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The heat is on: extreme weather and live music

How the industry can best cope with the increasing number of extreme weather events impacting festivals and open-air events was a major topic of conversation during this month’s ILMC in London.

Presented by GEI, The Heat Is On: Extreme Weather & Live Music session was chaired by veteran tour and production manager Jamal Chalabi of A Greener Future and included a presentation from Met Office meteorologist Prof Richard Betts on changing climate patterns.

The debate also featured May Ling of Australia’s Chugg Entertainment and freelance festival security and safety consultant Alexandra Von Samson, as well as Wacken Open Air co-founder Thomas Jensen.

“I do find it quite amazing in this industry that we still think we have a choice to deal with climate change, we clearly don’t have a choice,” said Chalabi, who gave a sample of events around the globe to have been hit by the elements over the past 12 months.

The list included Primavera Sound Madrid, Awakenings in the Netherlands, Slovenia’s MetalDays, the UK’s Kaleidoscope, shows by Louis Tomlinson show and Ed Sheeran in the US, Burning Man, Taylor Swift in Brazil, Elton John in New Zealand and Wacken Open Air in Germany.

“We’d had bad weather in the past, but last year was kind of different”

Jensen recalled Wacken’s near-catastrophic weather-related struggles last summer, which saw the festival proceed at reduced capacity after the site was hit by rain and thunderstorms in the days leading up to it, leaving the camping areas “impassable”.

“We’d had bad weather in the past, but last year was kind of different,” said Jensen. “There was a long dry period, leading up to the festival from mid June until early July, right when we started to set up the production. And then it started to rain, up to when the fans were arriving.

“The whole traffic system basically collapsed. It got really dramatic. Everything got stuck.”

Around 30,000 ticket-holders were subsequently denied entry after organisers allowed no further admission due to the adverse conditions.

“In over 30 years, it was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” said Jensen. “We’re in the music industry and timing is is crucial, and so we made the decision to have an ingress stop, which was very hard. At the end of the day, it’s debatable: could we have let a couple of more people in or not? Had we been strict enough? But I think, in principle, it was the right decision.”

“Thirty years ago, it was mostly the rain, but it’s now changed to raining one second and being 35 or 40°C suddenly after that”

He added: “We always say the ones that stayed home made the festival possible, at the end of the day, and they saved the insurance companies a lot of money. They made it possible for the other two-thirds to have a party. That’s why we’re extremely grateful.”

The Diplomat reported last week that more than 40 Australian music festivals have been cancelled, postponed, or evacuated due to heat, fires, rain or floods over the past decade, with more than 20 such incidents occurring in 2022 alone, amid record rainfall in the eastern states.

Ling told the session that extreme weather “has always been a part of what we have to deal with” in the region.

“Thirty years ago, it was mostly the rain, but it’s now changed to raining one second and being 35 or 40°C suddenly after that,” she said. “Even if we prepare for everything, you still can’t really control that.

“One thing we always did was have a meteorologist on site at our big outdoor shows. We also had the fire department in extreme heat conditions, and would have them hose the front of the crowd because those kids couldn’t get out to get water. You can give away as much free water as as you want, but those kids are not losing their spot before Guns N’ Roses comes on stage.”

“A 100% safe event is not existing in this world”

She continued: “Another huge safety concern that people forget about and it’s that everybody at the front of the stage can get electrocuted if a flash flood happens, and  you have to know when to pull the plug basically so that all these kids don’t get electrocuted.”

Von Samson recommended the business should learn from each other, adding that communication is crucial at all levels.

“It’s great if you have your plans, but it’s not so great if not everyone knows about them – and I’m including audience in that as well,” she said. “Make them aware they are part of the festival. I strongly believe in informing them as much as much as you can to keep them self-aware and empowered.

“You don’t want to be the festival or the promoter where something really bad happens. No one wants that, so you have to set up risk assessments. A 100% safe event is not existing in this world.”

Offering her final thoughts, Ling said battling the increasingly unpredictable conditions was a fact of life as an outdoor event organiser – but employing the right people behind the scenes is still paramount.

“We’re all about adaption – that’s why this industry can adapt quickly to this situation and be a leading light to change”

“As best you can prepare, when when an emergency happens, you just have to have good people that are safety conscious, know what they’re doing and act quickly, and they keep the crowd and the bands safe. Weather is a thing that is not going away, no matter what extremes it goes to. And as an outdoor event person, you have to deal with it.”

Betts called upon the music industry to lead the way in taking steps to help combat the climate crisis.

“The live music sector can play a really important role in setting an example about how to live with the weather we’ve made more extreme, but also stopping it getting more extreme, and stopping climate change by being more sustainable in the industry,” he said.

Chalabi brought proceedings to a close on a similarly positive note.

“Our community in the music industry, we’re the best,” he said. “We’re all about adaption – that’s why this industry can adapt quickly to this situation and be a leading light to change.”

 


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Wacken Open Air adds extra arrival day for 2024

German metal festival Wacken Open Air (W:O:A) is introducing an extra arrival day for campers in 2024 in a bid to help avoid a repeat of the scenes that marred this year’s festival.

Promoter International Concert Service was forced to run the 85,000-cap event at a reduced capacity back in August after the festival site was hit by rain and thunderstorms in the days leading up to it, leaving the camping areas “impassable”.

Around 61,000 people entered the site before no further admissions were allowed, meaning close to 25,000 ticket-holders were denied entry.

“We had to leave a third of our family standing in front of the door. That was almost emotionally unbearable.” says the Superstruct-backed event’s co-founder Thomas Jensen. 

In a message to fans, W:O:A says: “In 2024, we want to do everything we can to avoid a similar situation.

“What many of you have wanted for a long time, we will implement next year: we will open some camping areas on Sunday, 28th of July 2024 from 8am, including Bauer Uwes Garten, Camper-Park and of course the heart of our camping areas, the W:O:A Campground.”

“Our team have developed a system that’ll allow us even more precise planning and can help to optimise the traffic situation for everyone”

It will mark the first time a limited number of access passes, priced €66.60 per vehicle, will be made available for the Sunday before the festival – meaning areas of the campsite will be open for a whole week.

People arriving by car must register online in advance for an exact day of arrival, with a welcome party for early arrivals to be hosted by Wacken boss Holger Hübner, aka DJ Hübi.

“In order to be best prepared for the upcoming edition, we and our team have developed a system that’ll allow us even more precise planning and can help to optimise the traffic situation for everyone,” says Jensen. “We would therefore like to thank the metalheads in advance for their support in this matter with their pre-registration – and look forward to spending a whole week on the field with some of them,”

Artists announced for next year’s event, which runs from 31 July to 3 August, include Scorpions, Amon Amorth and In Extremo. All tickets sold out in just four-and-a-half hours. Ticket-holders denied entry this year were given first refusal to buy tickets for Wacken 2024.

 


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Wacken rebounds to sell out 2024 in record time

Wacken Open Air (W:O:A) has rebounded from this year’s weather-related struggles to sell out next year’s festival in record time.

All 85,000 tickets were snapped up in just four-and-a-half hours yesterday evening, smashing the existing record of six hours set for 2023’s event.

Artists including Scorpions, Amon Amorth and In Extremo are already confirmed for W:O:A 2024, which will take place under the Witches & Warlocks banner from 31 July to 3 August.

The news provides a boost for organiser International Concert Service, which was forced to run last week’s festival at a significantly reduced capacity after the site was hit by rain and thunderstorms in the days leading up to it, leaving the camping areas “impassable”.

The 32nd edition of the German metal institution concluded over the weekend, having welcomed the likes of Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Dropkick Murphys, Wardruna, Beartooth, Ensiferum and Pentagram.

Revised numbers indicate that 61,000 people entered the site before no further admissions were allowed (initial police reports put the figure at around 50,000), meaning close to 25,000 legitimate ticket-holders were denied entry. Those fans were given first refusal to buy tickets for next year’s Wacken, priced €333.

“We are more than grateful and humbled for your trust,” says a message from promoters. “Especially after the difficult start of the festival this summer, where a part of our metal family couldn’t celebrate with us, we really appreciate that the community stands by us and sticks together. The fact that all 85,000 tickets are gone is simply amazing!”

Festival co-founder Thomas Jensen estimates the revenue shortfall caused by the capacity reduction to be in excess of €7 million

With tickets for 2023 costing €299, the Superstruct-backed festival’s co-founder Thomas Jensen estimates the revenue shortfall caused by the capacity reduction to be in excess of €7 million.

“It’s a third of our income: 23,500 x 299, and then you get pretty close somewhere,” Jensen tells Watson.

Weather conditions have continued to blight Europe’s festival season. The final day of Slovenia’s MetalDays was scrapped on Friday (4 August) due to torrential rain and flash flooding in the area, which prompted the authorities to issue a state of emergency. The death toll has since climbed to six, prompting prime minister Robert Golob to describe the situation as the country’s worst natural disaster since gaining independence three decades ago.

Elsewhere, Depeche Mode’s scheduled Live Nation Finland-promoted concert at Kaisaniemi Park in Helsinki tomorrow night (8 August) has been cancelled due to forecasted severe weather conditions.

“The health and safety of our fans, crew, and everyone working at the site are our number one priority, and we have been advised by Tukes (the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency) and the local fire department that it could be unsafe to proceed given the forecasted weather conditions,” says a representative for the band.

Other outdoor music events to be disrupted by adverse weather conditions this summer include Pitchfork (US), Bluedot (UK), Primavera (Spain), Dutch festivals Awakenings, Bospop and Wildeburg, Alexandra Palace’s Kaleidoscope Festival and Robbie Williams’ concert in Austria.

 


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Wacken Foundation unveils corona rescue fund

The Wacken Foundation, a non-profit organisation run by Wacken Open Air founders Holger Hübner and Thomas Jensen, is providing aid of up to €1,000 to support musicians, bands and organisers struggling with the impact of the Covid-19 shutdown.

The foundation, which forms part of Hübner and Jensen’s International Concert Service (ICS) network, announced its corona rescue fund today (14 May), as the music industry is facing “one of its biggest challenges to date”.

Applicants are eligible for funding if they have incurred financial losses due to cancelled tours or shows; have incurred additional travel costs because of cancellations; have incurred losses due to short-term cancellations as an organiser or crew member of a heavy metal event; or are unable to cover the cost of a rehearsal room, among other reasons.

The Wacken Foundation is providing aid of up to €1,000 to support those struggling with the impact of the Covid-19 shutdown

Applications must be sent to [email protected], with a description of the applicant’s circumstances and a calculation of costs.The Wacken Foundation team state they will “approve every single application personally”.

Regular applicants, who applied for funding before the coronavirus crisis took hold, are asked to have “extra patience” during this time.

More information on the Wacken Foundation fund can be found here.

Wacken Open Air, which sold out its 2020 edition in under 24 hours, is among the many festivals to have to cancel its outing this summer, as large-scale live events remain outlawed in Germany until September.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times. 

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Black Gold: How metal became a cultural phenomenon

Last year, Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson was bestowed with two very unique honours.

In April, he was made an honorary citizen of Sarajevo in recognition of a concert his solo band Skunkworks played there in 1994, during a prolonged siege of the Bosnian capital. Presenting the award, mayor Abdulah Skaka said: “The arrival of Mr Dickinson in Sarajevo, in 1994, was one of those moments that made us realise that we will survive.”

The other accolade was bestowed upon Dickinson by Dr Cristina Rheims, a Brazilian biologist and metal fan who gave a newly discovered species of spider the name Extraordinarius brucedickonsoni.

If these honours anecdotally demonstrate metal’s soft power, its global reach and the deep devotion of its fans, then the fact that Amon Amarth, a melodic death metal band whose principal lyrical inspiration is Viking folklore, will shake the fields of Wacken Open Air festival with 75,000 roaring fans this summer should be considered testament to metal’s undaunted commercial clout.

“It feels like there’s a cultural movement happening where, if you’re in the metal game and you’re good at what you do, you have a specific brand and you put on a great live show, things are moving,” enthuses Justin Arcangel, president of 5B Artist Management and Touring, who represent Amon Amarth, Babymetal, Slipknot and more.

“All our data – streaming numbers, ticket numbers, merch sales, whatever – are all bigger in 2020 than in 2019. The funny thing is when you speak to some people that don’t work in this genre, they have no idea. Metal is, to this day, outsider music, but let me tell you, it’s a major cultural thing, especially in Europe.”

“What we’ve witnessed across our events is metal is really a community – this outlaw feeling that unites us”

Summer knights
“Some of our hardcore audience think maybe metal is too mainstream now, because in Germany there’s a lot in the charts,” chuckles Thomas Jensen, CEO of International Concert Services and Wacken co-founder, pondering the sea change since he first staged the festival in the German village’s gravel pit in 1990.

Now in its third decade, with all 75,000 tickets for 2020’s edition snapped up in an astonishing 21 hours, Wacken is a major force, with good company in France’s Hellfest (55,000-capacity), Belgium’s Graspop (50,000-cap.), plus the UK’s Bloodstock Open Air (20,000-cap.) and Download, which attracts 110,000 fans over the weekend – a “heavy music summer,” as Jensen calls it. Which is not even to dig into the boom in boutique festivals offering bespoke experiences, such as Italy’s Rock the Castle or the Netherlands’ Roadburn, whose reputation as a tastemaker event means 75% of its 4,000 attendees travel from abroad.

“What we’ve witnessed across Wacken events is that metal is really a community, this outlaw feeling that unites us,” says Jensen. “Our music is a live experience and the whole festival circuit allows bands to survive. For international acts, it’s easier to put a festival run together than it was in the 90s, and you see bands working their way up the bill each year.”

“I’ve only ever seen the metal market over the years grow,” agrees Vicky Hungerford, co-director at Bloodstock, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with headline spots from Polish black metallers Behemoth and the UK’s Judas Priest. As well as fostering new talent with their popular Metal to the Masses series of regional shows, where unsigned bands compete to play the festival, Bloodstock strongly believes in paving the way for tomorrow’s monsters of rock.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 88, or subscribe to the magazine here.


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W:O:A founders to receive EFA lifetime achievement gong

Holger Hübner and Thomas Jensen, co-founders of German metal festival Wacken Open Air, will receive the lifetime achievement award at the 11th European Festival Awards (EFAs) on 15 January 2020.

The other nominees for the awards, which take place during Eurosonic Noorderslag in Groningen, Netherlands, were revealed last week, with over 350,000 votes cast across the 14 other categories.

Jensen, the bassist in a band called Skyline, and Hübner, who was working as a DJ, co-founded Wacken Open Air in 1990.

Nearly 30 years on, the festival is arguably the world’s most important metal/hard rock event – Wacken 2020 sold all 75,000 tickets in the space of a few hours – and their company, ICS, also includes a roster of other hard rock festivals, a touring division, a booking agency (Seaside Touring), ticketing platform Metaltix and the Wacken Foundation, a nonprofit which provides tour support and other assistance to young bands.

Last year’s EFA lifetime achievement award was collected by Eurosonic founder Peter Smidt, with Wacken picking up best major festival and Roskilde Festival being awarded line-up of the year.

Read IQ’s special 30th-anniversary feature on Wacken Open Air here.

 


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Reeperbahn Festival gears up for 14th edition

European conference and showcase festival Reeperbahn kicks off on Wednesday (18 September), with more than 300 panels, networking events and showcases taking place over four days in Hamburg, Germany.

Sessions in the conference’s live strand include ‘30 Years of Wacken’, an interview between the metal festival’s founders Holger Hübner and Thomas Jensen, moderated by IQ’s Jon Chapple and German journalist Birgit Reuther. The panel will celebrate the event’s 30th year and explore what the future holds for the popular metal gathering.

The festival season 2019 /2020 sees Stefan Thanscheidt (FKP Scorpio), Roel Coppen (Friendly Fire) and James Wright (UTA) among those asking whether 2019’s slow festival season was a one-off, or the beginning of a worrying trend. And Live Nation GSA managing director and chief operating officer Matt Schwarz discusses the company’s goals in the region and worldwide, as well as the wider music ecosystem in a keynote interview led by ILMC MD Greg Parmley.

In more festival-related content, former MTV news editor Steve Blame will interview Woodstock festival co-creator Joel Rosenman about the event’s inception and legacy, with new documentary Creating Woodstock aired later in the day.

‘Agents Agenda: The New Food Chain’ will see Jake Leighton-Pope of 10 Thousand Steps Management, Paradigm Agency’s Lily Oram, Toutpartout managing director Steven Thomassen and more discuss the effect of external investment on the industry, in a panel moderated by IQ’s Gordon Masson.

The festival season 2019 /2020 will see panellists asking whether 2019’s slow festival season was a one-off, or the beginning of a worrying trend

A secondary ticketing panel, also led by Masson, will examine the EU’s new legislation against ticket bots, asking how to grant consumers greater protection.

Talk will also turn to Brexit as tax advisor Kevin Offer discusses the potential impact of post-Brexit taxation, permits and customs clearance on the European live music industry.

EU funding will be the topic of conversation in ‘Europe Calling’, a panel featuring Olaf Furniss of Wide Days and Exit Festival managing director Ivan Milivojev, among others.

Members of German promoters’ association BDKV will gather for the yearly Live Entertainment Summit to present their report on the situation of the national and international live entertainment market.

Other topics of conversation include festival sponsorship, music export, country music, food at live events, the Caucasus music market, electronic music and digital media.

Foals, the Subways, Alfie Templeman, Hatari, Inhaler, Sorcha Richardson, Sports Team and Squid are among acts playing at Reeperbahn 2019.

A full Reeperbahn conference programme can be viewed here, with remaining tickets for the event available here.

 


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Wacken 2020 sells out in 21 hours

The 30th edition of Wacken Open Air (W:O:A) closed on Saturday 3 August, with “all expectations fulfilled” and tickets for next year’s festival already cleared out.

Wacken 2019 took place from 1 to 3 August. Acts playing across the three-day festival included Slayer, Parkway Drive, Prophets of Rage and Sabaton.

“This year’s Wacken really was fantastic,” W:O:A co-founder Thomas Jensen tells IQ. ”I couldn’t have asked for any more music-wise, performances all round were of a great quality.”

Jensen admits that customers got “a bit damp”, but says the festival team “can’t complain”. Part of the festival site was closed off on Friday, in anticipation of a possible lightning storm, but opened again shortly after.

“We were lucky with the weather in the end,” says the Wacken co-founder, adding that “the crew did a tremendous job, as always.”

Tickets for next year’s festival went on sale on Sunday at 11 p.m., with all 75,000 tickets selling out in just 21 hours.

The speed of ticket sales for the 2020 event surpasses that of last year. Wacken shifted tickets for its anniversary event in just over one week.

“This year’s Wacken really was fantastic, I couldn’t have asked for any more music-wise”

“We […] are honestly overwhelmed by what just happened,” reads a statement by festival organisers, thanking fans for their “incredible loyalty”.

The statement reveals next year’s international focus will be on South- and Central America, “for a metal journey into the realms of the Mayans and Aztecs.”

Last year, Wacken joined forces with Electronic Sports League (ESL) to introduce its very own 1,800 square-metre esports arena, allowing festivalgoers to compete in amateur tournaments, set to the soundtrack of heavy metal.

Other features of the festival include concerts in Wacken’s “metal church”, a 1,300 square-metre onsite supermarket, a  cinema area dedicated to films about the world of metal and the Middle Ages-themed Wackinger Village.

Wacken 2020 will take place from 30 July to 1 August. Already announced acts include Judas Priest, Amon Amarth, Mercyful Fate and At the Gates.

Jensen explained the simple ethos behind Wacken in a recent IQ article: “We weren’t thinking: what is the best music to put onstage at Wacken? The question was: how do we get enough people to Wacken for this metal show?”

Read the rest of IQ‘s Wacken anniversary feature here.

Wacken to the Jungle: How W:O:A became a world-leading metal brand


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