Sea Dance was forced to leave the country of Montenegro, and switch locations permanently, after the country’s ministry for tourism said it intended to withdraw the funds the festival has been receiving since launching in 2014. Promoters contend this has been done without any legal basis
It is very common for festivals in Europe to receive state funds in exchange for boosting the local economy and giving the host country international exposure, helping with city marketing and attracting tourists. One of the largest, Sziget in Hungary, for instance, receives more than a million Euros each year.
These are commercial agreements, as the contracts show (Pollstar was offered to see the contract between the makers of Sea Dance and the Montenegrin government), clearly separating them from state aid, where no exchange of value is expected.
The Montenegrin tourist minister Goran Djurovic, however, referred to a EU law that limits state aid, when voicing his intentions to cancel funding for Sea Dance – which would, of course, seal the fate of this year’s edition, scheduled to go down on Buljarica Beach, Montenegro, Aug. 18-20.
As the festivals promoters state on the festival’s website, “We are forced to react to the ministry of economic development and tourism’s announcement that there is no legal way of providing financial assistance to Sea Dance Festival and point out that this is not true. The de minimis limitations that the Ministry mentions in the announcement apply to state aid. However, we once again unequivocally assert that the state’s support for Sea Dance Festival is not aid, but a partnership aimed at the realization of a music festival, with the objective of boosting the local tourism industry and furthering the promotion of the destination.”
Sea Dance is created by the team behind Serbian major fest Exit. It became the team’s first festival held outside of Serbia in 2014. In 2022, the team around EXIT founder and CEO Dušan Kovačević organized 26 events in 10 countries throughout Europe and the world.
Many of those festivals maintain commercial partnerships with state institutions in numerous countries worldwide, including several EU countries. Among these is the Sea Star festival in Croatia, held in Umag last weekend, welcoming more than 40,000 people with substantial support from the City of Umag and the Croatian Tourist Board.
Croatia is therefore among the countries the team behind Sea Dance is eyeing for its potential exodus. Turkey or Bulgaria are other alternatives.
It may be a case of Djurovic trying to find legal grounds on which to withhold funding, when the real reasons could lie elsewhere, people with knowledge of the matter told Pollstar.
Djurovic already announced publicly that he was looking to bring a new live event to Montenegro. Sea Dance might be seen as unwanted competition, but that remains speculation.
What isn’t speculation, however, is the fact that the agreement between Sea Dance and the government of Montenegro is of a commercial nature. It is not charity, nor state aid. Hence, the EU law limiting state aid cannot apply.
The agreement was a commercial partnership celebrated by all involved when it was established 2014. Since then, Sea Dance festival has brought tens of millions of euros to the Montenegrin tourism economy.
The document adopted by the government back in 2014 predicted that Sea Dance would contribute over €100 million to Montenegrin tourism by 2025, and “significantly contribute to the improvement of business, not only in the tourism sector but also the overall economy.
Sea Dance brought some of the world’s biggest music stars to Montenegro, including The Prodigy, Jamiroquai, David Guetta, Skrillex, Underworld, Fatboy Slim, John Newman, Sean Paul, Robin Schulz, Boris Brejcha, Tale of Us, Sven Väth, Nina Kraviz, Amelie Lens, Maceo Plex, Richie Hawtin, Rudimental, Róisín Murphy, Hurts, Lost Frequencies, Nile Rodgers, Mahmut Orhan, as well as the biggest regional acts.
During the past nine years, “unbreakable bonds with local and international audiences” have been built, according to promoters, “cultivating friendships, creating memories, and developing emotions that will reverberate along Montenegro’s Adriatic coastline for a long time.”
“We are sorry to disappoint our many fans in Montenegro, but unfortunately, it is impossible to hold Sea Dance festival on the Montenegrin coast in these conditions. The festival has already received offers to host this year’s edition in several countries, among them Croatia, Bulgaria, and Turkey, all thanks to the reputation and income that Exit’s festivals bring to the destinations where they are held,” said Kovačević.