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Not everything in music is original: sometimes you have to accommodate the cover version.

With Splendour In The Grass parking its bike for a year (maybe more?), a bunch of other festivals doing the same, or in the case of Bluesfest claiming it might have to – not to mention the suggestion that the second weekend of Coachella may not sell out as a kind of “it’s everywhere” cloud – talk inevitably turns to gloom and predictions of the death of the festival and all good things which must follow.

And which media organisation doesn’t like writing a death notice in advance? Even if it is hardly the whole story with some of those struggling festivals hampered by poor lineups and demographic changes as much as cash shortages among potential festival goers, and plenty of festivals doing just fine thank you.

Perhaps not coincidentally these successful ones tend not to have the “backing” or you might say “interference” of an international gig promoting behemoth with little to no real connection with Australia, Australian audiences, or for that matter local and international acts.

Anyway, a decade ago, as the big dog in the Australian festival scene, the Big Day Out, was gasping its last breaths, there was speculation as to why, who and when, along with which festivals might step up to fill the gap. As Wind Back Wednesday shows, there was gloom, there was doom, there were hopes pinned on the next generation, and there was the occasional note of reason. Sound familiar?




 A MAJOR FIGURE in the local industry called the Big Day Out “a fucking mess” and questioned the settling of debt between partners [local promoter] AJ Maddah and [American-based tour promoter and venue operator] C3.

“I think the Big Day Out is coming to an end,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s got any legs and may have run its course. If that went away it’s a big loss the industry has to absorb. Contractors and stage builders and all those people, that's a big loss for them because it's a six show extravaganza which keeps a lot of people in business.

“It would be a bad thing if it went away but from what I'm seeing, I don't know that there would be any other choice.

Does the local industry need the BDO?     

“I think we can get away without it but it's going to take a lot of money out of the industry. It could send some of these contractors under, particularly those getting maybe $2 million or $3 million putting in stages and fencing. There aren’t that many big outdoor concerts at the moment and there is not likely to be. It's a pretty testing time with the dollar down now and ticket prices are still a big issue and ticket sales are still an issue. I’d hate to see it go away.”

Is it likely?

"If AJ walks away I'd be surprised if C3 picked up a $15 million loss. I imagine they’d bankrupt the company, go back to America and forget about Australia.”

Pearl Jam management have been expressing concerns comparing the audiences at their stadium tour a few years ago with the vast empty spaces during their headline sets, and even smaller crowds for the likes of Arcade Fire.

(Pleading for an audience? Pearl Jam at the Sydney Big Day Out, 2014)

“The kids were in the [dance music space] Boiler Room,” he said and speculated that the crowd figures announced looked “way over-inflated”. And there are stories of “the C3 guys wandering around the sites, looking at the skies, shaking their heads and wondering what the fuck is going on”.

“I think this is a big mind blast for them and could see the end of their love affair with Australia. $15 million is a monstrous loss to cover.”

This industry veteran does not see C3 wanting to rebrand the event as Lollapalooza as “Michael Gudinski tried for years to bring Coachella here and it didn’t make sense in the end.”

What are the reasons for the BDO dramas?

“Vivian Lees walking away was a big part of it. While he’s an abrasive bugger he was the one who gelled it all together. I think Adam Zammit’s been a very big part of it. He has no knowledge or ability in the live music industry and has been a part of the disaster that is happening,” he said, adding that AJ Maddah’s involvement "was an ego move” which given his success with Soundwave wasn’t necessary. “I think he’s bitten off too much to chew.”

“If you take your eyes off the ball you’re in deep shit.”

There’s also the lack of young headliners and the competing festivals which now attract bands and their managers.

“Laneways is selling out but it’s a boutique festival, catering for 12,000, 15,000. Falls is expanding to other states,” he said. “10 years ago every international A&R person and every international manager and every international agent, all they wanted to do was to put their bands on the Big Day Out. Now they’re not that fussed. They target Laneways or they target Splendour which is the big one.

“If I was to be asked who is the most in demand festival from an international point of view to put their bands on the bill I’d have to say Splendour and Laneways would be the two.”


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