The CEO of Croatia's Hideout Festival shares his cautious optimism on the future of festivals in Europe, the recovering years to come and new challenges following Brexit’s implementation.

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Author: Rob Hunt

Picture Credit: Gary Brown

Mark Newton is the owner and organiser of Hideout Festival in Croatia. He is also one of the directors at Broadwick Live, a London-based entertainment company that until recently owned a portfolio of 25 international festivals.

Mark, you’re the organiser of Hideout Festival, which takes place in Croatia and is attended by thousands of people from the UK. When we think about the challenges that the festival industry is going to face in the future, environmental issues are impossible to ignore. At Hideout, how do you approach that challenge to become a more environmentally responsible festival?

For us as promoters and for our British festival-goers who travel over there, we’re very keen to make the festival as green as possible. But I suppose, when you’re going into different countries, they have different policies for things like waste disposal and reusable objects, which makes it trickier to implement our ideas. It’s something that we’re working on constantly though, trying to improve it.

For example, one thing we’re looking at is partnering with charities that can offset people’s carbon footprints. There’s an initiative that consists of us offsetting the carbon footprint of all the artists and staff members travelling from the UK. So for every person who travels out, we’d plant “X” amount of trees to balance it out. And then we’d make it an option for customers as well. So if you buy a ticket, there’d be a tickbox to offset your travel to the festival.

And speaking of challenges, the response to COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the entire music sector over the past year. How do you evaluate the support that the industry has received since the start of the pandemic?

I’d say the government here has been hit and miss with what they’ve done. If you look at it from the top, the furlough scheme* is great, the self-employment support scheme is great, and the Arts Council grants are great. And I’m completely grateful for all the support that we’ve had. But I know friends and colleagues who’ve slipped through the net, particularly freelancers.

Some people haven’t been allowed to make a claim, just because of how their tax return is structured. And there are so many people in the music industry that work like that. It’s a gig economy. You’ve got a lot of great industry associations over here, like the Association of Independent Festivals, the Night Time Industries Association and others, who are really having to lobby hard in government to try to get these people covered. I feel like our industry is among those that have suffered hardest, if not the one that’s suffered most of all.

* If a company is unable to operate or they have no work for staff to do during the pandemic, employees can be put “on furlough” which means they keep their jobs and continue to receive up to 80% of their wages from the government.

Hideout Festival @ We are Europe
Hideout Festival © Gary Brown

The UK government recently announced its road map to ease the restrictions put in place to contain COVID-19. All being well, live events will be able to resume without social distancing from 21 June. Has this given the festival sector a boost?

Yes, the past couple of weeks, with the road map, has given us all a light at the end of the tunnel. People are having better ticket sales than we’ve ever seen before, because there’s that pent-up demand. Since people don’t even know if they’ll be able to go on holiday yet, they’re choosing to buy three festival tickets instead, because at least they know they’ll be able to go to them.

But the difference between venues and festivals is that festivals are riskier. If you have one bad year, you can’t recoup what you’ve lost until the following year. Especially in the pandemic: if you had a bad 2019 then some festivals potentially won’t get any money back until 2022. I think the damage is probably only going to really come out in 12 or 24 months’ time. People will say, “Well I took advantage of this, but now I’ve got a loan that I can’t pay back.” Or, “I had a great summer of events in 2021, but everything’s returned to normal now and I’m in a bad situation”. So I’ve got optimism, but cautious optimism.

Mark Newton @ We are Europe
Mark Newton © Mark Newton

Can you see any lasting trends or changes for the better resulting from the adjustments that the events sector has had to make in response to the pandemic?

What I have seen is quite a lot of smaller boutique events popping up. Quite a lot of events that haven’t existed previously. Artists and promoters are coming up with concepts and giving them a bit more of an intimate feel. First and foremost, it’s good because I think that people will feel more comfortable going into smaller capacity events to begin with. And I just feel that people are going to get the opportunity to try things out a bit more.

I was speaking with a venue owner, and we were saying that there are going to be a lot of opportunities for promoters going into venues. Because where they would typically have been booked up with artists coming from Europe, the USA or the rest of the world, those artists potentially can’t come. But soon we’ll have the venues open. So it’s potentially going to be a catalyst for new promoters, exciting new UK talent and new concepts that will potentially drive a resurgence in British bands and DJs coming through.

Hideout Festival @ We are Europe
Hideout Festival © Gary Brown

But as if the pandemic wasn’t enough, UK musicians will now have to pay for country- specific visas and equipment carnets to travel in Europe following Brexit. How do you see this affecting UK festivals and the music industry in general?

It’s just going to be a headache, it’s just going to be more red tape that we have to deal with. For festivals here, there will potentially be costs to artists coming into the country to pay for visas. I feel that it’s vital for the government to set up some sort of visa exchange programme with the rest of the EU.

Because fine, if you’re a stadium band coming over from the US, you can afford all this paperwork. But then you’ve got the UK bands who were used to popping in and out of Europe to earn a little extra money and satisfy their fanbase with a live show. That’s the part that’s going to suffer. It’s just unnecessary red tape that’s going to affect the grassroots side of the industry more than anything else.

And lastly, what particular impact do you see Brexit having on Hideout Festival?

Hideout is actually at a bit of a unique advantage in that, although Croatia is in the EU, they didn’t join that long ago. They haven’t fully migrated over to an open-border system yet. So we’ve always had to pay for visas for our artists and we’ve always had to apply for visas for our staff. In a negative situation, the unique positive for us is that the visa and work permit side of things is already in place and has been since we started the festival 11 years ago.

This article was conceived as a result of our first call for contributions that aimed to address the challenges and changes that festivals and cultural entities may face in the future. Thanks to the contributions we received, we were able to create the Future(s) of Festivals feature series, that this article is a part of. We’re open to new proposals for our next call for contributions, available here.

On the Author

Rob Hunt is a culture and sports translator and writer.

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