Minsters urged to expand drug testing at festivals
A parliamentary committee has urged the UK government to expand on-site drug testing at festivals.
In a newly published report, the Home Affairs Committee criticises drug laws as “outdated and in need of reform” and calls for a new legislative and funding framework that enables “practical, risk-reducing interventions such as establishing a pilot drug consumption facility and drug testing at festivals”.
The committee points out that countries such as the United States, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Canada, Austria and Australia have established drug checking services for festival-goers.
“Drug-checking services can help reduce the harms caused by high strength or dangerous combinations of drugs, and provide advice on harm reduction to users,” it says. “The government should expand the availability of these services at music festivals and within the night-time economy, with a dedicated licensing scheme in place ahead of the 2024 festival season.”
UK promoters previously accused the Home Office of putting gig-goers “at risk” following an apparent U-turn on drug testing at festivals earlier this summer.
Manchester’s 80,000-cap Parklife festival was unable to test confiscated pills at the June event after drug testing nonprofit The Loop was informed it needed to apply for a special licence rather than relying on its agreement with the police. The licence costs upwards of £3,000 and can take three months to process.
Parklife had worked with police and The Loop to test confiscated drugs on site for the previous eight years. Attendees were previously able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption, with a “push notification” alert subsequently sent to them if the tests show the drugs are a serious threat to health.
“There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this”
The festival’s founder, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord, argued that without the provision of drug checking, the risk of drug-related harms or overdose at festivals could increase.
However, a Home Office spokesperson moved to distance the government from the committee’s recommendations.
“There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this,’ says the spokesperson. “Our 10-year drugs strategy set out ambitious plans, backed with a record £3bn funding over three years, to tackle the supply of illicit drugs through relentless policing action and building a world-class system of treatment and recovery to turn people’s lives around and prevent crime.”
In 2016, Secret Garden Party became the first British camping festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. A drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by the Irish HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic was also rolled out across a number of other festivals in Ireland this summer.
In the wake of the latest report, Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill is calling for urgent modernisation of the UK government’s drug policy.
“The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has served its purpose, but the landscape has evolved dramatically since its enactment,” says Kill. “Our European neighbours have taken proactive measures to address drug-related challenges, prioritising harm reduction and public safety. It is high time for the UK to catch up and adopt a more pragmatic and modern approach.”
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UK promoters hit out at drug testing ‘U-turn’
UK promoters have accused the Home Office of putting gig-goers “at risk” following an apparent U-turn on drug testing at festivals.
The Guardian reports that Manchester’s 80,000-cap Parklife festival was unable to test confiscated pills last weekend after drug testing nonprofit The Loop was informed it needed to apply for a special licence rather than relying on its agreement with the police.
Parklife co-founder and night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord decries the late intervention by the government department.
“Drug testing onsite has been an essential part of the work we do with the support of Greater Manchester police to keep festivalgoers safe. This move is a disappointing, senseless U-turn of government policy that puts people at risk,” he says.
“This huge misstep from the Home Office could set a potentially dangerous precedent for the summer’s festival season. We call for an immediate reversal of this decision so that organisers can continue to prioritise the safety of festivalgoers.”
“If festival organisers fear their safeguarding measures will be pulled at the 11th hour, then how can we guarantee the wellbeing of our guests?”
The Heaton Park event had worked with police and The Loop to test confiscated drugs on site for the previous eight years. Attendees were previously able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption, with a “push notification” alert subsequently sent to them if the tests show the drugs are a serious threat to health.
Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn describes the latest turn of events is “extremely worrying” for both the industry and fans.
“If festival organisers fear their safeguarding measures will be pulled at the 11th hour, then how can we guarantee the wellbeing of our guests?” he tells the Guardian.
In response, a spokesperson for the Home Office says: “Anyone interested in undertaking lawful activities involving the possession, supply or production of controlled drugs, including those who wish to provide drug testing services, need to apply for a Home Office licence.
“Festival organisers in consultation with local partners are responsible for decisions relating to drug testing at festivals. We will continue an open dialogue with prospective licensees throughout the festival season.”
According to festival organisers, a Home Office licence can cost in excess of £3,000
In 2016, Secret Garden Party became the first British camping festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, told IQ at the time drug testing is a “no-brainer”, adding around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content.
According to festival organisers, a Home Office licence can take more than three months to be granted, and can cost in excess of £3,000 (€3,500).
It was recently announced, meanwhile, that drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by the Irish HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic is being rolled out across a number of other festivals in Ireland.
The Safer Nightlife programme will include “back of house” drug checking through the use of surrender bins, media awareness and a social media campaign. Teams of HSE trained volunteers will available to talk about the scheme, drug trends and harm-reduction practices with attendees, while also supporting people in cases of drug emergencies.
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Sacha Lord appointed chair of NTIA board
Parklife and The Warehouse Project co-founder Sacha Lord has been appointed chair of the UK’s Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) board of directors.
Lord, who is night time economy advisor for Greater Manchester, has worked with the NTIA and stakeholders across the UK over the last two years.
The trade association has been at the heart of the fight to gain representation and support for businesses throughout the pandemic.
“The Night Time Industries Association is a critical player in the sector, and has been a key voice in representing operators, not just in London but nationally across the UK,” says Lord.
“I am honoured to be joining as chair at this pivotal time in the sector’s recovery. There is still so much work to be done to help operators through these difficult times, and I wholly support the NTIA in their efforts to create better working practices for those in the industry, achieve greater funding for businesses nationwide, and develop vital initiatives to ensure everyone working within, or using the night time economy, gets home safely.”
“We are looking forward to harnessing his passion and drive in establishing a stronger voice for the sector”
NTIA CEO Michael Kill adds: “I have been lucky enough to have worked very closely with Sacha over the last three years, and alongside welcoming him as the chair of the board of directors at the Night Time Industries Association, would like to personally thank him on behalf of the industry for his exceptional work and support during the crisis.
“As a leading figurehead within our industry, we are looking forward to harnessing his passion and drive in establishing a stronger voice for the sector, adding another dimension to the public and political agenda to drive home positive change, and support an extremely ambitious strategy for the sector in the future. The unanimous appointment by the board is testament to the tireless work that he has put into representing this industry.”
Millions expected to attend illegal parties on NYE
More than 5,000 unlawful parties are expected to take place in the UK over the new year weekend, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has warned.
The association, which represents more than 100 nightclubs, bars and music venues, says there is a risk of “millions of people converging across the UK” from 31 December–3 January, sparking fears of a fresh coronavirus outbreak in January.
The situation, it says, is exacerbated by the ongoing closure of most night-time businesses, which “would normally manage huge crowds of people through the new year’s celebrations”.
Illegal raves have been on the increase across Europe since the summer as frustration builds over coronavirus restrictions preventing legal gatherings.
“There is a growing concern that new year’s eve is going to culminate in social unrest”
“There is a growing concern that new year’s eve is going to culminate in social unrest and will see a substantial number of illegal parties and mass gatherings following the closure of businesses at 11pm, with a real risk of overwhelming the police and emergency services,” comments Michael Kill, CEO of the NTIA.
“We are estimating that the UK will be witness to over 5,000 illegal parties across new year’s eve weekend. The government needs to consider ways in which to manage this grave situation – people will want to celebrate the end of 2020 in their own way, so ignoring the issue will not resolve what will be a significant car crash in every sense of the term.”
Parklife promoter and Manchester night czar Sacha Lord adds: “The closure of hospitality venues in tier three, combined with the 11pm curfew elsewhere, only serves to encourage house parties and outdoor gatherings, and it’s inevitable we will see an increase of these on new year’s eve.
“I urge all those considering hosting or attending a gathering to think about those around them who may be vulnerable to Covid-19, and to put their health and safety first.”
Let us dance, says UK electronic music sector
Some of the most prominent artists from the UK’s dance music sector have joined forces with festivals, nightclubs and industry figures to issue an urgent plea for support from the government.
The #LetUsDance campaign urges the government to recognise dance music clubs and events as an important part of the nation’s art and culture in parity with the wider live music sector, to ensure equal access to support.
The campaign also encourages fans, artists and industry professionals to post a photo from a recent club night or dance festival, along with the #LetUsDance hashtag, with a note supporting its place within arts and culture. Supporters can also send a letter to their local MP to emphasise the importance of the sector.
The call for support comes following the live music industry’s #LetTheMusicPlay campaign, which preceded the announcement of a £1.57 billion support package for Britain’s arts and culture sector.
However, the government narrative to-date on the allocation of this support has been unclear, and appears not to include nightclubs, dance music events and festivals.
The Night Time Industries Association states it is “keen to gain assurances from government that dance music venues and nightclubs will be eligible to apply for the funding”, fearing it may “be reserved purely for venues like the Royal Albert Hall and the West End”.
“We call on the government to recognise this sector as a significant part of the nation’s art and culture, and ensure fair and equal access to the support offered to the wider live music sector”
The campaign is supported by artists including Fatboy Slim, Massive Attack, Thom Yorke, Simone Butler of Primal Scream, Caribou, Four Tet, Norman Jay OBE, Daniel Avery, Charlotte de Witte, Pete Tong and Andy C.
“Nightclubs and festivals are the beating heart of the UK dance scene; providing collective joy to millions of fans each year, providing employment and incomes for an interdependent network of hundreds of thousands of people, while contributing hundreds of millions to the economy,” says Greg Marshall, general manager of the Association for Electronic Music (Afem).
“We call on the government to recognise this sector as a significant part of the nation’s art and culture, and ensure fair and equal access to the support offered to the wider live music sector.”
Sacha Lord, founder of the Warehouse Project club nights and nightlife advisor for Greater Manchester says he is “astounded and confused” that the government’s arts rescue package does not include the UK dance music industry.
“There has always been an elitist snobbery towards electronic and dance music, however, I would argue that this sector reaches more people in terms of culture, as some of our theatres do,” says Lord.
“I call out the government, not only to recognise this part of the industry, but also put in place guidance and support to protect our venues, festivals, artists, freelancers, and supply chain. That is why today, I’m fully backing the #LetUsDance Campaign.”
There are over 1,600 nightclubs across the UK, which play a significant role in supporting the wider night-time economy that generates £66bn in revenue per year (6% of the UK’s total).
Boost for Manchester nightlife as new venue opens
A brand-new, socially distanced outdoor events space is preparing to open in Manchester city centre this weekend, as news comes that two of the city’s music venues – Gorilla and Deaf Institute – have been saved from closure.
Escape to Freight Island, the brainchild of veteran Manchester DJs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford (The Unabombers), together with Gareth Cooper of Festival No.6/Broadwick Live, Jon Drape of Engine No.4 and venue operator Dan Morris, is a large, socially distanced food and entertainment complex launching at Broadwick’s 10,000-capacity Depot Mayfield site this weekend.
The space can hold up to 600 people while complying with social distancing rules, with plans to bring the capacity up to 2,500 once measures relax. Platform 15 is the first part of the complex to open, with the full launch to follow.
DJ Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy will perform at Platform 15 on its opening night on Friday (24 July), with Mr Scruff, Mikey D.O.N. and Jamie Groovement playing the following evening. Norman Jay MBE and Mass will close out Escape to Freight Island’s inaugural weekend on Sunday.
Other acts scheduled to play at Platform 15 include Gilles Peterson, Erol Alkan and Greg Wilson, with events organised in conjunction with Manchester Pride, Festival No.6 and We Out Here Festival, and venue Band on the Wall, among others.
The space is all seated, with all food and drink ordered via an app and QR system. Fans must book in advance, with groups of up to 12 permitted. A staggered arrival system, managed queuing and toilet areas and extra hygiene precautions all form part of the complex’s social and safe manifesto.
“Platform 15 will give a flavour of what is to come when we launch the full Escape to Freight Island experience, so let’s all meet at Platform 15 to begin our escape to freedom,” comments Cowdrey.
“Let’s all meet at Platform 15 to begin our escape to freedom”
The opening of the new venue comes as many around the UK, and the world, struggle under the financial pressures of Covid-19.
Manchester venues Gorilla (600-cap.) and Deaf Institute (260-cap.) last week announced they were closing their doors permanently due to the pandemic. However, it emerged yesterday (22 June) that the venues have now been acquired by venue group Tokyo Industries (TI).
TI founder Aaron Mellor says the group has been working together with promoter SSD Concerts – which is launching the UK’s first socially distanced arena next month – and the Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, to come up with ways “to help save both venues and their existing operating style in a post-Covid world.”
“So, looks like the story is out Deaf Institute and Gorilla have been saved and will be kept as live music venues as we know and love them,” writes Burgess in a Twitter post.
“I’ve been talking with the new owners over the weekend and we’ll be doing all we can to help with the next chapter.”
Manchester night-time economy advisor and Parklife founder Sacha Lord thanked mayor Andy Burnham for “helping to raise the profile” of the two venues’ plight.
“Great news…all done within four working days. Jobs saved and two of the city centres best live music venues kept alive,” tweeted Lord.
Bookings for Escape to Freight Island can be made here.
Manchester winds down United We Stream to ‘rebuild’
Manchester’s United We Stream online concert platform will be wound down from 7 June in order for the city focus its efforts on rebuilding its night-time economy, co-creator Sacha Lord has announced.
United We Stream UK launched on 3 April, taking inspiration from the original initiative in Berlin. In the weeks since, it has raised more than £380,000 for those unable to work during the Covid-19 pandemic, reaching 14 million people who tuned in to see live performances by the likes of Melanie C, Paul Oakenfold, Roger Sanchez, as well as DJ events such as two 12-hour ‘Hacienda House Parties’, which reached a combined 3.5m people.
The Warehouse Project/Parklife Festival’s Lord, who is also Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, says the weekly shows will now give way to one-off events featuring emerging Manchester talent. Funding will also be redirected towards the city’s night-time businesses.
“When United We Stream was launched, we weren’t sure anyone would watch it, let alone donate,” he says. Yet the public has helped raise over £382,000 in just under two months, and for that I, and all the businesses who will benefit from these funds, are eternally grateful.
“To see our community come together to support these businesses is humbling”
“The night-time economy is one of the biggest sectors for employment in Greater Manchester and has been hit hardest by the pandemic. To see our community come together to support these businesses is humbling and demonstrates the unmatched community spirit of our city-region.”
In addition to voluntary donations, United We Stream initiative received corporate financial support from Live Nation, OVG, Parlophone Records, Twitter and more.
“The platform will now echo this spirit of togetherness and go on to provide a free space for disadvantaged musicians and artists across Greater Manchester,” continues Lord.
“I’m sure that by providing a platform for unsigned talent that we will go on to discover more of the household names that our region is so famous for.”
United We Stream marks anniversary of Manchester Arena attack
The Manchester edition of United We Stream, a fundraising initiative launched in cities worldwide in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is putting on a special four-hour show to mark the third anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing.
The show begins at 8 p.m. tonight (22 May), marking three years to the day of the bomb attack that killed 22 people outside the 21,000-capacity arena following an Ariana Grande concert.
The commemorative show, which is organised by Greater Manchester’s night-time economy advisor Sacha Lord, will see Spice girl Melanie C perform a DJ set, promising “some uplifting pop bangers” and “a few cheeky classics from the north west [of England]”. The show will be available to watch on the United We Stream platform.
The Manchester Survivors Choir, made up of almost 100 people who were at the arena on the night of the attack, will also perform as part of the event, joined by former Coronation Street actress Catherine Tydesley.
Thanks to the efforts of United We Stream production team, led by director Colin McKevitt, the choir is able to perform together outdoors at Manchester’s Media City, while adhering to social distancing and infection control guidelines.
“At a time when we are living through another period when we need the city region to come together, we felt it right to pay tribute”
“I know how difficult this week is, not just for the families of the 22 lives that were lost, but also for the many families, NHS, police, paramedics, firefighters, first responders and people who pulled together on the evening of one of Greater Manchester’s worst days,” says Lord.
“I also understand the importance of coming together on this date, remembering those lives and paying tribute to those who risked their lives. At a time when we are living through another period when we need the city region to come together, we felt it right to pay tribute, but also allow residents of the city-region to dance their way through it, safely in their homes.”
Set up by Lord and Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, United We Stream has raised £320,000 for the city’s night-time economy, cultural organisations and chosen local charities.
United We Stream Greater Manchester is live every weekend. Viewers can watch for free and are encouraged to buy a ‘virtual ticket’ for any price they choose. Originally established by Berlin night Tsar Lutz Leichsenring, United We Stream has now launched in Belgrade, Detroit, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Cologne.
It is normal to experience strong emotional reactions and thoughts ahead of the three year anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack this Friday. If you’re struggling during this time, please remember that help and support is available.
Please contact the Greater Manchester Resilience Hub:
Phone: 0333 009 5071
Email: [email protected]
The hub is open Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Events 4 Covid 19: UK co’s unite for local community
Events 4 Covid 19, a new network of event organisers and suppliers in the north-west of England, are pooling their resources to assist with requests from hospitals, local government, charities and other organisations who need support to fight the coronavirus.
The group includes suppliers that have access to generators, furniture, comms equipment, tents and marquees, outdoor and indoor audio equipment, outdoor and indoor lighting, vehicles, staging equipment, medical and ambulances, heating equipment, venue dressing and many other items.
Companies signed up so far include promoter From the Fields (Kendal Calling, Bluedot), Jon Drape’s Engine No 4, the Warehouse Project, Manchester International Festival, the Green Events Company and Mustard Media, among others.
The group can also provide services including security, medical, AV engineers, traffic management, project management, networks of freelancers, transportation and volunteer management.
Less than a week after its inception, Events 4 Covid 19 has already joined forces with a number of organisations, charities, initiatives and local government groups in Greater Manchester to support the fast-growing demand for equipment and services.
“This a great example of the events industry coming together in a moment of crisis to assist the organisations most in need”
The Warehouse Project’s Sacha Lord, who is also Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, says: “I’m backing this new initiative which is a great example of the events industry coming together in a moment of crisis to assist the organisations most in need.”
Events 4 Covid 19 was initiated last week by Nelson Beaumont-Laurencia of CityCo and Robert Masterson of Mustard Media, after being inspired by their colleagues in Portugual.
The group is looking for colleagues who are able to replicate the scheme in other areas of the UK. If you can help, please contact [email protected].
Cardi B cancels headline Parklife appearance
Cardi B will no longer appear at the UK’s Parklife festival this weekend, as the rapper continues to recover from cosmetic surgery procedures.
The ‘Bodak Yellow’ star, who recently underwent breast augmentation and liposuction, was scheduled to headline the 80,000-cap. Manchester event’s main stage on Saturday 8 June. In addition to the Parklife cancellation, the surgery caused the rapper to cancel her slot at Primavera Sound and postpone three concerts in the United States last month.
“We are very sorry for the late notice but have only just had confirmation that she will not be able to perform,” say Parklife organisers, who have not announced a replacement for Cardi B. “We all remain super-excited for Parklife this weekend and cannot wait to see you in a completely transformed Heaton Park.”
“It is certainly an original reason for cancellation,” Alesco director Paul Twomey tells IQ, adding that multi-act festivals are unlikely to be insured against the no-show of an individual act. “The festival will merely adjust the line-up in terms of set times and lengths or look to replace if time allows.”
However, Twomey adds, Cardi B’s reason for cancelling would be unlikely to be included in “a standard non-appearance policy” if in place, given that such policies “exclude cancellation as a result of elective surgery, as this would be deemed to be within the artist’s control.
Festivals may actually be better off “as the act would have to return their fee”
“There is a wider cover available that promoters and the like can take out which would pick this up as long as it was outside of the purchasing party’s control. Insurers would charge a higher premium for this,” says the insurance specialist.
“Cardi B has been advised to cancel on medical grounds following an allegedly non-essential operation. Much depends on when the operation happened and the surroundings of the ‘complications’ that have led to cancelling,” explains Martin Goebbels, head of Miller’s music and touring insurance team.
“If the operation were a while ago and total unexpected complications have occurred then possibly there would be grounds for an insurance claim. However, if it were very recent – particularly after any insurance policies were placed – it is likely any insurance would not pay if such an operation were deemed non-essential.”
In general, says Goebbels, a festival “may not suffer any loss” from an artist cancellation. In fact, events may be better off “as the act would have to return their fee”. Organisers then decide whether to keep the money or spend it on a replacement.
“Even if there were no replacement available,” continues Goebbels, “it is possible that festivals do not have to refund any money as they sell tickets for a ‘festival’ rather than a ‘headline artist’.”
The cancellation of individual shows, however, poses more difficulties.
“You know, I hate cancelling shows because I love money”
“If it were an artist’s own show, the promoter would not be insured so it becomes a legal situation to try and recover the promoter’s total loss,” explains Goebbels.
Addressing the May postponements, Cardi B posted on Instagram saying: “You know, I hate cancelling shows because I love money. But like, health is wealth, so I have to do what I have to do. My breasts gotta heal, and it is what it is.”
Parklife will make its fully updated schedule available via the festival app from 7pm on Friday 7 June.
Performers at this year’s sold-out festival include George Ezra, the Streets, Nas, Dave, Christine and the Queens, Solange and Major Lazer Soundsystem. Parklife takes place in Heaton Park, Manchester, on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 June.
Festival director Jon Drape and co-founder Sacha Lord touted last year’s Parklife as the “best one yet”. Live nation acquired a majority stake in the festival, along with the Warehouse Project club nights that Lord co-founded with Parklife partner Sam Kandel, in 2016.