‘Local Identity Means Huge Business’: Q’s With Cruïlla’s Jordi Herreruela

Cruïlla festival director Jordi Herreruela.

Cruïlla celebrates its 13th edition this year, with a lineup led by Placebo, The Offspring, Sigur Rós, Tash Sultana, Alt-J, and a strong selection of Latin American music from the likes of Rubén Blades, Bomba Estéreo, Omara Portuondo, and many more.

We caught up with festival director Jordi Herreruela, to talk about the upcoming Cruïlla edition, the state of business in Spain, and more.

See: Pollstar Impact International Honoree Jordi Herreruela

Pollstar: What’s your state of mind from a business standpoint right now?
Jordi Herreruela: I’m quite optimistic. I think we all were worried about what would happen after the lockdowns, if people would be scared to come back to enjoy live music together. But the opposite is true: people really want to enjoy this experience. They want to go to festivals [and concerts], and we are growing as an industry – in terms of revenues and the overall number of people that come to festivals, especially young people. It’s something even soccer is struggling to do. The music experience is closer to the young audience’s heart. In Spain, music and soccer are the two forms of live experiences that are massively moving audiences, but I think that music is taking over soccer in terms of popularity, which was impossible to imagine only a few years ago.

With all that in mind, how do you approach 2023?
Our industry is transforming. The big players are buying festivals, promoters, integrating venues, ticketing, booking agencies. Independent promoters will probably have some difficulties in the future. It’s all part of globalization, but culture doesn’t scale as well as other industries. There is a local entity that could be in a global structure. I’m quite focussed on explaining that this local identity is a big business.

Isn’t there a chance for independent promoters in harnessing that local identity? Or will they all eventually be bought up by the corporations, but left to operate independently?
I’m not sure what model will survive. What I am sure of, is that it will be really difficult for the independent promoters to book international acts. And that the global partners will only understand and respect the local market, because it’s a huge business. And I would like to be involved in shaping that point of view in the global agents: They don’t have to respect it because of some kind of heritage, but because it’s a huge market.

01 Cruilla Juan Lius Guerra Xavi Torrent 1
Juan Luis Guerra is pictured performing at Barcelona’s Cruïlla 2022. The festival is one example of how the Spanish live biz is back in full swing. Cruïlla neither had to change its ticket price nor capacity thanks to its mostly local audience, which constitutes a very enticing offer for local sponsors. (Photo by Xavi Torrent)

You said, ‘culture doesn’t scale as well as other industries.’ Can you break that down a bit more?
With businesses like Amazon or eBay, you can buy products in the same way all around the world. But the cultural identity does not scale in that manner. There is more diversity than ever, just look at what is happening with Latin Music, or even with film production in South Korea? There is more diversity in the cultural offer than ever. You can see how most of the French festivals have French artists on the top of their lineups. It’s the same in different countries all around Europe, and also in South America. I’m not sure the big businesses based in the U.S. fully understand what is happening in Europe and South America right now, how they are [discovering] their own identity, and what a huge change this means for the future [landscape of music and culture].

It also means you need to understand the local audience. You cannot use the same language, the same communication, the same tone in different cultural contexts.

You have created a foundation called Barcelona Music Lab. Can you explain what that is?
Barcelona is well known for its music festivals. We’ve got a strong industry, but we are all working on our own projects, and none that involve all of us. That sometimes makes it difficult to stay up to date about the latest in technology, innovation, and sustainability. What we are trying to create is an umbrella project that brings together all projects the entire industry is working on in these areas. Barcelona has a lot of scientific innovation centers that work within music, for instance, the Music Technology Group [at Pompeu Fabra University], the creators of the Reactable, used by Björk and others. They are working a lot with music and AI these days. We also have another innovation centre called Eurecat, they created the system bought by Dolby Atmos. We got the Barcelona supercomputing Center, one of the important computing centres in Europe. There’s a lot of innovation happening focused on the music industry, but we have to pool all that activity in one umbrella project. With so many technological changes, 5G, blockchain, AI, we cannot think our industry won’t be transformed.

Moving on to this year’s Cruïlla. What would you like to highlight about the 2023 edition?
We are transforming from a pure music festival to a total artistic experience. We introduced a comedy stage four years ago. Last year, we included an artist stage, seeing how many great and important illustrators Barcelona has. We created something akin to classic rap battles, but for illustrators, who are competing on stage in real time. We want to increase this activity around art. Last but not least, we remain very focused on sustainability and innovation. In 2019, we communicated that we are a zero-plastic festival. Now, we are going to focus on becoming a zero-waste festival. We are trying to be one of the big festivals that are working without any fossil fuels. We’ve launched a start-up competition in order to look for new solutions.

In terms of innovation, we introduced an immersive experience, a five-sense experience. You will be able to experience a concert up on the stage with the band, and you will have the sound that the band has on stage. You will see and hear the audience, it will smell like a live show, and you can drink a beer if you like. We call it a 5-D live music experience. experience is five, the loud music experience. We first presented in at the Mobile World Congress, it was a big success, so we decided to repeat it at Cruïlla. The lineup is great too, of course.

How big is the capacity of the festival this year? And did you think about increasing it after the lockdowns?
We kept our capacity at 25,000 per day. We’re usually welcoming 75,000 to 85,000 people each year. When we launched Cruïlla [13 years ago], we took two strategic decisions we’ve never strayed from until now. One was to focus on our local audience. 95% of our audience is local. The second was that we didn’t want to be the biggest, but the best, to have the best audience experience. To facilitate this experience, we still think we have to keep the capacity at 25,000 people per day in a venue of more than 100,000 square meters. You can get close to the stage if you’re like an artist; you don’t have queues at the bars and the restaurants; you can go with your kids wherever you want, and you don’t feel the pressure of a huge audience.

As far as I can tell, you also did not increase your ticket price. So, in light of the price increases Europe is facing right now, how do you make the economics work?
The entire supply chain has gotten more expensive, it’s true. In our case, an aspect that looked like It’s really important for the sponsors. If you are a brand working in Spain, you won’t get the same feedback if you invest in an international festival, where half the audience returns home after the event.. At this point in time, we’re actually experiencing a growth in sponsorship. Our audience is attractive for them because it is made up of their day-to-day customers. For the local brands, it is a good incentive to invest in local events. That’s how we have been able to maintain our ticket.

Latin Music has always played an important role on the lineup of Cruïlla, would you agree with that statement?
Yes. Musically, our essence is diversity. We try to explain that our festival is a mirror of the city of Barcelona. Cruïlla in Catalan means meeting point, or crossroads. Barcelona welcomes people from all over the world, and we have a huge latin community, not just in Barcelona but all around Spain. So, we’ve always had Latin artists, not just now. We have programmed Calle 13, Tego Calderón, Gilberto Gil, and others. Since our beginning, Latin American artists have been an important part of each edition.

Last year, we were contemplating how to do our first festival after the lockdown. As you know, we kept active during lockdown, but most of the concerts had to be seated. During that time, a song I used to listen to when I was a kid kept coming back to me, a Rubén Blades song called “The Song of the End of the World”, “La Cancion Del Fin Del Mundo.” Blades is an amazing storyteller, and he talks about a nuclear war escalating between the United States and Russia, leaving humanity with five minutes to live. And he asks the audience, what they will you do in these five minutes? And he says, whatever you’re currently thinking? No! You have to dance! And a salsa song begins to make the people dance in these last five minutes of life. I hadn’t heard the sons since I was a kid, and it came back to me during COVID. Funny how the brain works. So, last year, I decided that we were going to do a festival to dance with the fathers of Latin American music, Rubén Blades, Juan Luis Guerra, to create the proper atmosphere. We were probably one of the few festivals, where people were dancing in couples, and really well, actually.

This experience was so good, and we had such a great relationship with Rubén Blades that we decided he had to come back. This year, we have a night with Rubén Blades, Omara Portuondo, Bomba Estéreo, Los Van Van, and more. So, we have a strong representation of Latin music at the festival, but probably not the artists you were expecting. I think we have to use this moment to give the original Latin music and Latin artists the spotlight they deserve.

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