ESNS Exchange Editorial: Fifty Lab - A Laboratory as a Music Hub


The business model for showcase festivals is defined by certain standards, usually includes concerts for music fans and a conference programme for music professionals. Fifty Lab is a bit different, running a concept that expands the typical scenario for showcase events. Staged and located in Brussels since 2019, the latest edition of Fifty Lab took place on 16-18 November 2022.

Fifty Lab celebrates pop culture in the centre of the Belgian capital of Brussels, featuring a very modern range of musical genres, enabling club hopping for fans and additional hospitality and networking for industry professionals. This time around, sixty acts and artists performed in seven venues, serving 4,000 fans and 400 industry delegates with new music from Belgium, the UK, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Poland, Portugal, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, and the US.

This festival comes along with a highly diverse line-up and a top-notch music mix – ranging from reggeaton, grime, electro, pop, alternative – and, well, delivers a solid expedition in today’s jungle of contemporary genres. This event has developed a unique profile, teams up and involves bigger festivals from abroad for artist recommendations and even has a distinctive policy in terms of the payment of fees for artists. Shortly before the annual event, thanks to the support of Ida Sällinen from Factory 92, co-creator Laetetia Van Hove shed some light on the laboratory character of Fifty Lab.

Our perspective is: programming alone does not open the door to surprises.

Fifty Lab is a showcase festival. Is the demand by the industry and the audience for these type events in Belgium back again?

Fifty Lab is a discovery music festival that takes place in November in Brussels. Fifty Lab has a unique take that does not exist anywhere else in Belgium or internationally. We ask 20 festival programmers to curate the line-up with us. The bookers of these smaller and bigger festivals (including Astropolis in France, Boomtown in Belgium, Audio Obscura in the Netherlands, Terraforma in Italy, and many others), work on their line-up all year long, meaning their proposal of an emerging band is always a guarantee of quality, a real surprise and it offers a very eclectic line-up. 

Our perspective is: programming alone does not open the door to surprises. This professional curation makes our festival very unique. We also get messages like: "Who did Sonar (Spain) submit ?" or "I'm curious to know what Unsound (Poland) has proposed?"

We invite a number of professionals who meet each other and create a real connection to the international and local scene. The strength of Fifty Lab is the experience we offer professionals; a meeting place based on our philosophy and music. When you return home from Fifty Lab, you will personally know the bookers and/or other European professionals who attended, and they will remain close connections, because you have lived a moment together in Brussels. 

What kind of changes did you make to improve this year’s edition of Fifty Lab compared to previous editions?

Fifty Lab Logo (1)

We are a small festival in the centre of Brussels. Our idea is to remain a festival on a human scale. We have the main room of the Ancienne Belgique, and we have a surprise venue that nobody knows about in Brussels. So, we are expanding our audience. This will be our third physical festival and we are counting on a curious and music-loving audience with whom we interact every day!

One of the core values of Fifty Lab is the "promotion and exportation of Belgian emerging artists." What kind of measures are included in the Fifty Lab agenda to make this happen?

We observe all year long, also in all the concert venues in Belgium to discover the best of the emerging Belgian scene. 

Belgium has had a real spotlight on its musical artists for some years now. Certainly, thanks to artists like Stromae, Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Angèle, Damso, Lous and The Yakuza, etc. We have a new generation of artists, like Reinel Bakole, ECHT!, Lander & Adriaan and many others who cross our borders. Fifty Lab music festival allows us to present the new upcoming Belgian scene and to find them an entourage and international dates after their shows. 

Unlike most other showcase festivals, Fifty Lab doesn’t host a conference programme. Is this due to a lack of interest by the Belgian music business or that most other music conventions already feature such a service?

We are organising three conferences during the festival. We like the idea of presenting the conferences as a laboratory, rather than simply presenting a theme. We also like the idea of spreading the day with moments of encounter like an alternative walk in the city of Brussels guided by an artist. Or discovering a release party of a Belgian band we like but in a different way.

We propose a professional programme in Fifty Lab-style.

The circulation of international artists has become quite a challenge. Even well-known artists nowadays cancel shows and tours due to the lack of ticket sales, health issues or other reasons. With this in mind, how would you describe the challenges the music sector is facing these days?

We are a showcase festival with the same fee rule for every artist, so it's a bit difficult for us to analyse these challenges in our own case, also because it's not a single artist ticket show, but rather a multi-band experience. At Fifty Lab, we decided to pay every act based on the number of people on stage. We don't offer travel and accommodation. This is how we decided to do so every act can be resourceful, ask for export help, set other dates around.

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Text: Manfred Tari