Eurosonic Booms Against All Odds

The increasingly popular Eurosonic-Noorderslag weekend looks to have had a particularly good year, with a record-breaking 2,500 delegates expected to attend the annual gathering in Groningen.

Press chief Pieter van Adrichem reckoned the final figure would be about 300 up on last year’s 2,200, the previous record. But the downside to this success story is that the European Union looks to have turned its back on the event.

Having spent three years providing pilot funding for the European Talent Exchange Programme (ETEP), during which time it roughly doubled in size, the EU’s top cultural experts have shown little inclination to continue supporting it.

It’s a situation that leaves Eurosonic cultural director Peter Smidt and ETEP organiser Ruud Berends bemused and frustrated because they feel the programme meets all the EU’s funding criteria.

Since 2003, the year before the pilot project funding began, ETEP has enabled 145 acts from 17 countries to a play a total of nearly 500 shows at about 50 European festivals.

"It doesn’t make any sense because the pilot project was a huge success and surely that is good reason to continue the support," Smidt told Pollstar.

He and Berends have spent the last two years trying to run ETEP on a budget that’s light of the euro 140,000 per annum that came from the EU, something that’s only been possible thanks to backers like The Noorderslag Foundation, the Buma Cultuur organization, the European Music Office and others, who all have dug a little deeper into their coffers to ensure the program continues.

Otherwise, boom could have been bust and ETEP, despite having the overwhelming support of the European live music business, a fact reflected by the rising delegate numbers, would probably have disappeared.

Smidt feels the problem is because the EU cultural budget doesn’t have a separate category for music, as it does for the film industry, and most of the general fund that gets allotted to music appears to go to the classical end of the spectrum.

With the help of the various European Music Offices, he’s continued to lobby for popular music to be given a separate budget, but his experience with the speed of European cultural change means he’s not expecting something to happen overnight.

"They understand what we say about a specific music programme but these things take time to develop. It’s a long road," he explained.

"It sounds a bit arrogant but the [ETEP] programme is really good and it works," he said, puzzled that the application for funding for the 2008 edition was knocked back because those who judge cultural projects didn’t feel it had enough of a "European dimension."

"To me, it’s obvious that they don’t know enough to make a judgment," he said, a view that would seem to be supported by the fact this year’s ETEP will feature acts from nearly two dozen European countries. And more than 50 European festivals will have their talent-spotters in the audiences.

Berends says his aim is for ETEP to give acts from all of the European territories an equal platform, an equal chance of being played on any of 20 European radio stations, and an equal opportunity to get a slot on one or more of Europe’s biggest and best-known music festivals.

This year’s media coverage is larger then ever, with live radio broadcasts in Holland, Belgium, Ireland and Germany and confirmed television broadcasts in Holland, Germany and Norway.

Some of this year’s acts come from countries that can hardly be said to be on the beaten track of European touring, including Lithuania, Bulgaria, Iceland, Estonia and The Faroe Islands.

As a programme for pan-European cultural exchange, Berends believes his agenda ticks all the right boxes for EU funding. He says he and Smidt will be like "men on a mission" until they make their point.

Smidt says he’s determined to maintain ETEP’s profile "on a basic level," but concedes that it will be a struggle to develop it unless the EU’s cultural funding judges start to look at popular music in a different way.

At a time when Smidt and Berends are trying to nurse ETEP through fragile financial health, it’s ironic that one of the acts likely to benefit from this year’s programme is Germany’s Get Well Soon.

The seven-piece fronted by Konstantin Gropper has a debut album called Rest Now, Weary Head!, which was record of the month in major German music magazines including Visions and Spex, both of which have a strong Austrian and Swiss circulation.

Considering the progress that Swedish acts including Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Moneybrother, Loney, dear, Peter von Poehl, and Peter Bjorn and John have made on the back of their Groningen appearances, it’s appropriate that the country was due to be the subject of a special focus aimed at analyzing its national acts’ European success.

I’m From Barcelona (a 23-piece musical collective that really comes from Jönköping), Robyn, Those Dancing Days, Neverstore, Mustach, Detektivbryan, Andi Almquist, and Miss Li are among the acts out to see that the Swedish success continues.

U.K. acts have also done well at ETEP, particularly Franz Ferdinand, Editors, The View and The Magic Numbers, and several of those among this year’s Brit invasion are already making something of a name for themselves on home soil.

Steve Zapp of International Talent Booking (ITB), agent for Editors and The View, and also The Magic Numbers at the time of their 2007 ETEP appearance, has the much-touted Blood Red Shoes on this year’s bill.

Reverend And The Makers, Friendly Fires, The Futureheads, The Ting Tings, Pete And The Pirates, The Dykeenies, Does It Offend You, Yeah? Palladium, The Whip, Lightspeed Champions, and Alexi Murdoch are all getting U.K. press and it’s anyone’s guess who’ll come out best of them.

Denmark’s The Kissaway Trail is also getting favourable mention in the British music papers.

Goose, last year’s ETEP winner with nine summer outdoor slots to show for it, is from Belgium, and the country’s 2008 contingent included Hooverphonic and former K’s Choice singer Sarah Bettens.

Apart from the 200-plus acts playing across the 30 indoor stages dotted around the student city’s centre, the daytime conference programme at De Oosterpoort (January 10-12) was scheduled to include about 100 panels and meetings on a variety of current music biz topics.

The main speakers were set to include Ed Bicknell, former manager of Dire Straits and currently senior VP of Music International for William Morris Agency; Leon Ramakers, former director of Mojo Concerts now acting as its main consultant; Carl Leighton-Pope, agent for acts including Bryan Adams and a fixture as ILMC’s Talking Shop host; and Sean Moriarty, president and chief exec for Ticketmaster.

Sony-BMG Europe president Maarten Steinkamp and Theo Roos, former president of Universal, were among the late additions.