Chinese Whispers

With so many in the German music industry voicing opinions on what should happen to Popkomm in 2010, C/O Pop in Cologne – a similar conference – did at least provide the opportunity to ask Dr. Henning Hai Lee Yang what the future holds.

A direct descendant of Chinese sage and fortune-teller Yang Chiu Pun, the apparently far-seeing doctor and conference delegate may have cast some light on whether the event will remain in its present guise in Berlin, shift across the city to Tempelhof Airport or suddenly pop up in Hamburg or Frankfurt.

Her input on the matter is unknown, but Popkomm organisers insist it will stay where it is, or – more accurately – where it would have been if it happened. They moved the 2009 gathering from Berlin Messe to the former mail sorting office just around the corner from Potsdamer Platz.

Others say it should be moved to Tempelhof, once known as Hitler’s favourite airport and now a venue for conferences, exhibitions and the occasional concert.

Rumours about Hamburg are based on locally based promoter Karsten Jahnke already having Reeperbahn Festival in the city, a more substantial musical offering compared with the usual Popkomm bills. Popkomm director Katja Gross insists the Hamburg talks are merely rumours.

Jahnke is on holiday and was not available for comment, although the story may get some substance from the fact Hamburg’s marketing isn’t shy about spending money when it comes to attracting major events to the city.

In 2007 it lost euro 1 million helping fund the German leg of Live Earth but said that in marketing terms it was “money well spent.”
The story about a switch to Frankfurt seems to have sprung from a remark Marek Lieberberg – who’s based there – made to Musikmarkt magazine, which drew a sharp rebuke from VIP News on the grounds that the top German promoter doesn’t even go to Popkomm.

Lieberberg clearly isn’t alone. Many German national and festival promoters are of the opinion that Popkomm doesn’t do anywhere near as well as Holland’s Eurosonic-Noorderslag gathering in Groningen.

At Eurosonic all the venues are within easy walking distance of each other, whereas in Berlin – certainly when Popkomm was at the Messe grounds – one German promoter has said you need “a good Porsche” while another suggested taking a helicopter.

One of the advantages of Cologne is that it’s such a small city that many locals refer to it as “the biggest village in the world.”

Those lamenting the cancellation of this year’s Popkomm include Michael Bisping of A.S.S. Concerts, a longtime supporter of the event who has questioned the decision and the way it was made.

He told Pollstar it’s sad if Germany, the world’s fourth-largest market, can’t sustain such a convention. He also disagreed with the organisers’ claim that this year’s Popkomm had been “postponed.”

“If a promoter doing an annual festival had to stop it for poor sales, I don’t think he would say it’s postponed until next year,” he said.“I can’t believe they’re going to go away and come back in 12 months time with exactly the same format as this year and in the same place. That’s what postponement means to me. Surely something will change.”

Ralph Christof, who co-founded C/O Pop in Cologne in 2004, the year Popkomm moved from Cologne to Berlin, said he has always looked at his event as an alternative to Popkomm rather than a competitor. But he did admit that the late walkup that swelled this year’s delegate numbers to more than 1,000 may have had something to do with the cancellation of Popkomm.

“It may have been that some of them looked for somewhere else to go, particularly if they’d ever been to Popkomm when it was in Cologne.”

Dieter Gorny, founder of Popkomm and who many believe is behind this year’s cancellation, told C/O Pop delegates the conference was pulled because of the Internet.

Apparently that’s because piracy has caused such poverty among the record companies that they can no longer afford to send delegates.

Christof says this year’s C/O Pop Aug. 12-16 finished with a small profit. More than 20,000 showed for the evening shows at the city’s opera house, the playhouse, the outdoor space between the two and a dozen Cologne clubs.

Gorny, now one of the heads of Bundesverband der Phonographischen Wirtschaft (the German IFPI) held a major stake in Popkomm until he sold his 51 percent to Viva Media just before the move to Berlin.

The meanest of the conspiracy theories behind this year’s cancellation claims he’s only trying to devalue the conference in order to get it back at a better price.

The event belongs to Messe Berlin and Gross said she believes it has no intention of selling it.