Talking ‘The Road To Recovery’ With ESNS Creative Director Robert Meijerink

5kHD performing at Stadsschouwburg last year.
Siese Veenstra
– 5kHD performing at Stadsschouwburg last year.

Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) will take place as a digital-only event, Jan. 13-16. A total of 188 artists from all across Europe are going to present themselves in pre-recorded digital showcases.
A number of key speakers have also been announced for the conference part, which runs under the motto, ‘The Road To Recovery’, including Scumeck Sabottka (MCT Agentur), Emma Banks (CAA), Neil Warnock (UTA), Michael Chugg (Chugg Entertainment) and many more.

Robert Meijerink
– Robert Meijerink
ESNS Creative Director

Pollstar reached out to ESNS’s head of program and booker Robert Meijerink to get the lowdown on this unique edition, which marks the 35th in the events history. During normal times, this would have been reason for great celebration. However, the team decided to focus on what has sustained ESNS for all this time, which are the countless amazing artists constantly emerging in Europe – even, or maybe especially, during this crisis.

“We survived storms,” Meijerink remembers, “Years ago, Europe was hit by a tropical storm that forced artists to stay in their home countries. Planes were cancelled. But there’s no doubt about it that this year has been the greatest challenge by far.”
The travel restrictions currently in place are the biggest obstacle to ESNS’s most important mission: the circulation of European talent within Europe. “Once we all noticed that this was not going to be a limited period, about one month into the pandemic, we realized we had to figure out what our opportunities were,” he said.
The team around Meijerink and conference director Ruud Berends had designed three scenarios. The first one included a physical festival with a limited capacity. The second scenario would have been a mixture between digital and physical.
“The third scenario, in case the chance of a lockdown was still in the air, was 100% digital. We talked about option two until late October, but realized we had to shift to option three, because it was no longer realistic,” Meijerink recalls.
The final decision to go all-digital might have been made in October, but Meijerink had been preparing for the third-case scenario since May at least. After all, organizing a digital-only event is completely different on every level – from the conference to the showcase festival to networking possibilities. 
“How do you gather all the content in audio and video, how do you promote it? Can we translate every single aspect of Eurosonic digitally, is it even necessary?
“The realistic answer, of course, was ‘no’. So, we looked at the most valuable aspects of Eurosonic and decided, we had to move on with the conference, continue to be the platform for festivals, promoters, music professionals in general and the media, shine a light on the current state of the music industry, its immediate and long-term future, and also present live showcases,” Meijerink explained.
ESNS traditional keynote interview will still take place this year, albeit virtually.
Nienke Matt
– ESNS traditional keynote interview will still take place this year, albeit virtually.
Last year, agent icon John Giddings was interviewed by ILMC’s Greg Parmley.

And he continued, “I think in a year when most artists were sitting at home, they used the time to record, improve, experiment and focus on creating music. We therefore felt a very strong reason to continue our duty.

“We will present a platform designed in close cooperation with [Dutch broadcaster] NPO 3FM and the [European Broadcasting Union] EBU, where we can showcase all the confirmed artists.”
Of course, the number of artists performing this year is much lower than the usual 350-plus, but it’s still a lot, considering the circumstances. 
“We have to make as many people in Europe as possible aware that new music is still being made by yet unknown, upcoming acts. That’s the Holy Grail of ESNS,” said Meijerink.
ESNS 2021 is subtitled, ‘The Road to Recovery’. The majority of panels won’t necessarily tackle the status quo, but rather the future state of the (live) music sector in general. 
Panels and discussions on all kinds of topics will be presented on the ESNS website during the day, for paying delegates only. From 8 p.m. until 11.30 p.m. CET, there will be free-for-all digital showcases, 15 minutes max, from all participating artists, shown on four different channels. 
The number-one aim remains: connecting artists with professionals that can help them take their careers to the next level. The digital presenting format offers the potential to reach a much wider audience across Europe than the physical event ever could.
Meijerink is proud of and grateful for all artists, who decided to contribute and commit to performing a digital showcase. Many recorded themselves, others had help from their local export offices, if their country has one. 
The magic of live music on the face of an audience member.
Siese Veenstra
– The magic of live music on the face of an audience member.
During Georgia’s performance at Huize Maas.

In Italy, for instance, the music export office organized a venue in Milan, where artists were able to record. In Belgium, the youth radio station Pure FM assisted in similar ways, two of the country’s well-known venues, the Botanique and AB, agreed to open their doors for the purpose.

“We could not organize this festival without these kinds of examples, without partners who are willing to be and stay positive, look into opportunities, and take it from there. I’m very grateful, really,” Meijerink said.
One of the most important catalysts in ESNS mission of circulating European talent for many years has been the European Talent Exchange Program ETEP, where the promoters of some 130 festivals check out as many performances as they can and pledge to book their favorites for the upcoming festival season.
Despite all the uncertainties surrounding this year’s summer season, ETEP will take place again during ESNS 2021. There won’t be a physical ETEP meeting, given the circumstances, but promoters will still be able to submit their choices digitally.
A lot of the artists, who got selected in last year’s ETEP obviously didn’t get the chance to perform at the festivals they had been chosen by. 
“They were left empty handed, we felt responsible to present them again. So, we will also present special webisodes of artists who performed in 2020 during the week, kind of mini-documentaries about all kinds of artists from Europe. 
“All of these artists will be part of ETEP 2021, because only very few of them had the opportunity to perform at a festival in March 2020,” Meijerink told Pollstar.
And he concluded, “We were aiming to celebrate 35 years of Eurosonic Noorderslag in 2021, and we decided not to do it, because it’s not the time to celebrate. Instead, we focused on our goals, we decided to underline our mission, the values of Eurosonic Noorderslag.”