Arnaud Meersseman: Bataclan attack spurred me on
AEG Presents’ Arnaud Meersseman has said the attack on the Bataclan, which took place five years ago today, left him more determined than ever to keep working in live music.
Meersseman, whose then-company, Nous Productions, was the promoter of the ill-fated show, says that the alternative to continuing – to quit promoting concerts – would have been to hand victory to the terrorists responsible.
Meersseman was one of hundreds of people injured when three heavily armed Islamic State gunmen attacked the Paris venue during a performance by Eagles of Death Metal on 13 November 2015. Ninety people, including the band’s merchandise manager, Nick Alexander, lost their lives in what was then the deadliest attack on a live music event.
The attack, along with subsequent terrorist incidents at Manchester Arena and the Route 91 Harvest festival, had far-reaching implications for the live business, with stricter security and safety protocols becoming standard at large events.
The tragedy also continues to affect the survivors: As Meersseman points out, an article in this morning’s Le Monde reveals that some 30% of people who were at the Bataclan completely changed their career direction in the years following the attack.
“Convincing AEG to open their French office, and them trusting me to do, was me saying, ‘I’m still standing’”
For Meersseman, however, the choice was clear. “Yes, I was attacked and wounded at my place of work, but it’s more than just work – it’s my passion, my lifestyle, and the only job I’ve ever done,” he tells IQ.
Now general manager and VP of AEG Presents France, Meersseman says he “lost himself in work” in the aftermath of the attack. “I think I was pushed forward [by it],” he explains.
“Going after AEG and convincing them to open their French office, and them trusting me to do, was me saying, ‘I’m still standing.’ Because if I stopped, they’d have won.”
Five years on, 13 November understandably remains a “strange time” for Meersseman – although it gets “a little less strange ever year”, becoming more like a “black-and-white movie” than personally lived trauma, he explains.
While planning for terrorism is “now an accepted part of our jobs”, especially around periods of increased violence, the way Meersseman sees it, fans, artists and the industry have two options: “You either completely stop your life, or you carry on. And if you don’t carry on, they’ve won.” The latter, he adds, was “never an option”.
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Sex toy causes classical concert terror scare
Police were called to the Vienna Konzerthaus after a concealed sex toy sparked a terror alert.
Staff at the concert hall called in explosive experts to report a bag that was “shaking suspiciously” in the cloakroom. It was later discovered that the suspect movement was prompted by a vibrator in a concertgoer’s bag.
The incident did not disturb the Viennese Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Richard Wagner works Siegfried Idyll and The Valkyrie.
“The owners of the bag were informed of the incident and the officers wished them a nice evening”
“The bag had fallen on its side. Officers were able to quickly identify the cause of vibration and therefore it was not necessary to disturb the performance and the show went on,” says police spokesperson Patrick Maierhofer.
“After the performance had finished, the suitcase was handed over to its owner and his lady friend. They were informed of the incident and the officers wished them a nice evening.”
Opening in 1913, Vienna’s Konzerthaus regularly hosts concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic, Vienna Chamber Orchestra and Vienna Singakademie choir. The venue houses three rooms: the great hall (1,840 seats), the Mozart hall (704 seats) and the Schubert hall (336 seats).
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Security today: distraction and stagnation
“What has changed since Manchester?” It’s a good question, with a mixed answer. An awful lot has changed. But the bigger question is: “Has it all been beneficial?”
The answer, according to many of my colleagues, would be a simple “no” – and I would have to agree. Yes, a lot of good work has been done, but the direction and focus has often been confused.
Better CCTV, behavioural detection, closer relationships (in some places) with police and some re-engagement have undoubtedly been among the improvements. One really positive action has been the closer scrutiny by safety advisory groups (SAGs) into matters of event security – although the advice has not always been quite as helpful as it might be if SAG members had some training and better understanding of events.
So much money, time and effort has been spent in keeping ramming vehicles away from crowds that other risks have been side-lined and the ‘old-fashioned’ model of risk assessment seems to have been lost in the process. Of course, the consequences of a vehicle attack are likely to be catastrophic, but how great is the likelihood of it occurring? When we look at the risk of drugs, weather and all the other methods of terrorism delivery, the ramming attack risk must be placed within a range of threats and assessed properly. Yet, for the last two years, it seems to have been almost the only focus of many who give security advice for events.
It has taken the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, to push for a wider review of event security overall, under the banner of ‘Martyn’s law’, after one of the victims of the Manchester attack.
I write this as the director of Gentian Events Limited, but I am also the chair of the United Kingdom Crowd Management Association (UKCMA), a group whose sole purpose is to try to keep crowds safe wherever they gather. The UKCMA wrote to Mr Burnham offering support for his cause two months ago and we are hopeful he will take us up on that offer.
When we look at the risk of drugs, weather and all the other methods of terrorism delivery, the ramming attack risk must be placed within a range of threats and assessed properly
We do believe more can be done, but a knee-jerk instigation of measures that are not commensurate with the threat cannot be the way.
For the last two years, we have exposed hundreds of thousands to lengthy waits outdoors in extremes of heat and rain while enhanced searches have been implemented. We may have deterrred and kept out terrorists, but we have created far higher-density crowds in vulnerable locations outside while doing so.
Worse in many ways, we have ‘locked down’ open street events by blocking off roads with concrete blockers, vans and HGVs to prevent hostile vehicle attacks. To date, none of those crowds have been impacted by other incidents, because if we had another Manchester, or a firearms/knife attack, a building fire, gas explosion or a drone crashing during these events, our policy of ‘run, hide, tell’ would immediately fail as people run towards blocked exit routes.
In the context of crowds, we are certainly seeing more ‘stampede-like’ behaviour, as frightened people misunderstand what their senses or other information sources are telling them and just run: The Black Friday 2017 incident at Oxford Circus in London (60+ injured as they “escaped” from an innocuous fight); the crowd-initiated evacuation at Global Gathering in New York (a fallen barrier sounding like a gun, with seven injured); and, just last month, self-evacuations at Bank tube station in London (another fight), and 22 injured in New York when a motorbike backfired. Free-running crowds will hurt themselves and each other. But if they run into a dead end caused by hostile-vehicle mitigation measures, the consequences will be worse.
So, yes, things have changed – and, in some ways, improved. But there is much more to do. We are doing our best, but the security industry cannot do this alone: we need help and we need to work together to improve.
E3S 2018: Collaboration key to securing the industry’s future
The Manchester Arena bombing of 22 May 2017 was a “game-changer” from a counter-terrorism perspective, laying bare the importance of a strong private security presence to combat the growing threat to ‘soft’ targets such as concerts, said Metropolitan police commander Lucy D’Orsi, opening the second edition of the Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S) on 30 October.
The Met’s deputy assistant commissioner in specialist operations gave a 15-minute welcome address in which she said the Manchester attack – along with the vehicle ramming attacks in Westminster and on London Bridge in March and June 2017, respectively – proved that “anything is potentially a target; anything is possible”.
D’Orsi’s address kicked off a packed day of panels, presentations and workshops for the sophomore E3S, which boasted more than double the content of last year’s debut event. More than 300 professionals from 20 markets attended the day.
Other highlights included a speech by Lord Kerslake, author of the eponymous inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack, who presented the key findings and recommendations of his report; panel sessions on ‘Protecting the Future of Live Events’, which examined what initiatives are helping develop an international safety culture, and ‘Learning Transferrable Lessons’, which considered operations from the World Cup to state visits by US presidents to learn lessons from each scenario; and a host of talks and workshops covering security training, emergency messaging, behavioural detection, lockdown procedures and more.
Lord Kerslake described the Manchester Arena bombing – the deadliest terrorist attack in the UK since the 7/7 bombings of 2005 – as a “brutal, real-world test” of the venue’s security procedures.
The Manchester Arena bombing was a “brutal, real-world test” of the venue’s security procedures
He identified four key lessons event organisers and venues should learn from the tragedy: That his review, commissioned by mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham, was “the right thing to do, and should become standard practice in future”; that “importance of partnerships” between stakeholders, as well as thorough emergency planning, “cannot be overstated”; that a “genuinely multi-agency approach” is needed in case of emergency (“even in strong partnerships, the tendency of agencies under pressure to default to a single-agency way of working is extremely strong,” he explained); and that however good those plans are, “the reality will be different. There is no substitution for good situational awareness and discretion.”
As terrible as the attack was, Lord Kerslake concluded, had it taken place ten minutes later – when more young fans were exiting the arena – the outcome would have even worse. “We cannot afford to be complacent,” he said.
A key theme of the E3S 2018 was the importance of openness among stakeholders and the ability – and will – to share crucial information.
The O2 head of operations Danielle Kennedy-Clark said the live events industry needs to get better at sharing data with each other. “As a venue,” she commented, “we have a very close relationship with local authorities and other stakeholders […] but I do still feel a lot of the time security is seen as a big secret. We’re getting better but there’s still a long way to come.”
Tony Duncan, who works as tour security director for artists including U2, Madonna, Rihanna and Sir Paul McCartney, said the events security landscape is currently “fractured at best”, tending to “react to big events”. The industry could, he suggested, benefit from “formalis[ing] procedures across the board”.
“A lot of the time security is seen as a big secret”
One popular presentation at E3S was a preview of the new Green Guide, given by Ken Scott of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority. Scott also spoke about how his organisation, formerly the Football Licensing Authority, was formed after the Hillsborough disaster to “sit over the top of all those competing commercial entities [football clubs] and take the best bits of each, which you [the entertainment industry] don’t have”. “Maybe you need something similar,” he said.
The SEC’s Jeanette Roberts, a former inspector for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), suggested there could be an HSE-style government agency to set security standards industry wide. With HSE, she explained, “what they did was reach out to the industry for their knowledge – it was a brave step for the agency to go and say, ‘We need your help’.”
From a police perspective, D’Orsi concluded by saying it’s a long-term police goal to share as much information on threats as possible with venues and private security companies. Addressing delegates, she said: “Many of you represent iconic locations and events which are often broadcast live – and if you look at the propaganda put out by ISIL [Islamic State], Al-Qaeda and other groups, you are attractive targets.
“There will be less policing at live events in future – but the ambition to share as much as we can with you is very strong, and I’m confident we will achieve that.”
Minute’s silence to mark Manchester attack anniversary
A minute’s silence will be held to mark the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, the British government announced this morning.
The silence, to be held at 14.30 on Tuesday 22 May – exactly a year on from the attack, in which 22 people lost their lives – will be marked at all UK government buildings, with many private organisations also expected to follow suit.
Twenty-two people died and hundreds more were injured on 22 May 2017 after a suicide bomber, Salman Ramadan Abedi, detonated an improvised device outside the 21,000-capacity arena’s foyer after a show by Ariana Grande.
A recent inquiry into the bombing, the Kerslake report, praised arena operator SMG Europe and security company Showsec for going “above and beyond their roles to provide humanitarian assistance” to victims of the bombing.
2017: The year in review
Missed our regular news updates this year (or recently emerged, Brendan Frasier in Blast from the Past-style, from a nuclear fallout shelter)? Team IQ are logging off for Christmas – so here, in no particular order, are some of the key stories that shaped the year in live music…
In a story that’s set to continue into the new year and beyond, the final few months of 2017 have seen #MeToo – the campaign to stamp out sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, spurred by the allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein – cross over into the music business, with a growing number of female musicians and execs reporting similar behaviour in our industry.
IQ asked in October if live music has a “Harvey Weinstein problem”, and a number of prominent international female industry figures told us they, too, have been subject to, or witnessed, inappropriate behaviour or sexual assault while working in the live business.
Since then, organised movements campaigning against sexual misconduct in music have sprung up in Sweden (#närmusikentystnar, ‘when the music stops’), Australia (#meNOmore) and the UK (Stop 2018), while the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM) has launched a dedicated, confidential helpline for victims of sexual harassment in the electronic music business.
In the agency world, meanwhile, reps from all major multinational agencies told IQ last month they are intensifying their efforts to ensure the safety of their employees and clients – and CAA has confirmed to IQ it has cancelled its annual Friday pre-Golden Globes party in order to establish a legal defence fund for sexual harassment cases.
The Manchester Arena attack, the shootings at Route 91 Harvest and BPM Festival, the Reina nightclub bombing and other attacks on innocent fans of live entertainment this year will forever live in infamy – and remain a stark reminder that, despite increased security and the willingness of fans to keep coming to shows, they remain attractive targets for terrorism.
What should also be remembered, however, is the way the industry responded to the evil of these attacks: From the One Love Manchester and We are Manchester charity concerts to the candlelit vigils and fundraising for victims of the Route 91 Harvest attack, those working in live music, just as after the Bataclan attack, stepped up to plate to lend a hand to the victims and all those affected.
Those working in live music stepped up to plate to help to victims of terror
Who could forget Fyre Festival? Cancelled flights, limp cheese sandwiches and disaster relief tents? A festival that went so badly wrong it’s become a byword for badly organised events – the Giant Cheeseboard, for example, was only this week called “London’s answer to Fyre Festival” – and its promoter arrested by the FBI?
Yes, Fyre Festival this year became the gold standard for festival disasters, but it wasn’t alone. The inaugural Hope & Glory festival – described in the NME as “Fyre Festival with none of the lols” – was called off on its second day amid reports of bottlenecking, queues for facilities and sets being cancelled or running over, while Y Not Festival was cancelled after the site turned into a mudbath as a result of heavy rain.
Canada’s Pemberton Music Festival 2017, meanwhile, was axed with less than two months to go, after its parent companies were placed into administration with debts of almost $10m.
… and tours de force
Despite these headline-grabbing disasters, however, the 2017 summer festival season was a largely successful one compared to last year, when severe weather, including lightning strikes, forced the cancellation of open-air events in Europe and North America.
The organisers of festivals as diverse as Trsnmt (UK), Haven (Denmark), Download (UK), Istanbul Jazz Festival (Turkey), Hurricane/Southside (Germany), Baloise Session and OpenAir St Gallen (both Switzerland), Lollapalooza Paris (France) and BST Hyde Park (UK) all reported healthy attendances in 2017 – and IQ’s recent European Festival Report 2017 revealed that despite increased competition, a majority of the continent’s festival operators feel optimistic about the future of their events.
A majority of Europe’s festival operators feel optimistic about the future of their events
By IQ’s reckoning, Live Nation/Ticketmaster made three more acquisitions than in 2016, when eight companies came under the Live Nation Entertainment umbrella, further bolstering its credentials as the world’s largest live entertainment company.
They were: Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion (venue) in December; United Concerts (promoter) in October; Strobe Labs (data platform) in August; Openair Frauenfeld (festival) in July; Isle of Wight Festival in March; Bluestone Entertainment (promoter) and Ticketpro (ticket agency) in February; and Metropolis Music (promoter) Cuffe & Taylor (promoter), Bottlerock Napa Valley (festival) and CT Touring (promoter) in January.
Rain-grey town, known for its sound…
An IQ/Songkick study revealed in September that the British capital is by far Europe’s live music capital by number of events – and the third-biggest concert market in the world, behind only New York and Los Angeles.
There were 19,940 total live music events in London in 2016 – more than San Francisco (13,672), Paris (11,248) and Chicago (11,224) – and the city is on course to hold its no1 spot in 2017.
Looking ahead to 2018, a raft of new festivals looks set to further cement London’s status as the live music capital of Europe, with AEG and Live Nation/Festival Republic both planning new events and local councils opening up more green space to meet the growing demand for live entertainment.
Live Nation/Ticketmaster made three more acquisitions than in 2016
Google to touts: Don’t be evil
Google last month dealt what could be a fatal blow to the likes of Viagogo and Seatwave, announcing that from January 2018 secondary ticketing sites would be subject to stringent restrictions on their use of Google AdWords.
Under the new measures – which come on the back of UK politicians accusing sites such as Viagogo, StubHub, Seatwave and Get Me In! of violating Google’s Adwords policies on misrepresentation, and increased scrutiny of ticket touting in Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain, Ireland and more – Google will force ticket resellers to list the face value of tickets, make clear they are resale sites and stop implying they are an ‘official’ seller or lose access to AdWords.
Google’s crackdown comes as national authorities, especially in the UK, continue to make life harder for touts, with National Trading Standards last week making four arrests as part of an investigation into the “practices of businesses that buy and sell tickets in bulk”.
The end of the road for ‘industrial-scale’ secondary ticketing, or merely another hurdle to be overcome? Time will tell…
The booking agency world continued to consolidate in 2017 with a number of acquisitions, mergers and partnerships. Notable was Paradigm which entered into a strategic partnership with the UK’s X-Ray Touring in April and acquired Chicago- and California-based agency Monterey International in August.
Among other moves, July saw Helsinki-based Fullsteam Agency announce that it had acquired Rähinä Live, while September saw K2 Agency swoop for Factory Music. Meanwhile, the ongoing merry-go-round of agents swapping desks between companies continued – and if rumours are to be believed, 2018 will see this trend continue apace.
The booking agency world continued to consolidate in 2017 with a number of acquisitions, mergers and partnerships
In addition to the beloved performers we lost in 2017 (RIP Tom Petty, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, Greg Allman and many others), several equally revered live music business figures also passed away this year.
Peter Rieger, the founder of Cologne-based promoter Peter Rieger Konzertagentur (PRK), died on 29 January at the age of 63 – “far too young,” said friend and colleague John Giddings. “This has been a sad and dismal week,” added manager and former agent Ed Bicknell. “I’ve lost three dear pals: John Wetton of King Crimson, Asia and UK, Deke Leonard of Man, and now Peter. […] He was a total professional, a pleasure to deal with and funny – definitely funny. Which is what every promoter needs: a sense of humour.”
Another live industry veteran who passed far too young was tour manager, artist liaison and ILMC’s longtime producer, Alia Dann Swift, who died aged 57 in May. “She was the best,” said CAA’s Emma Banks. “A beautiful human being, a great friend, a smart and an inspiring woman.”
“Alia was renowned for her warmth, her tireless support of those around her, a perennial sense of humour and a no-nonsense approach,” added ILMC head Greg Parmley. “She was a widely loved and respected figure in the touring world who will be deeply and entirely missed.”
The live music world was once again rocked in August by the shock death of well-liked Primary Talent co-founder Dave Chumbley after a short illness.
“Dedicated to his artists to a fault, Dave was responsible for many hugely successful careers in the global music industry,” said manager Terry Blamey, with whom Chumbley worked for years representing Kylie Minogue. “He was a talented, wonderful man taken from us way to soon. Lynn and I loved him like a brother, dear friend, and we will miss him dreadfully.”
Other tragic losses to the business in 2017 included ShowSec founder Mick Upton, tour travel agent Mary Cleary, Israeli promoter Shmuel Zemach, Reading Festival founder Harold Pendleton, Washington, DC, promoter Jack Boyle and Live Nation Belgium booker Marianne Dekimpe.
We are not afraid
We are reeling from the senseless cruelty of the two terrible attacks that have hit Barcelona and Cambrils.
First and foremost, our thoughts are with the victims caught up in this random violence, and their families and loved ones, and we wish a speedy recovery to those injured. We are all one of them; we have all spent afternoons strolling carefree down Las Ramblas.
There is a deep sense of shock at the savage horror of these shameless cowardly deeds, but there is a unity that binds this city, and this country, and which brings us strength. Barcelona is a city of radiant light and will continue to be so, even in the face of those who wish to darken it.
The cruelty of these acts does nothing but strengthen Barcelona’s resolve in the face of evil – and to say out loud, “there is no space for you here”, “we are not afraid”, “we are a united city”.
The cruelty of these acts does nothing but strengthen Barcelona’s resolve in the face of evil
We know what winning is and we are a proud city, with a heart of stone and an inextinguishable spirit. Barcelona will stand tall and strong, as it always has, while together we defeat that evil.
We are free; we love each other, because we are brothers in solidarity, and we live in peace. This is our legacy.
I moved to Barcelona 38 years ago, and I consider it to be my home city. Here is where my first daughter was born 26 years ago, and here is where my children live, where they go to school… I want to see them grow up happily in this marvellous city, in peace and in harmony.
The mood here is of defiance, of resilience and of the sure knowledge that Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain will emerge stronger than ever from this atrocity.
UK festivalgoers ‘defiant’ after recent attacks
More than 90% of British festival fans say the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester have not put them off attending festivals as normal this summer.
A survey of nearly 1,000 people by UK ticket agency Skiddle, conducted between 27 and 29 June, found that 93% of people who hold a ticket to a 2017 festival still plan to go.
Skiddle’s research also reveals that more than three quarters of people (78%) refuse to be scared about attending live events, with 55% unwilling to give up live music specifically.
Interestingly, only 36% of respondents said they believe concerts and music festivals are still safe to attend – illustrating that many Britons will prioritise seeing live entertainment over feeling safe.
“The show must go on, and we are delighted to be able to do our bit to help people stick two fingers up at anyone who challenges this way of life”
“It’s encouraging to see the results of this survey, and we are delighted that people are embracing the festivals and live music events with more enthusiasm than ever before,” comments Skiddle co-founder and director Richard Dyer. “As we saw immediately after the attacks, community spirit and togetherness through music brought people closer together – and it seems the public are refusing to let anything stop them from enjoying the festival season, which is a huge highlight of many people’s calendars.
“Skiddle have been based in the north-west [of England] for over 16 years and all our staff are local to the area. As a result, the Manchester attack felt particularly close to home for us. They say the show must go on, and we are delighted to be able to do our bit to help people stick two fingers up at anyone who challenges this way of life.”
Skiddle itself has seen a 21% increase in sales of festival tickets from 2016 to 2017.
The primary ticketing platform, based in Preston, Lancashire, capped off an impressive 2016 by growing sales 67% in Q4 alone.
€3.75m security bill for French music festivals
With France, the world’s fifth-largest market for live music, continuing to be hit by terror attacks on a regular basis – the two most recent of which, in Réunion and Grenoble, occurred just this morning – new research has revealed the extent to which its festivals, already squeezed by rising artist fees, are facing spiralling costs for keeping their patrons safe.
CNV’s Festivals of Contemporary Music in 2016 report, which surveyed 87 events, found France’s festivals spent a combined €3.74 million on security last year – that’s an average of €13,613 each per day, or €42,970 for the entire festival – with security, logistical and technical costs jumping 11% between 2015 and 2016 alone. Spending on security, CNV estimates, now makes up 3% of the average festival’s entire budget.
The study, presented at last week’s Printemps de Bourges festival, reveals that festivals with a budget of less than €1.5m were particularly affected (averaging 3.7% of total expenditure), with those with spending €1.5m+ allocating 2.6% of their budgets for security. Those with a budget of less than €500,000 were worst hit, “because there was previously little security in place at such events”.
While the big promoters will be spending more than small festivals – 2.6% of €1.5m is obviously more than double 3.7% of €500,000 – Live Nation France’s head of festivals, Armel Campagna, told IQ last year that “business is not the most important thing” when it comes to festivalgoers’ safety. “We’re never going to be able go back to the situation prior to 2015,” he said.
Softening the blow slightly is the fact that the 87 festivals surveyed by CNV were all beneficiaries of the Emergency Fund for Live Entertainment (Fonds d’urgence au spectacle vivant), established following the Bataclan attack in November 2015 to assist struggling live entertainment businesses. According to Le Dauphiné Libéré, the fund totalled €18m in 2016, with €4m announced so far for this year.
“Costs for increased security at events could eventually upset financial balances, which remain very fragile”
However, security wasn’t the only thing that cost festivals more in 2016: artist fees, ‘other expenses’, such as marketing and taxes, and technical and logistical expenses (including security costs) and all rose between 2014 and 2016, by 6%, 4% and 7%, respectively (17% in total).
In the same period, average revenues increased by just 18% (7% ‘own revenue’ – ie from tickets and ancillaries – 9% from sponsorship and 2% from government funding), leading the report’s authors, CNV’s Philippe Nicolas, Eva Husson, Séverine Morin, Patricia Sadaoui and Mary Vercauteren, to warn that “even with the implementation of the Emergency Fund, […] costs for increased security at events could eventually upset financial balances, which remain very fragile”.
Though “fragile” some budgets may be, it certainly hasn’t put a dent in ticket sales: the 30 most popular French festivals in 2016 reported their highest attendances at least five years, while CNV, Irma and Sacem’s Barofest 2016 found last April that the “attractiveness of festivals in France is stronger than ever”.
This, said Luc Gaurichon and Malika Séguineau of promoters’ association Prodiss at the MaMA Convention in October, can be attributed to a growing sense among French music fans that simply attending festivals is an act of resistance against those seeking to destroy their way of life: “Even more so than last year, the French believe the entertainment industry helps to fight against the atmosphere of crisis in France. The public report they continue to go to shows to feel emotion and experience exceptional moments to share.”
A promoter’s nightmare
Over the last few years, there have been several tragic club fires with extremely high casualty rates, and even though the Ghost Ship in Oakland has been branded as an artist collective, it bears too many similarities to previous club fires for us to avoid discussing dangerous venues and sites. As I write, the death toll in Oakland has risen to 36 and the search for bodies has still not finished.
No official cause has been determined, but illegal residents, illegal parties, and too few and inadequate egress routes all contributed. These types of incidents are massive tragedies with no easy answers, and they are nightmarish scenarios for promoters, authorities and patrons alike.
In the UK, guidance specifically related to the important issue of fire prevention, was published after two serious incidents: the Summerland disaster in 1973, in which approximately 50 people died; and the Stardust in Dublin, where there were 48 fatalities, in 1981.
Unfortunately, not all other countries have followed suit.
It is just over a year since the tragic fire at the Colectiv club in Bucharest, Romania, where the illegal use of pyrotechnics led to the loss of 26 lives on-site and 38 others who later died in hospitals, making the total death toll 64. The incident sparked political demonstrations aptly named the Colectiv Revolution that eventually led to the resignation of the sitting government at the time.
The greatest risk for indoor venues is still that of fire and toxic smoke, and historically, the illegal or wrongful use of pyrotechnics. Locked exits or insufficient egress capacities and overcrowding are other common denominators for several of these high casualty incidents.
Fireworks started some of the deadliest nightclub fires in the world: in the US, The Station nightclub fire in Long Island (2003), killed 100 of the 462 people attending the show. Pyrotechnics set off by the band ignited sound insulation in the walls and ceiling around the stage, quickly engulfing the entire venue. At the República Cromañón in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 194 people died in 2004, following the use of a flare; and in Brazil, 242 people died of similar reasons in 2014. All of the above mentioned cases also had too many guests inside the venue at the time of the incidents (the worst example being in Argentina where they sold 3,500 tickets prior to the event, at a venue that was licensed for 1,041 people. It was estimated that an additional 1,000 people entered the premises before the incident occurred.)
“If you can’t get people out in time, don’t bother trying to get them in”
Looking at this from a pan-European perspective, we have even greater challenges, with different judiciary systems, different licensing laws, and in some countries, even a lack of licensing laws in terms of events. The kneejerk reaction of authorities in the wake of such events is to pass more, and often stricter regulations on venues and event organisers. Another problem is that said rules and regulations are very often made without any input from the industry or the industry practitioners, with the end result often being rules that are irrelevant or impossible to uphold.
So what can we as event organisers do?
Interact with authorities and give them input on rules and legislations.You are the industry experts, but if you do not speak up, no one will listen. Voice your opinions at official hearings, and engage in dialogue with the licensing authorities.
Don’t cut costs on safety
In this day and age, there is a lot of pressure when promoting and producing shows. There is a demand for profit and the events we put on are scrutinised and measured from an economical perspective. But, cutting costs on health and safety leaves us vulnerable to serious incidents, and at the end of the day, the industry will lose more in terms of both reputation and revenue when struck by tragedies.
Make sure your venues are fit for purpose
As one of my old lecturers said: “If you can’t get people out in time, don’t bother trying to get them in.” Can the room hold the intended capacity? Does the venue look safe? Are the venue’s personnel well trained?
Use your experience and trust your instincts
As readers of this publication you have probably been putting on events for a long time. That gives you invaluable experience and knowledge of the live event industry. If something seems ‘off’ to you, act on it. Your gut feeling is very often your experience subconsciously reacting to an anomaly or an incorrect procedure. When in doubt, ask someone, or bring in a qualified person to answer your questions. In my experience, you are most likely to be right in your assessment that something is wrong. Trust your instincts, you owe it to yourself, your colleagues, your employees, your patrons, and the artists they pay to see.