Paradise Found: Why I Started My Own Music Festival

A new music festival sporting the auspicious title of ‘Paradise‘ was launched earlier this year and it got our attention immediately. The topnotch all-Australian lineup is dedicated to showcasing emerging talent like Glass Towers, Elizabeth Rose, Millions and Donny Benét who front the inaugural bill, and – in addition to those paradise-like tunes – the festival’s location at Lake Mountain Alpine Resort overlooking views of the Victorian Alps and Great Dividing Range suggest that its name was no random afterthought.

Sounds like the recipe for success right? You’d think so. But with the state of Australian music festivals already on shaky ground (Harvest Festival and Rap City are among the most recent casualties) the launch of a brand new one is an unequivocally risky move. Paradise founder Andre Hillas explained to Pedestrian that the decision-making involved in getting the festival off the ground was all about taking risks in the first place. We spoke with Andre about the process of bringing Paradise to life, curating the lineup and why he thinks music festivals in general have been struggling, citing the re-enlistment of expensive overcooked international acts instead of looking to homegrown talent as a major issue. We think this dude’s onto something…

PEDESTRIAN: How did the idea for Paradise come about? ANDRE HILLAS Well, I guess it all started as I was reaching the end of my degree. I was completing honours at the VCA [Victorian College Of Arts], and found myself more and more intrigued by public spaces and the act of performance. I started creating these large, interactive artworks that focused on the relationship people have with these spaces and what they mean to them and their sense of self. One in particular involved creating this tongue-in-cheek “club” environment within a gallery – the whole thing came complete with DJ, smoke machine, lights, etc.

While it started off as kind of a parody of club culture, as I started to put the piece together, I actually found myself really enjoying the process! At the same time, I had also been volunteering at lots of big music festivals around the country. Suddenly, this thought popped into my head: maybe I could actually make something of this myself, you know, create a new festival from scratch that could represent something completely different for the scene? I guess that was the ‘inception’ point. Later I experimented with organising other small DIY festivals, and now with some experience behind me and the backing of an extraordinary team, I finally feel ready to professionally present Paradise.

What was the ‘something new’ that you guys wanted to bring to the Aussie music/festival scene? As a team, we see a lack of confidence within the Australian music industry in its own talent. I personally think that some of the world’s most exciting and innovative music is coming from our shores. The ‘something new’ that we are focusing on is actually not so ‘new’ to begin with – it’s simply an emphasis on the fantastic, yet often overlooked, Australian musicians that fill our venues every night of the week.

Paradise is certainly not about spending big to get some overcooked, washed-up international act to come here and beef up an otherwise relatively weak bill. It’s about sharing groundbreaking talent, some that will soon crack the international scene. I guarantee you will leave Paradise proud to say that you saw these bands first.

Melbourne producer OSKR features on the Paradise lineup:

So where do you even start bringing your own festival to life – what are the first steps? The first thing I did was assemble a strong team around me, people with industry experience and a strong belief in this event. From there, we have been working away all year booking bands, forming relationships with other like-minded businesses and planning the venue and logistics of the whole thing.

What are the biggest challenges and obstacles you’ve faced so far? Getting a new festival off the ground is a tough job! There are heaps of legal and paperwork-related jobs that can bore you to death, but the largest hurdle would definitely be trying to get a foot in the door of the music industry. We’ve had to put a lot of time into building important and lasting relationships with a lot of valuable people to get this thing off the ground. As an independent festival, we don’t have some huge financial backing from a larger umbrella company with vested interests. In some ways, that’s liberating – for instance, we don’t have to compromise our integrity for money’s sake – but in the same vein, we also have to be conscientious. We really, truly value our artists and have chosen them wisely. In short, we’re genuine about them.

Elizabeth Rose will perform at Paradise festival:

Talk us through curating the line-up – did you go out looking for new names or did you guys already have a pretty set wish list? We had a pretty solid idea of what artists we wanted to book before we started. It was a fairly simple process of looking at the acts we have loved seeing live and the acts that we can’t stop playing on our iPods. From there, we started discussion with them and begun the booking process. I feel that we have curated a lineup with some of Melbourne and Australia’s most innovative musicians. These are the bands you really NEED to see if you already haven’t.

Melbourne-based vibe wranglers Client Liaison are on the Paradise bill:

Do you think there’s as much demand for homegrown acts at festivals or is it all about international names? I feel that there is an unnecessary emphasis on international acts billing highly on festival lineups here. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really great musicians coming out here at the moment, but an issue arises when these acts are prioritised over Australian talent.

For promoters, I think the temptation can be to spend really big on very well-known, already established international acts. They make incredibly safe choices to minimise risk, which is understandable of course, but it’s also boring. While it’s great to see artists enjoying Australia so much they return, when you’ve seen them headline a few years in a row, you start to wonder about diversity. Festivals have more to offer people for their money, they should equally be about supporting emerging acts and establishing their own culture, as well as playing the old favourites.

Where did you come across the venue? It really does look like paradise! Does the fact it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere make the operational side of planning the festival more difficult? Yeah, you’re right, it is Paradise! In our search for a location, Lake Mountain was at the top of our list seeing it’s absolutely spectacular.

As you can imagine, holding it on a mountain does throw a few challenges our way. Simple things like power and water start to become somewhat of a large task to organise. That said, I’m so excited to host the festival at Lake Mountain, as it positions the festival in a unique environment that is new to the Aussie music landscape. We have worked intimately with the staff there, as well as Landscape Architects and Designers, to put together what we feel will be a beautiful fusion of urban chic and idyllic alpine landscape.

What kind of vibe can punters expect at Paradise? We’ve designed a festival that strays away from the overwhelming crowds and chaos that is standard at festivals these days. Paradise will give you room to breathe! The vibe’s going to be relaxed and chilled, somewhat replicating the surrounding landscape. We’ve designed the festival so it’s fun and bouncy at the music, but you can retire to a quiet campsite, uninterrupted by the crowds and noise from the stages. Paradise could be seen as part of the ‘boutique’ festival scene, where the vibe is intimate and you feel like part of a huge friendly party, rather than just another face in the sea of a crowd.

What’s the ‘5 year plan’ for the festival? We plan to slowly grow Paradise, allowing more people through the gate, but still keeping our friendly vibe and emphasis on Australian music. If the public like what we are on about and support us, we’d like to take the opportunity to showcase our festival to other states in a few years time.

Okay, lastly: what changes are you seeing within the Aussie music scene? Any predictions for the future? This year we saw the Australian festival bubble pop. It’s been hard to watch all these fantastic events go under and take their name off the calendar. I’m not entirely sure where the festival circuit is going, but I predict that the stronger events will keep their head above water and push through this dark period. Generally, I think the festival circuit needs to refocus – they need to come back to their essential purpose, which is to celebrate the best music can offer, not necessarily the ‘biggest’.

I’ve also noticed larger support internationally for Australian acts, largely due to the Internet over the past few years. Dudes like Flume and Gotye have become huge, worldwide success stories mainly thanks to support from the online attention they’ve received. As a small, isolated country, the Internet is such a great platform for artists to break through and reach beyond our geographical border. I think the natural progression for the Australian music industry will be to start looking at these ‘smaller’ acts within.

Paradise will run across three days and two nights from November 29th to December 1st and tickets are on sale now at the Paradise website OR you can win two tickets to Paradise by hitting the comment section and telling us your favourite act on the lineup and why they are paradise to you.

Paradise 2013 lineup:
Glass Towers
Elizabeth Rose
Naysayer & Gilsun (DJ Set)
Client Liaison
Albert Salt
Dark Arts
Donny Benét
Electric Sea Spider
Glass Mirrors
Hollow Everdaze
House of Laurence
Hug Therapist
Kate Martin
Michael Ozone
Post Percy
The Demon Parade
The McQueens
The Red Lights
The Supporters
Them Swoops

Main image: Zak Hussein for Getty Images.