France to lift all restrictions on outdoor shows
There will be no capacity restrictions on open-air concerts and festivals in France from 30 June, in news that will be welcomed by the live music industry but which comes too late for many summer festivals.
Following sustained lobbying by industry associations and the success of the Ambition Live Again pilot concert, as of next Wednesday concert organisers will be able to do away with social distancing, and the current attendance cap of 5,000 people, for outdoor events. Indoor shows, meanwhile, remain limited to 75% of capacity.
All events of more than 1,000 people must ask for attendees’ pass sanitaire, the French health passport, certifying that they have had both vaccines or a negative Covid-19 test in the last 48 hours. Masks are advised but not compulsory.
Previously outdoor festivals in France were limited to 5,000 people, seated, with social distancing equivalent to a space of 4m² for each festivalgoer. “It was unrealistic; people can not sit in their own little square,” says Aurélie Hannedouche, head of the Union of Contemporary Music (SMA).
Hannedouche tells Le Dauphiné libéré she welcomes the news but notes that it comes too late for events like Hellfest and Rock en Seine. “The resumption of standing concerts is good news, but it will be hard to readjust for festivals planned around mid-July,” she adds.
“We haven’t had any standing shows for fifteen months. Now we will be able to restart”
Malika Seguineau, head of live music industry association Prodiss, also welcomes the resumption of standing concerts, but criticises the need for the pass sanitaire for bigger shows. “People do not understand it,” she says.
“I’ve had festivalgoers tell me that they cannot attend come because they did not have their two doses of the vaccine, but this is not a vaccination passport – all it takes is a recent test,” adds Jérôme Tréhorel, director of Les Vieilles Charrues, which is taking place in a smaller, socially distanced format, compliant with the previous regulations, from 8 to 18 July.
Additionally, the préfets which represent the French government in each region can also overrule the national guidelines in the event of a severe local health situation.
Regardless of of these reservations, the return of full-capacity live music to France after nearly year and a half is a cause for celebration, Seguineau tells Le Monde. “We haven’t had any standing shows for fifteen months. Now we will be able to restart, within these conditions.”
With this week’s announcement, France joins other European countries incluyding Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and the UK in having set a date this summer for the resumption of non-socially distanced shows.
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Seated concerts don’t stand up, say French campaigners
French live music associations have initiated a push for their members to be allowed to reopen at full capacity, saying the current ban on standing concerts prevents the return of live music in any meaningful way.
In a new campaign, Les concerts assis, ça ne tient pas debout (‘Seated concerts don’t stand up’, or less literally ‘Seated concerts don’t hold water’/‘Seated concerts don’t make sense’), the SMA (Union of Contemporary Music) and Fedelima (Federation of Contemporary Music Venues) demand that standing shows be allowed from 1 July, saying live music should have parity with other sectors as society begins to reopen this summer.
Concerts have been permitted in France since 19 May, albeit at 35% capacity. As of today (9 June), that has been increased to 65% of capacity, though all shows must be seated.
While culture minister Roselyne Bachelot has suggested standing shows could be allowed from July, they would still be subject to social distancing regulations, with no more than one person every for every 4m² of space in the venue, making most events unfeasible financially.
“Standing is an integral part of the aesthetic and social experience of live music”
Therefore, “without any medical justification, seated shows could from 1 July even have more spectators than the standing configurations,” note the associations.
In a statement, Fedelima and SMA, which between them represent hundreds of live businesses, say all the aid provided to the sector to enable it to survive the pandemic will have been nothing if venues are not allowed to reopen at full capacity from 1 July.
“[A]t a time of the resumption of all activities in society, it is inexplicable that only seated configurations can resume,” they say. Standing concerts, they add, “are an integral part of the aesthetic and social experience of contemporary music” and a “symbol of freedom and equality”.
Therefore, “the whole of the contemporary music sector – music venues, festivals, producers, labels, radio stations, schools and associations – are launching this call today: Les concerts assis, ça ne tient pas debout.”
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.”
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.
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.”
French music sector plans a number of test concerts
A working group for test concerts has been assembled by France’s live music association, Prodiss, steered by Jean-Paul Roland (director of the Eurockéennes festival), Marie Sabot (We Love Green festival), and Armel Campana (Main Square festival).
Roland says the group is hoping to hold a test concert in March in an indoor arena such as Paris’s Zenith (cap. 6, 293), provided they win the support of government.
“We’ve spoken with a lot of people: epidemiologists, laboratories, CNM (National Music Centre – to finance the project), the City of Paris etc. All that is missing is the ministerial decision because it cannot be done without a stamp of approval from the Ministry of Culture, and also probably with approval from the health department and home office,” he says.
“There will be scientific answers in the weeks that follow, but organisationally, we will have the answers the same day, especially on the time and logistics to plan for saliva tests or PCR, for example, at the entrance,” adds Roland.
“That big summer festivals like Hellfest or Eurockéennes can test everyone at the entrance is unlikely, but it can be a complementary solution for spectators who have not done a test. We need to have as many indicators as possible to adapt,” he explains.
“I want to send a message of hope: we must be able to achieve a summer of festivals”
Malika Seguineau, director of Prodiss, says: “To reopen to the public, you have to go through this kind of experimentation, to lead to a festival season and, on the other hand, to establish a schedule for the tours, which depending on their size require three to 24 weeks months preparation.”
Two more test concerts are being planned for February in Marseille, organised by Béatrice Desgranges of the city’s flagship festival, Marsatac, who is also a member of France’s live music trade body, SMA (Syndicat des musiques contemporaries).
The protocols for the tests have been validated by Inserm (National Institute of Health and Medical Research) and the Scientific Council of Professor Delfraissy, and a conference to present the results is to take place on 8 April in Marseille.
“We are going to stop being nice,” says Aurélie Hannedouche from SMA. “We have the impression that, in culture, we must give more guarantees than other industries. We are told that we generate queues and that we do not present scientific data: as if shopping centres do not generate queues? And where is the science for the stores where everyone keys the products?”
The various test concerts were mentioned by the minister of culture, Roselyne Bachelot, last Friday (8 January) on radio station franceinfo who said that it was “very important to base decisions on scientific studies”.
Bachelot also said she is “doing everything” to make possible a reopening of cultural places at the beginning of February after prime minister Jean Castex announced that there would currently be “no relaxation” in the closure of museums, cinemas, theatres and music venues, last Thursday (7 January).
“I want to send a message of hope: we must be able to achieve a summer of festivals,” said Bachelot. “I am confident,” she added.
The Associates: PSA, Svensk Live, SMA
Covid-19 has impacted every business sector around the world, but with live entertainment likely to be one of the last industries to return, given social distancing regulations, the associations that represent its millions of employees have never been more important.
As restrictions in many countries enter yet another month, for issue 91 IQ found out more about some of our association partners and discovered just what they are doing to help their members navigate and survive.
Following the last instalment with the National Arenas Association, Plasa and Prodiss, this time we check in with the Production Services Association, Svensk Live and French trade union SMA.
Production Services Association (UK)
The Production Services Association (PSA) is the UK trade body for companies and individuals that provide and operate live event technology, representing their interests with anyone that indirectly affects their business.
In February, when it paused counting, the PSA had about 2,300 paid members with annual fees ranging from £100 (€112) to £500 (€560).
The association’s members started to feel the effects of the pandemic long before the UK government began to introduce support measures. Companies went into survival mode very quickly, and PSA did its level best to add to industry calls for support. When the cavalry arrived, it was a case of pointing people in the direction of help, and taking feedback back to government on where improved measures were needed.
With everyone thrust into an alien world of loans, grants, job retention schemes and benefits, real-world feedback from people who were plugged into the various systems gave the PSA resources to share and the organisation has been busy collecting evidence to back up sector calls for continued support. During the pandemic, lobbying has been a key part of PSA’s work and because of its membership of UK Music, doors that others may have had to knock on were already open.
The PSA’s members started to feel the effects of the pandemic long before the UK government began to introduce support measures
Svensk Live (Sweden)
Svensk Live is a non-profit organisation with about 250 members, which include the likes of festivals, clubs, concert promoters, non-profit grassroots venues, amusement parks and booking agencies (provided they organise gigs in Sweden). Fees are based on annual revenue, with the largest organisations paying up to €5,000.
During the pandemic, Svensk Live has been focusing on securing state support, a timeframe for planning, and an official recommendation from government to persuade ticket buyers to retain their tickets for postponed events.
Outside of the pandemic measures, Svensk Live is engaged in a major project called Dare to Care, which centres around consent in sexual relations, and last year won a prize for the best crime prevention project in Sweden. Svensk Live CEO Joppe Pihlgren is happy to share details of this initiative with other live music organisations.
During the pandemic, Svensk Live has been focusing on securing state support and a timeframe for planning
The Union of Contemporary Music (SMA, Syndicat des musiques actuelles) is an organisation consisting of 450 members, including venues, festivals, concert producers, phonographic editors, radio stations, federations, schools and training centres. These independent companies share a common goal of promoting diversity, in particular by supporting the expression of artists and advocating equal access to culture.
The role of the SMA is to inform and advise its membership on legal, social and tax matters. It also represents them in numerous professional bodies and defends the interests of the music sector with public authorities and politicians.
The annual fee for access to the services provided by the SMA depends on budget and ranges from €65 to nearly €1,500 for the largest companies.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the SMA has been supporting its members through different actions, including gathering and communicating information about governmental assistance; providing daily updates on how to manage business activities; making legal experts available for consultations; encouraging cross-sector communication to identify common issues; and actively lobbying local authorities and politicians in an effort to ensure that no company disappears because of the crisis.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
French biz pushes for full capacity shows by Sept
Over 3,000 members of the French live music industry have signed an open letter to the government, asking for “clear and coherent” forecasts on the reopening of the sector after more than four months of shutdown.
In the letter, French industry professionals including concert promoters, venue owners, technicians, service providers, producers, artists, freelance workers and others, ask for a decision from the government regarding a possible date for the resumption of standing shows.
“As we can no longer live in a state of expectation, we ask you for clear and coherent scenarios and deadlines so that we can work to restart our activities.”
The industry representatives say they are committed to restarting shows at 100% capacity from 1 September, but state this date is getting increasingly difficult to envisage due to issues related to programming and the organisation of tours.
The live professionals also state they have “demonstrated our sense of responsibility and our ability to rigorously apply government decisions and regulatory framework”, as well as submitting “concrete proposals” with a view to working with the government to restart business.
“As we can no longer live in a state of expectation, we ask you for clear and coherent scenarios and deadlines so that we can work to restart our activities”
However, unlike other French sectors such as sport and hospitality, the live music business has not received a concrete timetable for reopening.
“Nobody understands the silence concerning us,” say the industry representatives, “starting with the public who question us insistently and who tell us their desire to go back to concerts.”
“We feel abandoned and despised by our public partners.”
The number of signatories of the letter has more than doubled since being sent to French president Emmanual Macron, prime minister Jean Castex and culture minister Roselyne Bachelot on Thursday (23 July), with festivals Hellfest Open Air, Eurockéennes de Belfort, Les Rencontres Trans Musicales de Rennes and Vieilles Charrues; venues the Bataclan and Zénith Paris; and trade union Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles (SMA) and industry body Prodiss among those to show their support.
Large-scale events (over 5,000 capacity) are currently banned in France until September. Social distancing measures are still in place for all shows, with masks obligatory at indoor venues from 1 August.
The letter is available to read in full here.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
SMA, Prodiss criticise France Billet over refund policy
French industry associations Prodiss and SMA (Syndicat de la filière des musiques actuelles) have issued public criticisms of France’s largest ticketing platform, France Billet, over its handling of coronavirus-related refunds.
The pair, which between them represent 450 live industry companies, state that France Billet and majority owner Fnac Darty “unilaterally took decisions that weakened the relationship of trust between event organisers and the public” following the cancellation of concerts due to Covid-19.
While commending the actions of other ticketing platforms for “quickly start[ing] to issue refunds”, Prodiss and SMA say that France Billet, in which CTS Eventim took a 48% stake last year, eluded to “technical and operational difficulties” and attempted to “get rid” of customers by giving them promoters’ contact details.
Prodiss and SMA believe that the ticketing platform intended to start issuing refunds after shops began to reopen in France in mid-May. Before this time, they claim the ticketer “voluntarily” decided not to respond to questions or complaints from ticketholders.
“Prodiss, SMA and their members therefore intend to shed light on the behaviour of Fnac/France Billet over the coming months”
The industry associations also claim “misleading” information was presented on the cancellations page of the France Billet website, informing fans that the ticketer was awaiting further word from promoters and that delays were beyond its control.
The first refunds, say Prodiss and SMA, were made in the second week of June for cancelled events and have yet to start “in earnest” for postponed events.
“Prodiss, SMA and their members therefore intend to shed light on the behaviour of Fnac/France Billet over the coming months,” reads a statement from the associations. “Fnac/France Billet are, above all, endangering the continuity of the entertainment industry, by treating ticketholders – the fans of the future – in this anomalous way.”
IQ has contacted Fnac/France Billet for comment.
French biz laments “very partial” Collomb circular annulment
French industry association Prodiss and trade union SMA have deemed the State Council’s recent changes to the controversial Collomb circular as “very partial”, saying they will continue to “defend the sector against the directive”.
Proposed by former interior minister Gérard Collomb in May 2018, the so-called Collomb circular (circulaire Collomb) saw organisers pay the government for the deployment of police at live events, except in the case of terrorist-related incidents.
The idea was met with incredulity across most of the industry, with many citing a drastic increase to security bills as a result.
Under the new changes, organisers no longer have to pay a deposit – equalling 60% to 80% of the total security cost – when agreeing a contract with the state. The annulment also removes a deadline that obliged organisers to complete their payment within a month of an event’s conclusion.
An additional change dictates that an agreement must be signed between organisers and the government in advance of an event, if any law enforcement is to be deployed and billed for.
“Safety is a sovereign matter that should not be dealt with by the organiser of festivals and shows alone”
Although Prodiss and SMA, who took legal action to revoke the circular in 2018, call the partial annulment “a first step against the injustice of the circular”, they state that the key issue of organisers reimbursing the state for security costs has not been called into question.
“Event owners will continue to single handedly bear the costs of all police intervention that is directly associated with their events,” reads a statement from Prodiss and SMA.
“For professionals, safety is a sovereign matter that should not be dealt with by the organisers of festivals and shows alone,” continues the statement. “Our organisations will continue to fight to defend the sector against this directive that weakens its entire cultural and artistic ecosystem.”
The changes to the circular come following the French government’s creation of a new decree last year, which provided funding for security enforcement at live events. The law failed to appease Prodiss and SMA, with event organisers only being spared costs in the case of “exceptional circumstances”.
Photo: Arthur Empereur/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)
French decree offers funding for live event security
A new French decree focusing on safety at live events will provide funding for costs associated with security reinforcement, but will not cover expenses related to the deployment of extra police services.
A document penned by French interior minister Gerard Collomb last year proposed festivals and events reimburse the government for any law enforcement needed at live events, unless in the case of terrorist-related incidents.
The so-called ‘Collomb circular’ (circulaire Collomb) caused outcry among festival organisers who cited drastic security bill increases. Live music associations Prodiss and trade union Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles (SMA) lodged an appeal in November 2018, seeking a reversal of the proposals.
The so-called ‘Collomb circular’ caused outcry among festival organisers who cited drastic security bill increases
The new decree attempts to alleviate security costs and to improve safety at live events and shows, offering financial support to organisers to reinforce event security.
However, under the decree, the government will only reimburse losses incurred by public order-related cancellations of events in exceptional circumstances. Festival and event organisers are still required to cover the costs for policing in many cases, failing to satisfy the Prodiss and SMA appeal.
All companies pertaining to the National Centres of Choreography (Les Centres chorégraphiques nationaux – CCN), or those that pay entertainment tax, will be eligible for the extra funding.
The allocation of funding will be at the discretion of French minister of culture Françoise Nyssen, who will define the full details of the programme in the coming weeks.