It Is Happening In Groningen: A Look At ESNS 2020

Flohio played ESNS in January
– Flohio played ESNS in January
The UK artist got nine European festival shows confirmed in summer as a result of that performance

In times when some industry folks wonder where the headliners of the future might be found, it is worth looking to Europe, and at one event in particular that puts an incredible amount of artists onto stages each year: Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) in Groningen, the Netherlands, which takes place for the 34th year, Jan. 15-18, 2020.
And it’s not just about the 350 artists performing in the city over four days, but also the European Talent Exchange Program that’s an intrinsic part to the ESNS formula: 129 festivals participating in ETEP send their teams to Groningen, who book the artists they like right on the spot. In 2019, a total of 371 festival shows by 159 acts from 27 countries have been booked as a result of their performance at ESNS. Fontaines D.C. (Ireland) currently lead the list with 14 shows, followed by Flohio and Black Midi (both U.K.) with nine confirmed shows each.
Since the start of ETEP in 2003, the program has facilitated 4,144 shows by 1,531 artists in 37 countries. Artists benefitting from ETEP include Agnes Obel, Ásgeir, Ben Howard, Calvin Harris, James Blake, MØ, The Editors, The Kooks, The xx, Years & Years, Aurora and more.
Generating business for artists and their teams is the main motivation behind ESNS, or as head of the ESNS conference and ETEP Ruud Berends puts it, generating “return on investment for the artists, for the professionals, for the buyer, the seller, the venue promoter, the label, the manager, the publisher. For anyone interested in working with talent you can work with, build up, and make money on.” The quality of delegates at ESNS, and the atmosphere, in which they can meet to network while enjoying good food and drinks, is what Berends is most proud of, and doesn’t take for granted.
Fontaines D.C.
Siese Veenstra
– Fontaines D.C.
Leading the current ETEP list

Next year’s conference program includes keynotes from ie:music Artist Services, the marketing team behind Robbie Williams’ 13th Studio Album The Christmas Presence, a Deezer keynote about a new way to pay out streaming royalties, as well as a festival panel that features representatives of major European festivals including Sziget (Hungary), Paleo (Switzerland) and Exit (Serbia). 
The annual agent’s panel, moderated by Allan McGowan, features Geoff Meall (Paradigm Agency), Alex Bruford (ATC Live LLP), Beckie Sugden (X-ray Touring) and Maria May (CAA). 
Greg Parmley, head of the ILMC, will interview the Dickins family on stage, including ITB icon Barry Dickins, WME’s Lucy Dickins and Jonathan Dickins, founder of September Management. Other keynote interviews feature Solo Agency founder John Giddings and Cooking Vinyl’s Martin Goldschmidt and Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman.
More than 150 acts had already been confirmed to play ESNS 2020 at press time, including Wurst (Austria), Arlo Parks (UK), Amnesia Scanner (Finland), French 79 (France), Sylvie Kreusch (Belgium) and Sinead O’Brien (Ireland).
The festivals head of program Robert Meijerink told Pollstar: “The music business has changed, it’s more fast-paced. We’re living in an era ruled by the internet, were everyone can discover their own so-called emerging acts and play their favorite music on whichever device they want. The way we organize Eurosonic, however, hasn’t changed that much. 
“We are a showcase event that  focuses on European music, and I noticed that European music in general has become stronger. Pan-European artists are being increasingly recognized and discovered, not only by festivals, but also venues and promoters outside of Europe. That’s a significant change. Our goal is, of course, to promote these new acts from Europe, and put them in front of a professional audience.”
The most important asset artists have at their disposal in order to impress the pros is the live show. And not just the promoters and agents on site, but the entire combined audience of 33 European radio stations ESNS cooperates with. To enable artists to play the best show possible, ESNS hires out what seems to be the Netherlands’ entire event production arsenal. 
And why not, January is still a rather quiet month for live events, so Berends and Meijerink have all the choice in the world. Trucks from all corners of the country are arriving in Groningen one week in advance to prepare more than 40 stages in buildings that are mostly not used as music venues throughout the year.  
“We’re dedicated to making sure that artists can play a proper live show with a good quality PA system on a proper stage. Every year we find new venues, which seems impossible after all these years, but it still happens. For instance, it was great fun discovering the art school as a venue for next year. The director said he had always dreamt of his art school being used as a Eurosonic venue,” said Meijerink.
Glass Museum a two-piece modern jazz duo from Belgium, played ESNS this year, a show that was “very important for us, because there were many curators, many festivals there,” according to the band’s drummer Martin Grégoire, who explained: “We had the chance to go play the Czech Republic and Romania just by being seen by those festival curators. It’s important for the independent scene to go to that sort of festival. It’s a chance to be seen by pros, and to get a chance to go play outside your home country after that. Belgium is very tiny, at one point you will have played every festival. You can’t just live off the Belgian scene, so you need to go outside.”
But it’s not just artists that find business in Groningen. According to Meijerink, “teams are being built. An agent might be looking for promoters in different territories. Maybe a publishing or record deal is signed. All of that is happening in Groningen.”