“It’s beyond a festival,” Armin van Buuren once told CNBC, “it’s a music festival combined with a theme park combined with a food festival combined with a cultural event.”
The world-famous DJ was speaking about Tomorrowland, which is taking place over two weekends, July 20-22 and July 27-29, in Boom, Belgium, welcoming 400,000 visitors in total. The second weekend was added last year as the only way of even coming close to satisfying the demand for tickets, which sold out in just an hour this year.
The maximum daily capacity is 70,000, which gives people enough space to dance, walk and move around the festival comfortably.
Just over half the festival’s audience is from Belgium, and the presale for Belgians starts one hour before the general onsale for the rest of the world. “We have a lot of people coming from Australia, around 4,000 per weekend, and then lots from the UK, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain and then South America and India. Now, we’re also seeing a lot of people coming from China,” the festival’s press coordinator Debby Wilmsen told Pollstar.
Some 38,000 visitors per weekend stay at the festival’s camping site Dream Ville, which is the size of 128 soccer pitches and launches with its own dedicated welcoming event called “The Gathering” on the Thursday before the actual event. 32.000 festivalgoers travel via so-called Global Journey travel packages, which include flights, buses, trains and/or hotels. Brussels Airlines is Tomorrowland’s partner airline, and boasts a custom-designed Tomorrowland plane. According to Wilmsen, 240 flights from 83 different bring in some 11,000 people. This year, official Tomorrowland gate parties are going to get travellers hyped at 24 airport gates around the world.
This year’s lineup includes Carl Cox, Charlotte de Witte, who will be hosting her own stage, San Holo, Oliver Heldens, Hardwell, Axwell/Ingrosso and Steve Aoki — and that’s just a glimpse at the first day.
More than 1,000 acts are to perform over the course of the weekend, including Alison Wonderland, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Armin van Buuren, Fatboy Slim, Tiesto, Alesso, Paul Oakenfold, in short: everybody who is anybody in the wider genre of electronic music.
It’s the festival’s 14th edition, and founding brothers Michiel and Manu Beers have come a long way. The first edition welcomed 10,000 guests to De Schorre park, a recreational area in Boom, where the event still takes place today. Back at the premiere in 2005, Tomorrowland boasted five stages, not making use of the full site. That has changed. Today, the festival’s 16 stages take up the entire park.
“We cannot grow anymore. So the only solution we had was to double the festival,” said Wilmsen.
8,000 people and five stages at the inaugural edition does not sound bad at all. According to Wilmsen, one of the festival’s appeals from the start was the fact that it focuses on electronic music, but takes place in the day.
Michiel and Manu Beers, who are avid clubbers themselves, didn’t want to wait until 4 o’clock in the morning to see their favorite DJs anymore. So they decided to do a festival for clubbers, outdoors and in the middle of the day in a very bright and colorful setting. The concept had already proven a success in the Netherlands, where electronic music festivals like Mysteryland or Extrema Outdoor have been converting nightlife lovers to daytime dancers since the ’90s.
It makes for quite a different experience for the DJs too, who were used to playing during the early morning hours in dark and dingy basements. “Suddenly, they could play in the afternoon, so they started to bring their kids and wives to the venue. It was a more relaxed atmosphere from the beginning,” Wilmsen explained.
Even though Tomorrowland has maxed out on capacity, there are no plans of ever moving site. Said Wilmsen: “We have a contract with the park for the next 20 years. We really like to be there, because it’s in the center of Belgium. The airport is only 30 minutes away, we have lots of hotels in the neighborhood and ample parking space. What is more, the park is really charming.” Tomorrowland’s main stage sits in a natural bowl, surrounded by sloping meadows, giving the site an amphitheater feel, which was the main reason the Beers brothers chose the site in the first place.
They started promoting Tomorrowland as part of ID&T Belgium. When the company sold to SFX in 2013, they decided to continue the festival independently under the new company name We Are One World. To this day, the festival is 100 percent owned by the two brothers, who come from a humble Flemish family (LiveStyle, the former SFX, has the first right on international festivals outside Europe and has a royalty on the festival’s ancillary business). They gained their first experiences as promoters when launching Antwerp is Burning in 2000, after going bankrupt with the event the year before.
And while there are no financials for Tomorrowland available, since it’s a privately organized event, it is safe to say that going bankrupt is not a concern anymore – not selling to SFX proved a wise move as well. “For Tomorrowland in it’s extremely important to stay fully independent,” Michiel Beers told Pollstar.
“We’ve built our festival step by step over the last 14 years, from 8,000 people in the first year to the global movement it became today. It’s our life’s work, which we are very proud of and want to keep on building for the next decades and generations.
“I’m convinced that being fully independent made us take the right steps and choices in creativity, organisation but also economic reality. For new initiatives, such as international festivals and ancillary business, we might need the right partner and have a very good relationship with a lot of big companies in live entertainment, but Tomorrowland is our little diamond, shaped from the heart which needs to stay as pure as possible.”
The Beers brothers employ 80 full-time staff in their Antwerp office, which grows to a crew of 12,000 during the event. In 2016, Tomorrowland was estimated to contribute €100 million ($117 million) to the local Belgian economy. It was the year the country’s capital Brussels was hit by a terrorist attack, causing all the festivals in the country to update their security strategies.
Apart from newly introduced government regulations, there wasn’t much Tomorrowland has to comply with, given that visitors’ safety has always been paramount at the event. A lot of investment went into the festival’s Event Control Center (ECC), which was established in 2012, before the brand expanded to the U.S..
New additions for the 2018 edition in Belgium include a live stage, a Hip Hop stage, and a new tent, called Atmosphere, a 32-meter-high, teepee-style construction boasting 120,000 LED, an immersive sound setup and 4,500 square meters of printed cloth. “We designed it ourselves,” said Wilmsen.
Like each year, the main stage will be completely redesigned. The festival’s in-house creative team starts designing each year’s event in September in consultation with the production team. All materials are stored in a warehouse located in a village next to Boom, next to a large greenfield full of containers, filled with more materials. “Every year we try to reuse things, so we don’t have to throw them away. Sometimes you will see items from a main stage from three years ago on another stage,” Wilmsen explained.
Some of the elements used at Tomorrowland Belgium, and its no longer existing offshoots in Brazil or the U.S., will also make their way into the festival’s first winter edition, which is scheduled for March 13-15, 2019, in Alpe d’Huez, France. The makers say it’s going to be a totally new concept.
According to Beers, “we’ve always tried to create the perfect event we like to go to ourselves. Two of the most important ingredients in everything we’ve done since day one are: our unconditional passion and our endless hunger to create the ultimate experience in every aspect of the festival. Creating Tomorrowland is not a job for us – it’s really what we breath every day.
“My brother and I started in 2004 with a very small but highly motivated group of friends that are all still extremely important today. And I’m very proud that, although we’ve become a much bigger and more professional organization, I can still feel the exact same vibe and energy that we began with today, which is essential to keep exceeding expectations year after year!”
Update: the information about LiveStyle owning the international rights to the festival brand and has a royalty on all Central European events was added in later, after the original article had already been published.