Last week, we shared the first instalment of our two-part Jan Smeets interview with you. In it, the Pinkpop boss likened his festival to playing in the Champions League (alongside Rock am Ring and Sziget), what their plans are for Pinkpop’s upcoming 2016 edition and dealing with Paul McCartney’s huge production. Now, we’re able to present you with the second (and final) part of our hour-long discussion.
I know that you don’t really decide this yourself, but there are a few surprising books and scheduling scenarios this year. For example, Rammstein and Doe Maar together on the main stage, Kygo in the middle of the day and Walk Off the Earth on the main stage. What do you think about this?
I’ve definitely been sitting and thinking about it a lot. I’ve said to the bookers, “guys, does this actually make sense?”, but the bands actually don’t seem to mind it. You’ve got to consider that huge masses of people will already be standing down the front for Rammstein’s performance, but I don’t think that Rammstein fans also like Doe Maar.
However, whilst Doe Maar are playing on the main stage you’ve also got Puscifer on the 3fm stage.
With the vocalist from Tool, yes. However, that’s also an obscure choice considering how nobody was aware of their existence at first. They’ve never played in Europe, but they’re warranting a headline slot mainly because of who their vocalist is.
That is the case, yeah!
At first it was also an exclusive booking, but now they’re also playing at the Tivoli.
I don’t believe in the idea of exclusive bookings, as it always builds up big expectations for the future. The bookings are never intentionally exclusive, so to say. Some things I say very clearly, but then I sit back, think about it and go, “oh, that isn’t really the case after all”.
There are a lot of acts at Pinkpop this year who are playing at other shows and festivals all across the country. In that sense, they aren’t exclusive bookings because you watch them elsewhere.
I know that at one time we got called, and somebody said that The Common Linnets had cancelled their performance at Bevrijdingsfestival in Roermond because they were already playing at Pinkpop. “They’re already at Pinkpop so they don’t want to also play in Roermond” said the person over the phone, and I said to them that I didn’t want them to cancel. The Common Linnets can play Roermond, I really don’t care. Their management eventually said that they thought it was a common rule at Pinkpop, which is why they cancelled Roermond. I told them it was the total opposite, I don’t want them to cancel anything for Pinkpop. The Common Linnets ended up not cancelling their show in Roermond. If a band are playing at the Effenaar (Eindhoven) a week after Pinkpop, or at the Melkweg or somewhere similar, then I don’t mind. They’re still going to be at Pinkpop, which is what matters. Look, Pinkpop is mainly focussed on the three headliners. If you add up what you’d likely pay for those acts, which will make tickets expensive, then you really have a lot of hype surrounding the festival. It’s the same as at a football match, which is a metaphor I like to use a lot. That’s why it’s always so busy at Barcelona’s Nou Camp, as well as at Ajax or PSV – because there’s a good, strong team. But if you look carefully and notice that certain players are missing, then people will just stay at home.
Are you also a fan of football yourself?
Haha, yes. I hope that PSV will be crowned Dutch champions. I also like Ajax, and Feyenoord too. I’ve not gone one specific club that I support, but the one club that I do really adore is Barcelona. Not that I’m disappointed if they do play badly, though. Look at the Champions League, boy oh boy oh boy. Everyone was on form, unbelievable.
I just want to talk a bit about America. Are you scared of the huge amount of growing festivals over there?
Yes, but their futures aren’t 100% certain. We have problems with Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza are also expanding greatly around the world so we’ve encountered some problems with that too. They’re not afraid to expand. My time has almost come, y’know. I’m 71 now, and there’s still a whole festival generation set to follow me. Even if you look at Holland, then you can see how many festivals there are. There’s an enormous target audience for dance music, as well as for Pinkpop and the rest. Last year there were 700 festivals in Holland alone, and that’s just too many.
Throughout the summer season or all year?
All year long! That’s then two per day. For all of those festivals you have to pay money for entry and consumptions. You’ve got to travel there, but aside from that it’s just the physical exhaustion of having so many festivals. If you visit a multi-day pop festival it’ll be extremely tiring. I’ve personally been to Sziget in Hungary, and people are there for almost a whole week. They’re just dead tired by the end of it all.
Download Festival has also expanded to Paris this year.
That’s also not good! In the past we could easily share bands with Download, but now those bands will play Donington Park and go straight to Paris. Some bands don’t want to play more than two days in a row, and then that cancels out Pinkpop. You can’t profit from them for a third day.
A while ago you also said that we should look at the Download line-up for the last Pinkpop names, but nothing ended up coming from that.
The annoying thing is that Mojo are also trying to build-up FortaRock (Nijmegen, 4+5 June), so some of those Download names will go there instead.
FortaRock didn’t have a very good year last year either.
I’m intrigued this year as to what will happen.
It’s also expanded from one day to two this year.
There are some bands who always pull a big audience. Tool are a good one, as are Korn and bands like that. If you can keep booking them then you should always say yes.
Often those bands come to Holland and then they end up playing at a club instead of a festival.
A lot of the time that’s because we’ve already completed our line-up, and then we can’t offer them a place anymore. We can’t offer them a spot at the bottom of the bill, because they don’t want that. There’s always got to be a good space which we can offer them.
Last year Pinkpop ended later for the first time. How did it go?
At first we had to have a lot of discussions about it. I’m personally against finishing later than 11pm, and I think that it will hopefully become the norm soon. I thought that the European parliament would make some changes at one point, for example in France and Germany. They discussed the curfew, amount of days, sound limits and smoking/drinking. I think that all the rules and regulations against smoking and drinking are fantastic, but in every country it’s different. In Belgium, though, they never join in. The age limit there is 16 for both smoking and drinking. It’s the same in Germany, but France, England and Holland have different rules. What kind of rubbish is that? As for the end times: in a lot of countries 11pm is the norm, and here in Maastricht it’s also the same at the airport. No planes can fly after 11pm unless it’s an emergency. I think that 11pm is a perfect end time, and then everyone can go to bed or keep partying elsewhere. Belgium has things going on till 2am, but I think that it’s unfair competition. Some people want to perform at midnight, but don’t ask me why because I don’t see an advantage to it aside from having a good light show. You’ll be standing there, tired, performing for an exhausted crowd and I think that’s nonsense.
At Paaspop they also put The Prodigy on the main stage at 2am.
Ridiculous. But you see, if I say those kinds of things then people say, “oh there you have that man again, what an old bore”. But no, I have a valid reason to suggest that some things just aren’t good, or healthy. So now I’ve said that I have unfair competition, and that I want to finish at midnight. And I got it, because they found my reasoning valid.
So I take it that you’ll never consider having a night programme at Pinkpop?
No, never. I don’t even want to think about it. On the campsites people can party on till 3am, so 40,000 people can still go out and enjoy themselves in the late hours. There is something.
Pinkpop also introduced Stage 4 for the first time in 2014. What is actually the intention of that stage? It’s extremely varied, and a lot of people find it vague.
It’s a mixture of everything, with a lot of stuff there that initially convinced us to add another stage. A lot of festivals focus on quantity instead of quality, but we’re the opposite. One festival in Belgium has just announced that they’ve booked over 100 acts, but you’ll never be able to see all of them! At Pinkpop we were on approximately 45 acts in total, and that’s really not a lot compared to 100 or 200 acts at other festivals. So I said, “is there any way of adding a fourth stage to the festival?” so that we can make it 55, and that’s when Stage 4 was born. I can’t add another stage, though, as there’s no more space.
You also introduced the Garden of Love last year.
Yeah, but that’s mainly a few people with an acoustic guitar.
It’s often the case that Dutch acts appearing on Stage 4 pull a full crowd, but that the international bands play to just half a tent. Is that not a shame for the foreign bands? Especially as they are usually quite big outside Holland.
The bands need to make sure of that themselves. If they get an offer to appear on Stage 4 then I would, if I was them, think about it very carefully before I make a decision. It’s a bit weird if you see a band say, “we did Glastonbury”, before finding out that they were on a small stage somewhere in the hills. Then you might as well just stay home, and it’s the same with Pinkpop. There are four Dutch bands at Glastonbury this year, right?
Yeah. Kovacs and Jungle By Night are two of them. I can’t remember who the others were just now.
I saw it on Festileaks, yeah. Four Dutch bands!
We were there ourselves two years ago and it was an amazing weekend.
Glastonbury is definitely an experience, but if you look carefully you’ll see that the organization has no progression in it. It’s the same stages, the same toilets, the same everything. I think that, here in Holland, we’re not able to compare ourselves with Glastonbury.
But you also don’t see Best Kept Secret and Down the Rabbit Hole as competition?
How about Lowlands?
Lowlands neither, it’s too far away (August). Then again, I don’t see how those kinds of festivals can evolve. In a survey, it said that the typical festivalgoer goes to an average of two and a half festivals per year. It doesn’t distinguish between music, art, theatre and dance, but we did ask at the time which festivals were the most popular. Pinkpop and Lowlands were the top two, with Best Kept Secret in third. The survey also stated that, alongside the ticketed festivals, people also tend to visit at least one free festival. Usually that’s stuff like Parkpop, but if there are more festivals then people will have more choice and a harder decision. Then you’ve got to be careful, and that’s the problem. A lot of people underestimate the huge risks that Pinkpop takes in terms of money. We’ve got to earn back 15 million euros, and that’s through tickets, sponsors and consumption. Consumption is important, and we calculate yearly which types of food and drink are the most popular at Pinkpop.
I just want to touch on a less serious topic – artist riders. What are the most interesting or surprising requirements that you’ve seen?
I’d have to say that the most surprising one was when we had The Rolling Stones in 2014. Mick Jagger wants to keep fit and stay healthy, so we had to place a big tent backstage for him to go jogging in on a treadmill. He never used it. It cost us a lot of money, too. When Prince died last week it also got me thinking about the time that he performed at the MECC in Maastricht. He was staying in a suite at the hotel next door, and he wanted a whole gym centre in his room. We had to transport everything upstairs using a lift, which was extremely hard. Some things almost didn’t fit, and it was nearly impossible to get it all up there. Prince didn’t want that the equipment was to be taken apart and put back together, so we had to bring it up there in one piece. His room was almost like a boudoir in the way that it’d been put together for him, but Prince never made use of or even entered the room once. What an absolute shame that was. We’ve had a lot of those kinds of things, though. I remember that we once had The Black Crowes and Lenny Kravitz. The Black Crowes had a huge fishnet-like thing as their stage backdrop. I’m not sure what the meaning behind it was, but they had it hanging at the back of the stage. Kravitz walked in at one point and just said, “what the fuck”. He made them remove it, because he was performing first. He didn’t even want to see the fishnets while he was soundchecking, so we had to find a quick solution. Back then Pinkpop was a one-day festival, so we had to ask permission from the council to let Kravitz could do his soundcheck the day before the festival. A lot of people came down and saw the soundcheck thinking, “huh, isn’t he supposed to be playing tomorrow?” He was allowed to rehearse two songs, but he ended up playing nine. He almost played a full show during his soundcheck. These kinds of things do let you experience something interesting every year, though. It’s never anything too extreme, though.
Are there any acts who you’re looking forward to checking out this year?
I’m looking forward to seeing 70,000 people singing all of Paul McCartney’s songs together. That’s going to be fantastic. A Beatle at Pinkpop!
So that’s a bucket list item checked off, then?
Definitely. There’s a lot of other acts I want to see at Pinkpop, though. Neil Young is an artist I love, and I also think that Bob Dylan is somebody who should play at Pinkpop at least once in his career.
Would he fit as a headliner, though?
No, he wouldn’t. That’s the problem, because acts like Bruce Springsteen can still do it. Not even Neil Young could still headline here, because he won’t sell enough tickets.
Are there any other acts you still really want to see onstage at Pinkpop?
Prince, but that won’t happen! Haha. At the moment I can’t think of anything to be honest, I’m just happy that we have three fantastic headliners this year. We’ve also already chosen the three headliners who we want to bid for next year. Foo Fighters have said that they’re coming back in 2017, and that’s a band who I would love to see returning.
How big is the chance that Foo Fighters will actually come back?
I wouldn’t know. Dave Grohl is a very typical man I think. Last year he said that they would come back this year, but that never happened.
And who are the other two potential headliners?
I wouldn’t really know at the moment, to be honest.
Because you also mentioned Radiohead recently.
Oh yes, Radiohead. They’re supposed to be touring next year too. I can’t remember who the third one was, so you’d have to check with Festileaks! (It’s Pearl Jam)
Are there any acts who, after you saw them at Pinkpop, made you go: “never again!”?
There are some bands who were just terrible, such as The Cult. That’s the best example I can think of. They played too long, and then blamed it on broken equipment. They were just really bad. It’s things like that which threaten us with the loss of our governmental permission regarding curfews. The Cult were also heavily drugged up at the time, and that just isn’t a nice thing to see.
And what do you think of the current Guns ‘n Roses reunion tour? Would that ever be something for Pinkpop?
I wouldn’t say no.
Or is it too risky with Axl Rose’s reputation?
They have a pretty bad reputation on the whole, and it’s the same with Madonna. She’s someone who doesn’t care about coming onstage two hours late because she was “on the phone”. Madonna is not a good act for a festival. We had Pink! one year, and she had a whole lot of fuss surrounding her massive stage production. It’s not something you can easily deal with.
Thanks for your time!
Pinkpop 2016 takes place at the Megaland events site in Landgraaf from 10-12 June. You can find more information here.