A Tale Of Three Cities

While it’s unclear if Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Campus conference (Sept. 24-26) will become a major international event, the first staging of it did offer interesting insight into German regional politics.

Along with Cologne, Hamburg is now in a three-way inter-city scrap to hold an annual music business gathering capable of attracting international visitors. Cologne once hosted Popkomm and now stages c/o Pop. Berlin would have had Popkomm if the 2009 edition hadn’t been canceled due to lack of interest.

“It was never expected that [Reeperbahn Campus] would sell a lot of tickets in the first year,” German music business journalist and Campus conference co-organiser Manfred Tari told Pollstar. However, Guido Neumann from Hamburg Marketing, which pumped in a lot of cash to get the initiative off the ground, admitted to being disappointed by the number of foreign visitors.

A gaggle of about two dozen journalists were there, flown in from various points of the globe. About the same number of international panelists attended, along with a little more than 250 paying delegates – all but a handful of whom were from Germany.

Another 500 or so delegates from various music organisations and European music export offices were invited to help swell the numbers and at least give the impression that the inaugural Campus conference was already a pan-European gathering.

Hamburg Marketing says it had been planning to at some time add a conference to the increasingly popular 4-year-old Reeperbahn Festival. The cancellation of Popkomm caused it to grab the chance to do it this year.

Sources close to the city’s marketing organisation say the catalyst was an approach from people who had spent months working on Popkomm, although the disaffected Popkommites say it was the other way around and the initial approach came from Hamburg.

It raises the question of how Popkomm will react to some of its team helping to launch a rival event, and where those helpers’ allegiances will lie if the Berlin event resurfaces next year. At the moment it may well be that Popkomm 2009, which was said to be “postponed to 2010,” may be further postponed to 2011.

The problem for Germany – Europe’s biggest music market – is that without Popkomm it doesn’t have even the vaguest claim to hosting an annual international music business event. The Netherlands has Eurosonic-Noorderslag, the U.K. has ILMC and France has MIDEM.

Despite the French gathering’s numbers being hit by the recession, unlike Popkomm it has opted to battle through hard times.
The danger for Germany is that its need to have an international industry platform could result in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne – and maybe Frankfurt and Munich – all competing to fill the gap.

Rather than creating the major event the country no doubt warrants, regional rivalry may result in it ending up with four or five minor ones.

The planning of the Reeperbahn Campus conference didn’t start until it became clear that Popkomm wouldn’t be happening, which gave Hamburg a lead time of about three months. The collective effort involved showed the city’s capable of pulling together to hold an international event.

Of all the cities that may be vying to stage an international music business gathering, Hamburg looks as well placed as any of them.

Hamburg Marketing isn’t afraid to spend when it comes to backing major events. In 2007 it dropped euro 1 million ($1.47 million), helping fund the German leg of Live Earth and said it was “money well spent” in terms of marketing.

Neumann has confirmed Hamburg is already looking forward to the fifth Reeperbahn Festival and the second Reeperbahn Campus, with the 2010 dates confirmed as Sept. 23-25.

First Mayor Ole von Beust, the head of the city state’s government, showed the political will is there by turning up at the opening of the Reeperbahn festival and conference Sept. 24.

Local promoters including Karsten Jahnke, FKP Scorpio, Inferno Events and the Warner Music-owned Neuland Concerts have cooperated to strengthen the Reeperbahn Festival’s bill.

It also has a geographical advantage over Berlin, where some promoters have suggested delegates need a Porsche or a helicopter to get around the clubs and see the acts.

In Hamburg, the 20 or so venues that take part are within walking distance of each other, dotted around what is still probably the most famous red light district in the world.

One of the local names for the area is “the genital zone” and another is the Die Sündige Meile (or the sinful mile).
The distance between three of the venues on Spielbundenplatz – Schmidts Tivoli, The Docks and Molotov – can be measured in steps.

Most of the conference panels were in German, thereby avoiding the nonsense of having a roomful of Germans communicating in what’s presumably their second language. As the number of foreign visitors increases, so will the number of English-speaking panels.

One of the panels in English featured Eurosonic creative director Peter Smidt, Reeperbahn Festival managing director Alex Schultz, Linnea Svensson from Norway’s Oya Festival, Dave Pichilingi from the U.K.’s Liverpool Sound City and FKP Scorpio chief Folkert Koopmans discussing festival development.

It was an apposite choice, as the Reeperbahn Festival numbers were about 30 percent up on last year. It’s gone from about 7,500 per night in 2008 to about 10,000 per night this year.

Schultz told Pollstar that another encouraging trend is the number of people buying three-day passes and the fact that they’re buying earlier, many before the lineup has been announced.

Smidt told the festival session that building an audience’s trust is the key to developing a festival, particularly the urban variety where the entertainment is spread across 20 or so clubs. The outdoor variety often depends on the pulling power of its headliners.

The 120-plus acts helping build Reeperbahn Festival Sept. 24-26 included Animal Kingdom, Biffy Clyro, Das Pop, Deichkind, Dinosaur Jr., Editors, Emiliana Torrini, Fight Like Apes, Jose Gonzalez, Oh No Ono, Reverend & The Makers, Seasick Steve, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour and WhoMadeWho.