The chance to attend the thirty-fifth edition of Eurosonic Noorderslag - the influential European showcase festival for new music - in the middle of a pandemic is not an event to be turned down, even when attendance is purely by virtual means.
As a member of the press a massive advantage remains that logistical challenges extend to the activity of placing yourself in front of your laptop as much as making sure the little wifi sign in the corner remains visible. It is easy-peasy, but without it, you are not there.
An advantage of virtual festival attendance is that you don’t easily end up with sore legs, and you don’t spend time sourcing food and drink, allowing more time and energy for the bare essentials – the music showcases and conference panels.
And contrary to some conventional festival participation, you arrive on time, ahead of each set. Now, if that isn’t an added bonus point, then it is hard to determine what is. When arrivals and venue check-ins involve no more than your ability to navigate around your laptop keyboard, as smoothly as possible, the overall experience becomes extremely convenient.
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Meanwhile, there is no denying that the lack of direct, spontaneous interaction and engagement with others is a thing, but there is a way to emulate at least some of that. You can speak to, and share the experience with other attendees, in real time, on messenger apps. The creation of group chats increases the sense of being there in person, which in reality also represents the way you would have communicated with others a lot of the time, had you been there on location, spread out at different venues. And how do you get to hang out with people after you have seen or heard something amazing? You go and hang out in the Virtual Bar.
The digital Dutch extravaganza just happens to be great. The depth and range of new talent is as mind-blowing as it has ever been, and even if each showcase lasts no more than fifteen minutes (three songs), there is enough time to form an accurate impression of the band or artist. Performing mostly at a venue in their home country, it quickly becomes apparent how much effort is invested in each performance.
Daily conference panels work well online. Hosting 80 panels and sessions with more than 290 speakers over four days is admirable, whether it is online or in person. Addressing pretty much every topic from Brexit and EU debates, music videos, mental health, streaming and the challenges of tackling live music in a pandemic, there is something to stimulate every industry professional, and there is about 4000 of them, from more than 120 countries.
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The Music Moves Europe Talent Awards Ceremony is important. A timely scheduled Friday treat, it offers the suitable dosage of glitter required a day before Eurosonic wraps up the year. Hosted by Melanie C, who does very well, at virtual platform the Nite Hotel, the EU prize for popular and contemporary music focuses on celebrating rising artists, who reflect the current and future European sound landscape.
Sixteen artists were shortlisted, and the eight chosen winners include Ukrainian rap artist Alyona Alyona, Irish indie band Inhaler, Italy’s singer songwriter Julia Bardo, pop act Lous and the Yakuza from Belgium, Spanish fuzz psych-rock group Melenas, soul and R&B artist Rimon from the Netherlands and Finland’s folk-pop duo Vildá.
Engaging with the virtual Groningen festival layout has definitely been an experience worth repeating, should a similar situation in the future require it. Vibrant, relevant, a definitive key player, it is wonderful and reassuring to have been at this innovative festival venture, which felt as inclusive and inviting online as it would have been to be present on location.
It will be interesting to see the extent to which other festivals might follow suit because there is definitely plenty of inspiration to be taken from Eurosonic 2021.
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Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Jorrit van de Kolk + BBC
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