Tuesday, January 12th, 2021
Under the Radar Announces Media Partnership with Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS)
Creative Director Robert Meijerink tells us about this year’s festival and more
Jan 12, 2021
By Dom Gourlay
Under the Radar is pleased to announce we’re one of the media partners for the 35th edition of Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS). Taking place from Wednesday 13th January through to Saturday 16th, this year’s event will be different to its predecessors as it will be the first time ESNS has hosted all of its live shows, talks and conferences online.
Originally launched in 1986 in the Netherlands city of Groningen, Eurosonic Noorderslag has grown over the years since that inaugural event to become the largest showcase festival in Europe. Essentially a non-profit organization, ESNS would normally play host to approximately 4000 delegates and over 350 artists every year.
Also incorporating the Music Moves Europe Talent (MMETA), European Festival and Pop Media awards among a host of others, ESNS represents arguably the first big music industry event on the annual festival calendar.
This year’s event will be held in its entirety over a digital format. Registration is free via the official ESNS website.
In the meantime, Under the Radar spoke to ESNS Creative Director Robert Meijerink about the challenges faced over the past year with putting together a music festival under a brand-new format.
Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): 2020 has been a challenging year to say the least with the Covid-19 pandemic. What changes have you been forced to make in terms of planning both ESNS?
Robert Meijerink: Instead of organizing a physical event, ESNS will organize a fully digital Conference and Showcase Festival. In cooperation with our partners of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and especially our host, Dutch Public Broadcaster NPO 3FM, everyone around the world can visit this year’s edition of ESNS and watch digital showcases from 189 acts from Europe. Some of the artists are recorded in cooperation with the members of the EBU. Some acts recorded themselves in a radio studio, a venue (for example AB Brussels and Botanique Brussels), practice rooms, etc. Dutch acts have been recorded in Groningen in December and more will be recorded in the week of ESNS. All digital content will be presented in the evenings on January 13, 14, 15 and 16th via our website www.esns.nl
Has it been difficult to adapt to new ways of working?
It was a big challenge to make such a big switch. ESNS is normally a physical festival and we have never organized a digital version before. ESNS 2021 presents artists from 36 different European countries, while the majority of those countries were already in lockdown in October, the month we invited the artists. It was stressful at times but big ups to all artists, export offices, broadcasters, venues as well as also the managers/agents/bookers and last but not least our team for making this happen.
What’s been the most difficult obstacle to overcome?
We were working on this format since the pandemic started, in March 2020. The majority was done from home by my colleagues and me. Normally we would meet each other every now and then at the office, which was much more convenient and effective so it was a whole new way of communicating and working with each other.
In terms of putting the programme together, were all of the artists and their representatives receptive to moving the events online?
The majority of artists were very receptive to participate. Some acts kindly declined because they couldn’t find the right room or venue to record themselves due to the pandemic.
What do you make of live streaming and online conferencing as opposed to traditional live events? Do you think they’re something that can work long term in the future?
It’s the first time, so we have to learn from the upcoming edition. For both the conference and the digital showcases we feel that some elements might be very useful and effective for future purposes. One of them for example is the connection with speakers and guests. It’s not necessary to have everyone in one room all the time although it’s still my preferred option. Besides this, our visitors also can watch panels on demand or some digital showcases on demand which is convenient for professional use.
Have you been monitoring or benchmarking any other online/streamed events and if so, which ones?
My favorite experiences of last year were Irish Music Week and Luminous Online, a Finnish online event organized by Music Finland. Both very different, but meaningful events: Irish Music Week was both a conference and a great experience in terms of pre-recorded live shows. Luminous Festival was more of an online gathering of professionals focusing on some Finnish acts, it was also very entertaining.
Do you foresee this becoming the new normal? Particularly with the uncertainty around the spread of the pandemic and implementation of each respective vaccine?
I don’t think so. It takes time before we can return to the situation that we can attend live concerts and festivals on a normal scale. Besides this, it depends on your format, size of your event, festival. ESNS is mainly focused on music professionals and media so I can imagine that we will keep some elements in order to reach an audience in Europe and abroad.
The UK will also have to deal with the fallout of Brexit this year. Will that have an impact on future bookings and involvement for UK acts?
It’s too early to understand what the real impact and consequences of Brexit are. ESNS is focusing on presenting new & upcoming acts towards a professional audience and media and last but not least music lovers. Countries like Switzerland and Norway are not part of Europe but they are part of ETEP (European Talent Exchange Program). ETEP is the holy grail of ESNS: it connects many festivals in Europe and abroad to the ESNS program. As long as the UK contributes their membership towards this project, ESNS will welcome UK acts.
Has the pandemic caused a significant financial impact in terms of planning and organizing events such as ESNS?
It has a big impact on our budget but we’re glad that ESNS was supported by local, regional and the national government. These institutions underline and support the importance of promoting artists and bringing music professionals together.
What long term impact do you think the pandemic will have on the music industry going forwards?
Our conference is pretty much focused on the ‘Road to Recovery’. It’s all about the current situation and off course the future of the music sector & industry.
Do you think it can recover and go back to how things were before? If so, how long do you envisage that will take?
I believe it will recover but the music Industry will change. It will take time before venues will reach and are allowed to organize concerts and events at their normal capacity.
Has it affected any of the venues that normally house shows for your events?
Yes, it has. Venues like De-Oosterpoort, Stadsschouwburg and Vera are closed so they don’t have any income. Vera for example did organize some small capacity shows for 30 people but that’s simply not doable financially.
Different governments have responded in different ways when it comes to financial assistance for the arts, music and culture. Will this have an impact when it comes to future bookings for each nation?
From what I see now, it’s very different in Europe. Some countries are fully supportive towards artists, venues, festivals and also the agencies. The Dutch government was also financially supportive towards some artists (the bigger ones), venues and festivals (limited ones though) and agencies. There are so many freelancers in the music industry who were not supported until now. I’m afraid that PA & Light companies and many freelancers already are looking for other jobs because there is no money in culture now.
Which artists are you particularly excited about at this year’s ESNS?
To be honest I’m proud to present 189 artists from 36 countries who did their very best to record themselves for this occasion. Normally ESNS has a focus country but in 2019 we decided that 2021 would be the year of Europe with a focus on Europe. It’s the 35th edition of ESNS and therefore we felt that we should underline the mission of ESNS and the importance of promoting European repertoire. Please listen to the lineup yourself and watch the digital showcases yourself: you’re free to discover whatever you want and like. From a great punk band from Faroe Islands to beautiful folk melodies from the very northern part of Finland to beautiful dark songs from Estonia, ‘new Fado’ from Portugal to an outstanding Armenian band.
Has the pandemic altered your long-term visions for ESNS?
After 35 years, Europe is more relevant than ever before so I feel there is an important role for ESNS for the near and long-term future of promoting European music, Artists and repertoire and bringing together the music professionals in order to learn from each other, exchange information and also do business.
While Under the Radar can’t be there in person, here’s a fifty-song playlist featuring a selection of the artists we’re looking to see online over the course of this year’s festival.
For more information on this year’s Eurosonic Noorderslag including the full schedule and timings, please visit the official ESNS website.