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September 13, 2019

Incorporating myriad sub genres, the heavy rock and metal scene has spawned huge dedicated festivals and sustained the careers of many artistes for decades. Tapping into that loyalty and encouraging the emergence of new headliners for the future is a community of dedicated specialists. Christopher Barrett reports

With dozens of the genre’s heritage acts still occupying top slots on a swathe of major festivals around the world, many rock and metal event promoters are working to provide a platform for new and emerging acts.

Some festivals have even had to take a break year because suitable major headliners were unavailable. It’s taken 40 years for some of the sector’s giants to get to the top and stay there, so it’s not surprising it’s also taking a while for others to catch up.

One promoter who has been investing in new talent for many years is Thomas Jensen, co-founder of International Concert Service (ICS) in Germany, which has agreed an investment and partnership agreement with multinational festival operator Superstruct Entertainment (see news pages), The deal is subject to regulatory approvals and neither company would comment on the details.

ICS runs the 75,000-capacity Wacken Open Air (WOA), which shortly after the gates closed on the 30th edition this August, tickets went on sale for the 2020 festival and sold-out in 21 hours. Only a handful of acts had been announced, including Judas Priest and Amon Amarth. Tickets cost €229 ($253).

Taking place in the village of Wacken, north of Hamburg, over four days, WOA has become a landmark rock event that Jensen says is about far more than just the headline acts.

“We have tremendous support from the fans, they know they can trust that they will get an enormous heavy metal party, it is not about one specific artiste, it is a package that they are buying into,” he says.

In order to support new bands WOA runs Metal Battle, a talent competition that sees bands in local contests in up to 50 countries worldwide. The winner from each country then plays in the international final on stage at WOA. The winner of the final then gets to play again on one of the main stages and is invited back the following year.

“Each year around 30 unsigned acts perform at Wacken from all over the planet,” says Jensen. “There are a lot of great artistes coming from Canada, Asia, and there are Metal Battles in India and Azerbaijan – it is really very promising for the future of the genre.”

As well as staging a winter festival, ICS runs Full Metal Holiday at a resort in Majorca. Taking place over a week in October, the event includes 4-star accommodation for 2,000 fans, who are treated to a mix of concerts, sessions and parties. Among those due to play at the 14 October event are Powerwolf and Extremo. Early-bird tickets started at €899 ($995).

“You have a stage by the pool and one by the beach, it is a totally different experience from a festival in a cow field and it has proven really popular; it’s close to selling-out,” says Jensen.

Another especially successful European rock festival is France’s Hellfest Open Air (60,000), staged annually in June in Clisson in Loire-Atlantique.

Among the line-up for the three-day event this year were Manowar, Slayer, Kiss, ZZ Top, Def Leppard and Tool.

Hellfest Productions’ Alexxx Rebecq says tickets for this year’s event sold-out in 90 minutes and, despite demand, the organisers have found it hard to extend its capacity.

“We do try to get more space but it’s a difficult game because the owners of the fields want to sharply increase the rental price,” he says.  “So that’s why we don’t want to welcome more people for now.”

Rebecq says the festival’s bookers ensure there are spaces for lesser-known acts on the bill each year, and the event has been one of the first to give acts such as Ghost a slot, but “metal-heads” take time to warm to new artistes, he notes.

“Most of them are focused on the headliners but many of those big acts are going to disappear because they will become too old, that’s why we never forget to focus on emerging bands,” he says. “It takes at least 10 years for a heavy rock act to get respect from the fans and start a true carrier.”

Among new acts Rebecq believes are set for success are Crisix from Spain, France’s Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, Alien Weaponry from New Zealand and America’s Ho99o9.

“The older bands don’t need to fight anymore to get fans. The real battle is among the younger acts and I have great respect for those working hard to make an impression.”

Top tier

Rod MacSween, joint MD of UK-based agency ITB, counts some of the genre’s biggest and most long-established acts among his roster.

They include Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Guns N’Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and Pearl Jam. His tours this year have include Kiss, Tool, Def Leppard, Scorpions and Whitesnake.

Two of the three headline slots at Download (cap. 110,000) in the UK were taken by MacSween’s acts, Tool and Def Leppard, with the latter touring extensively across Europe and North America. On 15 August the band played the first of a 12-show residency in the Zappos Theater (7,000) at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

“There continues to be an appetite for well-known bands who have so many well-known songs, and they are winning new and younger audiences,” says MacSween. “We actively support new and emerging acts, but we need help from the record labels to get behind the bands and take a longer term view of building the talent.”

Veteran German rock promoter Ossy Hoppe, MD of Wizard Promotions in Frankfurt, says his company has had a successful year with tours by Kiss, Slayer, Anthrax, Mastodon and Limp Bizkit.

“We had Boehse Onkelz playing two headline shows, including one at Waldbuehne [22,000] in Berlin, that sold more than 60,000 tickets alone,” he says.

Hoppe is not concerned that many of the biggest-selling acts are in their second, third or even fourth decade on the road, because he is confident there is a sufficient flow of new talent coming through.

“There are always great new bands that fans are excited about,” he says. “In terms of relatively young groups that have become established big sellers, he gives American heavy metal bands Five Finger Death Punch and Disturbed as examples, and suggests upcoming acts such as Bokassa and Alien Weaponry are next in line for major success.

“As a band, if you don’t make a big mistake you can be sure of the loyalty of the fans,” Hoppe says. “Also, many bands appeal to fans of all ages, such as Iron Maiden or Kiss, no matter how long they have been around.”

Peak of influence

John Jackson CEO of UK-based K2 Agency counts some of the biggest names in the genre among his roster, including Metallica and Iron Maiden.

Last May, K2 acquired fellow UK agency E.G.O and its roster, which included metal acts such as All That Remains, The Rasmus and Fear Factory.

Metallica’s European tour took in venues such as State de France (100,000) in Paris, the UK’s Etihad Stadium (70,000) in Manchester and Germany’s Olympiastadion (57,000) in Munich.

K2 also had Slayer playing across Europe, while Iron Maiden is preparing to headline Brazil’s Rock In Rio (100,000) and play Chile’s Estadio Nacional (60,000) in Santiago.

“The genre has such a loyal following because the acts tour regularly and extensively, and deliver incredible shows with cutting-edge technology and even the use of drones,” says Jackson.

“They also place a great deal of importance in their merchandising to ensure that fans keep coming back in droves,” he says.

K2 supports emerging talent by providing support slots on stadium tours and at festivals. He says he is pleased to see a number of newer acts make strong progress in recent years, including Ghost, A Day To Remember and Post Malone.

“Ghost, for example, have gone from playing small clubs to selling-out major arenas throughout the world in a handful of years”

Lines of communication

Australian promoter Destroy All Lines was behind the launch of last year’s Good Things touring festival, which returns in December to Flemington Racecourse (25,000) in Melbourne, Sydney’s Centennial Park (25,000) and Brisbane Showgrounds (25,000).

Headliners include Parkway Drive and A Day To Remember, with a further 25 acts on the bill, including Bad Religion and The Veronicas. Tickets cost A$179.95 (US$122).

As well as heavy metal and rock, organisers include punk and indie acts. Destroy All Lines general manager Chris O’Brien says that approach has been key to the festival’s success.

O’Brien joined Destroy All Lines in January 2016 having been general manager of touring rock and heavy metal festival Soundwave. He says that since the demise of Soundwave and fellow Australian touring festival Big Day Out, the market hasn’t got any easier.

“It is harder than ever, so we are careful about the way we position Good Things, we don’t want to pigeonhole the festival as being too heavy,” he says. “We have a relatively diverse line-up and that seems to have struck a chord. Ticket sales have been incredible strong, we are well ahead of last year’s numbers, which is a huge result for the business.”

Beside Good Things, the promoter is also working on tours by acts such as  Cancer Bats, John Garcia And The Band Of Gold, Cradle of Filth and The Dangerous Summer.

O’Brien says his company has been forging a collaborative approach with artiste managers and agents in order to create appealing tour packages at the right ticket prices.

“DevilDriver hadn’t been here for 10 years, so we packaged them up with All That Remains and Devil Driver achieved their strongest ever numbers here, we did the same with Cradle Of Filth,” he says. “It is all about packaging bands and making it exciting for fans.

“For a long period of time fans got used to the same old, same old — the same bands coming through with high ticket prices each time.

“In the past 12 months we have flipped the conversation on its head with agents and that has paid off in spades. It is not just about paying crazy money, because once you do that the tickets price goes up and if the tour doesn’t work then that is a band’s career here done, it is over,” he says.

“Agents, managers and promoters need to work together, as opposed to against each other, in order to create a long-term vision for artistes. We are trying to reinvigorate artiste’s careers and create a solid future for new acts.”

Loyalty factor

Andrea Pieroni left Live Nation Italy in 2016 to launch Milan-based Vertigo and is heavily involved in the rock and metal business, working in the past year with acts such as Def Leppard & Whitesnake, Slipknot and Slayer.

Next year he has Rammstein at the Turin Stadium (35,000), which has already sold-out.

Pieroni is satisfied that there is enough fresh talent working its way up the ladder.

“Acts including Greta Van Fleet, Bring Me The Horizon, Lamb Of God and Five Finger Death Punch could be the next headliner generation, and there are some smaller but very promising acts like Jinjer, Fever 333 and Sleeping With Sirens,” he says.

In order to provide a platform for emerging talent. Pieroni gives slots to new bands at his festival Rock The Castle (30,000). Launched last year, the event takes place at Villafranca Castle in Verona. Among the headliners at three-day event this year were Slash, Slayer and Dream Theater.

Pieroni says the scene is reliably strong in Italy, with power metal, thrash and metal core being among the most popular sub-genres.

“Metal fans don’t like to hear the albums on Spotify, they still buy CDs,” he says. “They are totally focused on what they buy, they are not inattentive listeners they are loyal fans. It’s a way of life to them — a show by their favourite artiste is like a mass, with the artiste being the prophet.”

Mercury keeps rising

Veteran pan-Latin America promoter Jose Muniz has worked with the majority of the big names in heavy metal and has had a long and fruitful relationship with Guns N’Roses in particular, which saw him promote the whole Reunion Tour in Central and South America in 2016, with 600,000 tickets sold across 13 shows.

As president of Mercury Concerts, based in Florida, US, Muniz’s many projects this year include the sold-out inaugural edition of Rockfest (40,000) in São Paulo, with Scorpions, Whitesnake and Helloween among the line-up.

Mercury also booked Foo Fighters, Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Scorpions and Whitesnake for the Rock in Rio (100,000) festival and has a touring festival branded Roadfest.

“South America in general has a strong appetite for the genre and all the big bands from the 1970s and 1980s tour on a regular basis, selling-out stadiums in every single country,” says Muniz. “Brazil, Argentina and Chile are the strongest markets.”

He notes that streaming is boosting the concert careers of veteran artistes, many of which first hit the road prior to the arrival of the CD.

“The market heavily relies on the bands from the past and with streaming, the kids are getting to know that music, which is far better than what has been produced in recent years,” he says. “And that’s the main reason why our rock stars keep touring in their 70s.”

“Metal fans don’t like to hear the albums on Spotify, they still buy CDs,” he says. “They are totally focused on what they buy, they are not inattentive listeners they are loyal fans. It’s a way of life to them — a show by their favourite artiste is like a mass, with the artiste being the prophet.”

Clubs to stadiums

Switzerland’s Good News Production, a subsidiary of  Germany’s Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG), is run by heavy metal veteran Stefan Matthey, who works with artistes such as Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax.

Among this year’s shows at Zurich’s Hallenstadion (13,500) are sell-outs by Kiss and Krokus, with other events including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Alice In Chains each at the city’s Halle 622 (3,500).

“Krokus were the first Swiss band to sell-out the Hallenstadion, in 1982, and they have sold it out again on 7 December,” he says. “It will be their last show at the venue and a proud moment.”

Matthey says he has helped to build the metal scene in Switzerland from clubs up to stadiums and that while much of his work is with well-established acts, he is pleased to be able to promote relative newcomers such as Ghost and Five Finger Death Punch.

“All the big bands of the 1980s are still around, although some are not so big any more but they are still doing what they want to do and making money from it,” he says. “The fans of metal bands are still the best fans in the world in terms of loyalty to their group, so it has not changed very much.”

Popular problem

The clue is in the title, Spain’s RockNRock Concerts is solely focused on promoting rock and heavy metal shows.

The company’s biggest event of the year is the four-day Rock Fest Barcelona (25,000), which takes place in July at the Parc de Can Zam. Among the line-up was ZZ Top, Def Leppard and Saxon, while Accept is the first band to be conformed for next year’s event. Tickets cost €161.90 ($179).

In an average year RockNRock promotes between 100 and 150 shows per year, but the company’s founder Pierre Sabbag thinks the market is becoming too crowded.

“There are many events and new festivals every year in Spain, about 900 over the summer – it is too many and obviously some are selling less well than expected,” he says. “Also, too many events are looking to get the same artistes, it’s good for the bands but not for the promoters.”

Columbia-based CKConcerts has promoted rock and metal shows across Latin America, from Argentina to Mexico. Shows it is working on include Slayer, Scorpions and Slipknot at Coliseo Rumiñahui (11,000) in Quito, Ecuador.

Among the promoter’s tours this year are seven-dates by Grave Digger in venues with capacities of up to 1,500, a 14-date tour by Cradle of Filth in venues with up to 2,500 capacity, and five shows by Periphery in venues that can hold up to 1,800.

CKConcerts MD Christian Krämer say they were all successful tours despite the demand for heavy rock and metal subsiding a little in the region, while genres such as reggaeton have grown in popularity.

“Since flights costs are so high to and in South America, the bands need to sell a considerable amount of tickets, otherwise the costs are just too high,” says Krämer.

“Heavy rock depends too heavily on the big names that have been around for decades,” he says. “I’m not sure who will be able to fill the gap in 15 years’ time.”

Lifestyle choice

In November 2016 Live Nation Sweden acquired a majority stake in Sweden Rock Festival (35,000), one of the country’s most successful and longest-running festivals.

The event’s head promoter Martin Forssman says the acquisition has been beneficial, particularly when it comes to booking artistes.

“The market developed and saw major players begin making block offers for the big acts. As an independent company we didn’t really know about those deals and some artistes were only offered to us if Live Nation didn’t want to put a show on with them,” he says.

Launched in 1992, Sweden Rock takes place in Norje, near Sölvesborg, across four days in June. Among headliners this year were Kiss, ZZ Top, Def Leppard, Rainbow, Slayer, Dream Theatre, Amon Amarth, Behemoth and Skid Row.

Forssman says the event sold-out in just a few days and for next year, the site will be extended, although there are no plans to increase the capacity beyond 35,000. “The aim is to minimise queues and make the festival area more comfortable,” he says.

“The community aspect of heavy metal is a big part of the genre’s success, it is a lifestyle, people make friends in the scene and stay in the scene,” he says. “A lot of it is also down to the power of the music, there is an old saying; ‘If you don’t feel it you will never understand it’.”

Wacken Open Air’s Thomas Jensen agrees.“Heavy rock music can get you through hard times, good times, parties, whatever. it encompasses a wide range of music, it can be really complex or simple party sing-along anthems.

“For an outsider it all sounds like noise but it isn’t, there is so much colour in it. That is the reason why heavy rock continues to be so hugely successful.

“It can be a part of your life from cradle to the grave.”

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