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French industry reacts to new festival restrictions

France is the first major European market to deliver a framework for this summer’s festival season.

French festivals – both indoor and outdoor – are permitted to take place this summer but attendance will be restricted to 5,000 spectators, who must be seated and socially distanced.

The minister for culture, Roselyne Bachelot, announced the framework yesterday (18 February) along with a €30 million fund which will compensate organisers – both for losses incurred due to the implementation of alternative formats, and in the event that festivals are cancelled due to an increasing Covid-19 infection rate.

Bachelot has committed to a monthly consultation meeting with festivals to adapt the framework according to the development of France’s health situation but France’s live sector already has many questions that have gone unanswered.

“Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters”

AEG Presents France GM and VP, Arnaud Meerseeman, tells IQ:  “I feel it’s essentially an act of political communication to gain some time with the sector. The framework is very loose. There is no detail on the timeline of this decision: ie when does “summer” start and end, from what point does this apply? Does this cover festivals in August/September?

“There is also no detail on the protocol to welcome audiences and therefore the impossibility to cost the extra measures needed to welcome the audience. And finally, there is a big sore point of no food and beverage, which is quite problematic for an outdoor event!

“On top of that, all of this is submitted to a monthly revision in link with the evolution of the sanitary situation. All of these issues tend to point to another empty season. Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters. Smaller events, or different aesthetics (ie jazz/classical) or other disciplines (cinema/theatre) might be able to go forward. The positive issue is the financial mechanisms to support events that cancel or that want to adapt has been maintained and boosted,” adds Meerseeman.

“A seated event bringing together 5,000 people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival”

France’s trade union, the SMA (Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles), echoes Meersseman’s concerns, saying: “At the present time and under the conditions announced by [Bachelot], we cannot say that festivals will be held this summer because, for a major part of our audiences, our artists and our teams, a seated event bringing together 5,000 maximum people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival.”

“We are particularly awaiting validation of the authorisation to serve drinks and meals to festival-goers, an essential condition for welcoming our audiences in good conditions. This answer is crucial both from an economic point of view and in terms of user-friendliness. The issue of non-distancing between festival-goers, essential in organisational projections, must also be clarified.”

SMA has also expressed concerns that the €30m financial package will “insufficient” to support 6,000 French festivals of all disciplines.

“[Hellfest] makes the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against our DNA”

French metal festival Hellfest Open Air (cap. 60,000) broke the news to IQ that this year’s event is cancelled due to the uncertainty around the health situation and the government regulations.

Hellfest organiser Ben Barbaud tells IQ: “Unlike other festivals, we make the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against the very DNA of the festival. We owe our festival-goers consistency in the project we want to offer them and for which they have agreed to pay a high price.

“Hellfest was born out of a desire to gather all the “extreme” music lovers together in communion and a spirit of celebration. Living with the virus shouldn’t be giving up what makes us happy. The future of Hellfest is compromised and once again it is your trust and solidarity that will get us through this storm.”

The 15th anniversary of Hellfest was due to take place across three days in June, in Clisson, Pays de la Loire, with performances from artists including Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down. Barbaud says the festival will return in 2022.

While France may be the first major market in the northern hemisphere to make a decision on this summer’s festival season, it doesn’t necessarily mean other countries will follow its lead.

France’s vaccination rate is significantly lower than other markets inside and outside of Europe such as the UK, Denmark, Italy and other EU countries, and the government has been continuously criticised for slowing the pace.

 


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French Covid expert: ‘Cultural places are lower risk’

The head of infectious diseases at France’s largest hospital says that the risks of Covid-19 contamination in cultural places are “much lower than in the family, professional or school environment”, provided restrictions are observed.

Appearing on French cable channel BFMTV, Eric Caumes from the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris said that even in cultural places where there are lots of people – such as theatres, stadiums and museums – the risks of Covid-19 contamination is low if social distancing measures are adhered to and masks are worn.

Caumes’ comments are in line with multiple clinical trials which have found little risk of an infected person transmitting Covid-19 in an indoor concert venue, including Spain’s Primacov and two German trials – Restart-19 and Konzerthaus Dortmund. France has announced test concerts of its own, scheduled for the spring.

The infectious diseases chief went on to say that the reopening of culture is essential to avoid a mental health crisis in France and stop citizens from “turning into zombies” – adding the government must consider the “global dimension of health”.

The infectious diseases chief said that the reopening of culture is essential to avoid a mental health crisis in France

“The limit [for hospitals] is not very far, we are so close to the level that we are afraid of…but I am not sure that confinement would improve the psychic parameters which are rather worrying,” he said.

French culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, has said that museums and monuments will be the first to reopen when there is a drop in the number Covid-19 cases but cinemas, concert halls and theatres are to remain closed until further notice.

Bachelot recently met with the organisers of major French festivals as concern mounts over the impact of France’s ongoing health state of emergency, though the participants say it did not result in any concrete guarantees regarding the festival summer.

The culture minister will hold another meeting with the festival sector on 15 February, by which time she will need to have concrete answers and solutions for festival organisers, says live music association, Prodiss.

Meanwhile, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is under pressure from his scientific counsel to impose a third lockdown, warning the leader the country’s curfew and other restrictions are not enough to curb the virus.

 


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French fests welcome offer of help from minister

Friday’s rendezvous between the French minister of culture and 14 festival promoters was a constructive meeting but did not result in any concrete guarantees regarding the festival summer, say participants.

The organisers of leading festivals including Les Eurockéennes, Main Square, Vieilles Charrues and Les Francofolies de La Rochelle met with Roselyne Bachelot on 29 January, as concern mounts over the impact of France’s ongoing health state of emergency.

According to the Union of Contemporary Music (SMA), which represents Au Foin De La Rue, Les Suds, Marsatac, Festival de Poupet and Le Cabaret Vert, the minister told those in attendance that “fair and appropriate answers” would be found to questions on capacities, timings and configurations, “which we are delighted about, given the diversity” of the festivals, says an SMA spokesperson.

Live music association Prodiss – whose members include the aforementioned large festivals, as well as Musilac in Aix and Britanny’s Panoramas – describes the meeting as the “first step” towards securing certainty for festivals, which are “economic engines” for the localities in which they take place.

Bachelot (pictured) will hold another meeting with the festival sector on 15 February, by which time she will need to have concrete answers and solutions for festival organisers, says Prodiss.

“We have a moral and financial responsibility to our teams, our partners and our suppliers”

According to SMA, Bachelot declined on Friday to speak on whether reduced capacities and social distancing would be necessary, indicating she would save her decision for the 15 February meeting.

“In the meantime, she suggests that we work together on the type of assistance that could be provided to us” by the government, the union spokesperson continues, which, through Bachelot, has “reaffirmed its desire to support us through appropriate measures”.

A release from Prodiss entitled ‘15 days to save festivals’ says it “want[s] to believe that the state will be there [for us] and will support the industry”, but it will reserve judgment until the 15th.

Asking for “clear proposals from the government” to ensure festivals can go ahead, the spokesperson adds: “We have a moral and financial responsibility to our audiences, our teams, our partners and our suppliers.”

 


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Hellfest begs gov to make decision on festival season

French metal festival Hellfest Open Air has penned an open letter to France’s minister of culture warning of the “economic catastrophe” that’ll happen if this year’s festival season cannot go ahead.

The 60,000-capacity event, which is scheduled to take place across three days in June, in Clisson, Pays de la Loire, has begged minister Roselyn Bachelot to act quickly to “put an end to this unbearable waiting situation” that festival organisers are experiencing.

“We have been very attentive to your latest media interventions during the past few days, in which you’ve said: ‘We will go to festivals this summer’, ‘we have time’ and ‘let’s cross our fingers’. Madame minister: excuse our tone but on our side, we do not cross the fingers, we squeeze the buttocks!” the letter reads.

“With less hospital pressure, outdoor organisation combined with the summer period when it is known that this virus is less virulent, and an additional preventive test, is it conceivable to consider holding our mega-events? Or, should we consider now that if collective immunity is not achieved, it will be impossible to set up events hosting tens of thousands?” the Hellfest team asks.

The festival goes on to say that 99.75% of fans who bought tickets to the 2020 edition, which was inevitably postponed, have held onto their tickets in the hope that the 2021 event will go ahead.

Hellfest says that in the run up to this year’s event – the 15th-anniversary edition which is due to be headlined by Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down – it is spending more than €250,000 per month on salaries, fixed expenses and other loan repayments.

“Madame minister: excuse our tone but on our side, we do not cross the fingers, we squeeze the buttocks”

“Without knowing if the festival will take place, what organisation would agree to spend this much without a result guaranteed, without having the assurance that all this money is not thrown out the window?” the letter reads.

In the letter, the festival also highlights that the “economic catastrophe” that would ensue if the festival season cannot go ahead, would not only impact the festival itself but also the region in which the festival takes place.

“From an economic point of view, our festivals are invaluable drivers of activities for territories that welcome them. The hotels, restaurants, bars, and other shops that are around us are all sectors that are suffering enormously from this crisis and that expect a lot from the event we hold. To speak only of the territory of the Nantes Vineyard, the fallout is estimated at more than 25 million euros,” the letter states.

The letter concludes with a plea to the minister to “put everything into allowing the resumption of life,” once again emphasising that if the summer season is a “disaster” again, “everything that will be lost, will be lost”.

During an interview regarding the recently announced test shows in France, Bachelot said she wants “to send a message of hope: we must be able to achieve a summer of festivals”.

Currently, museums, cinemas, theatres and music venues in France remain closed after prime minister Jean Castex announced at the beginning of January that there would be “no relaxation” of the restrictions yet.

 


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In France, nightclubs have been left for dead

Dear Minister of Culture,

It’s strange, but at the end of your speech on France 2 on 22 October, I had the unfortunate impression that I had not been concerned by your announcements.

Not being a great expert in political language, either, after your speech I naively asked my wife if she thought that “the world of the night” could be included in what you called “the performing arts sector”. After all, when I’m on stage, behind turntables, like an actor, musician or dancer, I feel as if I, too, am delivering live performances. But the dubious grin I got as an answer hasn’t really alleviated my fears. So, in order to get to the bottom of it, I immediately called a friend (from the profession) to ask him this simple question: “Reassure me, V, when our minister talks about the performing arts sector, she is talking about us too, all the same…?”

At first my question made him laugh (which didn’t bode well), before giving me his answer: “Ah, no, Laurent, from now on we are part of the dead performing arts sector… As Roselyne has said many times, ‘the world of the night’ doesn’t depend on her, but on the Ministry of the Interior.”

At the beginning I thought it was a little joke, but I quickly understood that behind his cynically funny answer, V wasn’t telling me lies.

It’s strange because as an Officer of L’Ordre Arts et Lettres, Knight of the Legion of Honour (awarded by a former minister of culture [Jack Lang], who has long since occupied the eminent place of the night in the vast space of culture and creation) and globetrotting DJ (like other artists in our country, I’ve been indirectly promoting France abroad for more than 30 years), I stupidly thought that things had changed, and that with my little turntable comrades we had won our status and our ticket to the “world of culture” with dignity. But I have to admit that apparently this is still not the case.

During your speech you spoke of the great suffering of the cinema and the world of the performing arts. Indeed, these sectors have been suffering terribly (like many others) since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. But fortunately for them, cinemas, theatres and some concert halls have nevertheless been able to reopen, despite a complicated health protocol.

When they were open, clubs were places bubbling with creation, imagination and sharing

Today we hear a lot of talk about the anger of restaurateurs and coffee shops due to the curfew. But here again, these businesses still, somehow or other, had some possibilities to reopen, even in an extremely constrained way.

On the other hand, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, since the beginning of March, the “night and clubs” sector (of which I am an intrinsic part) has been completely at a standstill. For us the party is over, and has been for eight long months now.

As you know, like theatres, cinemas and concert halls, clubs (apart from the artists and DJs who perform there) employ the same diverse and varied staff as the rest of the cultural landscape, whether in the bar, the auditorium, the cashier, the cloakroom and the cleaning staff… Or the stage managers, security, intermittent workers, technical staff, sound engineers, lighting engineers, VJs, promoters, bookers, labels, graphic designers, printers, and not forgetting the indirect economic impact (suppliers, restaurants, hotels, transport, etc.). The list is long, but above all very similar to that of the performing arts.

On France 2, you announced figures relating to aid to the various sectors of film and performing arts – and once again, and for too many months now, the cultural space of the night has been totally ignored.

The flagrant lack of consideration, the ignorance emanating from your ministry towards the nightlife and club sector, is clearly interpreted by many of us as an incomprehensible form of contempt. For whether you like it or not, the clubs and places of this ‘night culture’ were (when they were open) places bubbling with creation, imagination and sharing.

I was, Madam Minister, sincerely attentive and benevolent when you took office, impatient but certain to see you represent us in the same way as other artists, and affirm the minimum consideration due to our sector. But I must admit that today, I am not sure if we can do so. But I confess that today – not knowing very well if I am a “dead performing artist”, an “Interior Ministry artist”, or “not an artist at all”, I am beginning to have serious doubts.

Kind regards,
Laurent Garnier

 


Laurent Garnier is a DJ, composer and producer, and founder of electronic music label F Communications. In 2016 he became a Knight (Chevalier) of the Légion d’honneur.

France pledges €55m for live music industry

The French government has pledged a further €55 million in financial support for the live music sector.

In a press conference on Thursday (22 October), France’s culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, announced an additional €115m for the cultural industries, including €85m for live performance, in order to “safeguard the programming” of live shows, “including [those] with extremely restricted capacities” (ie with social distancing). Of that €85m, €55m is specifically for live music.

The other €30m will go cinemas, while an emergency fund for artists and crew, dubbed the FUSSAT (fonds d’urgence de solidarité pour artistes et techniciens du spectacle, will receive a further €10m.

The new funding comes as French authorities impose a six-week curfew, from 9pm to 6am, across 54 of the country’s most populous départements in a bid to control the second wave of coronavirus.

“We encourage all French people to continue to go to see artists on stage or the cinema”

The support measures are intended to support the sector through the six-week semi-lockdown, which began in some areas on 17 October.

Additionally, the ministry intends to waive tax on tickets for live shows for the first half of 2021, pending approval by parliament, Bachelot added.

In a statement, the ministry of culture thanks entertainment “professionals for their […] commitment to continue to offer the public access to culture under strict health and safety conditions” and “encourages all French people to continue to go to see artists on stage or the cinema.”

There will be no standing shows in France until next spring, though some socially distanced, seated events were taking before the latest curfews.

 


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