Entertainment Business Live: The Success Story of Backbone June 26, 2018
The roots of Backbone International go right back to 2007. At that time, Joris Joosen was working as a free-lance producer for among others Marcel Elbertse, who was the Operations Director at ID&T at the time. In 2010 they decided to start up their own production company: Backbone. “Our ambition was international right from the beginning”, explains Joosen. “When we started up Backbone, we took on a number of great people to realize our dream: the creation of a worldwide production network, where we match people with the same energy and the Backbone-DNA. It has never been our ambition to build a large business, but just to be the best in the world.”
The timing was good. Dance was getting more popular worldwide, and particularly in North and South America the demand for large and professionally produced EDM events was growing. And on the wings of ID&T, which was organizing dance events across the world at breakneck tempo, Backbone grew as well. “With Sensation, we were active in eight countries, and in a very short space of time this grew to 19 countries. With the expansion of ID&T to North America we also managed to get a foothold there.”
Europa and North America
In 2013 Backbone took a big step by merging with Live Republic, which became famous in Holland for B2B and consumer events for companies such as Tele 2, Sara Lee, Heineken, Hugo Boss, Tribe (Beach Festival Sand) as well as Liberation Pop Haarlem. Backbone International had arrived.
“It is still a perfect marriage”, according to Joosen. “With Backbone we had made a national and international name in the EDM live industry, while Pieter Lubberts, the founder of Live Republic, had a background in the corporate world and in the live market, and at the same time also had international ambitions.” Partly due to the arrival of Lubberts, who became managing director of Backbone Europe, it became possible to take the next, logical, step onto the international stage. Backbone enlarged its sphere of operations. Backbone merged with BPM International, which resulted in a Backbone office in North America. With managing director Rutger Jansen at the helm, the company grew into a well-known brand on the other side of the ocean too. Jansen was the owner of production office BPM International and was touring the world as production manager of among others Armin van Buuren. Joosen: “Rutger had a passion for the United States. One plus one made two: Rutger went to ‘The Big Apple’ and that was the start of Backbone in North America.”
Yet the ambitions of Backbone reached even further. Joosen: “Since 2012 we are also active in Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and India. A few months ago, we opened an office in Hong Kong. That was not with- out difficulty. The fury over the Panama papers and all the stories about people evading tax meant that we were scrutinized from top to toe. We managed to come out the other end without any problems, and now we start on the task, similar to Europe and America, of gathering people with knowledge, curiosity and the drive to expand their expertise.”
Hardware and software
There remains quite some work to be done in Asia, Joosen explains. “The hardware is available, but there is a lack of software. And by hardware I mean the lamps, the speakers and suchlike. The term software refers to for instance the sound people, the electricians and the designers. What we would term the “knowledge”. For us, it is the most normal thing in the world to think about these matters and to arrive at creative solutions, but in Asia there is still a lot to achieve in this regard. There are a lot of opportunities. That also applies to issues such as fencing, mobile water installations and facilities such as toilets. In Holland, we are at the forefront in the areas of professionalism and creativity, measured worldwide. How will I find the right people? I speak to my network of contacts. In this way we made contact with someone in India who has potential and who carries the Backbone DNA. We are going to bring him over to Holland for a few months and we’ll let him take a look around our kitchen”
Big shows for China and Japan are being drawn up and prepared in the Amsterdam office of Backbone. “The drawings and plans form the basis of every event and are developed in Holland, often in combination with our office in New York, where the time difference means it is six hours earlier. In this way, we can be active 24 hours per day. Then we arrange for the completed sets to be built for instance in China or Japan.”
Think global, act local
Can Backbone be considered to be an ‘ambassador’ for the Dutch festival industry? Joosen reacts modestly. “Not really, fantastic things are being achieved also in England and Australia. I believe very strongly in the maxim of ‘think global, act local’. In every country you will find excellent producers. By sharing knowledge and experiences, we build our world- wide production network while at the same time we try to increase the quality levels everywhere. But it is true that there are opportunities for Dutch suppliers. And here you should think of products such as rigging and site materials; we are already in talks with various parties who may be able to play a role in these areas. Chances to enhance the facilities market are definitely on offer”. The future looks rosy for Backbone International. Dates in the diary include UNITE and Tomorrowland in July in eight different places in the world simultaneously, and collaboration is in progress for the Star Wars Celebration in London. In addition, planning for September includes Sensation in while in November it is the turn of Dubai, and in October Backbone is involved with the AMF festival as part of the annual ADE. Work is ongoing currently for the new Sensation Show Angels and Demons in the Amsterdam ArenA, while Backbone is producing the Mirage project in Brooklyn. Recently, the company took care of technical and site production at the request of King Canary in Sugar City, the erstwhile sugar factory in Halfweg. This formed part of the Heineken Global Commerce convention. At the same time, the Backbone team was busy with the SunSets Festival tour, which took place last month in Mexico.
Both large and small
Joosen emphasizes that Backbone does not only produce large events, but also smaller, exclusive shows. “We are regarded as a company that carries out large-scale projects, but we also make a point of concentrating on new markets and small, but often very complex, B2B projects. While we carry a festival badge, we also organize small- er events such as the opening of The Edge, the new Deloitte office, on behalf of Hadimassa. We were also involved with SAIL Amsterdam (we took care of 80% of the total production, including the whole hospitality area), the Ronald McDonald Children’s Fund Gala in the Okura Hotel, and the Red Bull Bar Staff Challenge, that took place in Amsterdam last month.”
Looking ahead, Backbone wants to make steady progress and keep working on special projects. “Our focus must remain on quality, and from within that quality we must grow. Making beautiful things happen together with beautiful people, that makes us happy!”