KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Music

The carnival is over

by Chad Parkhill , August 20, 20141 Comment

Jabberwocky1

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Its pedigree was impeccable: presented by an international festival organisation (All Tomorrow’s Parties), with help from one of Europe’s largest and most successful festivals (Primavera Sound), and a principal online musical taste-maker (Pitchfork). Its impressive lineup featured the sorts of cult acts that have become synonymous with ATP’s brand, including Neutral Milk Hotel, James Blake, and Caribou, as well as more recherché acts such as Earth, Vatican Shadow, and Chelsea Wolfe. Yet fail it did – a mere three days before the festival was scheduled to start, ATP announced that it had been cancelled. To say that the fallout has been acrimonious would be an understatement: both the festival’s ticketing agent and publicity firm have launched lawsuits against ATP, and Pitchfork has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement distancing themselves from the festival’s financial arrangements. (For their part, Primavera have simply deleted the event from their website.)

Jabberwocky isn’t the only high profile music festival casualty of late. Closer to home, the iconic Big Day Out festival recently and somewhat belatedly announced that it would not be hosting an event in 2015. According to promoter A.J. Maddah, the festival will instead be focusing its efforts on its 2016 offering. This may not necessarily spell the end of the Big Day Out – it went on hiatus in 1998, and returned the following year to absolutely dominate the Australian festival landscape for the next half-decade. But, as one eagle-eyed punter on FasterLouder’s forums noted, Australian festivals have a habit of going on hiatus and simply never returning. Such was the case with Livid (post-2003), V Festival (post-2009), and both Pyramid Rock and Homebake (post-2012).

Festival failures are not exactly unknown on the Australian circuit – regular readers of Mess+Noise might gleefully remember the disastrous Blueprint festival of 2009, whose organisers were bankrupted by their own poor management, and BAM!, a 2010 festival that didn’t so much resemble a fun weekend away as a pyramid scheme. In the past, however, it was usually greenhorns whose festivals folded or ended in catastrophe. This is evidently no longer the case.

Of course, the reason why each of these festivals has failed remains unique to that festival; there is no common cause for the general malaise. In the case of Jabberwocky, it must be mentioned that ATP have a relatively chequered history of delayed and cancelled festivals, including a Jeff Mangum–curated instalment of their core All Tomorrow’s Parties festival that was scheduled to take place in 2011, but postponed to 2012. Another instalment curated by Jim O’Rourke and scheduled to take place in Tokyo in 2012, was first postponed and then cancelled. Their Australian festival offerings have been patchy, to say the least – an instalment of ATP curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at Victoria’s Mt. Buller in 2009 was exceptionally well-received, but an instalment of its I’ll Be Your Mirror series at Altona in 2013 was plagued with problems, and ticket sales for a one-off follow-up event called Release the Bats were so lacklustre that the event had to be moved to two smaller venues in St Kilda.

The failure of the 2014 Big Day Out seems to stem from its audacious use of three major headliners: Pearl Jam, Blur, and Arcade Fire (BDO promoter Ken West called the triple headliners three ‘white whales’ when announcing the lineup – perhaps unaware that Moby-Dick’s white whaleactually kills Captain Ahab). Aside from the logistics of dealing with three stadium-sized bands and their stadium-sized egos – the festival was planning to construct an extra main stage to accommodate all three without clashes – each band caused its own problems. Pearl Jam may have appealed to an older, nostalgic crowd, but those who purchased tickets just to see them let the organisers know they were only attending the BDO under sufferance (there were no sideshows). Arcade Fire had toured with the BDO previously in 2008, which made them a known quantity, and the release of a somewhat bloated and indulgent fourth album (Reflektor) had dulled their appeal. The protracted dispute between Blur and the BDO’s management ended with Blur pulling out of their headline slot. The BDO replaced them with three separate acts (The Hives, Deftones, and Beady Eye) compounding the event’s general state of confusion. The end result was an overstuffed festival bill with little coherence – one that generated a lot of internet chatter, but ultimately lead to disappointing sales.

The failure of these two high-profile festivals drives home a key message: the festival boom is definitely over, and we’re well into a period of festival crunch. The festivals that are likely to survive are ones that are small and agile, have well-defined target audiences they know intimately, and can respond swiftly to both musical and logistical developments. Most importantly, those festivals that wish to succeed in an environment where the 18–25 age bracket is no longer flush with cash will need to chase older, more moneyed audiences – and those audiences tend to prioritise about the overall experience of the festival rather than individual acts. The superabundance of festivals in the previous decade has given older audiences (25–35) some very high expectations: we want not only well-curated music but also nice amenities, an absence of long queues, decent food and drink, and not to be treated like potential drug smugglers on our way in by security and police. A small number of boutique festivals will be able to deliver such experiences, but until the economic good times return, expect the larger festivals with their quantity-over-quality format to struggle.

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Australian, Killings, The Lifted BrowMeanjin, and The Quietus, amongst others.

ACO logo




9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

womeninclothes-600

Carody Culver

Closet Concerns: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes wants to tell a more inclusive story, to reveal the pleasures, hang-ups and complexities that reside in the simple act of dressing ourselves, and to remind us that we don’t perform our style rituals in a vacuum. Read more »

4285342-3x4-700x933

Kylie Maslen

The Harp in the South and other stories I wasn’t taught at school

The classics I studied at school were certainly great works, but how relevant are these books to young Australians? Yes, they were valuable to study as examples of technical skill. But they were all by men, all white and all dead. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

Maps to the Stars

Rochelle Siemieonwicz

Monsters in Los Angeles: Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler

Both Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler are peopled by monsters who may look human, but are actually spiritually deformed and morally repugnant creatures of the most loathsome kind. The suggestion implicit in each of these thrillingly creepy stories is that these ‘freaks’ are born out of and adapted to the hellish spiritual landscape of LA. Read more »

WinterSleep-2-poster-450

Rochelle Siemienowicz

A matter of time: very long films

It’s a fatal moment for any film lover: that instant when you look away from the screen and check your watch, holding it up to the light to judge how much time is left before you can escape. A wince of pain as you realise there are still 40 minutes to go. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

IMG_4309

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Patrons and gamemakers in the shadow of Gamergate

There is a lot to unpack about Gamergate, and a great deal more that isn’t at all worth taking seriously, but what the patronage pseudo-controversy has drawn attention to is the fact that there are potentially huge issues with moving to a model of monetary transactions in which our payments are increasingly networked and ‘social’. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

In September this year, American author and illustrator Cece Bell released a graphic memoir, El Deafo, about losing her hearing at the age of four. El Deafo details Bell’s middle-grade life and deaf experiences: she wears a clunky hearing aid, ‘The Phonic Ear’; struggles to learn to … Read more »

Anne of Green Gables

Danielle Binks

Books that take you there: YA literary tourism

How has literary tourism taken on new dimensions and greater capitalism, thanks to youth literature – both old and new, book and film? Read more »

9781863956925

Danielle Binks

Mean girls, bullies and private school privilege: Alice Pung’s Laurinda

Alice Pung’s Laurinda is hard-edged satire cloaked in contemporary YA: exploring class dynamics, everyday racism and bullying. Read more »

2839965900_c23f818c97_z

Jane Howard

How many women composers? Classical music’s invisible women

After receiving yet another press release for a classical music concert, I tweeted an email I’d sent to the publicist asking why there were no women composers in the program. From then it became a regular task I set myself: when I received a music press release, I’d ask #howmanywomencomposers, and post the results on Twitter. Read more »

3827910256_89135334f0_z

Chad Parkhill

Who killed Amanda Palmer fandom?

Fans and consumers tend to avoid music made by people whose actions disagree with their moral compasses, and, conversely, to reward those whose actions align with them. But are they right to do so? Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

Marry Me - Season Pilot

Stephanie Van Schilt

Happy Hangovers and False Starts: Happy Endings and Marry Me

Binging rarely ends well. Binge eating is how unwanted food babies happen. Binge drinking is how inhibitions and memories are erased. Binge-watching a TV show can take over your life. Which is exactly what happened a few years ago when I fell in love with Happy Endings. … Read more »

thecode_main-620x349

Stephanie Van Schilt

An obligation to be kind? Australian TV critics and The Code

When Margaret Pomeranz recently spoke out about the obligation of local film critics to support the Australian film industry, she generated an interesting conversation in the critical community. Are critics who discuss the small screen in the public sphere obligated to be critically kind in their local coverage? Read more »

bojack-horseman-exclusive-trailer-debut_bghe

Stephanie Van Schilt

Jerks, antiheroes and failed adulthood in You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman

In addition to both being really funny, two new US comedies – You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman – speak to a widely-held fear about what, exactly, constitutes ‘adulthood’. Read more »