There’s an island in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies that’s unmapped and can only be found by those who already know where it is. In some sense, that holds true for London’s International Festival Forum.
If you haven’t been invited before, you won’t know when or where it takes place. Chances are, you’ve never heard of it, yet, it seems to be the most important booking event for festivals and agents outside of the U.S.
ILMC head Greg Parmley, who also runs IFF, is aware of this: “Given the number of artists that get festival bookings from there, I think it’s the most successful showcase even that no one knows about. It’s a really weird thing.”
This is largely by design. Parmley and his team don’t invite any press (apart from Pollstar). And while he would never share the monetary value of bookings made at IFF, one can gauge that a lot of business is done at the annual gathering in London’s Camden district just by looking at the list of attending festival promoters and agents.
The agencies put on showcases of their hottest talent at night – Parmley was particularly impressed by The Stickmen Project (One Fiinix Live), flowerovlove (Wasserman Music), THE GOA EXPRESS (ATC Live), Panic Shack (UTA) – but most deals are done during the day in the countless conversations happening around IFF.
This year especially, delegates seemed to have stacked up their schedules with all-day back-to-back meetings, and Parmley thinks “that’s a reflection of the fact that people know that next year we’re not going to be out of the woods. We are going to be in a global recession, touring is going to remain challenging and difficult for certain artists and markets. From the number of cancelled tours at the moment to the increasing costs for international artists to tour, and to come over to play festivals, the need to secure a lineup for next year is probably more pressing than ever.”
This may also explain the record number of 800 delegates, who traveled to London from some 40 countries for the eighth annual IFF, Sept. 27-29. Parmley said the overall mood was “super positive.” It usually is, but the fact that many promoters arrived fresh from having their first festivals in three years, combined with the determination to make 2023 a great year for live, created a special buzz.
“IFF has always been a very efficient way of buyers and sellers meeting at the right time of the year to start planning the summer season for the year ahead,” Parmley added. “It felt like the pace of that process was even more amplified than in a normal year.”
Parmley also went into some of the key takeaways from this year’s IFF, starting with an understanding that seems to have been common among delegates, namely to play it safe and route tours selectively.
“Pricing was certainly another key topic, as well as mental health. The number of artists, who recently backed out of tours, citing mental health reasons, shows the pressures of touring. And it’s not just the artists, it’s everybody in the industry. The entire industry went from 10 miles an hour in January, February, to 150 miles an hour for the whole of the year, and no one has actually taken a pit stop yet. There’s a lot of really tired people out there that have been working flat-out to get the industry back up and running this year, to meet the demand that’s there. There were questions over whether that’s sustainable for another 12 months without companies being able to re-staff and re-skill to a point where others can take breaks.”
Coming out of COVID, it would have been nice to have a clear runway for a couple of years, time to lick one’s wounds and recover. Instead, this industry is now facing an energy crisis, rising costs and crippled supply chain “with lots of things lacking on the road,” as Parmley put it.
“That said,” he concluded, “I think the festival industry is one of the single most creative industries on Earth. If you look at what is achieved in various greenfield and city sites, it’s often nothing short of inspirational. This industry is offering experiences that you can’t get anywhere else in the market, putting on artists at the top of their game in amazing locations. It’s not going away. Caution is definitely the key watchword – it’s not going to be the easiest of years next year, but I don’t think anyone thinks otherwise anyway.”