An annual look at the health of the European festival market.
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IQ's annual European Festival Report takes the temperature of this vibrant summer scene. And the 2018 report highlights some interesting new trends
By IQ on 20 Feb 2019
Compared to recent years, where weather and terrorism had massive impacts on Europe’s festival business, 2018 was infinitely more calm, with few cancellations and promoters across the continent pretty much reporting healthy visitor numbers.
But the hangover of such drama has had a lasting affect, with organisers still citing the events of previous years as hitting their overall business during the most recent festival season.
Unsurprisingly, security at large-scale events has become a major consideration, as noted by one of the continent’s biggest festival organisations, FKP Scorpio, whose Jasper Barendregt states, “Due to fear of threats, the authorities planned to check all personnel working at our festivals, in order to [identify any] individuals with terrorist ties, by feeding the names into national security databases. Due to GDPR regulations and public awareness of them, this became a huge project, binding great resources within the company and the festival structure.
And FKP are not alone. Finland suffered its first ever terror attack in 2017 and Mikko Niemelä, production manager at Ruisrock Festival, tells IQ, “[We made] a lot of investment into security solutions with more security personnel and technical solutions. One interesting pilot project this year was an airport-style camera device that was able to see if a person had any objects hidden under their clothes.”
My main worry is the crisis in talent which is inevitably pushing up the price that the consumer has to pay and that makes attracting new, young consumers very tricky
Undoubtedly, investment in safety and security measures has stepped up in the past couple of years, while some event managers who filled in this year’s European Festival Report survey voiced fears over a lack of trained security personnel in the future. Indeed, at this year’s E3S conference in London, where the industry’s top security leaders gathered to debate the current state of the sector, that very point was made time and time again, with tales of even the largest companies having to beg, borrow and steal personnel from rivals in order to fulfil staffing quotas at festivals and concerts.
Eric van Eerdenburg, from Dutch powerhouse Mojo Concerts, tells IQ that the 2018 season could scarcely have been healthier for the company’s portfolio of festivals, but he is gravely concerned by the long term future. “For us everything went as well as we could hope for: Lowlands was sold out with 60,000 people, Down the Rabbit Hole sold out for the first time with 35,000 people and elsewhere North Sea Jazz did very well and our new hip-hop festival Woo Hah! sold out, so it was a terrific season.”
But he warns of storm clouds on the horizon. “My main worry is the crisis in talent which is inevitably pushing up the price that the consumer has to pay and that makes attracting new, young consumers very tricky,” he states. “We’re pricing ourselves out of the business by potentially alienating the next generation of fans and not enough people seem to care about that situation.”
Another trend to emerge from this year’s report is the festival community’s desire to operate in the most environmentally friendly ways possible. This is summed up by Boomtown, one of Europe’s big success stories. Having grown from 1,000-capacity to 66,000 in just a decade, organisers of the UK festival are under no illusion about the challenges this entails.
In Germany, there are far too many festivals and the competition is big, the most important thing is to be really individual and creative
“Protecting the planet and ensuring we reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible is the driving force behind Chapter 11: A Radial City,” Boomtown says of one of its latest site additions. “The festival will continue to implement initiatives and policies to raise awareness of sustainability whilst at the same time look to educate the public to encourage them to protect Boomtown and the land it inhabits – and to take those lessons home and implement them across their normal lives so that collectively we can make a bigger impact protecting the future of our planet.”
Highlighting the seemingly ever-expanding festival market, 130 events took part in this year’s survey – a record number for IQ’s European Festival Report. And while the following pages track some of the trends and quantitative measures of the business as a whole across the continent, on a territory-by-territory basis, there are many issues to take into account.
In the remote Faroe Islands, Fred Ruddick, creative director at G! Festival comments, “As as an organisation in the Faroe Islands we are central to the music business and projection of the country’s music, so we have our own struggles that are in many ways probably quite unique to us.” That observation underlines the vital importance of many events to their local scenes, and Ruddick adds, “We’re a very small event, 3,850 tickets in 2018, but we do receive a fair amount of press attention due to our unique location.”
In Europe’s biggest live music market, Germany, the experience is very different. “The season was challenging for many,” notes Lollapalooza Berlin’s Fruzsina Szép. “The ones who thought they would sell out did not sell out. In Germany, there are far too many festivals and the competition is big. But the most important thing is to be really individual and creative and crazy enough to create special places, venues and spaces at your festivals that are outstanding and have the WOW effect for visitors. It’s crucial to be the first with new ideas and not to copy others.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 81, or subscribe to the magazine here