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Summer’s gone: EU festivals talk the season that was

The rising cost of putting on large-scale live events and difficulties in booking top-tier talent were among the challenges overcome by festival organisers this year, according to a cross-section of Europe’s major music events.

Ahead of this year’s festival season, several festival organisers and associations told IQ that 2019 was shaping up to be a slow year. Across the board, they said, sell-outs were down and sales were lower, and many complained of a lack of top-shelf talent on tour. A typical sentiment was that of Jean-Paul Roland, festival director of French rock festival Eurockéennes, who said “the season seems more subdued than last year”, with organisers facing “more difficulties to reach a point of profitability”.

IQ’s annual analysis of Europe’s festival market, the European Festival Report, will return for 2019 in the end-of-year issue #87, providing an in-depth look at capacity and attendance, ticketing and pricing, VIP sales, challenges and concerns, new technology and much more.

But the end of 2019 is (thankfully) still some time away. So, with autumn setting in across Europe, and the International Festival Forum (IFF) fast approaching, IQ conducted an informal festival ‘exit poll’ –interviewing one festival apiece in seven key markets to find out how their events panned out, and whether those early-summer doubts were well-founded. Here’s what we learnt…

 


Hurricane/Southside

2019 headliners: Foo Fighters, Mumford and Sons, Die Toten Hosen, the Cure, Tame Impala
Capacity: 70,000/60,000
Date: 21 to 23 June
Country: Germany

FKP Scorpio managing director Stephan Thanscheidt says he is “more than happy” with the performance of twin festivals Hurricane and Southside this year, attributing a “strong” line-up, investment in the festival grounds and “perfect weather” to the success.

The festivals saw a combined attendance of 380,000 over three days, with around 68,000 visiting Hurricane and 60,000 people attending Southside per day. Next year is looking promising, too: FKP Scorpio celebrated its best-ever presale, selling 40,000 tickets in two days for the 2020 editions of Hurricane and Southside.

Thanscheidt states that bad weather and a higher awareness of the threat of terror attacks have led to a “decreased momentum in demand” across the festival sector over the past few years. The present phase of consolidation, with a few major companies snapping up a majority of events, may leave many “new and inexperienced players” behind, according to the FKP boss.

Rising costs “in all areas” are also affecting the festival and touring sector, particularly in relation to artists fees. “Ticket prices cannot and should not be scaled limitlessly,” says Thanscheidt, “so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate these expenses.”

However, things look bright for FKP, which recently acquired Swedish promoter Woah Dad Live, with Thanscheidt confirming that the provisional results of its festival season “indicate a significant upward trend”.

“Ticket prices cannot and should not be scaled limitlessly, so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate expenses”

Mad Cool

2019 headliners: Lewis Capaldi, the Cure, Bon Iver, the Smashing Pumpkins
Capacity: 80,000
Date: 11 to 13 July
Country: Spain

“This year everything has run smoothly and we are happy about it,” Mad Cool festival director Javier Arnáiz tells IQ.

Live Nation’s Mad Cool festival has seen substantial growth since its inauguration in 2016, increasing capacity by 60%, from 45,000 to 75,000. The rapid growth threw up problems for the Mad Cool team in previous editions.

“Our main goal for this year was to improve on all the incidents that happened in the previous edition, as a result of the massive growth,” says Arnáiz. Thanks to the team’s effort and changes made “through our own process of self-criticism”, the customer experience was much improved this year.

Sales for the festival’s fourth year were lower than usual, which Arnáiz puts down to “the lack of headliners” available. “We have all suffered from this in Europe during 2019,” states the Mad Cool director. “It’s been a tough year for all of us.”

Additionally, last year’s line-up, which featured Pearl Jam, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and Kasabian, “set the bar high”, ensuring “it was not an easy task” to produce a bill to rival it.

Looking to the future, the Mad Cool team say they’re concentrating on strengthening other aspects of the headliner-focused festival. “We are already working on the 2020 edition and we hope we can deliver what is expected from a festival like Mad Cool,” states Arnáiz.

“We have all suffered from a lack of headliners in Europe during 2019”

Pukkelpop

2019 headliners: The National, Post Malone, Prophets of Rage, Twenty One Pilots
Capacity: 60,000
Date: 15 to 19 August
Country: Belgium

Pukkelpop promoter and programmer Chokri Mahassine tells IQ that “we can look back with great satisfaction” following a “completely sold out edition”.

Unlike in previous years, says Mahassine, the Pukkelpop team had no problem shifting tickets this year thanks to a “stellar line-up”, with the balance between musical genres, as well as between young and old acts “clearly paying off”.

Two “unique” shows by rock band the National and a “landslide victory” for fast-rising star Billie Eilish were particular highlights of this year’s festival.

Speaking to IQ in 2017, Mahassine revealed that ticket prices for the independently promoted festival had not changed in four years, although the price of food and drinks tokens did rise. Ticket prices for the past two years have seen a slight increase, from €199 for a weekend pass in 2017 to €205 in 2019.

The Pukkelpop promoter admits that rising prices are due in part to the ever-increasing penchant for comfort among festivalgoers and high expectations in terms of food, transport, accommodation and overall experience. Providing this kind of quality proves more and more difficult each year, says Mahassine, “both on a production and financial level”.

The Pukkelpop promoter admits that rising prices are due in part to the ever-increasing penchant for comfort among festivalgoers

Pohoda

2019 headliners: The 1975, Liam Gallagher, Mac Demarco
Capacity: 30,000
Date: 11 to 13 July
Country: Slovakia

“We had the best year in history,” Michal Kaščák, founder and chief executive of Pohoda, or Peace in English, tells IQ. The festival – Slovakia’s biggest – sold out for the fifth time in its 23-year history and for the second consecutive year.

A packed music programme, an accompanying arts and science schedule, “smooth production” and “super weather” contributed to the festival’s strong performance.

Among a list of high-profile artists including Skepta, the 1975, Liam Gallagher and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kaščák states that Zohra – Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra – were the stand-out act.

Having the band perform at the festival “gave us a strong opportunity to emphasise the goals of Pohoda,” explains Kaščák. “Their story is the perfect base for speaking about gender equality, the power of art to change things for the better and how important it is to stay united.”

A last-minute cancellation by Swedish singer Lykke Li gave an opportunity to “unknown artist” Sink Your Teeth. “We decided to take a risk and let them play on the main stage in prime time,” says Kaščák. “And it was super decision, they did very well.”

The booking process in general is “much harder” than it used to be, says the Pohoda boss, with rising artist fees, late confirmations and the need to clarify running times early on being major factors.

At the end of the day, says Kaščák, “we are an independent festival in a small country, with all the difficulties and advantages that come with that.”

“We are an independent festival in a small country, with all the difficulties and advantages that come with that”

Hellfest

2019 headliners: Slayer, Kiss, Tool, Anthrax
Capacity: 50,000
Date: 21 to 23 June
Country: France

French metal festival Hellfest had one of its “best editions ever”, according to the festival’s communication and event manager Alexxx Rebecq.

Hellfest did not experience any slowdown at all in terms of sales, selling all three-day tickets in 90 minutes, in what Paul-Henri Wauters, co-president of festival association De Concert!, pointed to as an exception for its member festivals this year.

The festival had around 200 bands on the bill for one of its biggest years to date. Organisers also added an extra day for its 2019 edition, to host Slipknot-fronted Knotfest within its festival site.

“We were really proud to welcome the Knotfest festival to Hellfest last year,” Rebecq tells IQ. “Four days in a row was not easy, and certainly exhausted our whole crew, but we did it and what a day it was.”

It was not all plain sailing for the 2019 edition, however, with booking also proving an issue. The last minute cancellation of headliner Manowar was “really tough to manage” and resulted in “a lot of wasted time, pressure and stress” for the Hellfest team.

“We had the support of our crowd though, because they have known us for a long time and obviously know we are capable of welcoming a band like Manowar,” explains Rebecq.

“Manowar’s last minute cancellation was really tough for us to manage”

Sziget

2019 headliners: Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Florence and the Machine
Capacity: 80,000
Date: 7 to 13 August
Country: Hungary

Majority Superstruct-owned Sziget festival saw its biggest crowd ever this year, with 60,000 attending Ed Sheeran’s opening-night headline performance.

“Although our overall visitor number throughout the week was a bit less than during the 2018 festival, we still closed our second-most attended festival in the 27-year history of Sziget,” Ákos Remetei Filep, the festival’s sales director, explains.

530,000 people attended the week-long festival, in what was hailed as its most headliner-focused edition yet. Local newspapers reported that organisers spent US$1.7 million more than last year on securing headline acts.

The main stage also became a platform for important topics this year, with talks by the UN Refugee Agency’s Emitithal Mahmoud and former US vice-president and climate-change campaigner Al Gore.

Although attendances have been high in recent years, Filep states that “the biggest challenge is to make [an international audience] aware of the festival and convince them to come”.

“Sziget is a very unique festival experience compared to other events in Europe,” explains Filep, which makes it difficult to sell to international audiences, as “there’s nothing you can really compare it to”.

“The biggest challenge is to make [an international audience] aware of the festival and convince them to come”

Blockfest

2019 headliners: Asap Rocky, Tyga, G-eazy
Capacity: 25,000
Date: 16 to 17 August
Country: Finland

Finland’s largest hip-hop festival, Blockfest, sold out seven weeks prior to the event this year, which saw its largest capacity ever.

“We couldn’t be happier with the turn-out,” Live Nation Finland’s head promoter, Zachris Sundell, tells IQ. “The weather was sunny and all artists – both domestic and international – put on great performances.”

Live Nation took full control of the festival this year, following years of collaboration with the Blockfest team.

Despite concerns regarding the availability of Friday-night headliner Asap Rocky, “everything worked out so he could perform as planned.” The rapper had been forced to cancel multiple festival appearances over the summer, while held on assault charges in Stockholm.

Rocky received the verdict of the trial just days before his Blockfest appearance, avoiding jail time with a two-year suspended sentence.

Taking place in Tampere Stadium in the city of the same name, the “challenges” that go with a city-centre festival are always to be expected, says Sundell. However, all in all, “everything worked out great”.

 


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Marshmello ticket searches spike after Fortnite concert

Concert discovery platform Songkick has released data revealing a vast increase in fans searching for real-life Marshmello tickets, following the electronic dance music star’s virtual concert on online video game Fortnite.

Marshmello’s in-game Fortnite concert on Saturday attracted over ten million fans, in the best attended “concert” ever. This popularity is now manifesting itself in real-life ticket sales.

Marshmello is now the most-visited artist on the Songkick platform. Since Saturday, the DJ received twice as many pages views as K-pop band BTS, voted the most popular live attraction of 2018 by Ticketmaster customers.

According to Songkick, Marshmello’s pageviews spiked 3,000% on Saturday, an increase which is yet to diminish.

On Sunday, the day after the Fortnite concert, more fans searched for Marshmello tickets on the Songkick platform than ever before.

The DJ received twice as many page views as K-pop band BTS, Ticketmaster’s most popular live attraction of 2018

The search interest is enough “to fill out an entire US sports stadium”, according to the concert discovery site.

Marshmello’s varied touring schedule includes dates in India, Thailand, Australia and Japan over the next two months, before the electronic music producer embarks on a European tour in May.

More than ten million people are believed to have attended the concert in the popular free-to-play game, Fortnite, on Saturday. The number of players that tuned in for the performance greatly surpassed the game’s previous 8.3 million concurrent player record.

The Marshmello x Fortnite concert comes following Fire Festival, a virtual music festival hosted inside Minecraft, as the concept of in-game live music events grows.

Marshmello Fortnite concert most attended in history

 


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Arena boss sets sights on 2m visitors goal

Staff at Lanxess Arena in Cologne have set their sights on breaking the 2million visitors barrier, after reporting the best half-year results in the venue’s history.

In the first six months of 2017, 1,448,823 visitors attended 135 events at the 18,000-capacity arena, including concerts by Bruno Mars, Phil Collins, Ed Sheeran and Kings of Leon. It ranked fourth in Pollstar’s global arena ticket sales, below London’s The O2, Glasgow’s SECC and Manchester Arena.

“I am proud of what our team has successfully achieved in these incredibly intense time,” says CEO Stefan Löcher.

“Now we want to crack the barrier of two million visitors. That would be a great success and a great way to end a fantastic year.”

“An estimated 10% of all tourist traffic in Cologne is caused solely by the Lanxess arena”

As a direct and indirect employer in the region, the arena contributes an economic value of €600million to Cologne and the region, according to a press release.

Visitor surveys show that 20% percent of people attending events at the venue spend at least one night in Cologne hotels. Half that number spend two to three nights in the cathedral city. That makes at least 600,000 hotel nights in Cologne for the year 2017.

“An estimated 10% of tourist traffic in Cologne is caused solely by the Lanxess arena,” notes Josef Sommer, managing director of the local tourist board.

The last record year, 2010, saw 1,247,736 guests attend 118 events between January-June.

Forthcoming events at Lanxess Arena in the second half of 2017 include Metallica, Lady GaGa, Shakira, James Blunt and Yello.

Bonnaroo sales down, but community “vibrant”

The 2016 edition of Bonnaroo was the least-attended in the festival’s history, with ticket sales down 28,156 on last year and 46% from an all-time high of 85,094 in 2011.

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival – which has taken place in the 650-acre Great Stage Park (‘The Farm’) in Manchester, Tennessee since 2002 – sold just 45,537 tickets, reveals public records obtained by the Nashville Tennessean’s Nate Rau.

According to Rau, Bonnaroo anticipated the drop in sales and warned Coffee County council – which takes $3 of every ticket sold – attendance at the four-day festival would be lower than usual.

Speaking to the Tennessean, David Herrera, a professor at Belmont University in Nashville, speculates that the result could be “a combination of competing events and prices”.

“Could be the heat, humidity or perhaps what business theory calls the ‘law of diminishing returns’…”

“Given that live shows are still showing growth, it can be [one of many] reasons,” he says. “Could be the heat, humidity or perhaps what business theory calls the ‘law of diminishing returns’: each time you go back, you are a a little less satisfied and are less likely to attend again, unless you can attract new talent or really improve the facilities.” (The latter of which Bonnaroo most certainly did, installing for the first time permanent flushing toilets and showers.)

While the festival doesn’t release visitor numbers, it acknowledged the drop in sales but said it’s confident about bouncing back next year. “For the past 15 years we’ve been extremely fortunate to have over a million fans share the Bonnaroo experience with us,” read a statement on 12 June. “While our attendance is slightly lower this year, the Bonnaroo community is as vibrant as ever and excited about celebrating this milestone year on The Farm.”

 


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Belgian live music market hit by terror fears

Rock Werchter, Belgium’s largest and most successful music festival, is struggling to sell its 2016 ticket allocation as foreign visitors stay away following the Brussels bombings in March.

Belgium’s terror threat level currently stands at level three – indicating a “serious and real threat” – and Nele Bigaré of Live Nation says that while ticket sales to Belgian and Dutch visitors have remained stable, “the consequences of the attacks are clearly palpable”, leading to “significantly fewer ticket sales abroad”.

It’s not just Rock Werchter: Paul-Henri Wauters, programme director of Brussels’ 2,000-capacity Botanique and co-president of pan-European festival association De Concert!, tells IQ his venue has “perceived a slowdown in ticket sales” (“about 6–7% compared to a normal situation,” he says) since the bombings and the previous attacks in Paris, especially for showcase events and special projects.

“As for Les Nuits Botanique” – an annual festival featuring 60 concerts and 160 bands across five venues, and the first big event in Brussels since the March attacks – “there was some average loss of audience,” he continues, although it was only around 2% “thanks to [our] compensating with more attractive headliners”. (Jack Garratt, Tinie Tempah, Bejamin Francis Leftwich, Ty Segall, Cocorosie, Field Music and Andrew Bird were among the big names.)

“The consequences of the attacks are clearly palpable, leading to significantly fewer ticket sales abroad”

Gate receipts are also down at Brussels festival Couleur Café, which has so far shifted 30% fewer tickets than last year, according to yesterday’s De Tijd, and Gent Jazz in Ghent, which has sold “3,500 fewer than usual”, says spokesman Bertrand Flamang.

One Belgian mainstay bucking the trend is Tomorrowland, which, according to press coordinator Debby Wilmsen, sold its entire inventory of 180,000 tickets (60,000 per day), in a single minute. It is worth noting, though, that tickets for the ID&T dance music event sold out in early February – or, as one prominent Benelux promoter puts it, “when people had forgotten about Paris”.

The same situation applies to one-day Rock Werchter sister event TW Classic, headlined by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which sold out in mid-February.

But what about other festivals hoping to sell out before the summer? Patrick Keersebilck of smaller event Cactusfestival (cap. 9,000), tells IQ that “at the moment it doesn’t look like threat of terror has had an effect on ticket sales” for the Bruges event, which this year is headlined by Damien Rice, Wilco and Air. “As presales are running well, we [haven’t felt] the need to adjust the original marketing campaign.”

“All we can do is provide a good feeling of security and non-stop programming”

Julie Vermeire of Zeebrugge beach festival WeCanDance says “tickets are selling” but typically don’t pick up until later in the year: “As we’re very dependent on the weather in August, we’re not sure yet if the figures are due to that or to the terrorist attacks,” she says.

She adds that bag searches will be “much more severe than usual”, but has not yet communicated that to fans.

Rock Werchter and Tomorrowland will also, along with Graspop Metal Meeting, TW Classic, Dour Festival and Pukkelpop, be implementing stronger security on the gate, with “thorough” bag inspections and metal detectors the norm at all six events.

The festivals will no doubt be hoping the new security measures will go some way to assuaging fans’ fears, but what else can promoters and venue owners do to keep them coming at a time when even government officials are saying there could be as many as 100 IS fighters currently active in Belgium? “All we can do is [provide] a good feeling of security, including metal detectors and daily contact with police, and non-stop programming,” says Wauters, “and give, show after show, our audience the pleasure of attending concerts.”