Festival organizer Samuel Taselaar had to move his Nomads Festival three weeks before it was due to take place. That was scaling back considerably – something he has never experienced before. He reflects on the development of the festival scene in Amsterdam in recent years.
I have been organizing electronic music events since I was nineteen. I am now 34. At the beginning of June, for the first time in my life, I made the difficult decision to move a festival. Nomads Festival went from 25 June in the Riekerhaven to 27 August in the Thuishaven and from ten thousand to a maximum of three thousand visitors.
Nomads has been around since 2013. The number of visitors has since grown from 2,500 to 12,000 and the festival has sold out every year. It’s a summery, bohemian and female-friendly festival. Despite the spacious layout, it feels intimate and small-scale. It is our own oasis of electronic music, with a relaxed atmosphere, where everyone feels at home.
Summer of love
When we launched the plans for the eighth edition of our festival in January of this year, our ambitions and expectations were high. Covid was over. We were allowed again and a summer of love banged on the door.
After six months of hard work, we were faced with a new reality: we had sold only 25 percent of the tickets, with no signs that sales would pick up in the short term. Although we often needed a strong final sprint in the last weeks to sell out, we have never experienced such a backlog before. We normally got a view of our break-even point of 75 percent of ticket sales around the same time.
Continuing with our plans without a change of course would be a huge disappointment to visitors, artists and suppliers. Nothing is more painful than a birthday that hardly anyone shows up. On top of that, the financial blow, with an estimated negative result of between 250,000 and 300,000 euros, would have been insurmountable.
What has happened compared to the years before covid? Through extensive conversations with people in the field and internal reflections with the team, I can note eight insights:
1. The event calendar in Amsterdam is overheated and saturated. Festivals have become mass entertainment and, although hypocritical of my mouth, there is simply too much on offer. In addition, people have yet to catch up on all the events, weddings, graduation/farewell parties, etc. that have been rescheduled during covid. Weekend calendars are full, especially in the summer.
2. Daily (working) life is getting more expensive by the day. Some supplier quotes have doubled compared to 2019. For example, the price for road plates went from 12,000 to 24,000 euros. Young visitors struggle with inflation, high rents and expensive groceries. They don’t just pay 50 euros for an entrance ticket.
3. We’re missing a generation. I had two daughters myself during the ‘covid years’ and, if I look around me, many other thirty-somethings with me. You will lose that target group for a few years anyway. We will still arrange a babysitter during Lowlands and Dekmantel Festival, but that’s about it. At the same time, the new arrival of (early) twenties in ’20 and ’21 was not able to get to know our festival. The baton has not been passed on, although that group is precisely the basis for our (future) audience.
4. There is a young generation looking for purpose† If you do not have a clear vision on sustainability, climate, equality and inclusivity, you are not interesting for them.
5. We lost momentum during covid and now foot the bill for two years of almost no online and offline activity. Actively maintaining your community is essential to success. Instagram has proven to be an important part of this. This sounds very old, but on Facebook we had a really strong brand with a large reach and a lot of interaction. We missed the switch to Instagram around 2018-2019, which means that our daily communication reaches too few followers. The algorithm has not turned out to be our friend. I don’t even dare to talk about TikTok.
6. Visitors have no idea of what is involved in organizing a festival, what risks you have to deal with as a promoter and take a lot for granted. This is not an accusation, but it is something to think about. Nowadays people buy a ticket on the festival day via Ticketswap. The need to act on time seems to have disappeared. Great for the visitor, but a disaster for the organizer. The risk of many no-shows due to rain or other factors remains a constant dark cloud over your budget.
7. The electronic music landscape is changing. A new sound is emerging that is faster, louder and darker than what we program. Our festival is none of those things. We fully believe in our artists and the lineup, but when there’s less demand for what you’re offering, there’s a gap you have to accept.
8. We miss a constructive dialogue with the municipality. The organizer is afraid, for fear of reputational damage, to be vulnerable to its visitors in times of setback. The municipality does not know what to do with the proliferation and sometimes frustrates young, independent initiatives that bring innovation with expensive and unnecessary regulations.
We’re lucky. We can move to a new, suitable location. The new capacity is perfect for the number of people we expect. This will be our last party straight away, the financial risks have become too great for us. After three fruitless years, the enthusiasm has also taken a serious dent. Hopefully some of the financial damage will be repaired with the prom.
But there will be many event organizers who cannot simply move and who, in the event of a complete cancellation, will have to file for bankruptcy.
I hope that an open and honest conversation about the current challenges helps. To better understand the new event climate and ensure that we move back to a healthy landscape. With fair prices, a pleasant experience for visitors and organizers and above all: beautiful music to dance to in the open air. Because that’s what we all do it for.