Music festivals in Australia have had a rough trot this summer, particularly in NSW. While the bushfire crisis has been a huge factor in these struggles, the state government’s long-standing beef with festivals under the guise of the war on drugs has also played a role.
Vichara Edirisinghe, the co-director of Sydney-based touring and management company, Astral People, knows how hard festivals have had it. On the latest episode of thex Platypus Shoes poddy, Sneak Up, Vic had a chat with host Jack Colquhoun about one of the biggest deciding factors in the future of music festivals in Australia, and it’s probably not something you’ve considered.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to do festivals and events in NSW,” Vic said. “The companies that do succeed in this side of the business are ones that have long-standing relationships with local councils, local police, [or] have been operating for a number of years.”
In terms of festivals affected by recent events, Vic says the impact far greater than the events themselves, explaining that Astral People was affected in an “indirect way”. To give some background on how the industry works, he says that the goal of bringing an artist to Australia for the first time is to “sell out that small tour quickly and then be able to bring them back for a festival run afterwards”.
“You make your money back when you come back on festival tours,” he said, referring both to the business and artist sides of things.
“When festivals are a bit unsure about what’s happening, on the brink of closing or are closing, then that, on the touring side of things alone, throws that ecosystem completely out of wack.”
This creates a scary scenario where artists, promoters, suppliers and other stakeholders may not get paid, and of course, there’s no one to point the finger at in the case of natural disasters like the bushfires. This is where insurance comes into the mix.
“When I said the biggest thing that’s going to impact festivals in the future of NSW is insurance, it’s a pretty crazy statement, but it really is, because without insurance, basically what’s going to happen is you’re gonna have all these artists, they’re gonna put crazy insurance terms into their contracts to make sure they’re covered,” Vic explains.
“If the festival can’t get insurance against things like bushfires, then they can’t operate in those sort of unique locations and if that unique factor is the reason why people go away to these festivals, […] they’re gonna have to change their model.”
As Sydney did during the lockout laws, Vic is confident that festivals will find a way to adapt, but if they don’t, they’ll simply “get left behind”.
“I feel like the festivals will adapt, I think right now, though, it’s just really unsure,” he said.
“I think festivals in NSW are still going to exist, and then, as I said, people will adapt. I think whether they exist in their current context of being these amazing experiences three hours out in the bush of NSW or Victoria, that remains to be seen.”
When it comes to Sydney clubs now that the damaging lockout laws have been lifted, he believes it’s now about changing culture, which is much harder than changing laws.
“You can change laws overnight, but you can’t change culture overnight, and right now it’s a process of changing culture,” he said. “It’s a period of changing people’s mentality towards going out, it’s not about ‘hey, let’s go out and get fucked up in this three hours because that’s all we have,’ it’s about ‘hey, you’ve now got eight hours, just take your time.'”
You can hear more of Jack and Vic’s chat in the latest episode of Sneak Up, so make sure you tune in for details about how you can help revive Australia’s nightlife and festivals. In the meantime, get out there and support your local promoters, because they need you more than ever.Image: Astral People