Politics And White Lies

It’s unclear if the record-breaking 2,650 delegates turned up to Eurosonic-Noorderslag because a record-breaking number of politicians would speak, but it may be only a matter of time before a parliamentary public relations person picks up on the idea.

Vladimir Sucha, the European Commission director of culture and communication who led the posse of suits that turned up for the conference’s opening, said his department is always keen to “stimulate discussion on creative policy matters.”

The other politicians on the panel seemed to be the only ones who knew what he might have meant, but it was that sort of afternoon.

A direct question as to why Eurosonic-Noorderslag and the European Talent Exchange Programme don’t benefit from the EC’s largesse would likely have been met with a vague answer. The politicians and even some heads of huge music industry organisations practised the art of talking a lot and saying very little. Worse still, there was a language barrier.

Judith van Kranendonk from Holland’s ministry for education, culture and science tried to bond the panel and the room by bringing her own touch of political cool to the occasion.

With the help of some notes, she quoted the closing lines of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” but still got the words wrong.

It was hard not to feel sorry for her, as van Kranendonk and the one she was standing in for, culture minister Ronald Blasterk, are keen supporters of Eurosonic and ETEP. They’re partly why the programmes have survived some tough financial times.

The Dutch government financed the first ETEP in 2003 – although it made it clear that the responsibility for future funding should lie with Europe – and also helped it secure euro 140,000 of EU cash per year for three years. That was a pilot initiative and further EC funding hasn’t been forthcoming.

Sucha was vague when Marcel Albers from Flow Records in Holland tried to stimulate discussion on the shape of the cultural programmes and how the money gets allocated.

As such, the panel “The Role of Music As A Part Of The Creative Industries In The Boosting Of Europe’s Creative Potential” was long on title, long on rhetoric but short of the substance that could hold the attention of a room full of younger music industry execs.

Cultural cooperation between EU member states has been policy since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. The annual budget is now close to euro 600 million ($771 million), although pop and rock doesn’t seem to get as big a slice of the pie as some of the more highbrow musical pursuits.

Before Eurosonic-Noorderslag 2009, Smidt said he was pleased to attract so many politicians to this year’s gathering because he felt it was an opportunity for them to see firsthand how it could be further improved with some EC cash.

European commissioner Jan Figel was among them, making a flying visit to Groningen en route to a “private meeting” with the independent music companies at MIDEM, which were no doubt waiting to beat him up over some aspect of Sony-BMG.

Smidt had already won a psychological battle in the sense that the EC-sponsored European Border Breakers Awards (EBBAs), which were previously held at MIDEM, have shifted to Groningen.

The EBBAs, which took place Jan. 15, were screened by Dutch national television at prime time Jan. 17.

Six of the 10 winners of the 2009 EBBAs – The Ting Tings, Lykke Li, The Dø, AaRon, Alphabeat and Kraak & Smaak – all played at last year’s ETEP.

The EC appears to have determined Eurosonic a more suitable platform than MIDEM. Figel turned up for the big night, which will likely be broadcast by other European Broadcasting Union stations, and was likely pleased with the exposure the EC awards will be getting.

Previous EBBA winners that have played ETEP include Wir Sind Helden, Myslovitz, Sarah Bettens, Gabriel Rios and Jose Gonzales.

As for ETEP 2009, the U.K.’s White Lies’ show at Huize Maas Jan. 15 – although well-received – may not have influenced the 123 international festivals (59 of them ETEP members) as much as the act’s debut album topping the British charts a week later.

Over the years, ETEP organiser Ruud Berends has delivered some not-so-veiled criticism of London agents for jacking up the prices of acts that attract a lot of interest in Groningen.

He said it sometimes works to the benefit of non-U.K. acts that hadn’t been so popular at Groningen but get the gigs because they don’t have spiraling fees.

White Lies’ agent, Paul Bolton from Helter Skelter, still looks to be sitting on a seller’s market. He’s already upgrading the venues on the band’s upcoming British tour and the media buzz grows daily.

More than 18,000 people, including thousands of university students based in Groningen, were able to pick from a list of 259 artists that appeared across 40 stages over the Jan. 15 weekend.

Eurosonic-Noorderslag 2010 will be Jan. 14-16. Earlybird registration will be available May 1.