Radar Report 2023: Festival line-up database hints at Covid recovery and Brexit impact


As the ESNS Exchange programme marks its 20th year of operations, the team behind its comprehensive database are tracking some interesting new industry trends. Among the most noteworthy insights, the data suggests that the fallout from Brexit is resulting in fewer emerging acts from the United Kingdom securing festival bookings in mainland Europe.

Illustration by Lisa Sportel

By Gordon Masson (Editor, IQ Magazine)

Although 2022’s Exchange had to be facilitated online – meaning artists and bands had to perform to camera, rather than live audiences – the system set up by ESNS produced particularly strong results, with 348 slots at festivals around Europe reserved for 148 acts that had participated in the Exchange.

Getting back to normality at the 2023 ESNS gathering, 348 festival slots were secured by 145 acts who had performed through the ESNS Exchange scheme, as thousands of delegates and fans once again packed into Groningen’s bars, clubs and unique venues to witness their artistry.

However, the results from the programme suggest a sea change when it comes to acts from the UK, which traditionally has fared well in terms of festival bookings.

This year, just two acts from the UK – KEG and Katie Gregson-MacLeod – made it into the charts of the 20 most popular acts, in terms of participating ESNS Exchange festival bookers. Contrast that with five acts in the Top 20 during 2022.

Katie Gregson-MacLeod at ESNS23
Photo by: Siese Veenstra
Keg at ESNS23
Photo by: Siese Veenstra

Reading further into the data, there were 20 acts from the UK among the 148 in 2022 who secured at least one festival booking. In 2023, there were just 14 UK acts among the list of successes, perhaps highlighting the prohibitive expense and red tape that British talent is having to endure in its efforts to perform in the European Union.

On the flip side, fewer British acts on the European festival circuit is prompting bookers to provide opportunities to acts from neighbouring countries, as well as elevate homegrown talent on line-ups – a phenomena that helped many territories accelerate their recovery from the pandemic lockdowns.

Robert Meijerink

Addressing the UK issue, ESNS head of programme and booker, Robert Meijerink, says he and his team have pivoted to spread their attention outside of England when looking at acts from the UK. “Brexit is a fact of life, but we decided two years ago to strengthen our cooperation with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that is now paying off thanks to our existing partnerships with PRS For Music and the BBC,” says Meijerink.

Indeed, far from considering fewer British acts for the January event, Meijerink reveals that there were 700 UK applications for showcase slots at next year’s Eurosonic. “We’re going to have about 300 acts performing live during Eurosonic, with about 18 from across the United Kingdom,” he adds. “That compares with 16 from Germany, 13 from France – we are still booking – and 13 acts from Poland, which is our focus country partner. It’s shaping up to be another great year with lots of exciting new talent from everywhere across Europe.”

With such wide-reaching aspirations to find a new generation of headliners, the ESNS database makes for fascinating reading. Thanks to the team who compiles the statistics for ESNS Radar, this year’s results tracked every booking across a network of about 130 festivals around the world, meaning more than 11,400 performance slots can now be analysed, post-festival season.

Delving further into that vast information resource, ESNS Radar also splits out artist bookings outside of their home territories, giving observers at-a-glimpse access to identify the acts who are breaking across borders – another invaluable bonus for festival booking teams.

ESNS Exchange opens doors for acts to grow their fanbase

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In terms of the most successful acts from this year’s ESNS Exchange, at press time The Haunted Youth, from Belgium, were top of the charts with an impressive 13 festival bookings throughout 2023 (16 including their home territory) – making its star, Joachim Liebens, one of the most popular acts in the history of the ESNS Exchange scheme.

Highlighting the geographical reach that the ESNS Exchange can offer to artists, Liebens and his The Haunted Youth bandmates visited c/o pop, Maifeld Derby, and Orange Blossom Special in Germany; Release Athens in Greece; Pinkpop, and Lowlands in the Netherlands; Siren’s Call in Luxembourg; Eurockéennes de Belfort in France; OpenAir St. Gallen, and Montreux in Switzerland; Ypsigrock in Italy; Sziget in Hungary; and Iceland Airwaves, thanks to the exposure he received at Eurosonic.

Festivals most likely to book emerging talent

The ESNS Radar data also allows artists and their representatives to analyse which events are most likely to take a risk on new acts. In 2023, it was The Great Escape in the UK that booked the most acts through the ESNS Exchange scheme, giving stage time to no fewer than 35 artists and bands.

Germany’s showcase events also tapped into the A&R skills of the ESNS team, with Reeperbahn Festival providing slots for 24 participating acts, while c/o pop offered stage times to 10 acts on its line-up.

Elsewhere, the booking teams at Iceland Airwaves and Hungary’s Sziget Festival filled 12 and 11 slots, respectively, on their 2023 schedules with ESNS Exchange talent, while in France, Festival Europavox in Clermont-Ferrand provided opportunities to nine acts who had showcased during ESNS.

As a free-to-use tool, ESNS Radar’s applications are being utilised around the world, as it allows live music professionals to keep track of which acts have performed at ESNS in 2023 and in the past. Features include filters to reveal the most-booked acts at all summer festivals across Europe; just a drop-down menu selection away. ESNS Radar uses an advanced system that publishes the data in real-time – meaning the numbers could still change when the festival season south of the equator begins later this month.

The Mary Wallopers at ESNS23

The information on ESNS Radar is updated live, but by the start of November, Austria’s UCHE YARA and The Mary Wallopers from Ireland had also enjoyed busy summers with ten bookings each through the ESNS Exchange programme, while Deki Alem from Sweden had nine bookings. Avalanche Kaito, from Belgium, and Dutch talent Tramhaus both secured eight bookings, and Ireland’s Sprints clocked seven.

SKAAR (NO) and Love’n’Joy (UA) secured six slots, and a whole host of acts saw their performances in Groningen rewarded with sets at five festivals in 2023, including Arny Margret (IS), Eee Gee (DK), Baby Volcano (CH), Somebody’s Child (IE), Bulgarian Cartrader (BG), and freekind. (SI).

ESNS Radar also allows live music professionals to keep track of which acts have performed at ESNS in the past, using an advanced tracking system that publishes the data in real-time on radar.ESNS.nl

Next to festival bookings, the database includes a multitude of other interesting information, including debut release dates. That information can assist festival bookers in assessing which acts are crossing borders and how long it has taken them to get noticed – an invaluable tool in the annual task to seed festival line-ups with the best emerging talent.

Head of Programme Meijerink notes, “We soft-launched ESNS Radar & Analytics last year, but the feedback we have had from industry professionals has been really pleasing. We know that a lot of ESNS delegates are already using ESNS Radar, and we’re now seeing more industry professionals everywhere making use of it. But we’ve also had some very positive responses from artist managers who are using ESNS Radar to monitor the activity of artists in order to make strategic decisions about their careers.”

The platform is also proud to announce a recent addition; the full archive of bookings of the past 20 years. This function can reveal artist’s trajectories from emerging to headliners and offer inspiration to bookers with regard to the impact showcase festivals can hold for their upcoming acts.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary during 2023, ESNS Exchange provides a platform to hundreds of emerging acts every year to showcase their music and stagecraft to the thousands of music industry delegates who visit ESNS, looking to discover the next generation of talent.

While the ESNS Conference schedule during the day allows professionals to discuss issues affecting the business, the ESNS Festival programme at night offers the world’s live music decision-makers the chance to see some of the best new artists and bands from the European continent (including non-EU countries such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK).