From grime to glitz: Eurovision jumps on industrial bandwagon

The choice of a former ship building wharf as the setting for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest was a calculated gamble by the show’s producers

The tallest of the two former shipbuilding hangars towers 75 metres above an industrial wasteland on the northerly tip of Refshaleøen. Long grass sprouts from between cracks in the concrete and rubbish drifts about aimlessly in the breeze.

The site is the unconventional choice for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest that Denmark will host May 6-10 thanks to a bare-footed Emilie de Forest sweeping to victory in this year’s competition in Malmö.

The organisers want to transform the B&W Hallerne and the 40,000 square metres of surrounding land into ‘Eurovision Island’ and stage the most unconventional song contest ever, which will be transmitted to hundreds of millions of global viewers.

There were simpler options, but the risk might just pay off.

Jutland wanted it

Cities across the country threw their hats in the ring to host the event following Denmark’s win. At stake was prestige, exposure and millions of kroner in tourism revenue.

Copenhagen seemed sure to host the event but after the national football stadium Parken – which hosted Eurovision in 2001 – pulled out of the race in June, it seemed that Denmark’s western peninsula Jutland had a real chance of hosting the competition.

The clear favourite following Parken’s withdrawal was the 15,000-seat capacity Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning, central Jutland, which has hosted pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Madonna since opening in 2010.

The renovated former prison in Horsens was also a contender, but neither could persuade the judges, and on Monday the public broadcaster DR handed the competition to B&W Hallerne.

Refshaleølen marks a departure from the traditional glitz and glam of previous Eurovision locations, like this year's competition, pictured above (Photo: flickr / quirischa)An unconventional choice

The Eurovision Song Contest has traditionally been an extravagant event staged in purpose-built arenas or large TV studios and broadcast to a global audience, lately of around 170 million people.

The B&W Hallerne were not designed to host a spectacular TV event, however. The shipbuilder Burmeister and Wain became a global leader in ship construction after building the two hangars in the 1960s before going bankrupt in the 1990s.

But it’s precisely this industrial backdrop that attracted the show’s producers, who are now hoping to use it to set Copenhagen’s show apart from every single one that preceded it.

“We will be able to produce an innovative TV show that previously has not been experienced in the history of the competition,” DR executive producer Pernille Gaardboe told

“Right from the start we have had an ambition to modernise the Eurovision Song Contest whilst still respecting its traditions. Refshaleøen gives us the opportunity to create a totally new and unique show, because we ourselves can decide how it looks both inside and out. We can tailor the halls to our requirements and give the show its own distinct character.”

The head of show, Jan Lagermand Lundme, explained that the site offered a wealth of creative options.

“The halls are not defined,” Lundme said. “There is no set place for the stage and no definite location for the audience. It’s up to our creative minds and our imagination.”

Industrial chic

Taking Eurovision out of the arena may seem revolutionary in Eurovision terms, but according to associate professor Fabian Holt from the University of Roskilde – an expert in communication, culture and media, whose research covers the development of live music venues – it too is a tried and tested strategy.

“The idea of combining a post-industrial space, like former factories or meatpacking districts, with cultural events is already well-tested,” Holt told The Copenhagen Post. “Post-industrial spaces were first used by subcultures and now it’s been adopted by mainstream culture. They help create an experiential universe, which in this they are calling ‘the Island’, and that gives the audience a more holistic experience than a show in a TV studio can provide.”

Holt explains that Refshaleøen’s geographical location, set to the east side of the harbour and with a view of the city from the top of the buildings, allows the organisers to create a more developed narrative for the show – though he warns that it may not be as easy in practice as they think.

University of Roskilde professor Fabian Holt suggests that the use of industrial spaces for events helps create an 'experiential universe' (Photo: Peter Stanners)“On paper it may sound different and interesting but the real challenge is translating the building’s elevation and physical space to a mass television audience,” Holt said.

With the addition of the Scandinavian Reggae Festival this summer, Refshaleøen has become an increasingly popular venue for festivals like Copenhell and Distortion that repeatedly return to the industrial area over the summer months.

“I love that area and I think it’s cool that Eurovision have decided not to be so ‘poppish’,” Distortion organiser Thomas Fleurquin told The Copenhagen Post. “It’s become trendy over the past 20 years to use these sorts of sites. Rave culture has been enjoying industrial settings and broken windows for 20 years – now it’s just mainstream.”

Despite his enthusiasm for the decision, Fleurquin is worried that the site is not designed to host a large-scale TV production and that unless the buildings are redeveloped, the fire authorities are unlikely to allow an audience larger than 4,000 inside either building.

Towering costs

Hosting Eurovision has never been cheap. Ireland memorably fielded poor candidates in the late 1990s after repeatedly winning, and hosting, the competition.

For those worried about how their taxes are spent, DR’s decision to set the competition in B&W Hallerne is unlikely to be a comfort.

“I suspect that they will want to build most of the standard arena facilities, and that will cost a lot,” Holt said. “The seating and stage architecture both need to be built from scratch. But right now we can only speculate on the costs as we don’t know how extensively DR is planning to alter the buildings.”

In recent years, the spending on Eurovision has ranged from around 110 million by Sweden last year and 123 million by Norway in 2010, to the astronomical 261 million kroner spent by Azerbaijan in 2012 and 239 million kroner by Germany in 2011.

“The budgets are ever increasing as the demands of the public, and especially the media, increase. So if they want to spend a large sum, they will have to find a way of justifying it. DR might end up arguing that they will need to spend a little more than average because of their special ideas, but I doubt they would get away with doubling the average budget. People will ask why so much money needs to be spent.”

Copenhagen was always going to win

Holt argues that the cost would be significantly reduced if it were held in an established arena, which was one of the strong arguments used by supporters of Herning’s Jyske Bank Box.

But there were other arguments for bypassing the capital. Many argued that provincial Denmark has been steadily losing out to the rising dominance of Copenhagen, and that Jutland could do with the economic boost from the tourists.

According to DR, 31,700 tourists visited Malmö for this year’s Eurovision, which brought a 140 million kroner boost to the region.

Far-right party Dansk Folkeparti also argued that putting on the show in Herning would also demonstrate that “Denmark has far more to offer than Copenhagen”.

But most agreed, however, that the one-off event would be best used to market Denmark as a whole and that the capital was the only sensible choice.

“Are [journalists] reporting from Denmark going to show it as a town in the Jutland heath, or are they going to show the cruise ships in Copenhagen’s harbour, which in 2012 was the Baltic’s busiest harbour?” Socialdemokraterne MP Sofie Hæstorp Andersen wrote in an opinion piece for Berlingske newspaper. “What sells the Danish dream best?”

The international reaction to choosing Copenhagen for Eurovision 2014 has been predominantly positive (Photo: Peter Stanners)The bloggers approve

If the international reaction is anything to go by, DR’s decision was spot on.

Renowned London-based Eurovision blog ran a campaign denouncing Herning prior to the decision, arguing that with few hotels and a poor nightlife, tourists would have to travel long distances during the competition week.

The B&W Hallerne, however, seemed like a far better candidate.

“Industrial is seriously in this year, so DR will totally be on trend,” the blog stated. “Who doesn’t love a bit of edge?”

Factfile | Eurovision Song Contest in Denmark

• Denmark competed in the contest from 1957-1968 and again from 1978-present
• The first Danish win came in 1963 and the 1964 contest was held at Tivoli
• Denmark also hosted the contest in 2001, holding the event at Parken in Copenhagen. That contest attracted a record 38,000 spectators
• Emmelie de Forest’s ‘Only Teardrops’ won last year’s contest, making Denmark the only country to win twice in the current millennium