BOOM, Belgium — When Michiel Beers and his brother Manu Beers got down to create Belgium’s first devoted digital music pageant in 2005, it was alleged to be referred to as Mysteryland.
However after the Beers printed 1000’s of flyers and posters promoting the identify, Duncan Stutterheim, their associate and founding father of Dutch pageant model ID&T, referred to as up Michiel Beers to say he had modified his thoughts — he wished to protect “Mysteryland” for the Netherlands. Then one other impediment arose: Their featured headliner, Tiësto, the most well-liked DJ within the area, pulled out late in favor of a pop-rock pageant a few half-hour away.
Surprised and reeling, the Beers carried on, reprinting their supplies and mounting a one-day pageant for 8,700 people who yr that includes Sven Väth, Ferry Corsten and a younger Armin van Buuren. They named it Tomorrowland, a nod to Mysteryland’s motto: “Yesterday is historical past; At present is a present; Tomorrow is a thriller.”
Some 15 years later, that resilient spirit helped Europe’s most iconic dance music pageant discover methods to pivot in the course of the international pandemic and chart a future as a more-diversified firm. Not like most dance music pageant corporations, Tomorrowland saved its workers of 160 totally employed in the course of the pandemic, which helped it mount a ground-breaking pay-per-view digital stream, develop a fiction guide division and launch a Tomorrowland Music document label.
At present (July 22), the pageant begins the second of its historic three-weekend run, aimed toward recouping a number of the 25 million euros ($25.6 million) it misplaced from 2020-2021. The longer pageant means this yr a document 600,000 persons are attending Tomorrowland – together with 10,000 Individuals, a higher-than-normal quantity, the organizers say. Greater than 800 artists are acting on 16 levels, starting from EDM stalwarts Martin Garrix, Marshmello and Alok, to techno powerhouse Paul Kalkbrenner, to deep home producer Misplaced Frequencies.
Within the spirit of solidarity, Beers efficiently appealed to Tomorrowland’s headliners to low cost their 2019-level charges by 10%. It wasn’t a troublesome promote, say a handful of headliners Billboard spoke to. “We’re all sticking collectively, as a result of mainly we’re sort of misplaced with out one another on this recreation,” says Danish techno DJ Kölsch.
The additional weekend and decrease artist charges received’t be sufficient, nevertheless, to make the corporate worthwhile once more, Michiel Beers tells Billboard. “It’s an necessary a part of an answer of being wholesome once more,” he says. “Does it cowl a two-year loss? No.”
The pageant’s final two weekends have been offered out for 2 years. This yr, they offered all 200,000 tickets for a 3rd weekend (July 14-17) — priced 5% increased at 114.50 euros per day or 310 euro for the weekend, to assist compensate for prime inflation in Europe — however it’s a one-off, Beers says. The pageant negotiated a 10-point plan with the cities of Increase and Rumst the place Tomorrowland takes place atop the De Schorre park, which embody it reverting to its regular two weekends beginning subsequent yr.
As Billboard noticed firsthand on weekend one, Tomorrowland is again in an enormous approach. The sprawling pageant footprint this yr winds round a lake within the park and throughout footbridges, and meanders into enclaves within the forest and a grassy hill rising up from the mainstage. It incorporates a Core stage, with an Indigenous-like head along with his eyes closed looming overhead, and a brand new chillout Mesa Backyard, serving upscale wine and meals — which has loads of area to bounce.
The mammoth white mainstage resembled a set from Star Wars – or as Kölsch remarked, possibly the Ivory Tower in The Neverending Story — with helmeted robot-like figures trimmed in gold and donning coloured sun shades marching alongside a prime lip throughout key moments at nightfall and after the night time had ended. Kalkbrenner held courtroom on Sunday contained in the cavernous Freedom stage, which projected his convulsed face in black and white on large screens in between photos of his fingers working the dials of his large mixer board.
The worldwide crowd, representing greater than 200 nationalities, reveled within the blazing warmth, as document temperatures washed throughout Europe late final weekend.
Other than that first, difficult occasion in 2005, the Beers confronted different challenges — together with two earlier Antwerp festivals that went bankrupt, and a wrestle to disentangle from ID&T. (The latter pageant model was absorbed in 2013 by SFX Leisure, the U.S. firm that went public after gobbling up varied EDM properties, solely to implode and declare chapter itself three years later.)
The pageant continued to develop in measurement yearly, buoyed by the EDM growth of the 2010s, when it briefly expanded to São Paulo, Brazil — and to Atlanta, the place a gradual rain in 2015 stranded 1000’s of festivalgoers within the muddy forest. However after being pressured to close down in 2020 because of COVID-19 outbreaks, the state of affairs went from dangerous to dire final yr, when the native mayors denied a use allow for the pageant, citing an uptick in virus instances. “That was a kick within the abdomen,” says Debby Wilmsen, the pageant’s spokesperson.
Regardless of the corporate’s monetary struggles, Beers says he by no means thought of promoting out to a competitor or every other firm – and wasn’t approached with any critical gives. “We’re nonetheless a bit of little bit of a Switzerland that will get together with all people,” he says. (As Billboard reported in November, Pasquale Rotella, CEO of Stay Nation-backed Insomniac, mentioned he was on the hunt for pageant properties to accumulate opportunistically.)
Whereas different festivals have their diehard admirers, artists lengthy related to Tomorrowland level to the founders’ dedication to independence and a household environment. “This pageant is particular as a result of the people who run it are unicorns,” says Miriam Nervo, who together with sister Olivia Nervo performs as Nervo, an act Tomorrowland supported early of their careers. “It’s a optimistic household group, and we haven’t felt that with different festivals.”
Tomorrowland can be identified for persistently selling feminine producers and DJs, Nervo says, noting that techno DJ Charlotte de Witte is closing out the “The Reflection of Love” mainstage on Saturday, July 30 — the primary feminine act within the pageant’s historical past to do this.
For attendees, the pageant goes additional than most in offering an immersive expertise, particularly for these staying in DreamVille. Atop fields usually used for planting corn, 38,000 followers camp throughout two websites in Rumst peppered with facilities like an out of doors Venice Seaside, Calif.-style muscle seaside gymnasium, yoga courses, a grocery store, bakery, swimming pool and scorching tub, two hair salons and a particular stage for The Gathering, DreamVille’s unique pre-party every Thursday night time. Upscale cabins even have electrical energy. (5-day DreamVille packages vary from 390 euros to 2,078 euros.)
“This has been a bucket record merchandise ever since I noticed the aftermovie from 2012,” James Mather, from San Pedro, Calif., mentioned Saturday whereas sitting exterior his tent along with his girlfriend Zina D’orio. “We lastly made it occur 10 years later, even after all of the Covid craziness.”
Attendees speak about Tomorrowland with a reverence that evokes comparisons to loyal Burning Man attendees. “At first, I used to be a bit of bit skeptical about the entire thing as a result of it had type of a cult sort of vibe to it,” says Kölsch. However after one of many inventive administrators gave him a tour of the levels, “I observed all the main points – the lamp posts, trashcans, the whole lot is particularly designed for this expertise… You begin to respect that it’s really a pageant made by festivalgoers for festivalgoers.”
Constructing Out the Tomorrowland Universe
In “the atelier” close to Antwerp the place the corporate relies, dozens of designers and technicians are toiling away at constructing out a multi-platform future for the pageant firm that can leverage its IP into potential guide, film and VR franchises.
Over the previous three years, Beers has overseen the creation of an over 500-page “fantasy novel” set within the universe designed for festivalgoers, which is able to embody dragons however not DJs, he says. He’s hoping Hollywood might be within the guide, which is authored by a author who specializes within the fantasy style and is a part of a deliberate trilogy.
In June, Tomorrowland signed with literary company Janklow & Nesbit, and with Jason Richman, the co-head of Media Rights at UTA, to attempt to promote the books as doable film or TV properties. “Most initiatives have a guide after which they’ve a theme park on the finish,” Beers says. “We began with the theme park by some means and went backwards. It’s a undertaking we’re very captivated with and we had time for in pandemic. We planted these seeds and let’s see what comes out.”
The Tomorrowland Across the World editions that the corporate experimented with throughout pandemic — the place DJs recorded units in inexperienced display rooms later painted with digital backgrounds — are additionally more likely to proceed in 2023, Beers says. “It’s troublesome to only throw it away, as a result of we really feel we’re sitting on one thing lovely,” he says. “But when we do it once more, it might’t be a alternative for an actual pageant in a pandemic. Perhaps it’s extra heading in the direction of an unlimited promotional instrument the place you may as well carry individuals into your world and possibly the world will get larger with the fiction [novels]… Perhaps issues begin connecting.”
In search of to develop its ecosystem even additional, the corporate launched a joint-venture label throughout pandemic with Common Music Group’s Virgin Information. With a workers of three full-timers, Tomorrowland Music already has launched tracks with Afrojack & Chico Rose, Quintino and others. “It’s actually a protracted record of artists we’re releasing with,” Beers says, “and we use these tracks within the aftermovie,” which beforehand didn’t generate royalties for Tomorrowland.
A Pandemic Reinvention
Whereas Beers and his group searched for brand spanking new inventive shops in the course of the shutdown, DJs strongly related to the pageant additionally labored to pivot.
Dimitri Thivaios and Michael Thivaios, the Belgian-Greek brothers referred to as Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike who grew up shut by the pageant, explored choices exterior of being performing DJs.
The duo’s connection to the pageant dates again some 14 years. In 2008, Dimitri, whereas a struggling DJ, labored backstage at Tomorrowland as a sound technician, organising DJs’ CD-J gamers (he was fired for placing demos within the luggage of headliners like David Guetta). Beers approached them in 2009 eager to handle them and to solid them as “the Belgian face of the pageant,” Dimitri says. He has managed them ever since. The duo wrote the anthem for the 2010 Tomorrowland, “Tomorrowland (Give in to the Night time),” their first huge hit in Europe.
Through the pandemic, Dimitri completed writing a comic-book sequence and continued to pursue his appearing profession. He did a bit half as a Maltese smuggler within the blockbuster Jurassic World Dominion, and has a number one function as a sports activities car-driving gambler making an attempt to save lots of his daughter within the movie H4Z4RD, which is being launched in Belgium this week. In the meantime, his brother Mike made a hip hop album, and says he designed and constructed two homes. Collectively they invested in actual property and in tech startups, together with a blockchain firm.
Nervo, who started acting at Tomorrowland a dozen years in the past, discovered time to boost their first child daughters, who have been born simply earlier than the pandemic exploded. (The famously shut twins acquired pregnant on the identical time.) Now, in current weeks their touring “has gone from zero to hero,” Miriam says, with the duo scheduled to do 70 reveals over the course of the summer time.
Kölsch, who had been pondering hanging up the headphones, discovered the recharge he wanted. “I’ve come to comprehend that I’m a reasonably introverted individual, so I discover it very exhausting being surrounded by individuals 24 hours a day,” says the Danish DJ, who has been enjoying Tomorrowland since 2016. “And doing that 150 instances a yr turned an excessive amount of for me. However then after some time [during pandemic], I got here to comprehend that I really like music. I dwell for the music.”
And there was sorrow.
Final yr the Thivaios’ father died on their mom’s birthday, and Mike’s associate misplaced their unborn daughter. Beers organized their father’s funeral. Like Mike instructed the mainstage viewers on Saturday that they buried him within the valley only a few hundred ft in entrance of the place the stage is. (The viewers lit up their telephones in a vigil because the duo performed their very own cowl of Coldplay’s “The Scientist.”) On Wednesday, Beers additionally held a screening for Dimitri Vegas’ movie on the Freedom stage, a first-ever film premiere at Tomorrowland.
After Tiësto’s seeming rejection the primary yr, Beers quickly patched it up with the Dutch legend. He has since performed quite a few Tomorrowland editions and is headlining on Saturday and subsequent Friday, July 29.
Recalling the disappointments of the primary pageant, Beers says he dodged a “Mysteryland Belgium” bullet.
“Afterwards, I assumed it was in all probability top-of-the-line [phone] calls we ever acquired,” he says, “as a result of we have been in a position to do our personal factor and put all our love and keenness and power, with little steps, into the pageant, and actually make it one thing of our personal.”