Tag Archives: music

The problem with Australian music festivals

“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.

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Best Albums Of 2013

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#10: Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

The drawled, confident ‘Forget about it’ immediately draws you in, and Parquet Courts keep you there for the album’s duration. It’s straight-up, uber-cool garage punk rock from the Brooklynites. It’s effortlessly catchy and instantly enjoyable, and the stoner lyrics suit the laid-back vibes perfectly. ‘Borrowed Time’ is the clear standout, encapsulating everything that’s good about Parquet Courts, while the rest of the album kinda blends together in a brilliant, carefree mess.

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#9: Local Natives – Hummingbird

Following up their stunning debut was always going to be tricky, but Local Natives did it just right. They virtually disappeared for ages, took their time, and wrote a mature and refined followup that kept all the good bits and introduced many more. ‘Heavy Feet’ and ‘Black Balloons’ are just as catchy and infectious as anything off the debut, while the heart-wrenching ‘Columbia’ is by far the most emotional song the band have written, surrounding the death of a band member’s mother.

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#8: Born Ruffians – Birthmarks

Born Ruffians finally grew up. After two (brilliant) albums filled with teen angst and the highly relatable troubles of growing up, Birthmarks sees frontman Luke Lalonde actually dealing with having grown up. On ‘Needle’ he bemoans: “When I was a boy / I wished that I was older / Wished that I was taller, tall enough to see / See the things I see today / Now I wish they’d go away / Now they’ve led me far astray / Stray from what I need”, and is almost directly addressing much of the lyrical content on their debut, Red, Yellow & Blue. Along with this newfound maturity, there’s some damn good songs. ‘Rage Flows’ is impossible to not play on full volume, ‘6-5000’ is a little gem, and ‘Permanent Hesitation’ is the most experimental and interesting song the band have ever created.

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#7: Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Another stellar release from the Brits, filled with their trademark raw, vocal, and catchy sounds. There’s no weak link throughout it, and the likes of ‘For Flotsam’, ‘Selling Rope’, and ‘Avocado, Baby’ rank easily among some of the band’s best work. The latter also contains one of the lyrics of the year: “A heart of stone / Rind so tough it’s crazy / That’s why they call me the avocado, baby”. 

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#6: Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze

Never has an album title described its contents as well as Kurt Vile’s latest offering. Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze is a laid-back, hazy, and relaxed jaunt that you wish would never end. It’s perfect to fall asleep too, and that’s not an insult, it’s just so damn nice. There isn’t really a better way to sum it up.

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#5: Cloud Control – Dream Cave

Following in the footsteps of Local Natives, this is how you follow up a hugely successful debut. The Blue Mountains four-piece relocated to the UK for Dream Cave, and produced a unique, polished and highly addictive record that shows the band’s full potential. ‘Dojo Rising’ is a vintage Cloud Control song, filled with Alister Wright’s intimate and personal lyrics, while ‘Promises’ deserves all the praise it is getting right now.

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#4: Arctic Monkeys – AM

An Arctic Monkeys album is always divisive. There’s those that will never go past their youthful, hyperactive debut, those that settle on the more refined Favourite Worst Nightmare, or those weirdos who thought their long-haired, QOTSA-esque Humbug was their best work. AM was as divisive as ever, with some lauding it as what the band has been working towards for their whole careers, and others saying that it’s flat out boring. Well, AM is pretty darn good. ‘Do I Wanna Know’ and ‘R U Mine’ provide the strongest start to any album of the year, while ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ delivers the biggest shock of the record, not living up to its name at all but definitely providing an enjoyable alternative. ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ follows in the same vein as the openers, while ‘Knee Socks’ sees a much appreciated intervention from none other than Josh Homme.

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#3: The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National are just one of those bands that will never, ever let you down. They’re absurdly consistent while also reinventing and adding to their sound, and Trouble Will Find Me is no exception. There’s a bit more edge to the sound, with more heavier moments than seen on previous efforts, typified on ‘Sea Of Love’ which builds heavily before quickly stripping it all away for the refrain of ‘If I stay here / Trouble will find me”. ‘I Need My Girl’ displays the Dessner brother’s envious talents, and like every other National album, there isn’t a bad song on it.

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#2: Arcade Fire – Reflektor

It was with great trepidation that many listened to the eccentric Canadian’s fourth album. You never know what to expect with a new Arcade Fire album, with each drastically different from the last. Reflektor is just an hour and a half of extremely talented musicians jamming and messing around, and it’s brilliant. The title track sets the tone early, a jolly and highly danceable anthem with backing vocals from Bowie, while ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ is by far the catchiest song of the year. It’s one of those albums that needs to be listened to from cover to cover and, frankly, it’s records like these that keep the album format going.

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#1: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

It’s pretty rare for the best album of the year to be released way back in February, but the New Zealand-come-American’s second effort is impossible to look past. On II Ruban Nielson consolidates on the fuzzy goodness of his debut and builds on it to create a swirly, melodic and hugely complex record that is as addictive as it is layered. The lyrical content is heavy-hitting and relatable, focusing on the period of time Nielson and co spent touring their debut, where he claims they were “killing themselves”, and focusing on this separation from his wife and young child. There’s hardly anyone that could say they haven’t felt like Nielson does when he sings: “I wish that I could swim and sleep like a shark does / I’d fall to the bottom and I’d hide til the end of time” and “It’s a strange old state of mind / Memories they mess with my mind”. The production is just perfect for what it needs to be, made even more impressive by the fact it was all completed in Nielson’s basement home studio. The guitar work stands out across every track, with the catchiness of ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ or the Beatles-esque rock of ‘One At A Time’. Unknown Mortal Orchestra made something truly special on II, and it’s one that you find yourself always going back to over the whole year. A brave, interesting and complex release from one of the most talented musicians going round at the moment.