Eurosonic Noorderslag 2019 Conference To Tackle The ‘Bloody Chaos Out There’

Panel at ESNS 2018
– Panel at ESNS 2018
Debating whether controversial Dutch rapper Boef should have been allowed to play the festival

The 33rd Eurosonic Noorderslag is about to go down in Groningen, Holland, Jan. 16-19. Pollstar caught up with Ruud Berends, one of the two men responsible for the conference program.
“We’re a bit fed up with the complaining and repeating and doubling [of sessions]. Since 2018 networking is king. We do less panels. It’s more about doing the right panels for the right people,” Berends explained. He and his team doubled the networking space at the Oosterpoort, the ESNS headquarters, last year, and he said another 25 percent of networking space will be available to visitors in 2019. 
The final program for ESNS 2019 includes roughly 150 panels, meetings, keynotes, pitches, presentations etc.  Speakers include Coda’s Clementine Bunel, Paradigm Agency’s Tom Windish, Melt! Festival and Lollapalooza Berlin’s Julia Gudzent, Live Nation’s mein men in Holland and Belgium, Leon Ramakers and Herman Schueremans, The Orchard founder Scott Cohen, Pixies and Agnes Obel manager Richard Jones and many more.
Ruud Berends – Ruud Berends
Head of the ESNS conference and manager of the brand new Music Moves Europe Talent Awards

Berends made sure to include the topics of mental health, gender equality and idealism. The Europe-wide campaign Take A Stand, which encourages social cohesion in society, and promotes awareness and tolerance for all cultures, genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, colours and origins, is represented on panels as well. Well over 100 festivals, live companies and associations have joined the campaign, since it launched in March 2017.

“I really like to trigger debate and results. I want to see optimism and a way forward as far as possible,” said Berends. “We like balance in the conference program. We are a non-profit organisation with a sort of idealistic agenda, and we’re trying to be a mirror for the industry.”
As such, the independent and major companies of both the live and recorded music sector will be present in Groningen, although the lines between what constitutes a truly independent vs corporate business have been blurring for years.
“It’s not black and white anymore. You could say it’s bloody chaos out there,” said Berends. “There are more opportunities for indie artists to play live, but at the same  time it’s becoming increasingly difficult for small acts on small labels to get noticed.
“The basic question is: how do you stand out online in a digital environment on a global scale. You need a hell of a lot of power. You have now six generations you could sell your music to on a global scale, and they’re all going to be somewhere else in the digital environment in each country.
“So you can imagine what kind of power and presence you need to have, what kind of team you need to work on it, and what kind of a budget you need for that.
“The majors have that sort of sorted, it’s what they’ve spent the last 12 months building and investing in. You can see that they are very successful with that, and it’s an increasingly difficult battle for the indies to do the same, because they don’t have the manpower nor the budgets.
“The bigger indies are relatively well off, because they’ve got a larger back catalogue, but the smaller indies have a serious problem, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they are going to try to solve that and deal with it.”
At press time, he was still trying to get the three major labels on board for a panel, “although I don’t expect them to be allowed to say everything that they should. I would like them to, but that’s also one of the issues you have when doing panels: not everybody is allowed to say everything.”
The opening night of ESNS is now a full-fledged European Awards Night, with the European Festival Awards kicking things off, followed by live performances by the winners of the brand-new Music Moves Europe Talent Awards (MME Awards).
The new award replaced the European Border Breaker Awards. This year’s winners include Albin Lee Meldau (Sweden), AVEC (Austria), Aya Nakamura (France), blackwave. (Belgium), Bishop Briggs (UK), Lxandra (Finland), Pale Waves (UK), Pip Blom (Holland), Reykjavíkurdætur (Iceland), Rosalía (Spain), Smerz (Norway) and Stelatronic (Austria).
ESNS has always been on the forefront of promoting European acts outside of their home borders. Its European Talent Exchange Program (ETEP) provides hundreds of artists with festival gigs every year.  
Jorn Baars
– IAMDDB at ESNS 2018
Performing at the Platformtheater

The ETEP principle is as simple as its effective: festival representatives at ESNS check out as many of the 300-plus artists performing in Groningen as possible, and pledge to book their favorite ones for their upcoming festival editions on the spot. Hozier, Birth Of Joy, Milky Chance, Jungle, Seinabo Sey, and Years & Years are just a few of the artists whose careers were kickstarted by ETEP. 
Another is Aurora, who told Pollstar in a 2016 interview:  “I think what ETEP does is brilliant! Helping artists get booked at festivals all around Europe, and also on radio and media. Especially in the start-up-phase when artists need it the most.
“Considering that I have performed at quite a lot of festivals with an ETEP program this year I definitely think I have benefitted from it. I’ve been able to visit so many different countries, and actually have people coming to see us in every single one. I am very grateful.”
Of the 400-plus festivals that are represented at ESNS each year, more than 100 have joined the program. Since last year, festivals from outside of Europe can join the initiative and pledge to book acts that play ESNS for their upcoming editions. So far, Canadian Music Week, Coachella and the South African Oppikoppi have joined the ranks.
Festivals from Russia and Hong Kong are about to join as well, and the expansion will only continue in the coming years, according to Berends, who said, “it makes a lot of sense if you think from a European artist’s perspective.”
The conference’s tech program isn’t called Music Meets Tech anymore, but simply ESNS Tech, and is curated for the first time by Stephen O’Reilly, director at IE Music and managing director of IE Ventures. EPIC, the production industry’s home at ESNS, returns as well, coordinated by Marcel Albers.
There’s only one other face as closely associated with ESNS as Berends’, and that’s the one of ESNS founder Peter Smidt. It was recently announced that Smidt will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s European Festival Awards.
Pollstar has portrait both in recent years. Check out our portrait on Ruud Berends here, and our video interview with Peter Smidt here.
Every year, more than 40,000 music fans visit the ESNS festival, which includes some 4,000 conference delegates. 
Jade Bird at ESNS 2018
Jorn Baars
– Jade Bird at ESNS 2018
Performing at the Doopsgezinde Church in Groningen