Yesterday, AEG Presents UK announced the appointment of Chris Wareing to the position of senior vice president for global touring. Based in both the UK and US moving forward, he has joined the company “with the view of expanding on the company’s hip-hop and rap presence globally.” Joining Wareing in the move to AEG Presents is his fellow SJM alumnus Paris Harding, who has been appointed as a promoter – the latest in a host of recent recruitments at the company.
Here, we speak to Wareing about his goals, the growth of UK rap on the live circuit, and why the industry has to do more to help grassroots venues...
Why was now the right time for you to join AEG presents as senior vice president of global touring?
“I don’t think there’s ever a right time to leave a company like SJM. I’m lucky enough to have worked there for almost 10 years, having spent all my 30s there. I’ve worked on some amazing things and achieved so much and I am incredibly proud of that. Having the guidance of someone like Simon Moran [MD, SJM] is something only a select few people have had and I'm honoured to have worked with him. I am, however, a very ambitious person, and as I’m approaching my 40th birthday and reflecting upon how the next 10 years of my career will look, it became evident to me that my level of ambition has grown over time. Instead of me wanting to book the biggest and best tours in the UK, I want to book the biggest and best tours in the world and my new role at AEG will allow me the possibility to do that. I’m a firm believer in ‘anything is possible’, so I’m going into the new role with a renewed level of positivity and sense of ambition.”
In the new role, you’ll be based between the US and the UK. What do you see as your priorities in both territories, respectively, going forward?
“Looking at global touring, there doesn’t seem to be much of an export business from the UK. A lot of the touring seems to be bringing artists to the UK. I am fortunate enough to be working with incredible UK based artists who have the potential to be huge across the world. I’m in a position to offer those artists the option to work together not only in the UK, but outside of the UK, too. Being based between the US and UK allows me to build my knowledge of US touring and beyond and work alongside some promoters I have admired for a long time. Like in the past 12 or so years, my focus will be mainly placed on rap, hip-hop and R‘N’B. My ears have served me well for a long time and I hope they continue to do so in the new role.”
Joining you in the move is Paris Harding – why do you two work so well together?
“It’s always family first for me. We were friends before we were colleagues and that’s been an important part in what we do and how we do it. Implicit trust, honesty and balance are the key factors to our success. Paris promotes in a very similar way to me, which I think is a rarity. We very rarely look at metrics, the music has to come first. Paris is extremely calm, laid back and has fantastic ears. We recently did a Meyers-Briggs personality study and we were polar opposite in personality, and we all know what Paula Abdul once said about opposites…”
Instead of me wanting to book the biggest and best tours in the UK, I want to book the biggest and best tours in the world and my new role at AEG will allow me the possibility to do that
Chris Wareing, AEG Presents
Over the years, you’ve built a huge roster of global hip-hop, UK rap, R‘N’B and pop talent at SJM, working with the likes of Stormzy, Dave, Loyle Carner, D-Block Europe, Travis Scott, Little Simz and taking acts from their first shows to arenas. What do you consider your proudest achievements so far?
“I’m fortunate enough to have many highlights. For me, it’s a beautiful thing to work with artists from the beginning of their live career. From putting Stormzy on sale in Islington Academy2 on his first headline tour to selling out three nights at The O2 five years later is some achievement. I met Loyle Carner back in 2014. I loved – and still love – his music. I just wanted to help him as much as I could. His music was so different to what was out there at the time with grime coming through strong. He lives in his own lane and wears his huge heart on his sleeve. I put him on tour with Joey Bada$$ and a couple of months later I put him on tour with Atmosphere. I thought he could win over both audiences, the young cooler kids with Joey and the older hip-hop heads with Atmosphere and he did just that. Loyle, his manager Tommo and I, stood in Big Hands pub in Manchester before the Manchester show on the Atmosphere tour and I promised him, hand on heart, that he would sell out Koko on his own before the end of the next year. Safe to say he’s done that and much, much more. We’re just on the back of celebrating selling a full UK tour out in minutes which includes a night at Wembley and a night at Hammersmith Apollo… And we sit next to each other at the match as season ticket holders for Liverpool FC.
"Little Simz is another great success story. I first booked Simz to support Future at The Nest in Dalston in 2014 – what a show! – and she was incredible that night. The Nest was bouncing that much that night that myself and Semtex had to hold a speaker stack each to stop them falling on the crowd. It was one of those moments. We recently sold out three nights at Brixton Academy with Simz, becoming the first UK female solo artist to do so. Overall, I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve been able to do what I love, grow and find time and balance to raise a family in my hometown of Liverpool. To me, that’s the most important thing –my family and where I’m from.”
You’ve shown great intuition for talent over the years. In terms of rising UK talent, who should we keep an eye out for 2023?
“There is so much incredible talent out there, I can’t stop looking for what’s next. I’ve managed to build a community of ears over the years that I’ve done this, with like-minded individuals all sharing tips on talent, fashion and trends. Community is incredibly important to me. I’ve been known to be in a bar and watching a half-drunk student belt out an Eminem song on karaoke and I’ll take his number. You never know where the next up is going to come from!”
The Gods Of Rap tour was a huge success – do you think that offered a big reminder to people that veteran MCs are still capable of pulling in huge crowds and delivering essential moments in the present?
“I think people want a few things. They want an experience, and a good one at that. They want value for money and quite often, they want to revisit a time in their life that makes them happy. Gods Of Rap encapsulated all of those things. It was completely unexpected, people thought it was a tribute concert at first and that’s why I did the tour teaser with the voiceovers from the artists for Gods Of Rap 1. We live in a disposable culture, but to me, music is not disposable or even recyclable. When I was putting GOR 1 together, I thought, there must still be people like me out there who grab a rap record, put it on the turntable and sit back and take it all in, get up halfway through and turn the record over. Turns out there were plenty of people and that makes me very happy. I recently saw someone wearing one of the GOR t-shirts we designed for the tour in a pub in Derry and it made me smile. There is a lot of value in nostalgia, when you turn the news on and the future looks so negative, it’s sometimes nice to revisit the past.”
You’ve also been heavily involved in promoting Latino artists in the UK, such as J Balvin and Maluma. How have you seen those artists grow in recent years?
“The growth has been huge in the UK and around the world, in fact, because music is a universal language. As a promoter, I get the same enjoyment out of a Spanish speaking show because you see people happy and enjoying themselves even though I don’t fully understand the language – it’s what it’s all about. I’ve been looking at what Bad Bunny has done and the global growth has been phenomenal. Latino artists always seem to have an incredible level of production which gives their fans value for money and in turn generates repeat custom on the next tour.”
As someone who started out your career working at the likes of Liverpool’s Zanzibar Club and Barfly, do you think the industry is doing enough right now to support grassroots venues?
“Within a year in Liverpool both The Zanzibar and Barfly – more recently known as Arts Club – have both closed their doors as live music venues, which is incredibly sad for me. This is obviously happening up and down the country with independent venues, pubs and small businesses. The mess the Tories have the economy in aside, I think the shift in culture has changed the landscape of live music and the pandemic decimated what was left. Gigs are treated like events now, fans will save their money, get an Uber to the show, have dinner before and drinks after, and take the day off work the next day. I think the days have passed where people call into their local venue, pay £5 to get in and drink a £3 beer to support the local scene. The culture used to be calling into the venue to see what band will break next, buying the t-shirt and saying you were a fan from early. The way fans seem to show support now is by posting an Instagram story saying you were in an artist’s top 0.5% of listeners on streaming services. I want my kids to get out to gigs when they’re old enough, support new talent and buy merch off the artists they’re seeing. Merchandise, as well as being at shows, used to be an identity and people were proud of what band or artist logo was on their chest. I want the t-shirts I bought in the early ’00s that supported the artists I love to be passed down and cherished. For me, that’s the real deal, seeing one of my kids in a hand-me-down Cave-In t-shirt. To support new venues, we need more talking with our feet, rather than from behind a keyboard.”
Finally, you’re also working on your charity Fans For Foodbanks. What can you tell us about that?
“As a working class lad from Liverpool, being in a position to help others is a privilege. Whether the initiative can help one person, 10 people or 100, I will do what I can to help. Fans For Foodbanks is an initiative I’ve recently started to put together with the idea of artists, venues and promoters using their platform to help support local foodbanks. Fans are in turn rewarded for their contributions. I did a test run on a tour recently where fans brought food items to the tour dates and were rewarded with a signed limited edition poster from the band which was paid for by the promoter. More information on this will be available very soon on fansforfoodbanks.com and if anyone would like to support the initiative in any way, please get in touch!”