Sun sets on WA music festivals


In January this year, Big Day Out promoter AJ Maddah confirmed the 20-year-strong festival would not be returning to Perth in 2015. The following month, he also confirmed the same fate for his own touring festival, Soundwave.

Attending a live music concert is a common ‘to-do’ on many people’s bucket lists. But following the cancellation of the Perth leg of Big Day Out and Soundwave Festivals, this dream could now be harder to achieve for Western Australia (WA) punters.

The difference in availability of live music events in the East and West of Australia is a soft spot for many WA music-lovers and the feeling is only getting worse since it was announced the 2014 BDO and Soundwave events would be the last for the state.

Maddah was not shy in pointing the blame for these announcements directly at the Town of Claremont and State Government. He took to Twitter to share his frustrations ‘tweeting’: “between the stage [sic] Gov, local council and the assholes at the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) are making it impossible to do shows.”

Later adding, “It’s all about pushing events out of showgrounds so it can be flogged off to their developer mates for apartments & town houses.”

AJ 1

In an interview with FasterLouder, and via numerous ‘tweets’ on Twitter, Maddah revealed the Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne shows had been subsidising the Perth tour for years as “ridiculous” prices in the city meant the show resulted in “catastrophic losses”.

“A hotel room that you would pay $180 for in Sydney is $320 in Perth in the same hotel chain,” he said.

“Security is two-and-a-half times as expensive as on the east coast. “Combine that with dropping public support for festivals and attendance figures and then for all your trouble you get a kicking from the local government and state government – it just got to a point where it’s unbearable.”

Depsite Maddah’s comments and numerous reports in the media, Town of Claremont mayor Jock Barker claims he had nothing to do with the discontinuation of the WA leg of the tour.

He said, while he is certainly not disappointed the festivals won’t be returning, the council has “no power whatsoever” to stop any concerts from performing in Claremont Showgrounds.

“The decision not to return wasn’t made by the council, it was made by the promoters of both festivals based on economics,” he said.

“This is not being reported correctly by the press, they continuously want to make it sound like we’re anti-music. We’re not anti-music, we’re anti the promoters that put nothing back into the town, we’re anti the promoters who totally ignore State Government regulations and we are certainly anti the minority of people associated with antisocial behaviour at both these previous concerts.”

Barker also defended himself against claims he had a personal vendetta against ‘loud music’.

“It’s not me saying it’s too loud, I’m saying they have breached the State Government’s music regulations,” he said.

“I personally don’t have an issue with the noise those festivals made. The biggest noise recently in Claremont was the Perth Symphony Orchestra – they make a noise, but it doesn’t bother me. What worries me is the antisocial behaviour that gets associated with these festivals and that’s what the town was against.”

He said the promoters of Big Day Out and Soundwave “put nothing into the community other than their music”.soundwave

“We get a $300,000 annual clean-up bill after these concerts and what do they contribute?” he said.

“Do they ask local kids to work as roadies or as stage hands – no, they don’t.”

“It is a shame that people will now have to go interstate for these festivals but there’s not much we can do about it.”

 West Australia Music regional officer Nigel Bird said he wasn’t completely surprised BDO and Soundwave announced they wouldn’t be coming back.

“I know it’s definitely a lot more expensive to present a show over here than what it is over east,” he said.

“But, they (BDO) have run the same model for 20 years. You can’t keep sticking 100 bands into the same old ‘white tents and stage’ scenario every year.”

Soundwave Festival originated in Perth in 2004, making it even harder for supporters in WA to come to terms with the fact it won’t be returning to its hometown in 2015.

It started as a smaller festival known as Gravity Soundwave within the Gravity Games.

American pop-punk band Good Charlotte was the first headliner for the event followed by Grinspoon in 2005.

In its final year as Gravity Soundwave in 2006, American act Aiden performed alongside Australian bands Gyroscope, Kisschasy, Parkway Drive and The Getaway Plan.

The following year the festival expanded to include shows in Sydney and Brisbane and in 2008, Melbourne and Adelaide shows were added.

The festival celebrated its 10th birthday last year which featured a massive line-up consisting of headliners

Metallica, Linkin Park, Blink-182 and 69 other bands.

The 2013 line-up saw Perth’s Soundwave become a sell-out success, with more than sum 4140,000 supporting the event – still significantly lower than the 75,000 sold for the Sydney leg.

Nigel Bird said he thinks the promoters “would be mad” not to eventually come back but even if they don’t, he expects someone will quickly step up to fill the void.

“I think there is still going to be demand for something in space of Soundwave,” he said.

“You might find there may be a local promoter that tries to do something to fill that space, but not so much in the 40,000 capacity but maybe somewhere in the 5,000 to 10,000 capacity. “And if it sells out, it might just grow again.”

Despite WA being the largest state in the country, occupying 2,529,875 square kilometres, it only makes up 11 per cent of the country’s population with approximately 2.5 million residents according to the latest demographic statistics from the Australia Bureau of Statistics.

According to the latest Live Performance Australia Ticketing, Attendance and Revenue Survey, over 500,000 people in WA attended music festivals and contemporary music concerts in 2012, compared to a massive 1.24 million in NSW.

The LPA statistics also show WA is ranked fourth for market share revenue and attendance in the same year.

LPA revenue, tickets and attendence(Live Performance Australia: Ticketing, Attendance and Revenue Survey, 2012, 3.1)

Working in the industry for almost 20 years, Nigel Bird said the expectations of music festivals are changing and promoters need to adapt to stay relevant with the new generation of concert-goers.

“I think the venues and promoters need to get a bit more inventive and connect with their punters more and not just expect they can put bands on and people will come,” he said.

“You can’t really keep touring the same thing to a new generation – the four stages and a few white tents and terrible booze – I think people are asking for a bit more of an experience than that at a festival now.”

He said the fact there are more suitable venues and more people living over east means WA was often be skipped by live music acts in the past.

“It’s a very long way to come for one show,” he said.

“The lack of suitable venues for big artists in WA is definitely a massive factor in artists not touring to the state.

“With the introduction of the Perth Arena, I think Perth has seen a market increase in the amount of large international acts which are now touring to WA.”

The Perth Arena cost $548.7 million and took about five years to build, being officially opened in November 2012.

While its presence means artists like Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, The Rolling Stones and Katy Perry can now perform in WA, its capacity is still much lower than venues in the east.

The Arena’s 15,500 capacity pales in comparison to Sydney’s Allphones Arena at 21,000 and even more so to ANZ Stadium which can fit 80,000 at stage one and 110,000 at stage two.

Bird said although Perth residents have easy access to the Perth Arena and concerts held there, the rest of the state is at a ‘real disadvantage’.

“It’s not financially viable for big name acts to go to these smaller places in regional WA,” he said.

“If a person living regionally wants to go and see, lets say, Beyoncé, that means they have to get at least two days off because they need to travel there, and if they don’t have someone to stay with they also need to book a hotel.”

“So they spend like $300 on a hotel and they’ve missed two full days of work, so that means the cost of their trip overall can sometimes be around $1500- $2000.”

“As opposed to someone who lives in Perth who just has to finish work and go home, get dressed and go to the concert.”

NIgel BirdBird’s role at WAM is to coordinate existing programs and develop new programs and projects to celebrate and develop the skills of people working regionally in the music industry.

                                                            (Nigel Bird [right] with youth in Kalgoorlie)

He said the issue isn’t just about the lack of venues or touring music acts, it’s also about the lack of awareness for the other side of the music industry.

“I think the music industry and the general public are a little bit uneducated or unaware of the true value of music in the community,” he said.

“There are some amazing music-based programs that give back to the community that aren’t about making rock stars. There’s a whole bunch of hidden benefits that music can deliver for the community and I think we’re a little bit ignorant to that and  certainly undervalue the importance of it.”

As the music industry continues to change and CD sales continue to fall, Bird said other types of employment within the music industry need to be focussed on.

“I think using music as a tool for community development and development in other sectors is, for me, much more viable than being the next Jimmy Barnes – because there won’t be another one of them,” he said.

“It’s a different world to what it used to be and the music industry has so much uncertainty with it – who knows where we will be in the next 10 years. That’s why I think there are a lot more solid employment opportunities that can come from using music as a development and community tool across various sector.”


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