The cancellation of Rock Werchter is a blow to the music industry
Rock Werchter’s new postponement means other festivals will die their beautiful deaths this summer. “This year will be the repeat of 2020”, judges the sector.
Next summer will be one more summer without Rock Werchter. Which is no longer really a surprise. Other big events like Glastonbury, Rock am Ring, Rock im Park, Primavera or Best Kept Secret have also thrown in the towel for 2021 in the face of uncertainties.
“It’s frustrating”, repeats tirelessly Herman Schueremans, the organizer of Rock Werchter, reached via Zoom. “Too many artists canceled. We didn’t want to produce a pale copy of the festival. We have a reputation to uphold. It was all or nothing, and ‘everything’ just wasn’t possible.”
“We are very flexible, but we are not magicians.”
Schueremans is giving himself another five to six weeks to see what can be organized at the end of the summer. “Who knows? For 10,000 people, and if it is possible with a campsite.” The boss of Live Nation expects a strong competition from Great Britain for the end of August. Since Boris Johnson has put in place a roadmap, which notably focuses on reducing physical distancing measures, many UK festivals are hoping to offer something in the latter part of the summer. The CEO of our biggest concert company doesn’t want to miss this train. And the longer he waits, the more difficult it will be to attract certain artists. “I’m a fan of Europe, but why are things always so slow here?”
The new postponement of Rock Werchter risks causing a cascade of postponements and postponements. The Graspop Metal festival has already been canceled, as well as one-day festivals like TW Classic and Werchter Boutique. Pukkelpop still hopes to organize its 35th edition at the end of August. “But we badly need a calendar. We are not a cafe or a store. We’re very flexible, but we’re not magicians, “spokesman Frederik Luyten said. Tomorrowland is expected to decide this week whether to postpone to September or next year.
What would be the consequences of these successive postponements for the economic fabric of the Belgian musical world? “We should survive,” said Schueremans, referring to his own company, Live Nation, which in addition to organizing concerts and festivals is also the country’s main booking agent. The figures for 2020 are not yet known, but in 2019, Live Nation recorded 7 million euros in operating profit for 57 million euros in revenue. And with 118 million euros of equity, the group has a healthy balance sheet, capable of withstanding a crisis.
Behind Rock Werchter is of course hiding an ecosystem of tens of suppliers and thousands of freelancers. “I fear the worst for many of them”, confides Serge Platel, director of the Federation of Music Festivals in Flanders.
“Rock Werchter represents only a few percent of our turnover, but its cancellation risks dragging others down.”
For Rock Werchter’s most famous supplier, stage builder Stageco, this second postponement is another hard blow. “The festival only represents a few percent of our turnover,” explains COO Tom Bilsen, “but Werchter risks dragging others down.”
With probable consequences for employment. The company employs 100 permanent people, but during a normal summer, it uses 250 podium builders and subcontracted technicians. On site, all these people also receive help from technical staff provided by the festival organizer.
Last year, the group had to be content with a turnover of barely 4 million euros, i.e. 10% of its Belgian turnover in 2019. The year 2021 will not be better, already believes the director. “Thanks to state aid, a little work in fashion and construction and our reserves, we should survive. But what if the pandemic resumes and we have no more reserves? get out?”
Same story with PRG, specialized in lighting and sound. “We can hold out a little longer since we are an international group”, reacts Tom Van Hemeryck, CEO for Central Europe. “But of course our reserves are not endless. The first three quarters of 2021 are lost. This year will be the repeat of last year. The public authorities must come to the aid of the sector and prolong the measures at least until the end of this year. ”
Rock Werchter is also counting on various public aids to support the live music sector. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that doesn’t mean the storm is over,” concludes Herman Schueremans.