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ESNS Exchange celebrates 20 years of putting breakout acts on the big stage

In partnership with ESNS

By Dale Fox

Composite image of Dua Lipa and Stormzy
Dua Lipa and Stormzy (Image: Ben Houdijk; Bart Heemskerk)

This year, influential industry event ESNS (Eurosonic Noorderslag) celebrated two decades of its game-changing ESNS Exchange program. This talent showcase has become a rite of passage for emerging European artists, providing career-launching exposure year after year.

Just ask chart-topping pop icon Dua Lipa or Mercury winners Fontaines D.C. Both pinpoint early ESNS showcases as pivotal tipping points. Or look at the hundreds of now world-renowned acts filling Exchange’s elite alumni list.

ESNS Exchange has one central purpose – facilitating the international exposure of the continent’s most exciting new artists. It achieves this by securing booking slots at major European festivals and putting the artists in front of influential industry figures. The results speak for themselves, with countless participants rocketing from obscurity to notoriety following breakout festival performances.

From pub gigs to stadium tours

UK punk rabble-rousers Shame recall Exchange “catapulting us into a new league” back in 2017. Their trajectory since highlights the sheer momentum Exchange can generate. From dingy pub gigs, they’ve leapt onto major festival bills and now sell out tours across Europe.

The platform Exchange provides is unmatched for propelling emerging artists onto greater things. A breakthrough showcase sparks a ripple effect of interest from festivals, industry and fans that many acts struggle to achieve alone.

ESNS states that so far in 2023, Exchange has facilitated over 300 festival appearances from around 130 emerging artists. Published testimonials from past Exchange participants suggest the opportunity can accelerate careers by providing wider international visibility.

Exchange has become one of the foremost launchpads for new artists

While initially focused on western European nations, Exchange programing has diversified over time to promote talent from all areas of the continent. For developing scenes lacking established international pathways, Exchange has become one of the foremost launchpads for new artists to reach external audiences.

As the music industry landscape has been disrupted by streaming and the Covid era, trade events like ESNS and incubator initiatives such as Exchange remain vital for nurturing new generations of talent. With organisers and partners expressing continued commitment, Exchange seems set to maintain its influential standing for years ahead.

That said, ongoing success will be dependent on the initiative preserving its early ethos – providing career-building opportunities to promising young acts, rather than profit-focused motivations. As Exchange moves into its third decade, maintaining this focus on developing emerging artists should cement its legacy as a valued pipeline for fresh European talent.