TPMEA: Backbone International Inside Look

Joris Joosen, founder of Backbone International, talks to TPMEA’s Stew Hume about the company’s growth in the Middle East events market.

Translating creative plans into feasible productions

Starting as a freelance producer for Dutch entertainment and medium enterprise ID&T, a young Joris Joosen had the foresight and vision to create a fresh venture. The goal? To provide a service that translated creative plans into feasible productions across the globe. Over the last nine years, Backbone International has attempted to cultivate this vision while maintaining high efficiency, safety, and quality standards. With a wide variety of services, the company supplies production management, technical production, and technical design and overlay management. Since its creation, Joosen [who currently takes on the role of Managing Director] has always wanted Backbone to live up to the ‘International’ name in its title. To this end, the company has bases in New York, Amsterdam, Jakarta, and Hong Kong - establishing itself in large-scale dance music, with clients including Sensation and Tomorrowland.

Over the years, one region that has been of serious interest to Backbone International has been the UAE and, more recently, the KSA. The entry point for Joosen and the wider Backbone family had been via Sensation – the world’s leading dance event. “By 2014, we had produced Sensation shows in over 30 countries on five continents,” began Joosen. “For us, the next step was to produce a show in Dubai.” The MD explained how most EDM events across the globe have high production standards, but Sensation “brings that to a whole new level.” He elaborated. “The level of detail in the set, technically and aesthetically, is phenomenal. Bringing Sensation to the UAE meant we had to get involved with local suppliers and their teams. Together, we worked on the complex technical production of the first outdoor edition of Sensation.”

It's all about how you do it

Joosen explained how, during the first 2014 project, the local Dubai crews working on the project showed great interest in the production, especially in how Backbone International approached dealing with technical equipment. “For a Sensation production, it’s not just hanging lights, audio, and video - it’s all about how you hang products. It’s a particular process to get the most out of their functionality,” stated the MD. “In the UAE, the suppliers and their teams were very eager to work with us, and they stepped up to deliver to their best ability. In the end, the welcoming spirit of the UAE and its suppliers made the difference.”

Moving on from the success of the 2014 event, the Backbone team has continued to return to the region for a selection of events in both the UAE and, more recently, the KSA region. “I think for us, the Sensation in Bab al-Shams was a highlight,” reflected Joosen. “To build a show in the middle of the desert, amid sandstorms, was a challenge that ultimately turned out to be a huge high point from our time in the region.”

Recently, the company expanded its Middle Eastern portfolio and worked on last year’s Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia, along with the 2018 biggest EDM event, BAO Festival. For BAO, Backbone assisted promoter Envie Events with the technical production and design, and its company’s technical producer dealt with many challenges. The festival next to a racehorse track meant the stage couldn’t be built higher than the first 15m because of the lighting needed on the track. The upper part of the stage had to be built in just six days. Although Backbone was brought on later than usual for this scale of project, its technical producer and his team of local workers nevertheless made this large dance festival a great success.

Be mindful of cultural conventions

With over five years of experience working in the region, Joosen listed some lessons he and his team had learned working in the Middle East. “We have learned that you need to be connected to the locals,” he mused. According to the MD, this included surrounding themselves with Arabic speakers and being mindful of cultural conventions. “Being flexible and able to adapt to local cultures is an exciting and important part of our work,” he stated. Being involved in such a selection of global events, TPMEA quizzed the MD about any commonalities between any Backbone International productions.

“We are very straightforward and ‘tell it how it is’ no matter who we are talking to,” he enthused. “It’s the easiest way to communicate, bring information across, and accomplish a project. Of course, we must adapt and adjust to the local culture, but our work ethic and methodology are the same anywhere else. People are very much open to our opinions and the knowledge we are trying to share. For us, it’s important always to be straightforward and proactive.”

Think global by acting local

To close, Joosen discussed his thoughts on the development within the region. “Last year was the first time we worked in KSA. The market is opening in Saudi Arabia, with last year’s Formula E marking one of the first-ever mixed audience events. At the end of the year, we will be back at Formula E in a bigger presence than last year and working on another couple of requests later in the season. We are also trying to get involved in the Abu Dhabi sustainability week, and we hope that BAO, the great event from Envie, will return in 2019.”

With an ever-growing roster of events, Backbone International seems to be considering new ways to increase its presence in the region. Perhaps even with a permanent base? “It's certainly a possibility,” admitted Joosen. “With the right local partner, we are very open to this, and we believe it would be very good tork and knowledge here permanently with a local team share our netwo instead of doing this on a project base. It fits into our idea: think global by acting local!” We look forward to witnessing the company’s next larger-than-life project.

TPMEA Interview Joris Joosen