Eric van Eerdenburg, also known as Mr. Lowlands, is a archetype festival director. He brings to the job a vast amount of experience and a familiarity with the challenges that are part of the handling of a large scale music event. At the same time he maintains an awareness of both the ups and the downs experienced by both artists and audiences.
Over decades Lowlands has contributed to the modern DNA of music festivals and paved the way for other, younger festivals. Besides the key element of putting bands and artists on open air stages, festivals have developed into distinctive live entertainment format, enriched with an increasing number of elements over and above just live music. Eric van Eerdenburg shared some of his insights with ETEP.nl, outlining his concerns and commenting on a variety of issues including cultural, economic and social components.
Text: Manfred Tari
ETEP.nl: Please explain what the research project ‘Lowlands Saves Lives’ is all about?
Eric van Eerdenburg: We run a programme called Lowlands Science. Universities get the opportunity to use Lowlands as a laboratory for their scientific research. Universities love to carry out research in a festival environment: You can collect a lot of data in a relatively short time. And people behave more naturally in real life than in a scientifically arranged situation. In this specific research two different methods of learning reanimation were tested for effectiveness. One with the use of an instruction app, the other more traditionally set up in a class room.
ETEP.nl: Lowlands was hit by bad weather this year. Even though sales of 60.000 tickets were reported upfront, later media reports mentioned a figure of 55.000 festivalgoers. How do you prepare your event for weather incidents?
Eric van Eerdenburg: We only had bad showers during the day on Saturday. It was not as bad as the press wanted everyone to believe. There was a slightly higher amount of tickets exchanged on Ticket Swap. But all tickets were re-purchased and there were 60.000 people in for the full 3 days.
We prepare for possible problems by thinking long term. We invested a lot of money in keeping the site as dry as possible when bad weather occurs. Good drainage, good asphalt roads for people to walk on. We want to keep the site as comfortable as possible for our audience. When things get worse then all safety measures are taken against lightning striking a tent or object. We know exactly at which wind speed our buildings must be taken down or when people should leave the site. There are different scenarios we prepare for when a storm strikes us really badly.
ETEP.nl: In the last twenty years European festivals experienced growth in visitor figures. What are your assumptions for the general situation in the near future?
Eric van Eerdenburg: The biggest threat is the constant rise in ticket prices. The agents keep pushing for more money for their acts. Competition between festivals in the world market has leads to this rise in artist fees. Young fans that are students or job starters just cannot afford to buy a ticket in the near future. Going to a show or festival is going to be more and more an elitist thing I fear. The business side of music runs likes a hyper-capitalistic system. The agencies keep pushing for more… and there is no sign that it will stop in the near future. And there is no escape. As a promoter you have to go along with ‘the way things are’ or duck out.
ETEP.nl: ‘Live After…’ is a joint initiative by some prominent festivals and concert and club venues, bridging the gap between them in the Netherlands. For the mission ‘Live After Lowlands’ there are concerts scheduled for more than 50 artists, even of current (Black Midi) and former (Hozier, My Baby) ETEP artists that actually played on this year’s edition of Lowlands. How have festivals recently evolved as talent incubators?
Eric van Eerdenburg: It’s a conscious strategy of our bookers to use the festivals we run in helping an artist career grow. It’s a project between club and headline shows and festivals, aiming to get an act to relate to more fans. Lowlands is not just about the main stage; it’s also about the smallest stage. You have to help build acts from the start. And it’s beautiful to see acts grow over the years. Tame Impala started at the smallest stage and within ten years they have become an important headliner at Lowlands. Another example is how De Staat took the Prodigy’s spot after the tragic death of Keith Flint. We decided to give the headline spot tot De Staat and raised their production budget so they could present themselves as a competitive headliner. It worked. They blew the roof off!
ETEP.nl: Lowlands is also a participant in ETEP, this year taking on five ETEP-Artists. When thinking of Europe, how do you see Europe as relevant for your event?
Eric van Eerdenburg: ‘Alle menschen sind brüder’ on festivals. There is no other place where the European principle comes to life such as on a festival site. It’s a gathering of likeminded people united through culture. Diverse culture. There is a lot of traveling between the countries to visit festivals. There are acts from all over the world playing in many different countries. Where the business side of things is really tough, the social side of festivals is still very close to the hippy attitudes when it all started back in the sixties.
ETEP.nl: Do you promote Lowlands abroad and is the number of non-Dutch-festival goers growing?
Eric van Eerdenburg: We do promote internationally. We tend to sell out fast to our loyal fan base. When we sell out fast the number of tickets available to foreigners is minimal and the numbers shrink.
ETEP.nl: Popular music in terms of funding or support compared to classical music or cultural heritage is still not that high on the political agenda in most European countries. Would you say pop culture should receive more consideration and awareness from politicians and policies?
Eric van Eerdenburg: Absolutely! Festivals are a very effective way to reach out to a broad range of people. And it should be done in a simple and effective way. My idea is that we should be able to give a discount of €15 to all student cards holders and for every ticket sold to a student cardholder we should get €30 from the EU offices. This way you get in a young audience. And with the money what was subsidised we can run cultural programmes on our festivals that are hard to stage commercially.
ETEP.nl: The UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared at Glastonbury, the US-Rap Artist Cardi B teamed up with the US-politician Bernie Sanders and Kanye West had some sort of liaison with Donald Trump, while The 1975 even recorded a song with Greta Thunberg. Do you have any sort of recommendation in terms of democratic engagement by pop culture activists for political issues or politicians?
Eric van Eerdenburg: We have staged quite a few politicians at Lowlands. The prime minister Mark Rutte this year, in the past Frans Timmermans, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Jesse Klaver, Kajsa Ollongren and many others. We also staged an election debate for the national elections. We provide platforms to OXFAM, Amnesty International and a big foundation supporting refugees. We have 12 refugees working and learning in our site crew, we have food trucks of former refugees. Together with Rabobank we run the Brasserie 2050, the restaurant that serves the food of the future. We do our best to operate as sustainable as possible. We run a science programme together with our National broadcaster VPRO and magazine New Scientist that also bring social sciences to the stage. I feel Lowlands is an activist in a subtle way. A platform for awareness, debate and for a fair democratic practice. We have no political side. We have a certain attitude…we try to act as we talk. And inspire our visitors to do so too.
ETEP Artists at Lowlands were: Fontaines D.C., girl in red, Black Midi, Flohio, Sea Girls