit or revisit Japan,” maintains Odamura. “We as a promoter are ready for the live market to return and we will continue to assess the situation with the government. There will be multiple headline shows happening towards the autumn onwards too.”
Despite Japan’s strict border controls and quarantine requirements during the past two years, Creativeman has had some success in bringing overseas artists to the country.
Last September, the promoter pulled off Japan’s first large-scale music event that included overseas artists since the pandemic began, Supersonic.
Zedd, Steve Aoki, Clean Bandit, Alan Walker and Aurora were among the overseas artists that performed at the two-day event at Zozomarine Stadium.
“More and more artists are reaching out and eager to visit or revisit Japan”
The festival was considered a test case for reopening Japan’s live industry to foreign acts and, a few months later, Creativeman promoted the first headline tour of an international artist in Japan in 18 months with King Crimson.
In another win for international promoters in Japan, a Creativeman-led alliance successfully lobbied the government to amend its compensation scheme to include domestic shows by foreign artists.
The consortium, completed by Avex Entertainment, Hanshin Contents Link/Billboard Japan, M&I Company and Promax, complements the work of existing music association ACPC, with which it shares members.
The consortium’s next goal is to ease the business visa restrictions for foreign artists to enter Japan with no quarantines, which Asia-based execs say is the biggest challenge facing the market.