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Freedom Day ‘bittersweet’ for UK live sector

Today (19 July) sees Freedom Day in the UK, so-called due to the relaxation of all legal restrictions imposed on live events that had been imposed due to COVID-19. But within hours of rules being relaxed, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has said that full vaccinations will be required for entry into nightclubs and venues with large crowds from September.

As of today, in England, all live events, such as music concerts and sporting events can resume without any limits on attendance or social distancing requirements and attendees are no longer be legally required to wear a face mask.

But against a backdrop of rising levels of infection across the UK, most nightclub operators have chosen not to enforce any level of certification, or ask patrons to provide proof of a recent test or vaccination.  In response today, officials have said that all attendees will have to be double-jabbed, and a negative test will be insufficient.

“There is still no commercial solution and it requires urgent intervention”

The new inbound restrictions come in addition to ongoing concerns about a lack of government-backed cancellation insurance, despite 56% of major summer festivals having already cancelled for a second year running.

“The lifting of restrictions today is bittersweet for the live music sector,” says a spokesperson from LIVE, the industry’s umbrella trade org. “The Government has repeatedly promised it would step in and the UK is now one of just a handful of countries across Europe not to act.”

“The sector has provided every shred of data and evidence Government has requested to support the case for insurance and the Secretary of State has repeatedly and publicly committed to act at Step 4 of the roadmap,” adds Paul Reed, CEO at the Association of Independent Festivals. “There is still no commercial solution and it requires urgent intervention”.

And insurance is not the only obstacle that remains. Earlier this afternoon. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new production, Cinderella, was postponed indefinitely after cast members were told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app, having come into contact with a positive case. The show’s cancellation will be worrying news for many festival and event organisers.

“The impossible conditions created by the blunt instrument that is the Government’s isolation guidance, mean that we cannot continue”

“Freedom Day has turned into closure day,” says Lloyd Weber. “The impossible conditions created by the blunt instrument that is the Government’s isolation guidance, mean that we cannot continue. We have been forced into a devastating decision which will affect the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of people and disappoint the thousands who have booked to see the show… My sadness for our cast and crew, our loyal audience and the industry I have been fighting for is impossible to put into words.

Campaign groups from across the sector are calling for a cultural exemption to the isolation requirements through frequent testing, arguing that the 16 August rule change to allow double vaccinated not self-isolated when ‘pinged’ comes too late.

In addition to a Government-backed insurance scheme, associations and companies from across the sector also continue to call for a quarantine exemption, which would allow the arts the same exemption that professional elite sport has obtained. The exemption from sport has enabled football teams from around Europe to travel to the UK to play in the European Championship without quarantining.

 


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SEC goes local with new food strategy

The host of COP26, the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, has announced its a new sustainable food strategy which will see it source at least 80% of produce from within Scotland and only use reusable or recyclable packaging by 2023.

The renewed approach has been developed over the past two years with its official catering and hospitality partner Levy UK + I, the sports, and hospitality division of Compass Group UK and Ireland. All produce will be sourced from high-welfare producers with sustainable agriculture processes.

As part of the new food strategy, SEC will champion high quality, environmentally friendly local suppliers in areas such as fruit and vegetables, meat and bread. The food and drink offering at the landmark Glasgow venue will offer a broader range of plant-based options alongside premium and low-impact, local animal protein sources.

“As our industry gears up to restart, there is no better time to drive forward positive change.”

The venue is also making strides in the fight against food waste and aims to have reduced kitchen wastage to under 1% of food purchases by 2025 or sooner. Food waste will continue to be diverted from landfill to anaerobic digestion processing.

SEC donates surplus non-perishable food to local charity Launch Foods. In 2020, SEC donated around 10,000 food items to the charity who distribute it through local community organisations and schools.

Debbie McWilliams, Director of Live Entertainment at SEC, said: “Our new food strategy is an integral part of our commitment to reducing the environmental impact of events that take place on our Campus.

“As our industry gears up to restart, there is no better time to drive forward positive change. We are proud to have a strong and ambitious strategy in place to help us champion the very best of sustainably sourced Scottish produce on the international stage.”

The new food strategy has been implemented ahead of SEC hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), taking place from 1–12 November 2021.

 


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Spanish venues host silent concerts in protest

More than 125 Spanish venues hosted silent performances last night as part of ‘The Last Concert’ (#ElÚltimoConcierto), a campaign which was launched to demonstrate the severity of the situation facing music spaces if further support is not provided.

Apolo Hall in Barcelona and Madrid’s Café La Palma were among the iconic Spanish venues that livestreamed ‘performances’ with the message: “Yes … you are listening well. If urgent measures are not applied, the concert halls will remain silent”.

 

Artists including Amaia, Louise Sansom, Joan Colomo, Núria Graham, David Carabén, La Casa Azul, Miqui Puig, Ferran Palau, Suu, Egosex, Maria Arnal and El Petit de Cal Eril took part, silently expressed their impotence for the absence of live music or wielded signage that read ‘culture does not stop’ and ‘no more taxes’.

‘The Last Concert’ campaign initially launched with venues posting photos on social networks with the year of the venue’s foundation and the year 2020 with a question mark to demonstrate their struggle to survive beyond 2020.

According to the campaign group, 25,000 concerts in Spain will have been cancelled this year, causing a total loss of €120 million for concert halls. These spaces employ almost five thousand direct workers, whose jobs are at risk. Most Spanish venues have reportedly been shuttered for eight months and have received no financial income and/or are waiting to receive public aid and opening permits.

The initiative’s manifesto says “the action of all administrations is urgent” to save venues. “At its three levels, the state, the autonomous communities, and the city councils must listen to the shock measures that are proposed to reduce monthly expenses, commit to allocating financial aid for 2021 to compensate for the losses suffered so far, and guarantee the continuity of this basic and essential sector, such as the concert hall circuit.”

According to the Catalan government’s draft plan, cinemas, theatres, auditoriums and concert halls are expected to open on 23 November with 50% capacity and a maximum of 600 people. So far, the only cultural spaces that have been permitted to open are museums and exhibition halls at 33% of the capacity.

 


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Shuttered but not silent: Venues play a role in US election

Music venues across the US have been shuttered for many months due to a lack of government support but while the stages have remained silent during the pandemic, operators have not.

In the run-up to the 3 November presidential election, the live sector has played a significant part in the campaigns.

Ahead of Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s final debate at Belmont University last week, a number of venues in Nashville teamed up with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to display political concert-style posters for the visit.

According to Vanity Fair, Exit/In, the End, the 5 Spot, Rudy’s Jazz Room, and Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge were among the venues that erected posters which read ‘Trump Lied 220K+ Died,’ in reference to the impact of coronavirus on citizens and the economy, and called the president the ‘super-spreader in chief’.

Chris Cobb, the owner and operator of historic rock club Exit/In, told Vanity Fair: “For the last eight months I’ve spent more time in politics than I did in music because of the failure of the government. It’s not something I want to continue doing.”

Adrienne Watson, the director of the DNC’s war room who led the project, said: “The music scene has always been passionate and resolute in the face of crisis—not just as artists, but as public servants,” she said in an email. “Live performance events and venues have been one of the industries hardest hit by Trump’s failure to control the virus.”

Elsewhere, Michigan venue the Blind Pig and its owner Joe Malcoun were caught in the political crossfire after appearing in a TV ad for the Biden campaign.

The ad includes photos and footage of concerts at the Blind Pig, which has hosted shows from Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Iggy Pop, John Lennon and more, as well as empty barstools to show that the venue cannot operate during the pandemic.

“For the last eight months I’ve spent more time in politics than I did in music because of the failure of the government”

In the video, Malcoun says, “This is the reality of Trump’s Covid response. We don’t know how much longer we can survive not having any revenue.”

According to The New York Times, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign said that the ad – which made its debut on 18 October during an NFL game – was removed because Malcoun and his family were “doxxed, harassed, and threatened after the Trump campaign has sought to smear [the venue owner]”.

According to The Times, the backlash is apparently due to the origins of Joe Malcoun’s wealth.

Elsewhere, a number of US venues have been doubling as polling stations including  Madison Square Garden in New York, the Los Angeles Forum, State Farm Arena in Atlanta and Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas.

Concert giant Live Nation also joined the cause, transforming over 100 of its venues into stations including the Wiltern (1,850-cap.) and Hollywood Palladium (3,800-cap.) in Los Angeles, Emo’s (1,700-cap.) in Austin, Texas, and the Buckhead Theatre (1,800-cap.) in Atlanta.

Grassroots music venues have largely been sidelined during the presidential campaign with president Donald Trump announcing he was postponing negotiations on a new stimulus package which would’ve thrown the live sector a much-needed lifeline.

The ‘Heroes Act’ stimulus package includes the Save Our Stages Act, a US$10 billion grant programme designed to provide financial support for live venue operators, promoters, producers and talent representatives in the US.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the act on Thursday (1 October) but Trump says he won’t return to the negotiating table until after 3 November’s presidential election.

Following the news, former WME-chief Marc Geiger has announced a $75 million ‘war chest’ to bail out US venues that are struggling during the pandemic and help them to reopen.

 


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Music venues in Italy close under new restrictions

Concert halls in Italy are closing today until at least 24 November, under a raft of new measures imposed by the Italian government to curb the second wave of coronavirus.

The new decree states that shows and parties which are open to the public and take place in venues such as concert halls, dance halls, discos and similar venues are prohibited, as well as outdoor events.

Bars, restaurants and cafes will have to stop table service by 6 pm but shops and the majority of businesses will remain operating.

“We think that we will suffer a bit this month but by gritting our teeth with these restrictions, we’ll be able to breathe again in December,” said prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

“Every choice involves sacrifices and renunciations but we must intervene firmly if we want to contain the virus”

Health minister Roberto Speranza added: “These are difficult days. The contagion curve is growing in the world and throughout Europe, the wave is very high. We must react immediately and with determination, if we want to avoid unsustainable numbers.

“Every choice involves sacrifices and renunciations. I am aware of this. But we must intervene firmly if we want to contain the virus in the time that is missing before the arrival of effective and safe vaccines and treatments. We will make it this time too, but only with the indispensable contribution of everyone.”

Cinemas, theatres, swimming pools and gyms will also close from today and the bulk of secondary school teaching will now be conducted online instead of in the classroom.

Sunday (25 October) saw a new daily record of cases in Italy of more than 21,200 and 128 deaths.

The prime minister has said he does not want to repeat the national lockdown imposed during the first wave in March and April because of the economic damage caused.

 


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Danish gov offers subsidies for autumn events

Danish cultural institutions, such as music venues, can apply for substantial subsidies to fund socially-distanced events taking place during September and October.

The Danish government is offering compensation of up to 65% of an event’s cost for organisers of audience-oriented cultural activities such as concerts.

The event(s) must take into account Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines, such as capacity restrictions, and must be completed in the period from and including 1 September to and including 31 October this year.

Applications are open until 31 October and organisations can apply for compensation retroactively.

Organisations can apply for grants for several activities – such as a concert series – in the same application

Organisations can apply for grants for several activities – such as a concert series – in the same application and can request funding for both direct and indirect costs. Grants are capped at DKK 1.5 million per activity.

Applicants must be CVR registered before 1 June 2020 and have an annual turnover of at least DKK 1m.

Institutions that have received grants to present live music in 2020 from at least one of the two Danish Arts Foundation (Statens Kunstfonds) pools, can apply for these grants regardless of their annual turnover.

The Palaces and Culture Agency will be responsible for awarding grants. See full terms and conditions here.

 


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Tidal partners with Facebook’s VR platform Oculus

Artist-owned streaming platform Tidal has joined forces with Facebook’s virtual reality platform Oculus to bring a series of exclusive and intimate live performances that can be streamed in virtual reality to fans’ homes.

The series will be available later this year to stream in virtual reality on the Venues app (available on the Oculus Quest) and in 2D video and high-quality audio on Tidal.

“At a time when livestreamed performances are seen as the new norm, Tidal’s partnership with Oculus provides music lovers an elevated concert experience with more interaction and dimension than past livestreams,” says Tidal COO, Lior Tibon.

“Oculus is revolutionizing the live music experience and matched with Tidal’s HiFi audio quality, members will be able to remember what it feels like to stand in a large crowd at a concert venue.”

“Members will be able to remember what it feels like to stand in a large crowd at a concert venue”

Tidal, whose artist co-owners include Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, promises the series will feature “some of the biggest names in music”.

Facebook launched the Venues app, described as “the companion app to live events,” in June this year.

Elsewhere in the VR world, Tidal recently spent US$7 million on tokens issued by the company behind Sensorium Galaxy, a new VR “social metaspace” in which users can attend alternative-world concerts, nightclubs and festivals through a VR headset.

Through the purchase, Tidal has acquired access to broadcast their content within Sensorium Galaxy, which is due to launch publicly in early 2021.

 


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Italy and Spain reclose nightlife establishments

This article was updated on 19 August, replacing the wording “music venues” with “nightlife establishments”.

Nightlife establishments in Spain and Italy were forced to close with immediate effect over the weekend due to a recent spike in coronavirus cases in both countries.

Spain’s closure of discotheques, cocktail bars and dance halls will be in place for the foreseeable future and was confirmed last Friday (14 August) by health minister Salvador Illa.

“We cannot afford not to be disciplined,” Illa said. “We cannot ignore the virus circulating among us.”

Infections in Spain have risen in recent days following the end of Spain’s tough lockdown seven weeks ago, bringing its cumulative total to 342,813 – the highest number in Western Europe.

Spanish association, the Union of Professional Musicians, has released a statement denouncing the government’s decision and calling for protection for professionals who will be affected by it.

“The forced, massive and indiscriminate closure of nightlife ends all musical and artistic programming that took place in halls and venues under strict compliance with the regulations in force in terms of protection against Covid19,” the statement reads.

“The forced, massive and indiscriminate closure of nightlife ends all musical and artistic programming that took place in halls and venues”

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza announced similar shutdown measures for the country on 16 August via a press release on the government’s website.

“The activities of the dance are suspended, outdoors or indoors that take place in discos, dance halls and similar places intended for entertainment or taking place in beaches, establishments bathing establishments, equipped beaches, free beaches, common areas of the accommodation facilities or other places open to the public.” 

“We cannot nullify the sacrifices made in past months. Our priority must be that of opening schools in September, in full safety,” health minister Roberto Speranza said on Facebook.

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus, and new cases in the past week were more than double those registered three weeks ago.

Spain’s first post-lockdown live music events took place from the 25 May, with outdoor events of up to 400 people and indoor concerts with a maximum capacity of 50 people permitted to resume in Spain.

Whereas Italy made its return to live on 15 June when concert halls, theatres and cinemas were allowed to reopen in Italy, with a maximum capacity of 200 people for indoor shows and 1,000 for performances held outdoors.

 


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UK government delays venue reopening

Indoor venues in England will no longer be permitted to resume business tomorrow (1 August), as the UK government stalls the next phase of reopening.

Speaking in a press conference today, UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced that the further easing of coronavirus restrictions, which were set to see indoor performances return to venues in a socially distanced manner, will be postponed for at least two weeks.

Pilots, or trial, performances, such as that carried out at London’s Clapham Grand this week to inform guidance for venues on how to reopen, will also be put on hold.

Casinos and bowling alleys will also remain shut as a result of the measures.

The delay comes amid concerns over an increase in coronavirus cases and comes hours after the government imposed new restrictions on more than four million people across northern England.

“Music Venue Trust has consistently asserted that no grassroots music venue will be able to stage live music events before 1 October at the earliest”

“The prevalence of the virus in the community, in England, is likely to be rising for the first time since May,” says Johnson, adding that it is time to “squeeze the brake pedal”.

The UK’s Music Venue Trust has issued a statement in response to the government’s announcement, saying it is “saddened but not surprised” to hear that live music events planned from 1 August must now be cancelled.

“Since May 2020, Music Venue Trust has repeatedly informed the government that live music events in grassroots music venues would be extraordinarily difficult to stage, not economically viable, and at risk of being cancelled at short notice during the current pandemic,” reads the statement, adding that venues that have tried to host events in accordance with government guidance have incurred “substantial costs to make their venues safe”.

“Music Venue Trust has consistently asserted that no grassroots music venue will be able to stage live music events before 1 October at the earliest, yet the prime minister has stated that the new reopening date might be as earlier as 15 August,” continues the statement.

“Music Venue Trust would like to restate and emphasise the position of the sector, which is that a clear and decisive position on the part of government to provide support for grassroots music venues in the form of efficiently distributed crisis funding until such time as they can re-open safely and viably would provide the much needed clarity that venues, artists, audiences and the wider public need.”

Photo: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 


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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Icelandic music business calls for more support

A new report put together by the Icelandic music industry has highlighted the measures needed to be taken by the government to help the business through the current crisis.

The ‘Impact of Covid-19 on the Icelandic music industry report’ has been compiled by the Icelandic Musicians Union (FIH), Icelandic National Group for IFPI (FHF), Collecting society for performers and phonogram producers (SFH), the Performing Rights Association of Iceland (STEF), Reykjavík Music City and Iceland Music (ÚTÓN).

The report states that, although a number of measures have been taken to address the loss of income of musicians, many schemes such as the partial compensation scheme for cancelled events and closure subsidies for companies forced to halt their operations for public health reasons, “have benefitted members of the music industry in a very limited way”.

“Clearly, despite the good will and the prompt response from the government, we need to find more effective ways to respond to the impact that Covid-19 has had on the music industry in Iceland,” reads the report.

“Clearly, despite the good will and the prompt response from the government, we need to find more effective ways to respond to the impact that Covid-19 has had on the music industry in Iceland”

Existing measures include a ISK 244 million (€1.5m) artists’ salary fund; a ISK 86m (€540,870) fund for new music-related activities; the ISK 30m (€188,680) City of Reykjavík Culture Fund (Menningarpottur Reykjavíkurborgar); and the Summer City 2020 project, which promotes culture and creates job opportunites for musicians and venues in Reykjavík.

The music industry representatives present various counter measures, drawing from action taken in the countries of Denmark, Germany and Finland, to support the industry.

Suggestions include establishing “extensive support packages” for venues, promoters, festivals and agents; a reduction of real estate tax for venues; compensation for the operating costs and other fixed costs of businesses that have not closed down over the period; the creation of a small businesses fund; and government-led promotional campaigns for the music industry.

The report also makes some recommendations for actions to be taken by those in the industry itself, including the establishment of a “formal alliance” of Icelandic concert promoters and increased cooperation between music organisations, with the aim of creating an association to represent the industry as a whole.

The document cites measures taken in Denmark to support self-employed individuals and in Finland, where €700m has been put aside to assist small- and medium-sized businesses. The report also recommends the Icelandic government consider Germany, where €150m has been dedicated to supporting the live music industry.

An executive summary of the report can be found here.

 


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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