Since last weekend, several attempts at explanations have been put forward in various Belgian and French media: “concert jamming”, “problems with the supply of technical equipment and shortage of qualified labour”, even “bad sales”. In addition to testimonies at the Ronquières Festival, our sounding in the sector in Belgium confirms a difficult general situation due to several simultaneous factors, even if cancellations seem to be more frequent in France.
Barely returned, already gone
“In the euphoria of being able to reorganize concerts, festival organizers have done everything at once, so providers are having difficulty keeping up. Some have barely returned from seven or eight days at a festival, barely have time to do laundry, before leaving for another“, locate Sebastien Chartiermember of the board of directors of theAssociation of Professional Performing Technicians (ATPS), relay with freelancers in events. “Following this, the equipment takes a little hit, because as soon as it comes in, it starts again“, relates Mr. Chartier, citing maintenance and transport problems.
“A large part of the technicians left the profession during the Covid“, told us this carpenter who took over the building himself, making less of an event. In some cases, the conversion took place due to a lack of sufficient aid during the health crisis. “We had already warned at the government level that we had lost manpower who would not return. They didn’t want to understand. There, we are faced with the fait accompli: there are jobs that are done with two thirds of the necessary personnel, because there is no one else“, figure Sébastien Chartier.
In connection with the lack of staff, he also points to the problem of new recruits. “In the new ones, there are some who come out of school, who have never done an internship because of the Covid, and who find themselves on a job without ever having worked in the field. We’re afraid they’ll be a little gross, because they’re trained in a hurry, and that’s not the most fun“, he judges about their training.
For Mr. Chartier, a possible improvement in conditions would depend on less busy programming, but also on better consultation between festivals, which, after the coronavirus, have rushed headlong into extended versions in “XXL” duration. without being fully aware of the consequences for the technicians.
Jean-Marc Pitancean active member of theTSPA he too, an independent lighting designer among the team of stage managers at Palais 12 in Brussels, goes in the same direction: “For example, we propose an extra festival day (or even an extra weekend, in the case of Tomorrowland), but that means that more infrastructure must be there in advance. We inevitably dismantle later, with less qualified personnel or in smaller numbers, so that brings a lot of infrastructure problems, but also safety“, he continues. “It’s true that in Belgium, we have an enormous fleet of equipment compared to the size of the country, but at the same time, there are so many events that overlap or are added that, in the end, the quantity that we have is not enough“, admits Mr. Pitance. The phenomenon is also observed among “riggers”: “With the big concerts this summer at the King Baudouin Stadium (Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay), or the Rammstein concerts in Ostend, the people who help locally with the installation of the structures no longer know where to turn“, reports the one whose agenda is filled until November.
“At the end of March, we thought that we had already achieved a number of services equivalent to a normal year.”
The limited and overwhelmed staff as well as the jamming of programming are also noticeable in the rooms. “At Palais 12, at the end of March, we reflected that we had already carried out a number of performances equivalent to a normal year, with all the postponements and new things. All these new things, you have to present them to the public too. Otherwise it’s money thrown away“, exposes Jean-Marc Pitance.
The immediate future does not look any calmer, according to our interlocutor. “Until the end of December, we will be in the postponements. Until the holidays, it will remain intense. After January, we will see how it evolves from a health point of view, if we are given confinement or not. October-November, you have to be careful, we’ll see. Imagine that we have to ban large gatherings again, it will put people on the straw“, he predicts.
An apnea that leaves traces
“My image is like a diver who stays underwater for a very long time, then comes back up and suddenly takes a huge breath.“, philosopher the lighting designer who is also a musician. “For the moment, we are in this enormous breathing, we swallow oxygen, because we were almost asphyxiated. Afterwards, it will calm down, but that’s not why the breath and pulse have returned to normal. We just came close to drowning“, he compares.
Whether for Romeo Elvis or others, Mr. Pitance notes the financial cost of rescheduling dates. “We have to find a team, we have to rent a truck, a ‘tour bus’, … A tour that was well organized, well set at a certain price, now they have to compensate for that with the price on the new date , and often it is times two. But who will pay for that? It’s not the organizer. He’s already paid the band. The ticketing is already done, because people have kept their ticket, they are not going to pay again. That’s where it gets stuck too“, reasons the technician. “It all comes down to production. But an artist cannot say: ‘I am not coming to play at your place because it costs too much’. It becomes a game. I believe everyone usually tries to make it go no further with lawyers“, comments the professional globally.
One artist, thirty salaries
“Roméo Elvis is an artist, but behind it is machinery, a financial plan, an organization“, he puts it into perspective. “Any artist: at a certain point, it’s expensive, because behind it, it rotates maybe thirty people who work on the project, so thirty salaries, plus the artist’s fee, plus the technique, the transport, hotels, catering. On a tour, it’s a budget with a few zeros.”
In a case like that of Roméo Elvis, the member of the ATPS committee also extrapolates on possible harmful competition, given the news of artists from a similar niche, with a similar target, like Stromae, or even his sister Angela. “Is it financially viable for an artist like that to come on top of all the others? At some point, when you see the prices, you have to have a solid wallet to afford it. It’s fine to organize concerts, but you have to have an audience come“, slice Jean-Marc Pitance.