Benn Buys Into Festival Market

U.K. festival promoter Melvin Benn and former Doors manager Bill Siddons have stepped into a volatile Norwegian outdoor market and are trying to revive the fortunes of Hove and Quart festivals.

Although both events have had their time at the top of the country’s festival ladder, a calendar clash – and the fact they’re only 60 miles apart – drove them to bankruptcy.

Benn, who promotes the U.K.’s Reading, Leeds, and Latitude festivals, has bought the Hove Festival brand from the official receiver.

The festival started in 2007, when former Quart Festival director Toffen Gunnufsen left the Kristiansand event and set up a new one with financial backer Morten Sandberg. It lasted two years and a daily crowd of 12,000-plus made it one of the country’s best-attended festivals. But it was still losing money and tanked with debts of 15 million Norwegian kroner ($2.2 million) in December.

Sweden’s SEB Enskilda bank is chasing Sandberg for personal debts of 11 million kroner ($1.6 million), according to leading Norweigan business paper Finansavisen.

Sandberg told the paper he’d taken bad advice on some stock investments and would have to live with the consequences.

Benn, who has already set up offices in Oslo and Arendal, told national financial daily Dagens Næringsliv he intends to bring some stability to the festival.

The seesawing fortunes of Hove and Quart have been making newspaper headlines for more than six months.

Benn told Pollstar that Hove is already one of Norway’s biggest festivals and he believes it could be grown steadily to become one of Scandinavia’s biggest.

It’s the first festival outside of Britain to join Benn’s London-based Festival Republic, which is owned by Live Nation-Gaiety Investments, although the company has always made it clear it intends expanding beyond the U.K.

“I understand he has issues elsewhere,” was all Benn would say about the reports of Sandberg’s private financial woes, but he also pointed out that very few festivals make money in their first two years and Hove has at least built a platform.

“If you don’t stay on top of things, then things tend to get on top of you,” he said when asked his views on why Hove went under.

Benn intends to keep much of the Hove team, including Sandberg, which means Gunnufsen will stay on as talent buyer and former Roskilde Festival chief Lief Skov keeps his consultancy role.

The bill for the June 22-25 gathering is still being finalised but The Killers, Slipknot, Franz Ferdinand and Fleet Foxes are all confirmed.

The other “phoenix rising from the ashes” story is at Quart. Arild Buli – a real estate investor and one of the festival’s founders – has bought the brand out of receivership.

Last year the festival canceled and called in the receivers when it became obvious that staging the event was financially impossible.

A year earlier, the Kristiansand council was forced to stump up 12.9 million krona ($1.84 million) to keep the festival alive. Crowds had plunged from 12,000 per day to 5,000 per day, partly because the first Hove – which had taken place a week earlier – had won the battle for the crowd.

Buli, who stopped working with Quart four years ago because he felt the festival was suffering from council interference, said he doesn’t feel the calendar clash with Hove will be so important this year, as he doesn’t believe the bills will appeal to the same people. Quart (June 30 to July 4) is one week later than Hove.

“It came about because we know someone who knows someone, who knows someone else and so on,” was how Buli explained how Siddons came on board.

Along with financial partner Trond Nyhus, a construction company chief with a passion for music, Buli made contact with Siddons and then flew to Los Angeles to meet him.

Siddons is now running Quart’s booking from the U.S., although Nyhaus and Tom Zutaut are advising on what should suit the local Scandinavian market. Slash & Friends, Marilyn Manson, and Placebo will be on the bill.