Today is a sad day for live music in Australia.
AJ Maddah, well know promoter and the person referred to last year as the most powerful man in music is no longer involved with Big Day Out. This news breaks within hours of the confirmation that Warped Tour won’t be returning this year.
Maddah is a really good promoter and while he is known for being an interesting character, he cares about live music and he cares about the music scene in Australia, that’s one of the reasons why he bought into Big Day Out (BDO) in the first place. Having BDO completely US owned will almost definitely change the feel of the festival, if the festival continues at all. The only positive that may come out of this is the opportunity that smaller Australian promoters and event organisers in each state may have when it comes to the on the ground delivery of whatever BDO becomes in the future.
If BDO hadn’t had all of the issues with Blur this year, I think it would have been a success. I was there, and apart from it being a little quiet, it was a very well run day. The new Perth venue worked, the layout worked and everyone there seemed happy. One of the main reasons the large debt came about was that when BDO approached the three head liners (Arcade Fire, Blur and Pearl Jam), it was not expected for all to accept. Then, when Blur pulled out they had to replace them. Not only did they engage other bands, but refunds were offered and I’m sure many people, judging by the attendance levels, took the opportunity to get their money back.
From what I’ve read and the minimal dealings I’ve had with AJ, he can be harsh. But he’s good at what he does. Really good. At one point he was successfully running three festivals (Soundwave, Warped and Harvest). His input to the Australian music industry is undeniable. But regardless of whether he should be involved with BDO (and if you check your facebook feed, I’m sure the opinions are very much split), I don’t think the move to having BDO completely US owned is a good one. I might be wrong, they might be able to turn it around and turn it into Lollapalooza, which would be brilliant. But BDO is a staple of the Australian live music scene. It’s been around for 22 years. It would be a shame to see what has the opportunity to be amazing, go to waste.
What I do think though, is that the operating model needs to be looked at. One day festivals, unless they are aimed at a certain niche (Breakfest, Laneway and now Circo) don’t seem to be working, especially not in Perth. It has nothing to do there being too many festivals, it’s about these festivals maintaining their integrity, while appealing too their broader niche: people who love music. As long as BDO maintains it’s underlying ethos, continues to allow under 18 people to attend and finds where it fits again, it will be fine.