Anarchy At ILMC

The press release says “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The ILMC,” although those who regularly attend the annual British conference may not feel the two are mutually exclusive.

It seems the rambling, stoned drivel of 2008’s hippie-themed conference will be followed by what IQ – the conference journal – describes as a weekend of “spitting bile and fury.”

The March 13-15 gathering has a punk theme billed as “Anarchy At ILMC,” which IQ has illustrated with graphics of spiky-haired people with safety-pins through their noses – presumably on the verge of spitting bile.

The magazine’s conference preview says the next year “will mean getting down, dirty and back to basics,” almost echoing Jeff Craft’s words at Live UK’s “The Summit” conference in October.

At that gathering, which visiting Spanish promoter Neo Sala described as being “very much like ILMC in its early days,” X-Ray Touring’s Craft said the whole live music business was due for a shakedown.

He said artists are taking an increased interest in their live business affairs. What was once an item on a tour budget settled by a record company is now getting closer scrutiny as acts want to know what function people are performing and whether they’re worth their pay.

Craft’s words touch on what this year’s ILMC will really be about – an economic crisis likely deeper than anything anyone at the conference will be able to recall.

Given the theme, some young punk may try to say “fuck” more times than Aussie promoter Michael Chugg, although it’s unlikely they’ll succeed. But it’s “bollocks” to suggest this year’s conference will be about anything other than the global economy.

As a pound sterling approaches parity with a chocolate coin wrapped in golden foil, U.K. promoters have already started moaning about the strength of the dollar and looking at booking fewer U.S. acts.

Chugg will likely have a phrase to describe what the Aussie dollar is now worth against its U.S. counterpart – likely his way of saying “not very much at all.”

Predicting how long the downturn will last and how deep it will cut is baffling business analysts, who take differing views on whether it’s possible to spend your way out of recession or even borrow enough money to pay your debts.

Radio phone-ins suggest many in the U.K. are confused by the crisis, wondering where all the lost money actually went and where the new money is coming from.

Many of the steps various governments have taken are unprecedented, traveling economic paths that have never been traveled before.

Meanwhile the news gets even gloomier. A Jan. 4 report in The Sunday Times said corporate Britain is facing a “refinancing timebomb” in 2009 as more than £50 billion of bank debt expires. Refinancing it looks problematic.

Investment bank Credit Suisse is predicting “a significant amount of corporate distress early in the year.”

Music retailer Zavvi, one of the U.K.’s largest music retailers, collapsed on Christmas Eve. All of Zavvi’s product came via Entertainment UK, Woolworths’ distribution arm, which went into administration in late November.

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King says the global economy is in its worst shape since World War I. He said it two months ago and things have only gotten worse since.

According to industry figures to be published later in the month, British retailers believe that recorded music sales will show a fall of up to 10 percent for 2008, as global industry revenues plunge to levels last seen in the first half of the 1980s.
Live Nation chief Michael Rapino said history proves a recession doesn’t stop people from going to shows, although – at the time he said it – history arguably hadn’t seen a recession of this order.

Rapino is sticking to his guns, telling Pollstar, “It’s still business as usual, even in these unprecedented times.”
Many believe a recession doesn’t stop certain people from going to certain shows, usually by the sort of topflight talent that LN regularly promotes. But signs indicate that smaller acts are starting to suffer.

Belfast-based promoter Gerry Shepherd reckons audiences for mid-range acts have fallen by 20 to 25 percent over the last six months.

A survey by Live UK showed many British promoters, especially those operating as one-man bands, taking a serious look at the risk factors because many can’t afford to take a big hit. Others said they were actually cutting back on the number of shows they run and are trying to reduce their already meager overheads.

Even the optimists are cautious: AEG Europe president and chief exec David Campbell is reportedly very pleased with pre-Christmas sales for London O2 shows by acts including The Killers, Metallica, AC/DC, Depeche Mode and Pink, but feels that fans have already begun to question and compare ticket prices.

Other bands including a reunited Blur have had excellent sales. However, by the time of ILMC there may be another list of shows – the ones that stiffed.

The upside for Campbell, who would have the government regulate “those scoundrels in secondary ticketing,” could be that fewer fans will be inclined to pay the hugely inflated prices some Web sites charge.

If the live music boom has resulted in firms behaving with what some see as the sort of complacency the major record companies showed in the late ’80s and ’90s, the next year or two will see a similar down-sizing of the live business.

Craft warned at “The Summit” that everyone will need to justify their positions. Those getting more than their contribution deserves will be pushed aside. He said this alone will benefit the whole industry.

So the economic slump, a bit like sending punks to boot camp, will result in the industry reemerging as a leaner and fitter model.

However much time is spent discussing the economy, the only real barometer the ILMC – along with MIDEM and Eurosonic-Noorderslag – can offer may be whether people are already saving money by cutting down on conference-hopping.

Numerous conference discussions have discussed how many summer festivals the European market can stand. Soon it may also be a matter of how many conferences it can stand.

In 2008, there were about 900 delegates from more than 50 countries at ILMC. This year, at least those who come from the U.S. or Europe will be pleasantly surprised by the number of British chocolate coins their dollars and euros can buy.

The panels already confirmed have a familiar ILMC ring to them, with the one about new blood coming through the industry looking like a revamped “Meet The New Boss.”

Next year it may be “Meet The New Boss Who Made It Back,” as any young people developing a new company on borrowed money might find it tough going in 2009.

ILMC spokesman Chris Prosser says the “Emerging Markets” panel will likely focus on China, a vast and relatively untapped territory that’s already attracted the attention of Live Nation and AEG.

The Chinese may give some clues as to how many major acts are likely to play there in 2009, and some punk may ask if Bjork is likely to be among them.