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Europe's SXSW: Eurosonic's Head Booker Robert Meijerink Provides a Launching Pad for Emerging Artists

Shauna Tohill of REWS, Eurosonic Festival
Dimitri Hakke/Redferns

Shauna Tohill of REWS performs on stage at Huis de Beurs at Eurosonic Festival on Jan. 18, 2019 in Groningen, Netherlands. 

If you go to Eurosonic Noorderslag, the annual festival held in the Netherlands, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Held in Groningen, a two-hour train ride from Amsterdam in the country's northeast, Eurosonic has hundreds of showcases of developing artists in 40 venues across the walkable, canal-encircled city center. With a dozen options at any given time, people can spend hours bouncing from venue to venue. Think South by Southwest without the barbecue or overwhelming crowds.

Running from Jan. 15 to Jan. 18, Eurosonic calls itself "the stepping-stone for European acts." The hubris is warranted. The hybrid festival and conference attracts 4,000 music professionals and showcases roughly 350 European artists aiming to be the next big thing. That makes Robert Meijerink, head of programme & programme manager EU talent, one of the most powerful people in European music for four days each January. Meijerink is tasked with finding the best new talent from across the continent. 

A good showcase can impress agents, promoters, and bookers from festivals around the world, sending a young act to other European markets. Peter Kedves of the Hungarian group Belau said their trip to Eurosonic in 2018 opened new doors. Aside from networking and holding meetings -- small groups huddle around almost every table in the expansive conference center -- Belau played to a "packed hall of professionals and music lovers," said Kedves. "After our concert we got immediate invitations from Germany to Turkey."

In his 13 years with Eurosonic, Meijerink has helped transform the festival into an accurate reflection of Europe's diversity. "It was almost unthinkable 15 or 20 years ago to have neo classical music at a pop festival,” he said in a phone interview before the festival began. "Audiences were not ready."

The genre got its due with appearances by Nils Frahm in 2011 and Ólafur Arnalds in 2015.

"The younger generation has broader tastes," he added.

This year's lineup ranges from female Ukrainian rapper Alyona Alyona to Thumper, a six-person rock band -- three guitarists, two drummers and a bass player -- from Dublin, Ireland. But the festival wasn't always so wide-ranging. Now R&B, singer-songwriter folk, punk, experimental, Latin jazz and heavy metal are represented, too. It makes for great club-hopping, tired feet be damned. Billboard spoke with Meijerink about putting the event together. 

What do you look for in an artist? 

The most important for the live show is, Is it ready? Is the artist ready to perform live? Is the quality of the live show good enough? Sometimes artists are playing in an early stage of their career and instead of 40 minutes they can play 10 to 20 minutes. But maybe in two months they can play 40 minutes. 

We're interested to hear what the professional setup of an artist is. Often I'm in touch with either a manager or an artist rep. They don't have an agent on board. They don't have a professional setup at all. But they are ready because their live show is good. And if they get the confirmation of playing Eurosonic, a manager can get a team on board to take the next step and set everything in place. But for me, as a booker, it's all about the live show.

So Eurosonic is a validation to getting a booking agent, for example.

Sometimes it happens that way. Sometimes it's the other way around. The manager uses Eurosonic as an opportunity to say, "I've got an agent in place. I've got a booker in place. We're all ready to go. The only thing we ask is consideration to play Eurosonic." 

At what stage in a career is an artist too successful to play Eurosonic?

I think we mainly focus on emerging acts. The definition of an early act, I would say, is an artist in the early stage of their career. It happens that artists play their second or third show at Eurosonic. There are beautiful examples of artists who played their second show at Eurosonic, but there are also negative stories. It really depends.

Dua Lipa played one of her first shows ever [at Eurosonic] in Groningen. She proved she was ready. The same goes for Christine and the Queens. But in some cases it would have been better to wait a year.

Do you provide career advice to people because you have so much experience working with developing artists?

I would say yes, without arrogance. It's more a natural element of my job. Booking Eurosonic is trying to put the professionals and the media to serve artists who are ready to play, have a story to tell and have a bright future ahead of them. 

What role does Eurosonic play in getting artists to United States?

It's important to us that European art is recognized. We have delegates from the United States every year. We help to promote and co-promote on other continents as well, America included. The main professionals are bookers of festivals like Fuji Festival or Coachella. The festivals connected to ETEP try to book artists that play Eurosonic. We have ETEP, the European Talent Exchange Program. Our next point on the agenda is to promote these artists in a better way outside of Europe.

How do you keep your finger on the pulse? 

Eurosonic works with steady partners, ETEP, colleagues are in touch with festivals around Europe who know their markets. It's my job to keep updated with what happens around Europe. Also we have close relationships with the European Broadcasting Union, the public radio broadcasters. We have 35 broadcasters in Europe that give their input.


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