Belgian Wolf In The Sheep Pen

Belgian promoter Herman Schueremans has "pissed off" people in the French live music biz by crossing the border and setting up a twin for Rock Werchter.

News of the July 4-6 festival and a couple of specials on the historic Grand-Place d’Arras, all co-promoted with Roubaix-based promoter France Leduc, has apparently ruffled some of the locals.

Salomon Hazot of Nous Productions, organiser of the 6-year-old Rock En Seine Festival in Paris, referred to Schueremans as "le loup dans la bergerie" ("the wolf in the sheep pen"), and complained to the French live music union.

Jules Frutos of Alias promoters and president of Prodiss, the 300-strong union of people working mainly in the French live entertainment business, says everybody feels bad about Arras but it’s Europe and nothing can be done about it.

"[Schueremans] even wanted an exclusive for 200 kilometres and that would have included Paris, which is absolutely crazy," Frutos said. "He also approached acts direct, and we don’t think that’s right, but some of them referred him to back to us or their usual French promoter."

The Live Nation Belgium chief unveiled the new Main Square Festival d’Arras, a 25,000-capacity event that will share acts with Werchter July 3-6, at a March 26 press conference at La Rapiere, a restaurant on Grand Place.

"We are all pissed off but there’s nothing we can do about it. He has no clue about the French market," Hazot told Pollstar, predicting that the Arras festival won’t survive longer than two or three years.

"Why does he want to do this? He has every show in Belgium and now he comes to France, where there are maybe six or so main promoters. Does he want all of that too? Now he will look like an idiot while he learns about the market."

Hazot said Schueremans is overpaying for acts and his ticket price is far higher than anything the French provinces have experienced.

Rock En Seine comes at the end of August, two weeks after Schueremans and Leduc have a Metallica gig in Arras, 120 kilometres (75 miles) to the north.

The nearest festivals in the French outdoor calendar are Les Eurockéennes de Belfort and Solidays, both over the same July 4-6 weekend as Arras and Werchter. Eurockéennes booker Herve Casteran says Solidays is closer and likely to provide more competition than Arras.

"As we are right on the border there are Swiss festivals that are much nearer than Arras and are much more competition," Casteran explained.

Festival director Jean-Paul Roland looks to have resigned himself to the arrival of Arras but still takes a positive slant.

"The competition between festivals has always existed and today it is getting stronger within Europe. There are 20 festivals competing for acts over the same weekend," he said.

Roland said he’s taking a positive approach because he believes Les Eurockéennes has "several assets" to help withstand the competition, including the history, ticket price, beautiful scenery of the Malsaucy peninsula and the lineup, which includes Massive Attack, The Offspring, Moby and Ben Harper.

At press time it wasn’t possible to get comment from Solidays, which is also in Paris. It’s announcing this year’s bill with an April 7 press call.

Although a few French promoters are clearly upset with Schueremans and unlikely to send him a box of the heart-shaped Coeurs d’Arras chocolates for which the city is famous, it’s hard to find any as vocal as Hazot.

Christel Martinez of Corida, which has a five-show Radiohead tour including a date at the Arras festival, said she doesn’t want to "discuss the pros and cons" of a Belgian promoter setting up shop in northern France.

"I don’t consider it an invasion – Arras is next to Belgium and so he’s only just inside the border," said Alain Lahana of Le Rat des Villes, drawing attention to the fact it’s not unknown for French promoters to do shows on Belgian soil.

Main Square Festival d’Arras has already announced Radiohead, The Chemical Brothers, Mika, Sigur Rós, Underworld, Justice, The Kooks and Digitalism, which are all playing Werchter as well.

Schueremans and Leduc, a former Eurockéennes booker who has previously promoted Depeche Mode, Muse and Tryo on the Arras square, also have a Celine Dion show the following day to get the maximum use from the production.

At the press conference, they responded to Hazot’s "le loup dans la bergerie" remark, which had been reported in the French media. Schueremans said any of the "herd" of French promoters could have partnered with Leduc and plugged the gap in the festival market in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region but have never done so.

"She waited as a woman waits for her husband who returns late every evening. And one day, she didn’t want to wait any more," he told French journalists.

As for the sheep, the regional daily La Voix Du Nord quoted Schueremans as saying that being stuck in the pen together may have made the country’s music business a little bit incestuous and too precious about its market.

The other acts playing Werchter include R.E.M., Kings Of Leon, Lenny Kravitz, Counting Crows, Kaiser Chiefs, The Verve, Jay-Z, Slayer, Moby, Neil Young, Kate Nash, The Hives, KT Tunstall, Roisin Murphy, Editors, Mark Ronson, Beck and Deus.

Rock En Seine (August 28-29) has so far confirmed R.E.M., Kaiser Chiefs, Amy Winehouse, The Kills, Raconteurs, The Roots and Kate Nash.