“There was fuck all out there.”
It may be in A.J. Maddah’s typically blunt prose, but it’s probably the best summary of Australian festival lineups in 2014.
Describing the reasons behind the demise of Big Day Out, Maddah said there was a distinct shortage of headliners for festivals this year, going on to say: “We can’t continue to go ahead with a substandard line-up and damage what’s already a fragile brand, a fragile event”.
If only other festivals followed his refusal to deliver a substandard lineup.
The Australian music festival scene has grown stale, repetitive, and wholly unoriginal in terms of the bands performing, both international and local. The quality and profile of headlining acts has drastically reduced, and most festivals now seem to be selecting bands from a very limited pool of acts that tend to tour the country at least once a year.
The festival scene has been proliferated with new upstarts, with many holding their first festival this year, and this has only added to the problem: the already small selection of bands now have to be spread even thinner.
It could be due to the extremely high costs of bringing bands all the way to Australia, meaning that most tour as part of a festival instead of alone, the most popular of which come at least once a year.
Another problem for the general festivals has been the growth of genre-specific events such as Soundwave Festivals, meaning there are even less bands on offer.
These issues are compounded by the mutually dependent relationship between the festivals and music websites, with writers being unable to criticise lineups for fear of losing accreditation to the festivals. Lineups constantly escape criticism and scrutiny for this reason, and seem to be untouchable for most of Australia’s music journalism.
The recently-announced Falls Festival lineup consists of 16 bands that have already toured Australia in the last 12 months; that’s over half of the whole lineup. Jamie xx was here for Laneway in February and will be returning for New Year’s, while Parquet Courts have even a quicker turnaround, having just played Splendour In The Grass in July. Headliners Alt-J will have toured Australia three times in the past year after their whirlwind mini-tour in October before gracing the stage at Falls.
International acts such as Chvrches, Action Bronson, and Grouplove have also played at least two festivals in Australia this year.
Many festivals are also recruiting bands that have already played there before, with Bluesfest seeming to be the worst offender of this. Although you could argue with the amount of bands that seem to play Bluesfest, it’s unavoidable to have some overlap. The recently announced Bluesfest 2015 lineup includes five acts that played the very same festival last year.
2013 was undoubtedly a dark year for the Australian music festival scene, with the cancellation of Harvest Festival, Pyramid Rock, Peats Ridge Festival, Playground Weekend, Future Music and Supafest. There were simply too many festivals targeting the exact same demographic, offering tickets at exorbitant prices with lineups that didn’t reflect this price.
It’s little wonder that Australian festivals seem to be constantly in turmoil, with dwindling ticket sales and general interest, with little effort put in to produce creative and appealing lineups.
Festival lineups now seem almost like anagrams of all the other festivals that year, perhaps with the added drawcard headliner: Outkast at Splendour, Big Day Out had Pearl Jam, but not all can afford to get these huge acts.
There’s only one shining light in this, with Meredith Music Festival managing to remain interesting by bringing a diverse range of bands to our shores, some that have never visited before.
This year Aunty Meredith proclaimed that “it is a totally fresh cast, all brand new to The Sup’ – bar one special case”. And that special case is Augie March, who haven’t played a festival in eight years.
The lineup features many that are touring Australia for the first time, and only two that have been here in the last 12 months: the War on Drugs (Falls 2013) and Cloud Nothings (Laneway 2013).
This is a very impressive effort when compared to other festivals this year, with Big Day Out boasting six acts that had visited in the last year, Laneway featuring eight, Groovin’ the Moo with five, and Splendour with nine.
When looking at local bands, the problem is only exacerbated. There seems to be a group of only about 20 Aussie bands that festivals are willing to recruit, and there are some acts that play virtually every festival in the calendar year.
Chet Faker has played six major festivals in the last year, just pipped by Flume who played seven, while Vance Joy is playing quite possibly every festival in the country (at least seven).
Even large Aussie acts like The Jezabels and The Presets have played three festivals just this year, while relocated Sydneysiders Jagwar Mar appeared at Laneway and will be back for Falls later this year.
Nearly every festival in the year constantly attempts to cater to the Triple J demographic, and perhaps this is why they’re so dour and uncreative. It’s little coincidence that the two festivals that don’t do this, Meredith and Soundwave, consistently sell out in minutes, while many others are struggling or folding.
One of the great joys of music festivals is combining the experience of seeing your favourite bands, while also discovering your new favourite band, but if festivals continue to bring the same tired bunch of acts, this will become impossible.