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French rock at live concert test for return of normal life – POLITICO

PARIS — The excitement was palpable at the Paris Accor Aréna.

An ecstatic crowd of 5,000 rocked their way through a test show headlined by veteran band Indochine on Saturday in the country’s first indoor live performance since the pandemic shut down concert halls over a year ago.

“I can’t wait to feel the vibrations,” said Céline, a 40-year-old teacher ahead of the show.

She was unfazed by rules that forced her partner to stay home. “I’m up for future concerts with the same health protocols, if they’re as well organized as this one.”

The trial show, dubbed Ambition Live Again, was organized by Prodiss, a music industry union, and the Assistance Publique–Hôpitaux de Paris, which runs the city’s public hospitals.

It aims to assess the coronavirus infection risks for a standing audience with masks, but without social distancing. If effective, it will be duplicated across France for a full-capacity reopening of the country; 2,000 pandemic-stricken concert halls.

Concert-goers outside the trial show on Saturday afternoon | Laura Kayali/POLITICO

“Concert halls have been closed since March 2020, that’s unfair. We wanted to assess what scientific response we could bring,” said Angelo Gopée, one of the organizers of Saturday’s gig.

“We want to model a protocol applicable to any pandemic, so that we never have to close our venues again,” explained Gopée, who is director general of Live Nation France, a leading concert promoter.

Other European cities, including Barcelona and Liverpool, have already tested indoor live shows without signs of increased infection.

Ahead of Saturday’s event, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo blamed “bureaucracy” for delaying the start of similar trials in France.

Expectations are high for a reopening of the cultural sector, a cornerstone of the French economy and its soft power that accounted for 2.7 percent of gross domestic product before the pandemic. COVID-19 has decimated the live show industry. In 2020, Prodiss members suffered an estimated 84 percent drop in revenues, losing €1.8 billion.

In a testament to the concert’s symbolic importance, a battery of politicians — some of them campaigning for June’s regional elections — came for the show.

Hidalgo, Paris region President Valérie Pécresse (two potential rivals in the 2022 presidential election) as well as Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot and Health Minister Olivier Véran were among those bopping along to Indochine hits like “J’ai demandé à la lune” and “L’Aventurier.”

In press conferences, the politcians were eager to show that a return to normal life is around the corner after more than 15 months of sanitary restrictions that have left the French weary and longing for change.

Verdict in end-June

If successful, Indochine, who are celebrating 40 years as a group, and warm-up DJ Etienne de Crécy, could clear the way for more full-capacity concerts soon. The Killers, Dua Lipa and Elton John are among stars lining up Paris shows over the coming months.

Saturday’s event is also testing public acceptance of the pass sanitaire, due to go live on June 9 in France to facilitate travel and entry into large-scale events. Concert goers were invited, but not required, to plug their negative coronavirus test results into a TousAntiCovid app ahead of the show.

The event, which was postponed several times because of resurgent infection rates, has been months in the making. The cost, estimated at about €1.45 million, was supported by companies including Spotify, its French rival Deezer and media conglomerate Vivendi, as well as public money.

Out of 20,000 applicants, 7,500 low-risk people aged between 18 and 45 were selected to attend, shutting out some of Indochine’s older fans.

Gleeful fans soak up the atmosphere as Indochine rock the Paris Accor Aréna | Jean-Louis Carli/Alea

From Wednesday to Friday, the Paris Accor Aréna — one of the country’s flagship concert halls where international superstars such as Britney Spears and Lady Gaga have performed — morphed into a giant testing lab.

The 7,500 people chosen were tested for COVID-19, but only 5,000 were allowed into the concert. The 2,500 others were placed in a so-called control group and had to stay home.

Attendees were tested a second time on Saturday, and both groups will need to do so again in a week to assess whether the gig increased contamination risks. Results will be known by late-June.

Enthusiastic fans — many clad in Indochine t-shirts — started gathering outside the venue in the early afternoon sunshine. The concert started at 5 p.m. because of the continuing 9 p.m. curfew, a painful reminder that life is not exactly normal yet.

Nevertheless, for two hours, fans danced, jumped, clapped their hands and sung along to Indochine’s greatest hits. Singer Nicolas Sirkis was visibly moved to be back on a live stage. Bars and food shops were closed inside the arena, but organizers distributed water bottles at the entrance.

Smart cameras all around

Saturday’s test concert also tried out another first: Smart cameras assessing whether masks were properly worn.

An algorithm developed by French AI startup Datakalab will process the cameras’ video streams and deliver statistics on whether the public kept their masks on during the concert.

Cameras were set up to track whether the music fans were wearing their masks properly | Laura Kayali/POLITICO

The technology is controversial. Last year, Paris’ public transport operator RATP stopped using Datakalab’s tools in the Metro after the data protection authority CNIL raised concerns.

However, France’s privacy watchdog greenlit the test concert’s protocols saying the public had given consent and safeguards were in place.

Datakalab will store the images on hard drives, and delete them as soon as the Assistance Publique–Hôpitaux de Paris asks them to, said the company’s co-founder and director general, Xavier Fischer. “We process the images locally, because there can be security vulnerabilities on cloud services,” he explained.

Most concert goers seemed to accept the setup. “I’m aware of the controversy around the cameras but I don’t really mind, as long as it’s an experiment and it’s not used for mass surveillance,” said Aurore, a 29-year-old assistant TV producer. “As long as we consider that we are guinea pigs.”



Due Credit: Efogator.com

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