How do you host one of the largest international festivals of the year if you are uncertain whether people will actually be able to physically participate? That’s a challenge… From 18-22 may the Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Rotterdam, in an adapted form. The city is using all available creativity to make this edition a unique event in a digital, safe and sustainable way. Many organisations, people, venues, innovators, artists and governmental bodies are coming together to create a special festival for everyone, in unusual times, from which Rotterdam will be able to continue to benefit.
When in 2019 the final points were awarded at the Eurovision Song Contest and Duncan Laurence emerged as victor, practically the whole of the Netherlands was in a joyous mood and immediately started looking forward to the next edition which would be hosted in their country! Little did we know at the time that something ominous was looming, the global COVID-19 pandemic, which would throw a gigantic spanner in the works.
Now, two years after Duncan’s victory, we are living in a different world. COVID-19 has changed practically everything. People, businesses, whole economic sectors are trying to cope, many are struggling. Large events and get togethers are still practically unimaginable. Yet, from 18-22 May 2021 Rotterdam is hosting the Eurovision Song Contest. It will be an edition to remember! Rotterdam is the perfect city to host an event with the scale of Eurovision, with a proven track record of large international festivals, congresses, trade shows, musical and other events. Even in times like these, our city is actively looking for new ways to host and organise all kinds of events (physical, hybrid, online). For Eurovision, many organisations, people, venues, innovators, artists and governmental bodies have come together to create something beautiful for the world to see. Whatever happens with regards to the pandemic, the show will go on and will be spectacular and surprising. Why? Because we are Rotterdam. Whatever the circumstances, we find a way to make things happen.
If there’s one venue that is perfect for hosting this special edition of ESC, it’s Rotterdam Ahoy. With 50 years of experience in hosting concerts, shows, exhibitions, congresses and meetings, Rotterdam Ahoy is well equipped for this mega project.
In recent times Rotterdam Ahoy has proven to be a great example of the typical Rotterdam resilience and versatility. Being part of the events industry, the venue saw its business practically collapse due to the pandemic with physical events being prohibited. Rather than waiting for the situation to improve, Rotterdam Ahoy actively started looking for new ways to host events and offering their location and services for society’s needs. In 2020 Rotterdam Ahoy temporarily served as an emergency Covid medical facility. Where normally thousands of people gather for concerts, congresses, trade shows and sports events, rows of hospital beds and medical facilities were set up in the main arena. Rotterdam Ahoy also served as the stage for a special concert of Dutch singer Davina Michelle, organised in coproduction with a major Dutch radio station and streamed live online. The concert brought inspiration and positive energy to people in times of crisis. Rotterdam Ahoy’s full blown studio also proved to be useful during the pandemic, with several hybrid programmes and events being serviced. One of these events was Rotterdam Partners’ very own Red Carpet TV Show on November 2, 2020.
Rotterdam Ahoy is a venue with a long-term vision; they want future generations to also be able to enjoy all the events they have to offer. That’s why the roof of the new Rotterdam Ahoy Convention Centre (RACC) and music/theatre venue RTM Stage was recently turned into a big source of solar energy. In total, there are now 5,200 solar panels in place. Rotterdam Ahoy can use the sustainable energy that is now being generated 195 days a year to supply large-scale events.
A real first for Rotterdam: From 15-23 May, the virtual doors of a special Online Eurovision Village will be open to visitors from around the world. This online platform is the world’s first virtual version of the Eurovision Village, which was originally planned near the Markthal in Rotterdam. Fans and viewers will be able to immerse themselves in the 3D world of the Eurovision Song Contest 2021. The virtual village has been designed, built and filled with digital content by Rotterdam Festivals, entertainment agency Tribe Company and DEPT digital agency. The village is hosted by Municipality Rotterdam, Rotterdam Ahoy, Rotterdam Festivals and Rotterdam Partners.
No-one who is or was in Rotterdam during the last couple of months can have missed them: the thousands of Eurovision flags and banners that are visible ‘en route’ from Rotterdam Central Station to the Rotterdam Ahoy complex and that have turned Rotterdam into a bright, colourful Eurovision hub. The flags were designed by Studio VollaersZwart and were made from either old national flags or recycled materials. The flags and banners will be recycled into new plastic products after the event.
Another sustainable and highly visible Eurovision ‘tour de force’ is the four-metre high 3D-printed Eurovision trophy that can be found directly in front of Rotterdam’s Central Station. The trophy was made from recycled PET material retrieved from Rotterdam waters and is a genuine eye-catcher with a sustainable green footprint. It’s a reflection of the city’s character, long driven by the port, innovation and collaboration.
The creative industry in Rotterdam is booming. New technologies, adaptations and creations are finding their way around the world. The special ‘Rotterdam. #SWINGALONG’ campaign, launched by Rotterdam Partners and the municipality, is a great example of this professional creativity. This international campaign uses a catchy dance and a feel-good video clip to unite as many people as possible, digitally and safely.
With #SWINGALONG, Eurovision fans worldwide can dance along in the city in an innovative way with the help of a 360-degree view and life-size projection on the World Port Building. Despite the (travel) restrictions, the whole world is dancing along on social media and experiencing the city at the same time. The #SWINGALONG campaign is a true testament to the Rotterdam way of doing things: co-creation, inventiveness and creativity. Taking a challenging situation and not only making the most of it, but rethinking and reshaping it into something positive and fun.
Local entrepreneurs, artists, venues and organisations collaborated to create the campaign, including HUNTED Agency, Zuiver Media, REBLIKA and various other Rotterdam makers. REBLIKA, award-winning character company that creates state-of-the-art digital humans, 3D scans, and digital doubles for the fashion, gaming, and film industries, created a lifelike avatar of William Lee Adams, known from the Eurovision Song Contest blog Wiwibloggs. Through his avatar, the London-based journalist and influencer virtually danced in Rotterdam as part of the #SWINGALONG video clip. In the week surrounding the Eurovision Song Contest, a selection of people dancing will be projected life-size onto a Rotterdam location with an iconic view over the Maas: The World Port Center. A story about REBLIKA and their contribution to #SWINGALONG will be published on our website, so check back soon!
Rotterdam’s expertise in modern creative technologies was also on display earlier this year in ‘The Rotterdam Experiment’. One of the experiments was dedicated to AR, VR and mixed reality, and another event dedicated to gamification. We explored with partners and with industry experts what these technologies can bring to the events industry and how they might help us shape the future of events.
To make ESC 2021 happen, Rotterdam and all parties involved in the festival and campaign are showing resilience, creativity and the willingness to adapt plans to ever-changing circumstances. Rotterdam will surely provide any visitors that may be in the city for Eurovision a true Rotterdam experience, hopefully turning them into Rotterdam ambassadors. More than likely, most viewers of ESC2021 will be ‘virtual visitors’ that participate in the #SWINGALONG campaign and watch the live broadcasts. Live in Rotterdam, in front of the TV screen or online, the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 will provide an unforgettable and unique Rotterdam experience to people around the world.