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Smukfest on the beauty of being a fan-owned festival

Smukfest’s Søren Eskildsen has spoken to IQ about the benefits of being owned and led by its fans.

Denmark’s second-largest festival (cap. 66,000) was borne from a non-profit association launched by five young men in 1980.

The Skanderborg Festival Club (named after the Danish town in which the festival takes place) has since gained over 20,000 members – three-quarters of which volunteer at Smukfest each summer.

For an annual fee of DKK 150 (€20), members have the right to vote on decisions related to the event and can even be elected to the board. Free tickets, discounted food and beverages, a pre-festival party, and management qualifications are also on offer to those who volunteer at the festival.

“I think it’s quite a unique Danish model to have a festival based on this and we’re very proud of that”

“I think it’s quite a unique Danish model to have a festival based on this and we’re very proud of that,” says Eskildsen. “We would do anything in our power to maintain this model.”

Volunteers and fans also get a say in which artists should perform at Smukfest by submitting their suggestions via the festival’s ‘audience wishlist’.

According to Eskildsen, the festival managed to book eight of the top 10 artists from the audience’s wishlists for this year’s edition. Gorillaz, Kraftwerk, Kygo, Limp Bizkit and Justin Bieber were among the 200 artists that performed at Smukfest between 31 July and 7 August.

“Booking Justin Bieber was a major achievement,” says Eskildsen. “Our booking department worked really hard on that and we’re proud that we managed to bring a star of that calibre to a Beech forest in Skanderborg.”

“Booking Justin Bieber was a major achievement”

In Eskildsen’s opinion, Bieber ranks among the top three headliners in the festival’s 43-year history, along with Prince and Rihanna. And while he deems this year’s Smukfest one of the biggest and best editions ever, it wasn’t without its challenges. Alongside predictable issues relating to the supply chain and inflation, the volunteers weren’t quite match-fit after a handful of years off.

“It has been hard to restart an old engine after three years,” he tells IQ. “The volunteers have been working really, really hard this year and it has been a struggle.”

“There has been a lot of co-operation abroad across the organisation to make it all work and solve various kinds of issues – both in the time before the festival and during the festival – just to make sure that the experience for the audience was top notch as it used to be.”

Customer experience is a top priority for Smukfest, whose average age is around 38, and it has been a major consideration when expanding the festival.

This year, Smukfest increased its attendance by 5,000 and boosted the capacity for the mainstage area from 30,000 to 40,000. The twin mainstages also got upgraded and can now hold 60 tonnes rather than the previous 12, enabling headliners to bring bigger productions.

“It has been hard to restart an old engine after three years”

The festival has the option to expand by a further 2,500 in 2023 but Eskildsen says the festival will have a “very close look” at whether the expansion will impact customer experience.

It’s thanks, in part, to those extra 5,000 tickets that the festival was able to make a “healthy profit”, as the vast majority of tickets were sold at 2019 prices.

“Nearly all of the seven-day tickets were transferred from 2019 to 2022,” explains Eskildsen. “Ninety-seven percent transferred from 2020 to 2021 and then 98% transferred again from 2021 to 2022. For the day tickets, the average transfer rate in both years was around 70%, meaning that we didn’t have a new sale for tickets for 2022.”

Challenges aside, Eskildsen says Smukfest is “back on track” after the Covid-19 pandemic, and volunteers and fans alike were thrilled to return to ‘Denmark’s most beautiful festival’.

“Lots of people had a major experience,” he says. “Both volunteers and guests really really needed that and we were happy to provide it once again.”

 


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Danish music industry reports 3bn loss in 2020

Denmark’s music industry lost over 3 billion krone (€403m) in revenue in 2020.

That’s according to a new report commissioned by live music association Dansk Live and the Danish Chamber of Commerce along with others.

The Danish Music Sales report uncovers that in 2020, the entire industry – including live and recorded – experienced a decline in revenue of up to 35% due to Covid-19 restrictions.

This makes music one of the hardest-hit industries in Denmark.

The concert sector has been particularly hard hit with a 52% drop in revenue compared to 2019.

For concert and festival organisers, closures and restrictions have had a devastating effect on ticket sales – which fell by 65% in 2020 compared with 2019.

At Danish venues, ticket sales fell by 51% compared with the previous year, while festivals lost as much as 97% of their ticket sales.

“The low ticket turnover clearly shows that 2020 was in many ways a year of horror for Danish music. Of course, it greatly affects the organisers, but it has spread rings to the rest of the music scene – including artists, songwriters and producers,” says Esben Marcher, head of secretariat at Dansk Live.

“The low ticket turnover clearly shows that 2020 was in many ways a year of horror for Danish music”

Mikkel Xavier, booker and head of development for Smukfest, says: “These are disappointing numbers, but of course not surprising. At the same time, we look forward to the end of 2021, where we, especially as festival organisers, do not expect better numbers. Unresolved help package applications, pressured suppliers and declining interest in working with the technical part of the festival industry, challenge broadly.”

The report warns that closures and restrictions have had major consequences for local venues and festivals, and it will take time and support to get them back to pre-pandemic levels of operation.

The Danish Chamber of Commerce is subsequently calling for help for the industry from the government’s so-called ‘war fund’.

“The Danish music industry is characterised by being a cohesive ecosystem, where fluctuations in one part of the industry are also felt in other parts of the industry,” says Brian Mikkelsen, CEO of Dansk Erhverv, the Danish Chamber of Commerce.

“We do not yet know the full extent of the consequences for the music industry, but it is quite clear that especially festivals and the entire live part, including not least the music export, have suffered tremendously during closures and restrictions.

“Therefore, there is a need to focus on a good restart, and here some of the funds in the government’s so-called ‘war fund’ should be prioritised for the music industry. This has consequences for both exports in the area and for the entire food chain, and it is important that the damage does not become greater than it needs to be.”

The report, also in collaboration IFPI, Koda, MXD, Gramex, Musikforlæggerne and Rambøll, can be viewed here.

 


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Live Nation, Roskilde and more plan test project

A number of major players in Denmark’s live music industry are organising a test project to gather knowledge and evidence on how major events can take place safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The partners behind the project include Live Nation Denmark, Dansk Live (Denmark’s live music association) and major Danish festivals such as Roskilde, NorthSide, Tinderbox and Smukfest, as well as organisations outside of the sector.

The project, dubbed Safe 2.0, will take place in late summer and autumn with an aim to find out:

Safe 2.0, funded by the ‘Restart’ team for culture and sport, will use a similar model to the one used during a test series of football matches earlier this year.

All attendees were required to show proof of a negative antigen test in order to gain entry to the 3F Superliga competitions, organised by the Divisional Association.

“The hope was initially that we could secure knowledge that could ensure a faster reopening for the benefit of festivals”

Organisers say Safe 2.0 will implement Denmark’s vaccine passport (Coronapas) as soon as it becomes available in autumn.

“Safe was originally developed together with the Divisional Association in the autumn of 2020, but we are now at version 2.0 of the project, where the focus is on cultural activities,” says Dansk Live’s Esben Marcher.

“The hope was initially that we could secure knowledge that could ensure a faster reopening for the benefit of festivals and venues. Even if it did not succeed, we are happy to be able to start the project now and secure knowledge that can prove crucial in the future.”

Safe 2.0 comes too late for the raft of festivals that were called off in May due to government restrictions.

Roskilde (26 June to 3 July), Smukfest (4–8 August), Northside (3–5 June), Tinderbox (24–26 June), Beautiful Party (4–8 August), Jelling Festival (20–23 May), Copenhell (16–19 June) and Heartland (27–29 May) were cancelled this year.

Vig Festival (8–10 July), Thy Rock (25–26 June), Nibe Festival (30 June to 3 July), Ringsted Festival (5–7 August), Langelandsfestival (18–25 July), Radio ABC Beach Party (17 July) and Kløften Festival (24–26 June) were also called off.

 


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Danish festival giants join forces for comeback event

Live Nation has teamed up with nine of Denmark’s biggest festivals – Roskilde Festival, NorthSide, Heartland, Copenhell, Smukfest, Tinderbox, Jelling Musikfestival, Nibe Festival and Grøn – for a one-off event that will mark the reopening of the country.

‘Back to Live’ will take place at Refshaleøen, a former industrial site in the harbour of Copenhagen, on Saturday 4 September – days after the country’s current Covid-19 restrictions are due to be lifted, allowing large events to take place.

According to the organisers, the concert will also serve as an opportunity for the festivals involved to “gain experience and collect empirical data on Covid initiatives” in relation to organising large live events.

“Two years without festivals have been hard for the entire music industry and both the audience, artists and organisers need to feel the community,” reads a statement from the organisers.

“The crisis has also strengthened the dialogue and cooperation between the festivals”

“At the same time, the crisis has also strengthened the dialogue and cooperation between the festivals and revealed a pronounced need to focus on the importance of live concerts and their significance for community and unity in society.”

The one-day outdoor concert will kick off at 2:00 pm (CET), hosting performances from “some of Denmark’s biggest names in rock and hip hop” including Dizzy Mizz Lizzy, Dad, Suspekt, Tessa and more to be announced.

Tickets for Back to Live are on sale now for DKK 545 (€73).

Currently, in Denmark, 10,000 people are allowed at “public events”, thanks to the country’s Covid-19 ‘passport’, Coronapas, which certifies that the bearer has either tested negative for the coronavirus or is immune/vaccinated.

The government recently clarified the restrictions from August onwards but the news came too late for Denmark’s major music festivals, which cancelled en masse last month citing a lack of information.

However, a number of the festivals – Roskilde, Nibe and Smukfest – have planned alternative events this summer.

 


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Denmark’s festival season wiped out due to restrictions

Denmark’s festival season has been decimated for the second consecutive year after the government announced that a maximum of 2,000 participants will be permitted at festivals between 21 May and 1 August 2021.

The announcement came last night (3 May) and was followed this morning by a raft of festival cancellations including Roskilde (26 June to 3 July), Smukfest (4–8 August), Northside (3–5 June), Tinderbox (24–26 June), Beautiful Party (4–8 August), Jelling Festival (20–23 May), Copenhell (16–19 June) and Heartland (27–29 May).

Vig Festival (8–10 July), Thy Rock (25–26 June), Nibe Festival (30 June to 3 July), Ringsted Festival (5–7 August), Langelandsfestival (18–25 July), Radio ABC Beach Party (17 July) and Kløften Festival (24–26 June) have also been called off.

The government’s reopening agreement states that 2,000-capacity events are permitted, provided attendees are divided into sections with a maximum of 200 people in each.

“It is a day of mourning”

After 1 August, the capacity limit will be raised to 5,000 with sections of up to 500 attendees. Events with 10,000 attendees will not take place until it is ‘assessed as sound from a health point of view’.

The agreement comes after the government’s expert advisory group warned that festivals with more than 10,000 participants should not be carried out as usual, which cast serious doubt over the viability of Denmark’s 2021 festival season.

The organisers of Roskilde, which typically gathers 130,000 people each year, say its enforced cancellation is not surprising.

“We are devastated by the fact that we can’t get together at our festival and contribute to recreating the communities that the corona crisis has destroyed for so many,” says a statement on the festival’s website.

“The cancellation is very serious for the festival, for the charity society behind it and for our community. And it is serious for the artistic environments and the growth segments of culture.”

“We are extremely annoyed that the politicians are writing off the festivals already”

Esben Marcher, head of Danish live music association Dansk Live, dubbed the government’s plan an “over-cautious reopening that does not leave much hope for the festivals”. “It’s a day of mourning,” he added.

Smukfest spokesman, Søren Eskildsen, believes that government acted hastily: “We are extremely annoyed that the politicians are writing off the festivals already, as we believe that it is too early to make such decisive decisions on the basis of conjecture about what the situation will look like in three months’ time and what can and cannot be done at that time.”

The reopening agreement has effectively rendered Denmark’s DKK 500 million (€67.2m) safety net redundant for the organisers of festivals and major events.

Announced in March, the safety net was designed to cover organisers of recurring events with at least 350 participants, taking place between 1 May and 30 September 2021, in the event that the Covid-19 situation results in the cancellation, postponement or significant changes to an event.

 


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No answers for festivals in Denmark’s reopening plan

Festival organisers in Denmark are still in the dark about whether their events will be able to take place this summer after the government published a reopening plan which fails to provide concrete answers about large events.

While the phased reopening plan marks 6 May as the day that live music should be able to return to indoor venues, there’s no such detail for festival organisers.

In the plan, the government has simply said it will set up a ‘fast-working expert group’ which will co-operate with the relevant authorities to deliver suggestions on how major gatherings and events can be held, by mid-April.

The organisers of major festivals in Denmark, Roskilde Festival and Smukfest, told DR that, while the government has not explicitly given festivals a green light in the reopening plan, they will assume their events can still go ahead until told otherwise.

“Although it does not say anything about the possibility of large events, we can not see it as anything other than an expression that there is still a belief that it is possible to hold a festival this summer,” says Roskilde Festival’s CEO, Signe Lopdrup. “If not, I assume we would have been told it would not be possible. So we will continue the planning with renewed intensity – otherwise, time simply runs away from us.”

Smukfest spokesman, Søren Eskildsen, also told DR: “We are disappointed that we are not mentioned in the reopening agreement, but that means that we can not do anything other than what we have been asked. And that is to continue our planning work.”

“We will continue the planning with renewed intensity – otherwise, time simply runs away from us”

Eskildsen has called for festivals to be involved in the so-called ‘fast-working expert group’ – which he says should’ve happened months ago.

Conversely, the Danish government has already assembled a ‘restart team’, including Roskilde Group as well as Denmark’s live music association, Dansk Live, which recently submitted a catalogue of recommendations on the reopening of the cultural and sports sectors. The catalogue was submitted to the ministry of culture for approval.

The government also announced a DKK 500 million (€67.2m) safety net, intended to allow organisers to plan for the summer, but Eskildsen says festivals need to know ‘the exact conditions for how we can continue our planning responsibly’.

According to the Smukfest rep, festivals are expecting a final decision on this year’s festival season around two weeks from now but Dansk Live’s Esben Marcher believes that it will come too late for many organisers.

“The first festivals are at the end of May, and it takes five to seven weeks to build a festival on a full scale. And hopefully one should not end up getting ready for a festival, which will then be cancelled. It’s all, all too late, unfortunately. We just have to say that,” says Marcher.

“I still believe that there can easily be festivals. It can just end up in a situation where the festivals are so challenged in planning time and staffing of volunteers that it becomes very difficult to make it a success.”

 


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European markets seek clarity on festival season

Major European festival markets are urgently seeking clarity on the viability of this year’s summer season in a race against the clock.

In Switzerland, promoters’ association SMPA has released a statement, co-signed by 26 of the country’s festivals, calling for clarity on the conditions under which Swiss festivals can be held regularly and at full capacity without social distancing.

The appeal also relays three key requirements for the restart of Swiss festivals: a transparent strategy and uniform conditions for holding events safely, a continual review of measures to ensure they are proportionate to the risks posed, and an event cancellation fund that covers 100% of losses.

“2021 is not 2020, the statement reads. “There are better treatment options, testing options are constantly evolving, and vaccinations are ongoing. In combination with the expected lower case numbers in the summer months, this creates a different starting position for the summer of 2021. The task now is to find a strategy for summer 2021.”

“2021 is not 2020. There are better treatment options, testing options are constantly evolving, and vaccinations are ongoing”

The statement has been co-signed by festivals including OpenAir St Gallen (cap. 30,000), which is part of the majority CTS Eventim-owned wepromote, SummerDays (12,000), and Seaside Festival (10,000) – all of which were cancelled last year after the Swiss government outlawed live events until the end of summer 2020.

In Denmark, festival organisers have been given a glimmer of hope after the government announced the spring arrival of a vaccine passport, but are still seeking the security needed in order to plan for the summer.

Acting minister of finance, Morten Bødskov, announced in a press conference on Wednesday (3 February) that digital Coronavirus passports will be ready for use in three to four months but will initially apply only to travel.

According to Bødskov, whether the digital passport can be used to go to a concert or a festival is a political discussion that will be decided by the infection situation.

The Danish live industry is cautiously optimistic about the news and have called for a roadmap for reopening to allow organisers to plan for the summer.

“[The vaccine passport] can be crucial in ensuring that we can quickly reopen venues and hold festivals this summer”

“The corona passport is an important tool that can be crucial in reopening the live industry,” says Esben Marcher, head of Dansk Live. “It is positive that a digital corona passport is now being established. It can be crucial in ensuring that we can quickly reopen venues and hold festivals when the summer comes.”

“Time is, of course, a significant challenge right now, and in organiser optics, three to four months is a very long time. The infection is currently fairly under control and the vaccine plan is being rolled out. Therefore, it should now be time to reconsider the plan for reopening. It will allow the country’s many organisers to plan for the future. ”

Danish festivals organisers say the ongoing uncertainty about whether the festival summer is to go ahead is keeping them in a stalemate situation.

“There are quite a few deals we do not close so as not to commit too much financially. Otherwise, we can have problems if the health authorities believe that we can not hold the festival,” Nicklas Lundorf, Langelandsfestival told Berlingske.

Lundorf revealed that the organisers are still planning to hold the festival until told otherwise.

“When are we going to throw ourselves in at the last minute and close the agreements that are crucial?”

“It’s something we go and discuss internally. When do we have a cut-off date? When are we going to throw ourselves in at the last minute and close the agreements that are crucial in order to get the festival off the ground?” he says.

Vaccine passports have been gaining traction across Europe, with Poland becoming the latest concert market to confirm it will issue its citizens with a vaccine passport when they have been immunised against Covid-19.

Elsewhere in Europe, Portugal is examining whether ‘safe bubbles’ of vaccinated festivalgoers could be the key to keeping fans and artists safe this summer, French festival operators ‘have 11 days to save festivals’, and the UK festival sector is waiting with bated breath for the prime minister to reveal a roadmap on the 22 February.

The lessons that can be learned from 2020’s lost festival summer will be discussed at ILMC during Festival Forum: Reboot & Reset, while leading festivals operators will be discussing the evolving passions, priorities and unique features of their events in Festival Futures: Core Priorities.

 


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Nearly half of Denmark saw a concert in 2016

NorthSide booker John Fogde wasn’t exaggerating when he called the market for live music in Denmark “crazy”.

Nearly half of the country saw a non-classical concert from September 2015–2016 – with the figure rising to a majority among 30–39-year-olds, reveals a new survey of Danish audiences.

For Analyse omkring rytmiske koncerter (Analysis of Contemporary Concerts) – commissioned by the Confederation of Dutch Enterprise (Dansk Erhverv) and industry association Dansk Live – market research firm Norstat surveyed 1,007 Danes aged 18 and over, discovering that 41% of people had been to a concert of contemporary music in the last 12 months.

Respondees aged 30 to 39 attended the most shows, with 51% saying they’d been to a concert in the past year, followed by 40–49-year-olds (50%), under-30s (49%), 50–59-year-olds (44%) and those aged 60 and over (26%).

By location, Denmark’s four largest cities, Aalborg, Odense, Aarhus and Copenhagen, scored highest, with 49% across all age groups, with denizens of small villages unsurprisingly the least enthusiastic concertgoers (29%).

“Danes love to go to concerts”

The survey also reveals that 97% of concertgoers were satisfied (“very or fairly”) with their experience the last time they were at a venue or festival.

Commenting on the results, Dansk Erhverv’s Anne Fuglsang-Damgaard Sina says: “There is huge potential [for the Danish live market], but we must not rest on our laurels. Through the efforts of the entire business, we can grow the industry for the benefit of everyone.

“It is also clear that as the live market gets bigger, there will be more and more concerts here in Denmark. We have by no means reached the top.”

Dansk Live further notes that 2017 “promises to be a strong year for concerts in Denmark. Copenhagen’s new indoor arena, the Royal Arena, opened with sold-out shows by Metallica, and across the country festivals such Smukfest and Musik i Lejet have already sold out. […] Danes love to go to concerts.”

 


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