Mega-raves are almost back: an update with RAMPAGE promoter Kristof Darcon

Pictures by Simon Leloup, B2Photography, Dlux Fotografie, Mitchell Giebels, Phillippe Wuyts

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Few events in Belgium felt the lockdown's impact like RAMPAGE did. Back in March 2020, it had to cancel a sold-out 32.000 capacity weekender at Antwerp's Sportpaleis with only a few days' notice – and they haven't been able to get back to work... until now. When we talked to co-promoter Kristof Darcon in August 2020, he was pessimistic. With two new events on the horizon (a downsized free open-air party on August 14-15 and a big indoor weekend on December 10-11), we spoke to the man again about his thoughts on the future after a dreadful year.

Now that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, how are you feeling?

“We’re feeling great now, assuming the worst is behind us. Having to cancel RAMPAGE at the last moment was a massive blow for us. It took a while to get back the trust and confidence needed to move forward, but now our team and our fans are more ready than ever to get back to business”.

We had to do 'something'. Not just to reconnect with our audience but because we're itching to get back in the game.

What’s your financial assessment after a dreadful year like this?

“We were lucky to predict this lockdown would last long, so we never wasted any time going into a sort of hibernation mode. We put most of the team on technical unemployment, we cancelled the rent contract for our office, and we severely reduced the capacity of our warehouse. These moves have saved us a lot of money, which was necessary as we had just lost a lot of it. With the three new RAMPAGE events coming closer, we are slowly getting back to full force again”.

So why organize a free RAMPAGE party in August? Don’t you need the income from new ticket sales now?

“Because of all the uncertainties, we realized it would be impossible to organize a proper RAMPAGE Open Air at the beginning of July. We have large plans for this event, so we didn’t think doing a smaller and compromised edition would be a good idea. We're also very cautious because we can't afford to cancel a new event days before the start in case there's a fourth COVID-19 wave”. 

We still have to wait and see the true impact this pandemic had on the event industry.

“That said, we had to do something. Not just to reconnect with our audience but also because we're itching to get back in the game. As the rules for events in Belgium are loosening up in August, we explored the options of doing a simple RAMPAGE event with just one stage (instead of five) on the same location. The city of Lommel and our commercial partners were happy to support, and after some calculations, we concluded that free entrance was feasible. You can take it as a thank you to our fans who’ve been so patient. Granted, with just one stage, it will be relatively basic compared to what we would normally do (which is why we’re not promoting it as a RAMPAGE Open Air). Regardless, it will be a welcome start of a new chapter in our story”.

In our August 2020 interview, you predicted the Belgian nightlife industry would see a massive loss of know-how after a long year without festivals and events. Did your prediction come true?

"I guess we avoided a total doom scenario. Big production companies were able to invest in their staff and continued to pay their employees. They are the ones that are ready to go again now. Smaller independent companies, however, have lost a lot of skilled workers. On the other hand, many businesses are now frantically hiring new people again. We still have to wait and see the true impact this pandemic had on the event industry. What is sure, however, is that we'll see production costs go up, and both promoters and ticket buyers will notice the difference".

Similarly, did the predicted carnage in the Belgian nightlife industry really happen? Now that we have perspective, the actual number of bankruptcies in the club and event circuit seems lower than anticipated.

“So far, we’ve been lucky indeed, but you never know what happens behind the scenes. Some companies are still owed a lot of money, and if they fail to capitalize on the restart, they are still in acute danger of going out of business. It depends on case to case. I have a client who owed us a large sum of money, but I let him pay us back gradually because I’ll lose even more if he goes out of business”. 

It's a hard time to be an event promoter because the competition is going to be harder than ever.

"It must also be said that some companies, especially the ones with a lot of employees on their payroll, were well-supported by the government. Some businesses were doing really bad before the lockdown and received many benefits because they could show a steep decline in profit. In contrast, others who immediately cut their costs and adapted to the situation failed to secure any benefits at all. Long story short, there was no straightforward way to deal with this unprecedented situation. Personally, looking at my numbers, we did lose a lot of money. A good business saves funds for a rainy day, and I'm happy we did precisely that".

Will there be consequences for events like RAMPAGE down the line?

“In practice, you can expect higher prices for all the big events with international artists. This pandemic has shown how fragile the whole industry is, so insurance policies are going up considerably. I’m also convinced many of the new health guidelines on events are here to stay. On a wider scale, it’s hard to see the impact of almost 18 months without a party on today’s young generation, especially for an event with a young audience like RAMPAGE”.

“It's a hard time to be an event promoter because the competition is going to be harder than ever. Especially the nightclubs are screwed. You hear all this talk about festivals now – and they are lucky the rules are loosening up in the middle of summer. But you barely hear a word about the perspective for nightclubs. When they do open eventually, how will they attract their audience if most 20-year-olds haven’t even set foot inside a club in their lives”?

The full return of RAMPAGE will take place at Sportpaleis in December. How are the preparations going?

“Locking a full weekend at Sportpaleis was like playing a game of chess. The big concerts of international artists that would take place in 2020 are constantly rescheduled, so it was a struggle to get a good date for us. Initially, we were given a weekend in September, but we didn't hesitate when another one in December opened up. Keeping the busy tour schedules of our artists and the possibilities of new COVID-19 waves in mind, this seemed like a much safer option. As things are standing now, I'm 99% sure we'll have a RAMPAGE weekender at Sportpaleis without anything holding us back. The next one is scheduled for March 2022 already. I don’t want to think about the previous year anymore. I rather focus on the future instead”.