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Festival chiefs talk sector’s issues and solutions

The Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) conference programme kicked off this morning with an IQ panel exploring the shared challenges of festival organisers from around Europe and some of the ways in which they resolve those issues.

The Common Ground: Boutique and Major Festivals session, moderated by IQ editor Gordon Masson, saw guests Beke Trojan (MS Dockville), Codruta Vulcu (ARTmania), Eric van Eerdenburg (Lowlands) and Virág Csiszár (Sziget) tackle a variety of subjects including supply chain issues, ticket prices, timing of announcements, staffing, gender balance on line-ups, and artist booking.

“The problems we had in 22 and 23, I think are over,” said Van Eerdenburg about supply chain matters. “But the answer has been that we have to invest and pay much more for the stuff that’s coming in. And that translates to ticket prices that are rising faster than inflation, which is already high – that’s what is the most worrying issue for me.”

Noting that the price of a three-day ticket for ARTmania is just €90, Vulcu admitted that she and her team are contemplating taking the event to just two days because of other pressures on the audience. “The cost of hotels for the audience was maybe €100 per night, so for three nights practically, accommodation was ridiculous, which in the long term could kill the festival because it’s not sustainable.”

Trojan noted, “Our aim is to book a festival with a good mix of international national artists. But we are definitely struggling getting the international names because it’s January, and they’re only starting to make decisions now, which is very late for us, because rigorous planning and ticket sales really should be a lot earlier.

“We have a very young audience that buy the tickets very last minute, so we need to sell day tickets”

“Obviously we would want to sell three-day tickets, but we have a very young audience that buy the tickets very last minute, so we need to sell day tickets. But even with that, we can’t really announce like the day line-up yet, because we’re still struggling with international names. It’s a big problem, but I don’t really have a solution.”

Csiszár revealed that with Sziget’s massive audience involving more than 50% international visitors, local Hungarian acts are not really an option for the bill, even though some of them can sell out stadiums. “International people don’t really get it, so we can’t book them as headliners, but it’s the international stadium acts that we have to look at as our headliners, which is also difficult when there are so many stadium tours happening,” she said. “Stadium tours are definitely competitors for us during the summer.”

Both Csiszár and Van Eerdenburg said that they were using VIP offers such as glamping and sky boxes to help balance the books, rather than pushing general admission tickets too high in price, while with all the panellists working to improve gender balance on line-ups, the conversation moved to the timing of announcements and the various strategies employed by each festival.

The session concluded with panellists answering a question from an audience member regarding their expectations for the next generation of industry staff. Van Eerdenburg stated that when his colleagues work long hours at festivals, he compensates them with weeks off after the event. He added that when it comes to recruitment, “I always pick the [people] who are also working in a club, or running a stage, or volunteering at a festival, because they have the motivation to not only do it theory, but also in practice.”

 


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AGF reveals greenest festivals of 2023

BST Hyde Park, Sziget and Primavera Sound are among the latest recipients of A Greener Future’s (AGF) certification for sustainability in 2023.

AGF Certification is the world’s first and most comprehensive standard for sustainability in the live events sector, for festivals and events reducing waste, emissions and enhancing equality and biodiversity.

We Love Green (FR), Boom (PT), Boomtown Fair (UK), Dockyard (NL), Northside (DK), OyaFestivalen (NO) and Tremor Festival (PT) also received the certification for 2023. See the full list here.

To be certified, events complete a detailed assessment based upon the AGF Framework, including self-assessment, site visits and post-event evidence and data to the AGF assessors for an independent auditors report. The AGF Framework includes 11 key themes including local ecosystems and community, travel, food and drinks, energy, waste, EDI and governance.

“The best events in the world can also be the most sustainable”

Jim King, CEO of European Festivals, AEG Presents said: “We’re committed to our green targets at all AEG Presents European Festivals. The best events in the world can also be the most sustainable. To again achieve the Greener Festival Certification at both BST Hyde Park and All Points East is a testament to the hard work of the festival teams to realising this ambition.”

Ceremonies will take place at the Green Events & Innovations (GEI16) conference, in partnership with the ILMC, on 27 February in London. GEI will host the International AGF Awards where certified events across a range of green categories will be crowned.

AGF CEO Claire O’Neill said: “The AGF Framework for sustainable events has become extremely comprehensive over the last 15 years. Hats off to all festivals and events that are achieving this certification, which is no small feat.

“We not only need to prevent further pollution, waste, emissions and biodiversity loss, but we now also need to adapt to the changes already happening around us, as a result of climate change. These festivals and events are ahead of the curve and give many people hope, showing how we can all do things differently whilst having a tonne of fun at the same time.”

 


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Festivals ’24 update: Mad Cool, Sziget, Latitude

Spain’s Mad Cool, Hungary’s Sziget and the UK’s Latitude are among the latest major European festivals to unveil their lineups for 2024.

Set for Madrid from 10-13 July, the expanded four-day Mad Cool will feature acts including Dua Lipa, the Smashing Pumpkins, Janelle Monáe, Pearl Jam, Motxila 21, Sum 41, Jessie Ware, Black Pumas, Tom Morello, Bring Me The Horizon and Avril Lavigne.

Also on the bill are artists such as Garbage, Nothing But Thieves, Tom Odell, Greta Van Fleet, Keane, Rels B, Michael Kiwanuka, The Breeders, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Alvvays, The Gaslight Anthem, Arlo Parks and Ashnikko.

Also in Spain, Benicàssim has confirmed Royal Blood, Black Eyed Peas and Wade for 18-20 July, and Live Nation’s O Gozo Festival in Galicia will welcome Ed Sheeran on 6 July.

Elsewhere, Sziget‘s first wave of acts includes Stormzy, Fred Again.., Sam Smith, Martin Garrix, AMEME, Blondshell, Eris Drew & Octo Octa, Fontaines D.C., Four Tet, Honey Dijon, Joost, Joesef, L’Impératrice, MEUTE, Nia Archives, Nova Twins, Overmono, Pip Blom, Warhaus, Becky Hill, Aurora and Louis Tomlinson. The festival will be held in Budapest from 7-12 August.

“We have already received a lot of positive feedback during this year’s Sziget about how much the festival has improved in almost all areas”

“We have already received a lot of positive feedback during this year’s Sziget about how much the festival has improved in almost all areas compared to the 2022 Sziget, and from the early bird ticket sales so far we can observe that there is a huge interest in the 2024 festival,” says CEO Tamás Kádár.

“This announcement, which is only the first ‘package’ for now, shows that next year Sziget will also feature big world stars, current artists and newly discovered musical specialities, so that everyone will be offered a strong and exciting selection of music, regardless of genre.”

Hungary will also witness the return of Balaton Sound to Lake Balaton, Zamardi, from 3-6 July, with top names including James Hype, Purple Disco Machine, Paul Kalkbrenner, John Newman, Marshmello, Lost Frequencies, Timmy Trumpet, Ben Nicky, Will Sparks, Nervo, Switch Disco and Nick Moreno.

Duran Duran, Kasabian, Keane, London Grammar and comedian Sara Pascoe will headline Festival Republic’s Latitude Festival at Henham Park in Suffolk from 25-28 July. The lineup also includes Khruangbin, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Orbital, Rag’n’Bone Man and Rick Astley, among others.

“Having Duran Duran, Kasabian, London Grammar, Keane, and Sara Pascoe leading the lineup at this year’s Latitude Festival truly epitomises our vision for a diverse and dynamic programme,” says festival director Melvin Benn. “Each performer brings their unique energy and style to the bill, promising an unforgettable experience for our audience. We strive to create a space where art and music converge in the most extraordinary ways, and this year’s music headliners capture the essence of that vision.”

“We are focused on improving our off-track entertainment across all our events year on year, and 2024 feels really special”

Meanwhile, Bru-C, Becky Hill and Ben Nicky will top the bill at Plymouth’s first electronic music festival Alive At Argyle at home Park on 25 May, and Busted, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Olly Murs have been announced as headliners for next year’s Silverstone Festival, taking place from 23-25 August.

“We are focused on improving our off-track entertainment across all our events year on year, and 2024 feels really special for Silverstone Festival, Formula 1 British Grand Prix and British Grand Prix MotoGP,” says Silverstone commercial director Nick Read. “We cannot wait as Silverstone Festival brings the love of motorsport and music together in one place.”

Last Tour’s MEO Kalorama will welcome the likes of Massive Attack, LCD Soundsystem, Sam Smith, The Kills, The Postal Service, Death Cab For Cutie, Overmono, Ezra Collective, Yard Act and Ana Lua Caiano to its third edition, which will take place in Portugal at Bela Vista Park, Lisbon, from 29-31 August.

In addition, FKP Scorpio Sweden’s Rosendal Garden Party will host the likes of Massive Attack, Raye, Grace Jones, The Cardigans and Turnstile in Stockholm from 14-16 June. FKP has also added more than 25 new names to its twin Hurricane and Southside festivals in Germany, including Deichkind, Ayliva, Idles, Feine Sahne Fischfilet, Tom Odell, Bombay Bicycle Club, Silverstein, Danko Jones, The Subways, Noga Erez, Fatoni, Paula Carolina, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, The Last Dinner Party, Buntspecht, Ritter Lean, Becky Hill, Fast Boy and The Reytons.

And Lana Del Rey is the latest headliner announced for France’s Rock en Seine. The American superstar will open the AEG-operated Paris festival at Domaine national de Saint-Cloud on 21 August.

 


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Island of Freedom: Sziget Festival turns 30

As Sziget Festival chalks up its landmark 30th anniversary, Mark Beaumont reports that its evolution from student event to global phenomenon shows no signs of waning, as it looks towards the future.

For 30 years, the old railway bridge across the Danube to Old Buda Island has, for six days each August, become a portal to another world. A place where gigantic inflatable sculptures of heads made from eyes rise from the earth. Where sci-fi corridors of light guide you to arenas rammed with drag queens and late-night ravers. Where the world’s greatest circus performers, dance troupes, global ensembles, and theatrical extravaganzas come together; the biggest stars and most exciting rising acts blast brilliance from the main stages; and on every pathway, you might come across a real-life Super Mario race in progress or gigantic antique steampunk DJ engines honking out cranky gramophone dance music.

This is Sziget – dubbed the Island of Freedom – where any prejudices and bigotries are left on the mainland and 500,000 annual visitors from across the world are encouraged to live their true selves during one of Europe’s biggest, most inclusive, and most broad-minded festivals: Hungary’s own Glastonbury and a unique keystone in the global festival season.

In this 30th anniversary year – marking the 29th event, due to the Covid break – the 60,000 fans at the main stage lose their minds to David Guetta’s laser-strewn electro; Lorde and Billie Eilish’s dark-hearted alt-pop; and Florence + The Machine’s pagan wailings. In the 15,000-capacity FreeDome tent, France’s M83 and the UK’s Jamie xx fill the cavernous space with euphoric electronica while Sweden’s Viagra Boys, Australia’s Amyl and the Sniffers, and Britain’s Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes bring the visceral punk noise.

World-class DJs pump the rave crowds at the Colosseum – a dance arena built from wooden pallets – nostalgia addicts take in tributes to Queen, ABBA, and Elvis at the Tribute stage, and more chilled Szitizens (as they’re known) wander the giant metal suns of the Artzone or join tantric dance sessions at Sziget Beach on the island’s northern tip. Set virtually in the heart of Budapest, it’s an idyllic escape from the city where minds are opened, differences celebrated, and nights invariably lost in the spin of it all.

“When we cross the bridge and leave the real world and everyday struggle behind, we are entering a different world, like an ‘Island of Freedom’”

“When we cross the bridge and leave the real world and everyday struggle behind, we are entering a different world, like an ‘Island of Freedom’,” says Sziget CEO Tamás Kádár, quoting the social media message that gave the festival its slogan. “Sziget has [had] the same values for 30 years. We stand up for tolerance, acceptance for all kinds of people.”

“Hungary has a quite bad reputation nowadays,” says programme director Jozsef Kardos, sitting behind the LGBTQ+ venue Magic Mirror, “but Sziget remains a flame in the darkness. From the first moment, it was a festival where we wanted people to be able to be themselves and enjoy their life how they want to enjoy it. So, there are no prejudices here, there’s no racism, no homophobia, no xenophobia, we don’t want to make any difference between people because of their religion, their sexual orientation or skin colour or anything. The idea was that during this one week when the festival is happening, we want to create a world to show the people how we would love to live in our everyday life.”

Humble Beginnings
Since its very beginnings, Sziget has been a celebration of freedom. In the wake of the end of the Communist era in 1989, the festival was launched by a group of artists and rock enthusiasts in 1993 to combat the collapse of the previously successful Hungarian festival scene, now drained of government funds. Named Diáksziget (Student Island), the first event had a capacity of just 43,000 and a bill made up purely of Hungarian bands, celebrating the fresh hope of Hungary’s student communities and younger generations.

“In ’92, ’93, there was a big change in Hungary,” says Ádám Lőrincz, managing director of BL Crew who have staged the festival since day one, and one of just two people working on the festival today who have been with Sziget since its 1993 debut. “We felt the change, we felt the freedom. We had two big stages, and some small stages six-by-four size. You have a small hill in the island, and the opposite side of the hill was the first place for the stage. 5,000 people could go there, sitting on the hill and watching the Hungarian bands playing there. It was like a family.”

From the off, Sziget was imagined as a multicultural, multimedia affair. “There were small theatres, a small circus, a movie venue, and Sziget News,” says Lőrincz. “All day, a camera goes around and at [10pm,] after the main act, there’d be a Sziget News show giving information [about] what’s happening [the next] day on the island.”

“Having Pepsi on the front of a flyer would give the agents some degree of security. A multinational isn’t going to sponsor something that’s gonna be a disaster”

In charge of everything from building the stages to putting up the fence; laying electricity and water cables; and putting down the field cover, Lőrincz recalls putting together 20 military tents at a time for the venues at the 1993 event. “There was no power anywhere, no water any- where, nothing. I remember a hundred people pulling a 200-meter-long cable rented from a Hungarian movie company from the entrance to the middle of the island like a snake, that was a special challenge for us.”

As very much an amateur event, the first Sziget ran over budget, earning the festival significant debts. The first attempt to make the festival profitable came the following year, the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, when organisers attempted to (partly) restage it, booking some acts that had played at the original Woodstock on Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York in 1969.

The likes of Jefferson Starship, Eric Burdon, and Jethro Tull appeared, drawing a total crowd of 143,000 to the island. 173,000 arrived in 1994 to see The Stranglers, John Cale, and Clawfinger play, but it wasn’t until sponsorship deals were struck with beer brands, media partners, and crucially Pepsi for the 1996 event – and major acts including The Prodigy, Stone Roses, and Sonic Youth began attracting international audiences – that Sziget began to clear its debts and build a reputation as a major stop of the European circuit.

“I think the Pepsi deal helped to develop the festival,” says Sziget’s head of sponsorship Nora Pinter. “It was an international deal, quite long at five years.”

“I imagine it would’ve turned things around massively,” says Alex Hardee at Wasserman Music UK, which has placed the likes of Lewis Capaldi and Billie Eilish at Sziget in recent years. “In ’96, there weren’t that many festivals in that part of the world. Nowadays, booking things into Central Europe, no one has any worries or fears, but this was at a time when you were very suspicious of booking things into what they used to call ‘tertiary markets.’ If someone rang you from Hungary, you’d be checking out if the gig was legit or not. Having Pepsi on the front of a flyer would give the agents some degree of security. A multinational isn’t going to sponsor something that’s gonna be a disaster.”

“It will have a knock-on effect if you headline Sziget. The other European markets take note”

Now with a daily site capacity of 90,000, Sziget could pull huge bill-toppers. David Bowie, Oasis, Foo Fighters, and Green Day were amongst the headliners gracing the Island of Freedom in the late-90s and early-00s as the festival grew to allow for around 360,000 visitors per year. A slot there began to be a marker of regional success. “It will have a knock-on effect if you headline Sziget,” says Wasserman Music agent James Whitting. “The other European markets take note.”

WME agent Rob Markus, who booked Imagine Dragons as headliners this year, was working at EMI Hungary at the time. “I remember when the Foo Fighters went and played early on, I was asked by the head of EMI at the time if I thought it was a good idea, and I said it was a great opportunity. I said, ‘This is going to be a really big festival.’ This was pre a lot of other festivals in that part of Europe, so it became a real opportunity for acts. As soon as you start getting one or two acts, people tend to follow. The Pepsi deal helped tremendously in terms of being able to make the investments needed to get these bigger acts. It was ground-breaking at the time, in Hungary in particular. It was the beginning of changing the landscape of the entertainment business in Hungary and the region.”

Hardee also credits the efficiency and amenability of long-term booker Dan Panaitescu (who sadly died in a car accident in 2016) with convincing UK agents to trust Sziget with their major acts, plus the years when the festival ran mid-week rather than at weekends. “As the festival circuit expanded and everybody wanted weekends,” he says, “it became an important midweek play.”

Beyond the main stages, for many years the broader programme was spread over a wide range of smaller stages themed around musical genres, from classical to Romany. “We had about 15 or 16 different music stages,” says Kardos, who has been programme director since 1998. “We had a blues stage, a jazz stage, metal stage, a pop stage, a stage for alternative music, we had a folk music stage. But when the festival was getting bigger, we needed bigger stages and venues for much bigger capacities. So, the concept changed a little bit, and we now have four big main stages.”

The growth in size and reputation required a more professional approach, too. In the early ’00s, many of the current team were recruited to update the festival for the new millennium. “It used to be a family type of company that used to operate it,” says Dániel Benis, on board since 2003 and head of production at the festival since 2007. “I started to work on that a decade and a half ago – how to create a professional attitude – and it was a really huge task because the organisers would work on paper in exercise books and things like that. Right now, we have multitasking cloud management software to operate the whole thing. We are well-equipped and super-efficient.”

“Some years, we had a stop in Germany. Dancing, drinking, and then they arrive here prepared for Sziget, they have six days at Sziget, and party their way back home. It lengthens their festival experience”

Benis has overseen the gradual growth of the festival production to accommodate the demand and requirements that come with hosting the world’s biggest acts. The Freedome tent started at 2,500sqm, he explains, now it’s more than 6,000sqm. “When I negotiated with the fire department ten years ago, they asked what should be the maximum size for an outdoor tent in Hungary legally, and I thought, ‘Okay, it can be 6,000sqm,’” he laughs. “I never thought I was going to fall into my own trap!”

Where Benis started with 100 containers, now he has 300. Where there were once 300 to 500 Portaloos, now there are more than 1,000 flushing toilets. “Everything – size, decoration, and audio-visual as well – everything has improved.”

Have there been major problems with getting large-scale productions onsite, given the island setting? “It has already happened that we had to crane an even bigger crane from a ship because the weight was not allowed to come across the bridge. It’s a benefit that we’re on an island, but it’s also a really big side-effect for the pull-up because we have only one bridge for heavy vehicles, we have one pedestrian entrance during the operational times, so it’s quite a challenge.”

As the biggest names of the ‘00s kept coming – Muse, The Cure, REM, The Killers, and Pulp, alongside plentiful rock and nu metal heroes and superstar DJs – word got around Europe of this remarkably affordable island of dreams, a rock & roll jewel adrift in the Danube. Combined with press and social media campaigns and partnerships that set out to publicise the experience of the festival as much as its line-up, Sziget began to outstrip other European festivals in terms of its international appeal. The situation, so close to Budapest, encouraged fans from across Europe to treat the festival as the basis for a longer city-break, and the festival even worked with a travel partner in the Netherlands to put on party trains from Amsterdam to Sziget.

“Some years, we had a stop in Germany,” says Pinter. “Dancing, drinking, and then they arrive here prepared for Sziget, they have six days at Sziget, and party their way back home. It lengthens their festival experience.”

“There are some artists such as Lana Del Ray and Kendrick Lamar that had not even played in Hungary before, and the fact that we could bring those artists to the Hungarian crowd is something I’m very proud of”

Many Szitizens from countries outside Hungary even arrange to camp in specific areas together, making for a veritable global map of a campsite. It’s all part of Sziget’s unique sense of community, encouraged not just by the festival’s ethos of togetherness, acceptance, and understanding but by specific programmes – regular early-bird ticket buyers who secure their passes before the line-up is announced are entered into the Szitizen Prime programme, receiving presents and the chance to win exclusive experiences.

As a result of the international in-rush, Sziget is now the biggest tourism event in Hungary each year. “Sziget is not just a festival,” says Benis, “it’s a multicultural holiday. This is a special atmosphere. We’re here in the city centre on an island, so once you enter K-Bridge you’ve fundamentally stepped into another world. You can leave your pain and problems behind, and it works.”

Pop-rika
The Sziget that the outside world arrives at today is a place both calming and head-spinning at once. With over 1,000 performances over six days, it’s a feast of pan-cultural entertainment. In continuing Dan’s good work in curating the main stage bills, booker Virág Csiszár focusses on appealing to the key international markets from which Sziget’s visitors are drawn, including the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and France. “We run polling on our socials as well,” she says, “we try to reach as many fans [as possible] so they can submit their favourite artists. There are some artists such as Lana Del Ray and Kendrick Lamar that had not even played in Hungary before, and the fact that we could bring those artists to the Hungarian crowd is something I’m very proud of.”

Elsewhere, each of the smaller stages forms a vital strut to Sziget’s central philosophy. With acts from 62 countries performing this year, it’s not just one of the top ten most successful major festivals in Europe but one of the most diverse, too, a factor encapsulated by the Global Village stage, a 2019 conglomerate of the previous long-standing World Music stage (the festival’s second biggest until 2010) and the Afro-Latin and Romany stages. Here, gigantic giraffe and zebra puppets dance around the arena; workshops teach visitors the techniques of ethno-sound; and acts from as far afield as Senegal, India, Mexico, and Korea perform.

“This stage and a few of the other smaller stages are still the heart and spirit of what Sziget was before,” says venue manager Marina Pommier, who started working at the festival as manager of the Romany stage in 2002. “The atmosphere is very family and open to all kinds of genres. I try to mix traditional with rock – there will be folk rock and punk rock and very traditional groups. I’m looking for things to let the public be as open as possible to the other music in the world.”

“Our state support is zero, which means we are 100% independent from any government, and we don’t feel any pressure… We do whatever we want”

Pommier’s recent highlights on the stage have included sets by Italian singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossela, Mali’s Bamba Wassoulou Groove, and Poland’s gutsy classical-folk string group VOŁOSI. “The public was like, ‘What is this? How can it exist?’” she says of VOŁOSI’s performance. “People really discover things, and that’s what I want. My duty is to transmit. My challenge this year was to bring, on the last day, a polyphonic group from France. They taught two songs in the workshop because I hoped that in the end there would be a few people to sing with them during the show.”

Love Hungary
For the more colourful clubbers, the Magic Mirror is the hub of the festival’s inclusive mindset. The circular wooden venue – rented from and constructed by Belgian company Magic Mirrors each year – hosts Mirror Talks and film screenings on issues such as identity politics, religion, and LGBTQ+ rights, as well as late-night parties crammed with revellers and drag shows such as Queenz and Queens Brunch Vienna.

“The straight community is really interested in drag culture,” says venue manager György Ujvári-Pintér, who has been running the stage since 2017, “because when they go into the tent and they can see drag queens on the stage, it’s eye candy. There are some fantastic creatures on the stage, and then they can sit down and hear all these historical and cultural facts about drag queens, so it’s always very interesting.”

For all its flamboyant positivity, the Magic Mirror has a troubled history. There were protests around attempts to ban its launch in 2001, and the current right-wing government in Hungary has been putting LGBTQ+ rights at risk. A Mirror Talk called East of Pride focusing on the difficulties facing the Pride movement in Eastern Europe takes place this year, while the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, made from flags of countries where homosexuality is illegal, makes an appearance on the island. “We hope that Hungary won’t be one of the flags in the next couple of years on that dress,” says Kardos.

“We stand up for tolerance, acceptance for all kinds of people, there [has been] no change in that for 30 years,” says Kádár. “Because we are getting so old, we have seen different governments in this country with different values. Our state support is zero, which means we are 100% independent from any government, and we don’t feel any pressure – we don’t feel any push-back from the government, we do whatever we want.”

“The audience is getting younger, and they prefer faster entertainment, with a shorter span of attention”

Yet the situation in Hungary and the wider world has altered Ujvári-Pintér’s approach to the Magic Mirror mentality. “The original objective was the fight against homophobia and [to] show [the] broader society how we are not different,” he explains. “But times have changed a lot for the queer side of society. When I took it over [in 2017], my main mission was that we should speak directly to the LGBT+. Even if the majority of society has to make a bigger step to understand us, the main thing is to create a point of reference [for] queer society.”

Left of Fields
Performing arts are another Sziget cornerstone. Since starting at Sziget in 2003, Theatre and Dance Field manager Anikó Rácz has seen the theatrical programme shift from enclosed 1,500-capacity black box theatre venues and auditoriums featuring classical and opera shows with 120 singers performing Carmina Burana, to its current incarnation as an accessible open field featuring eight largely contemporary dance-based shows every day.

“It needs to be accessible language-wise,” she says, “and it also needs to be accessible in a way that people can join in and leave it as they like because there is so much else to do that it’s difficult to keep people engaged for an hour. The audience is getting younger, and they prefer faster entertainment, with a shorter span of attention.”

Companies such as France’s Dyptik even invite the audience to dance with them on the stage at the end, a practice somewhat less advisable in the Cirque du Sziget area, where the world’s most renowned contemporary circus troupes – Australia’s Circa, Czechia’s Cirk la Putyka, Canada’s Cirque Alfonse – spin by their hair from poles and recreate the Ukrainian refugee crisis in acrobatic dance, amongst other jaw-dropping spectacles. With four international shows collaborating to utilise the same set-up in a dedicated 1,000-seat arena since 2015 – each company getting just nine hours to set up and rehearse – the rarity of Sziget’s commitment to cutting-edge circus acts has made the venue a huge draw, playing to full houses all weekend.

“The idea is to bring something to the visitors they haven’t necessarily seen before,” says venue manager Ziad Hakim. “There’s always a theme to the show, there’s always a story behind [it], whether it’s LBGTQ+, whether it’s war, we’ve had many different shows. We bring something new, we bring excitement, we bring emotions, all this through contemporary circus. We believe that by having such a varying and strong programme, that [is] making the festival unique.”

“The audience is almost all from Gen Z, which is very unreachable nowadays, and Sziget is very international”

As such an international festival, with a young audience, Sziget has found itself well-primed to strike sponsorship deals with major international partners, making up around 10% of the festival’s full budget of €25million (with the rest covered by
its strong ticket sales). Mastercard, Samsung, TicketSwap, Bolt, Tanqueray, and Ibis are amongst the companies sponsoring main stages and areas, and Pinter sees further potential for global partnerships. “The audience is almost all from Gen Z, which is very unreachable nowadays,” she says, “and Sziget is very international.”

Yet Sziget has managed to achieve this without overwhelming its audience with branding. “Sometimes we’re the audience to dance with them on the stage at the end, a practice somewhat less advisable in the Cirque du Sziget area, where the world’s most renowned contemporary circus troupes – Australia’s Circa, Czechia’s Cirk la Putyka, Canada’s Cirque Alfonse – spin by their hair from poles and recreate the Ukrainian refugee crisis in acrobatic dance, amongst other jaw-dropping spectacles. With four international shows collaborating to utilise the same set-up in a dedicated 1,000-seat arena since 2015 – each company getting just nine hours to set up and rehearse – the rarity of Sziget’s commitment to cutting-edge circus acts has made the venue a huge draw, playing to full houses all weekend.

“The idea is to bring something to the visitors they haven’t necessarily seen before,” says venue manager Ziad Hakim. “There’s always a theme to the show, there’s always a story behind [it], whether it’s LBGTQ+, whether it’s war, we’ve had many different shows. We bring something new, we bring excitement, we bring emotions, all this through contemporary circus. We believe that by having such a varying and strong programme, that [is] making the festival unique.”

As such an international festival, with a young audience, Sziget has found itself well-primed to strike sponsorship deals with major international partners, making up around 10% of the festival’s full budget of €25million (with the rest covered by
its strong ticket sales). Mastercard, Samsung, TicketSwap, Bolt, Tanqueray, and Ibis are amongst the companies sponsoring main stages and areas, and Pinter sees further potential for global partnerships. “The audience is almost all from Gen Z, which is very unreachable nowadays,” she says, “and Sziget is very international.” Yet Sziget has managed to achieve this without overwhelming its audience with branding. “Sometimes we’re struggling with a partner in convincing them that less is more, at least with this audience. But every time you can reach the balance.”

With an island location used as a public park for the rest of the year, and with a nature reserve onsite, which their ten-year contract with the Budapest municipality requires them to protect, Sziget is limited in its possibilities for future expansion. Having recently upgraded the toilets (some now feature hidden doors to secret club areas) and added chill zones around catering areas, Benis hopes to redraw the site map for 2024 to include more service areas on the festival’s surrounding road. Kardos hopes to reintroduce the classical music stages he loved when he first arrived and introduce a venue exploring the impact and opportunities created by AI.

“The focus is to provide people with the time of their lives”

Otherwise, future plans are focused on learning from each year’s festival in terms of making the event safer and more efficient in maintaining its service levels – particularly as inflation has tripled many staffing costs in the past few years, ticket prices can’t increase substantially, and the 530,000-capacity can’t be stretched further.

From Benis’s specially created control room overseeing every aspect of the festival – having already honed the three-week set-up, ten-day operational period, and two-and-a-half-week takedown – it’s about fine-tuning issues such as reducing dust levels on the island; improving infrastructure and hygiene; and encouraging more environmentally friendly stage productions. “It’s really interesting to see our audience,” he says, “they’re not the ten-year-before generation who wanted to see more confetti, more lasers, more whatever. I think that’s gonna be the trend for the future – how to reduce that and be environmentally conscious.”

For Kádár, however, the future of Sziget is the same as it ever was. “After a quite hard period during Covid, it’s the start of a new beginning,” he says. “The focus is to provide people with the time of their lives.”

Read the article in this month’s issue of IQ

 


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IFF 2023: Execs talk driving audience engagement

A handful of top agents and festival bookers reflected on the power of festival lineups, audiences’ spending patterns and the impact of social media in the second panel of the 2023 International Festival Forum (IFF).

Moderated by Ticketmaster’s Dan Pearce (UK), today’s ‘The Audience Session — Community Matters’ panel brought together Niek Murraij (Pinkpop Festival, Netherlands), Virág Csiszár (Sziget Festival, Hungary), Sophie Roberts (United Talents Agency, UK), and David Mogendorff (TikTok, UK) at London’s Omeara venue.

As TikTok’s head of artist services across Europe, Mogendorff praised the impact the app has had in driving engagement and excitement towards annual summer festivities.

“It’s been an incredible year for festival content on TikTok,” he said. “We saw a huge amount of growth during the lockdown period. And over the last two years, we’ve seen some great content coming from artists and festivals, but mainly from fans.”

Having analysed around 100 festivals across the UK, Pearce pointed out that 2023 saw a 15% increase in ticket sales compared to last year. While it’s a “standout statistic”, he noted that it tends to change on a yearly basis, confirming a long-held theory that festival-goers care more about who’s on the lineup than the actual festival experience itself — which includes being in a safe environment, on top of other factors such as food & beverage and availability of facilities.

“Festivals have to be clever with the way they announce lineups… so that tickets can be purchased much earlier”

It’s a sentiment Roberts agreed with. “The lineup remains king,” she said. “It’s great that people care about the music, but that’s also been difficult for festival organisers because of the huge amount of stadium business happening right now,” also citing how vital lineup announcements are when it comes to selling tickets as quickly as possible.

“Add the fact that there’s only a finite amount of ad space, and people will only have a certain amount of attention for lineups coming out. Nowadays, festivals have to be clever with the way they announce lineups to ensure maximum attendance so that tickets can be purchased much earlier than they have been in recent times.”

“It’s a tricky situation to navigate, but we always want to announce lineups as early as possible,” Csiszár said. “Lineups are still very important to people, and the data being shown reflects this. Their satisfaction correlates with the acts booked to perform upon the official announcement.”

Another major talking point was the role of volunteer staff contributing to festivals, with Pearce also mentioning how some UK festivals received bad press for making volunteers pay a deposit that they will get back if they turn up to their allocated shifts accordingly. However, the rest of the panel were effusive in their praise for volunteers (Pearce stated they were the “lifeline of the post-pandemic festivals”), highlighting the important role they played as the industry continues to recover from the pandemic.

“We had a lot of last-minute volunteers this year,” Murraij said. “However, we were able to foster a great community with those who attended for work and did their duties in a diligent manner. We’re thankful for working with a focused group of volunteers, who consistently showed up for their shifts, and we can create a great bond with them for many years.”

“While it’s important to have local acts in our lineups, we have to manage international fans’ expectations”

Alongside the increased role of volunteers in ensuring that festivals run smoothly, the panel rounded off their discussion with the rising prominence of local/domestic talents in major shows — which has been another knock-on effect brought about by the pandemic.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a massive growth in local music and in the UK and other markets around Europe,” Mogendorff said. “Some of it has been caused by the decreasing influence the US has over the musical landscape as well, with talents from Africa and the Far East also racking up huge listener numbers in recent years.”

“I’m not sure that we’ll see a Dutch act headline a major festival yet, but compared to a decade ago, we’re certainly seeing more Dutch acts on our bill,” says Murraij. “They’re selling out venues like the 17,000-capacity Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam right now, and there’s bigger demand for domestic acts these days.”

However, Murraij did note that headliners will retain an international majority for the time being, which Csiszár agreed with. “While it’s important to have local acts in our lineups, we have to manage international fans’ expectations and have those global talents as headliners on the main stage,” she said. “Saying that, it’s very pleasing to see Hungarian artists do very well in stadium shows across the country.”

 


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IQ 122 out now: Stephan Thanscheidt, Sziget and more

IQ 122, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online now.

The September edition charts Stephan Thanscheidt’s journey from playing in punk bands to the CEO of FKP Scorpio, and analyses the lineups of 50 top European festivals, in collaboration with ROSTR.

Meanwhile, Mark Beaumont visits Sziget as the event celebrates 30 years and Adam Woods gives us the low down on the lowlands for this issue’s Netherlands market focus.

Elsewhere James Hanley shines a light on ten of Europe’s brightest indie festivals and finds out what makes them so special and, IQ reveals the Green Guardians 2023, our annual guide to the eco-warriors and innovators striving to make our venues and events more sustainable.

Plus, leading production managers weigh in while we profile several innovations new for the 2023 season.

For this edition’s columns and comments, Shain Shapiro discusses how we should be leading the change when it comes to supporting our local venues, and Michael Kümmerle explains how TikTok wants to expand promoters’ horizons.

As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.

However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ from just £8 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 


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Sziget CEO discusses ‘new and improved’ festival

Sziget CEO Tamás Kádár has spoken to IQ about the new and improved experience at this year’s festival.

The 30th-anniversary edition took place 10-15 August at the event’s longtime home of Óbudai-sziget, in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. Headliners were Billie Eilish, Lorde, Florence + The Machine, Imagine Dragons, David Guetta, Macklemore and Mumford & Sons.

While 2023 ticket sales were slightly lower than the previous year, Kádár says this was expected due to pent-up demand and a high number of rollover tickets after the pandemic.

Sizing up the success of this year’s instalment, he says: “This year, we had two days which ran almost at full capacity, guests were coming from over 80 countries to Budapest, and Sziget was again one of the most international festivals in the world, providing a unique experience for young people from all over.”

“The entire look and feel of the festival was a huge step forward”

The fan experience at the festival was a major focus for the Sziget team, with major investments and improvements in decoration, catering, sustainability and amenities.

“Since the beginning, Sziget has been constantly improving and developing, with innovations in different areas every year,” explains Kádár. “However, last year, after a two-year interruption, we were happy that we managed to survive the difficulties which were overwhelming for many, and which were attacking us on several fronts. This year, however, we were back on the road to progress.

“The entire look and feel of the festival was a huge step forward, the new toilet blocks, the food courts, the decoration, the art all over the place made a great change to the experience of our visitors not to mention the spectacular venues like the TicketSwap Colosseum, the Samsung Party Arena, the Cirque du Sziget, which looked all really amazing.”

One of Sziget’s biggest considerations when designing the 2023 edition was the country’s monster inflation rate, which has lingered around 20% –  the highest in Europe.

“The inflation rate is a huge problem for the entire country”

“The inflation rate is a huge problem for the entire country, especially the food inflation rate which was almost 50% throughout the last 12 months,” notes Kádár. “However, with the weaker Forint this inflation is not as high in Euro terms. The only impact we see for our customers is higher food prices on the festival but this price level is still lower than Western-European or UK prices.”

In response to the food inflation rate, each vendor in Sziget’s new food court was required to offer at least one so-called “budget food” with a maximum price of €6.50.

Catering was also the subject of increased sustainability, with a key aim to offer food prepared with a smaller carbon footprint.

Organisers launched a campaign among caterers that resulted in 80% of those partners offering at least two vegetarian main courses, and over 40% of partners not offering any red meat at all. The campaign also aimed to increase the proportion of Hungarian food used by caterers. A set of seven sustainability criteria was also introduced, of which at least two criteria must be met by all caterers.

“I hope this festival will maintain its leading place amongst the top European festivals in the next 30 years as well”

Elsewhere in the sustainability realm, the festival recycled 50% of the total waste – 8% more than last year. A special camping section was provided for those who wanted to spend time in a waste-free environment and made a commitment to this.

In addition, on a trial basis, a special carbon offsetting scheme was launched for those arriving at the festival by plane, and only electric or human-powered vehicles were used on the festival site.

“We are constantly improving and changing things to please our visitors and we already have great plans for 2024,” teases Kádár. “Sziget was founded 30 years ago in 1993. I hope this festival will maintain its leading place amongst the top European festivals in the next 30 years as well.”

A special feature celebrating Sziget’s 30th anniversary will be published in the next edition of IQ Magazine.

 


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Meet the world’s second-largest festival promoter

The global Covid-19 pandemic may have brought a halt to music festivals worldwide, but for one firm in the space, it only accelerated an already energetic acquisition schedule. And for such a monumental shift in market share across the festival business, it’s a roll-up that has taken place with barely a press release issued, or comment given.

According to research conducted by IQ, Superstruct Entertainment has now amassed over 85 festivals in Europe and Australia, which makes it the second-largest festival promoter in the world after Live Nation.

Superstruct Entertainment was founded in 2017 by Creamfields founder and former Live Nation president of electronic music James Barton and Roderik Schlosser whilst at Providence Equity Partners.

At the time, Barton said: “The relationship with Providence is – it’s an easy pitch. To bring a level of professionalism and organisation to what we’re trying to do, to try and be not just the most creative festival platform out there but the best run.”

Superstruct has a presence in at least eight markets including the UK, Denmark, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and Australia.

Superstruct has a presence in the UK, Denmark, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and Australia

In the UK, it has interests in Y NotTruckNassBlue Dot, Victorious, South West Four, Kendal Calling, Tramlines, Boardmasters and Lost Ventures – many of which were acquired when Global’s portfolio was divvied up in April 2019.

Elsewhere in Europe, the company’s network includes leading operators and festivals such as Elrow (ES), Sziget (HU), Wacken Open Air (DE), Mysteryland (NL), Hideout (HR), Sonar (ES), Flow (FI), Defqon1 (NL), Parookaville (DE), Zwarte Cross (NL), Arenal Sound (ES), Øya (NO), O Son do Camiño (ES) and Tinderbox (DK).

Its most recent acquisition, and the first of 2023, was The Music Republic, the Valencia-based organiser behind iconic Spanish festivals Arenal Sound and Benicàssim (FIB).

IQ also understands that Superstruct has an interest in 10–12 festivals in Australia, some of which operate under the same brand.

Alongside festivals, the live entertainment behemoth also owns festival travel and accommodation companies such as Festival Travel and Liffin, both of which are based in the Netherlands.

“[Superstruct] has a commitment to building a strong portfolio of live entertainment brands”

While neither Schlosser nor Barton has rarely spoken publicly about Superstruct’s ambitions, the latter of the two referenced a “commitment to building a strong portfolio of live entertainment brands… and supporting the different festivals in their growth in their respective markets” upon the acquisition of Global’s festival arm in 2019.

And in 2021 they said the ID&T acquisition reflected Superstruct’s “deep conviction in the value of experience-focused live music festivals and our excitement about the significant joint growth opportunities that lie ahead as live events return”.

Superstruct Entertainment is headquartered in Kensington, west London, and employs more than 30 people. The company is directed by Schlosser as CEO and Barton as chairman.

Providence Equity is a global asset management firm with $32 billion aggregate in private equity capital commitments. Since the firm’s inception in 1989, Providence has invested in more than 170 companies spanning media, communications, entertainment, software, and services industries across North America and Europe.

Providence is headquartered in Providence (Rhode Island, US) and also has offices in New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Delhi.

Superstruct Entertainment declined to comment on this article.

 


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Festival Focus: Tamás Kádár, Sziget

Since it launched in 1993, Hungary’s Sziget has evolved into one of Europe’s largest festivals, featuring more than 1,000 shows on six stages over six days. With a strong focus on diversity, it attracts people from more than 100 countries and includes a broad range of entertainment including circus, theatre, a museum quarter, and much more. In an excerpt from IQ and Yourope’s European Festival Report, CEO Tamás Kádár looks back at the festival’s return since the pandemic.

What was it like for you and the Sziget team during the pandemic?
First of all, it was a great pleasure to see so many happy faces again on Sziget, the Island of Freedom, in August this year. To be together again and to enjoy music and freedom is always the highlight of my year, but this edition was even more emotional for our entire team after almost three years of pause and waiting.

Financially, it was a very tough ride for our company because the Hungarian government wasn’t willing to provide sufficient support for the culture and live sector during the pandemic, so we had to rely on ourselves. We managed to keep the core team onboard and to somehow keep our heads above water, despite these huge financial and emotional challenges.

Sziget is renowned for its broad international audience – what do you think is the cultural value of attracting people from so many countries to the festival?
I think Sziget is really a Pan-European get-together where young people from all over the world become ‘Szitizens’ of the Island of Freedom. We welcomed fans from over 100 countries in 2022. The festival’s programming is a broad church, from the weirdest of the weird to the most mainstream acts on Earth. We welcome them all. We believe in embracing diversity, respecting human dignity, and looking out for each other.

“I don’t consider this season to be the first edition after Covid-19 but the last during the pandemic”

What trends do you think we will see play out in the next few years at festivals?
I don’t consider this season to be the first edition after Covid-19 but the last during the pandemic. The real comeback for festivals will happen next year, and I think that major festivals will become increasingly successful. I’m conscious of the humanitarian and economic impacts of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, but I strongly believe that festivals can provide a safe haven for our souls where we can enjoy life and hopefully celebrate peace very soon.

What challenges does the festival industry face? And how are you aiming to approach them?
Most of the challenges are things such as inflation, staff shortages, and increasing energy prices, but I think Sziget has learned to manage these things over the past 30 years.

What do you think is the importance of festivals to the cultural landscape?
I think festivals have proven not only to have a strong positive economic impact on local and national level, but they also add a lot [of colour] to the cultural landscape of a society. Sziget is not only a music festival with a very strong international line-up but also a place for local acts and world-class performances from all kinds of genres and artforms. So, it is really a 360-degree performing arts festival, way beyond music.

Read the European Festival Report in full below.

2023 lineups take shape: Superbloom, Sziget and more

Superbloom, Standon Calling, Sziget, Shaky Knees and Kite’s 2023 lineups are taking shape, with rafts of new additions announced.

After its successful debut this year, Goodlive’s Superbloom returns to Munich’s Olympiapark on 2 and 3 September, 2023.

Imagine Dragons, Martin Garrix, Ellie Goulding, Marteria, Badmómzjay, Zara Larsson, Ofenbach, Aurora, LostFrequencies, Giant Rooks, Years & Years and Cat Burns are among the first wave of confirmations for the second instalment.

The inaugural edition sold out, welcoming 50,000 fans each day. Goodlive director Fruzsina Szép reflected on the successful launch in an IQ inteview.

Standon Calling has announced Years & Years, Self Esteem, Bloc Party and The Human League

Elsewhere, the UK’s Standon Calling has announced that Years & Years, Self Esteem, Bloc Party and The Human League will headline the 2023 offering.

Anastacia, Confidence Man, Dylan, Squid, Katy B, KT Tunstall and Melanie C will also perform at the 17th edition of the boutique music and arts festival.

Festival founder and director Alex Trenchard says “We’re so proud of this year’s progress in booking a gender-balanced headline bill.”

The Broadwick Live-owned festival will return to the Hertfordshire countryside between 20 and 23 July 2023.

Across the Atlantic, Shaky Knees has confirmed headliners The Killers, Muse and The Lumineers for the 10th-anniversary edition.

Shaky Knees has confirmed headliners The Killers, Muse and The Lumineers for the 10th-anniversary edition

More than 60 bands will perform across four stages during the 2023 festival, slated for 5–7 May at Central Park, downtown Atlanta.

Greta Van Fleet, Tenacious D, Hozier, The Mars Volta, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Flaming Lips performing “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” Cypress Hill performing “Black Sunday” have also been announced.

The festival is promoted by Live Nation subsidiary C3 Presents, who today announced new festival Palm Tree in Aspen.

Elsewhere, Hungary’s Sziget festival has unveiled the first wave of artists for next year, including headliners Billie Eilish, Florence & The Machine, David Guetta and Imagine Dragons.

Other confirmations include Sam Fender, Foals, Niall Horan, Yungblud, Jamie xx and Nothing But Thieves.

Tinderbox has lined up Maroon 5, George Ezra, Jada, bbno$ and Oliver Malcolm

Europe’s biggest festival will return to Óbuda Island in Budapest between 10 and 15 August 2023.

In Denmark, Tinderbox has lined up Maroon 5, George Ezra, Jada, bbno$ and Oliver Malcolm for the 2023 event, between 22–24 June in Odense, Funen.

Last year, the festival broke records when a daily number of 48,000 people visited the festival again after two years of cancellations.

The UK’s Kite festival today announced it will return for a second year, with musical artists including Hot Chip, Suede, Candi Staton, Lynks and Sarathy Korwar.

Hailed as a “festival of ideas and music,” the Oxfordshire event will also feature authors, actors, comedians, journalists, motivational speakers and more. The festival is set for 9–11 June at Kirtlington Park.

See more festival lineup announcements from the likes of Roskilde, Primavera and Nova Rock here.

 


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