Boom or bust: What's up with Australian dance festivals?

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The International Music Summit took place in Ibiza last week, with the world’s leading dance music heavyweights flying into the Spanish party island to debate some of the hot button topics in the dance world. Organised by Pete Tong and friends, this year’s IMS featured a market spotlight on the Australian dance music scene, with a panel of select key players taking to the stage to talk about exactly where our scene is at right now.

The panel discussion was moderated by Tim Duggan from inthemix, and featured Richie McNeill from Totem Onelove, Grant Smillie from Neon Records, Jon Hanlon from Konkrete, Matt Nugent from Onelove Recordings, Bev Malcolm from EMI, Kaz James and Wade Cawood. It was a lively discussion, with topics like how Australian acts crack overseas, who’s buying what dance music, the state of our radio market and the saturated festival market all getting an airing. Here’s a conversation-starting excerpt of part of the IMS panel discussion about our festival scene.

inthemix: Australia’s at a fascinating place in dance music at the moment. For a country of only 20 million people, it certainly punches over its weight. It’s the sixth largest music market in the world, and for the past few years, there’s been an over-saturation of festivals, which is surely of interest to the rest of the world. There’s been an adjustment over the year, where the strong ones have survived, and others haven’t. Richie, what’s your take on the health of the Australian festival market right now?

Richie McNeill, Stereosonic: There are a lot of festivals in Australia. Compared to other countries, we’ve had a strong festival climate over the last 20 years. I think it’s got a lot to do with the fact that our summer season is long – from October/November to March/April. I guess every Tom, Dick and Harry has come here from overseas to try to do festivals – some have succeeded, some haven’t. Australia’s probably very different from other countries because a lot of festivals overseas like Electric Daisy Carnival or Glastonbury are just one weekend.

Our festivals are more like a travelling circus – five festivals in two weekends. Competition is really healthy. We try to look at the end product and the individual punter who comes to the festival: how can we make it easy for them on the day? The ones who cut corners and do shitty production, or the line-up isn’t so strong, or the price is too much, won’t survive.

Grant Smillie: I reckon, to be fair, we’ve had every big jock in the world to Australia multiple times. There are only so many artists who have breakthrough records. Would it be fair to say when you’re building a line-up and charging hundreds of dollars for tickets, the punters these days are very savvy as to what the value proposition is. People aren’t asking, “Is Tiesto enough for a hundred dollars”, they’re saying, “Who else?” And that’s the problem. You might have 30 people on the line-up, but if they’ve been there twice in the last two years, that could be too often.

Richie McNeill: Yeah, also the price of the talent. It’s been hard to juggle a quality line-up, afford to book it and keep the ticket price at a good price. With competition comes an increase in prices. Say, we used to get an act for $100,000 for five shows, and in two or three years, the price went up to half a million because there are five other festivals competing for that act.

We talk in football terms: we’ve got a salary cap where we’ve got X amount of dollars to spend and we’ve got to put together the best line-up we can. The kids are getting savvier, and they don’t want to see the same acts every time. You look at something like Creamfields in the UK or Ultra in Miami, the line-ups from year to year are 80-percent the same. In Australia, there’s so much competition that if you had 80-percent the same acts as last year, people complain on the forums and say, “Oh, it’s the same old shit as last year.”

Kaz James: I think Australia pays more money for acts than anywhere else in the world, and I think it’s their fault. There’s a lot of egos and competition involved and only so many acts that pull in the numbers.

Matt Nugent: And the spin-off of that is that clubs have six weeks on either side of a festival where everyone’s spent their money on the festivals. We talk about festival pricing being too much, but you can’t tour decent big DJs through clubs anymore because, especially with America coming on-board, to offer someone $3,000 a show plus flights when they could get $20,000 a show on a festival, well, they’re not going to come. I think the club has become the unintended victim of this.

Jon Hanlon: I think though it can work if you get the right artist at the right time. For example, we did Hardwell in November when he didn’t have anything else booked, and we did six shows over two weekends, which was excellent. Some tours work, some don’t. It’s probably one of the most competitive, cut-throat markets to crack in Australia, particularly if you’re a foreigner. Tommy Trash is a good example of a guy who built himself up in Australia for years, and now he’s earning ridiculous money in the U.S.

inthemix: Live Nation’s purchase of Creamfields in the UK was one of the industry’s worst-kept secrets. We’ve heard they’re looking at the Australian market next. Richie, are they?

Richie McNeill: I mean, there’s always been outside interest in Australia. ID&T has come in and run shows, Global Gathering, V Festival and so on. Live Nation is definitely looking to invest. They just bought Australia’s biggest touring company, Michael Coppel. Pink, Metallica, Lady Gaga, all that stuff. Live Nation bought Creamfields UK, Summer Sonic in Japan, then Michael Coppel in January. I don’t think anything has to change if someone buys your company and keeps you there.


Comments arrow left

Juzzy9 said on the 1st Jun, 2012

Need more articles like this, great read


LifeOnMTV said on the 1st Jun, 2012

I'm really enjoying the local focus of the last few articles I've seen on here :)

DJ KnightSA

DJ KnightSA said on the 1st Jun, 2012

Can we get the full article anywhere?

Ben Royal

Ben Royal said on the 1st Jun, 2012

Great article. Grant and Kaz look like tennis players that have just loot a big match lol.


mattpolo8 said on the 1st Jun, 2012

yeah is there more to it? im really interested to hear the rest..


robohan said on the 1st Jun, 2012

Would like to hear what Wade has to say...


Morecowbell said on the 1st Jun, 2012

The club scene has definitely been subject to hardships too numerous to note here thanks to the explosion in festivals and their popularity here. Fewer big-name internationals make their way into our clubs nowadays, and the exclusivity clauses in the contracts of festival-playing artists exaggerate the situation. We are, however, so lucky to have a wealth of local talent to keep the (decent) clubs bouncing along in the absence of well-known internationals.


josh_goods said on the 1st Jun, 2012

festivals have turned music into a spectacle, so when we say x amount of people go to see these DJ's, really a small portion of that x is going for the music.
so then when it comes to a club gig, the swelling numbers of festival crowds is not AT ALL reflecting whats happening in the clubs.
I think if we have them there, we should push clubs in festivals to try get those attracted by the spectacle to give the music a chance.
festival stages should be run by each club, and then they can split the earnings from all the after parties.
everyone in this country needs to stop stabbing each other in the back to be #1. Europe did that and endured 2 world wars, and that is why since then, all the best music and art comes from there. they know they have to work togethet, and so do we


matzta73 said on the 1st Jun, 2012

Great article, there should be more of this journalism on inthemix.

Maybe the festival organisers should think about running more side shows of their big name acts in the clubs with their traveling circuses around the country....

Lets face it, most festival sets only run for 45min to 2 hours at the most. Plus it gives the punter an option to attend a festival or go to see their favorite at a club for a much reduced price?

Just a thought.....


Violentine said on the 1st Jun, 2012

Yeah, you've just cut out half of the discussion. You've forgotten to credential two of the participants. Could do better, ay?


Stocko12 said on the 2nd Jun, 2012

festival season is great for me, i enjoy the atmosphere and the days immensely, the weather is usually great and friends who arent neccessarily the full bottle on the acts or type of music venture out to enjoy some great times. however you cant beat a club show, and it is unfortunate we in australia dont get the amount that our music lovers want.

Dr Ranga

Dr Ranga said on the 2nd Jun, 2012

Most interesting read in a while. Please sir, may I have some more?


bulldozer said on the 2nd Jun, 2012

you forgot Mark James' take on it


daking79 said on the 2nd Jun, 2012

Nice one Tim D. The kids are spoilt for choice, the early days rave certainly didn't have promoters with the backing to bring out top quality talent so frequently. I guess people want to focus on who is in vogue and thats what the cool kids want.. Give me Sasha or Diggers any day.


Chillin said on the 2nd Jun, 2012

Would love to read the rest of this, excellent article.


SKYCRUISER said on the 2nd Jun, 2012

Back in the day you could go see the likes of Vath, Cox, Digweed, or Hawtin for the price of two beers, and then came the festival and with it came sky high prices and a majority of people that have no idea about who is playing or the music they are listening to, and that for me is the saddest part of all.

I used to frequent every event that was held in Perth which had interstate or overseas talent and you could be assured that most people went because they had an interest in the music or wanted to hear what the dj had on it seems it's more about image and being seen than anything else. I refuse to partake in festivals because they have become to commercial and they have taken away the underground feel that the intimate club gigs have.

I think it's plainly evident when you see an article like the Detroit Immortilisation of techno pioneers get two responses.


twofortytwo said on the 3rd Jun, 2012

Excellent article! Why aren't there more like this?


Sweave said on the 3rd Jun, 2012

well the drum and bass scene in Perth clubs is quite amazing at the moment. Blokhe4d played on friday night, crissy criss tonight, tantrum desire in 2 weeks and than logistics and dirty phonics in another 2 weeks. For dnb lovers the club scene is very good at the moment!

Bob Seiji

Bob Seiji said on the 3rd Jun, 2012

Good article indeed.
There are a few good festivals in Melbourne but most of others are same shit, different names. just bring as many djs and artists as they can and let them play 1 hour set kind of festivals. There is no personality with those festivals. Need more of unique festivals


Bombalia said on the 3rd Jun, 2012

Richie is spot on with his formula for a successful festival. Keep the costs of the artists down so you can give the punter value for money. This is probably why Stereo is so successful. You get the most for your money. Great article ITM. Please publish the rest of the panel discussions.


stuieb said on the 4th Jun, 2012

quality article ITM


pumbz said on the 4th Jun, 2012

eh, its all just business at the end of the day,
how is competition healthy when you have two organisations doing everything?

mr flauge

mr flauge said on the 7th Jun, 2012

richies formula for a succeddful festival is cheese cheese cheese. steroidsonic sold 80% of its tickets to derricks that went to see LMFAO, benny bennassi and Avicii.
This means every stage, bar the main stage lost them money


IZME said on the 8th Jun, 2012

Fantastic article, is there a link to the live discussion?

Tim D

Tim D said on the 8th Jun, 2012

Full transcript of the panel is right here:


SANDSHREW said on the 9th Jun, 2012

Smokey Robinson: Singing legend. Record executive. Frozen food salesperson. Point guard for the Sparks.