Why was 2019 Such a Significant Year for the Australian Festival Industry?
Author: Carlina Ericson. Date: 13 January 2020
2019: wow, what a year indeed! Here’s a quick recount of the key milestones and developments our industry experienced.
1. New festival industry association formed
The newly created Australian Festival Association is one month into existence. Its board comprises of five key music festival industry figures such as Jessica Ducrou and Mathew Lazerous-Hall.
2. New festivals enter into the Australian market
Ultra Australia debuted in February, in Melbourne and Sydney, attracting 40,000+ attendees. Headliners included The Chainsmokers, Martin Garrix and Marshmello. It returns in 2020.
Festival X was held across Nov-Dec and drew 100,000+ electronic dance music fans across Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The festival is a joint venture between Hardware, OneLove and Live Nation Australasia. In 2020, the festival will expand to six cities over two weekends.
3. Festivals exit the Australian market
Australia said goodbye to Mountain Sounds Festival, which went into liquidation after it reportedly owed $1.5m to EventBrite and various musicians.
4. New music festival legislation introduced in NSW
Between December 2017 and January 2019 there were six deaths at various NSW-based music festivals. In response, the NSW Government introduced its ‘Liquor Amendment (Music Festivals) Regulation 2019’. Here’s an overview of the key events during 2019:
- The Australian Festival Association, in conjunction with Live Music Office, APRA AMCOS, Live Performance Australia, and Music NSW launches a campaign against the legislation, arguing the licensing had been rushed through without proper industry consultation.
- Local Government NSW also issues a number of media releases in response to the feedback it had collated, claiming the legislation posed too many complications for its local Council members.
- A public “Don’t Kill Live Music” rally is held in Sydney, coordinated by. It followed a petition that attracted over 100,000 signatures.
- 30+ festival organisers meet at NSW Parliament to discuss the government’s proposed licensing regime which they say should be scrapped.
- On 1 March 2019, the NSW Government’s ‘Liquor Amendment (Music Festivals) Regulation 2019’ officially comes into effect.
– 14 festivals are deemed to be ‘high risk’ and are required to obtain the license.
– All 14 festivals had either had a serious drug related illness or death in the past three years or had been assessed, on the expert advice from NSW Health and NSW Police, that there may be a significant risk of that occurring.
– The new regulations require organisers to develop a safety management plan developed in consultation with NSW Police and NSW Health.
- In response to the widespread criticism from industry, the NSW Government launches a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry and a Coronial Investigation into the six deaths.
- The NSW Music Festival Licensing Parliamentary Inquiry Report containing official recommendations is released – view it here.
- On 26 September, the NSW Legislative Council voted to remove the requirement that certain music festivals must hold a Music Festival Licence to operate their event in NSW.
- NSW Health releases its revised Guidelines for Music Festival Organisers.
- Recommendations from the NSW Coronial Inquiry into music festival deaths are leaked to the media. Among the 40 recommendations is that pill testing be undertaken in NSW.
- On 16 October, the newly drafted Music Festivals Bill 2019 is tabled noting that any “high risk” festival must draw up a safety management plan for approval by the Liquor and Gaming Authority (LGA). Failure to do so could result in a 12-month jail sentence.
- 14 November: the newly created Music Festivals Bill 2019 is passes in Parliament, including the need to establish a music festival round-table.
5. 2nd National Pill Testing Trial Conducted at Groovin the Moo festival, Canberra
Conducted by Pill Testing Australia, the trial saw more than 230 festival-goers use the pill-testing service. 171 substances were tested – more than double the 85 substances tested during its first year. MDMA was the most common substance found, along with cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamines. Almost 30 per cent of people who used the service said they planned to reduce the quantity of drugs they took or not take any at all (source: Sydney Morning Herald).
Triple J’s Hack reported that representatives from Queensland Health, the New South Wales Coroner’s Office, New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice usage and a group of Victorian cross-benchers were among the visitors at the pill-testing facility.
The subject of pill testing remained contentious throughout 2019, attracting widespread media attention, including a panel discussion on ABC’s TV program Q&A.
In August, The Pill Testing Australia* consortium (consisting of Harm Reduction Australia, Australian Drug Observatory of Australian National University, DanceWize, Harm Reduction Victoria and Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia) released their official report in the 2nd pill testing trial. Read it in full here.
6. An increased focus on sustainability and waste reduction
Both domestically and internationally, we saw a number of key developments that indicated a strong move towards festivals becoming more sustainable in general.
Australia witnessed the creation of FEAT (Future Energy Artists) – officially formed on Wednesday 5 June – allowing musicians to build and invest in their own solar farms. The group comprised initially of Cloud Control, Midnight Oil, Vance Joy, Regurgitator, Big Scary, Peking Duk, and Jack River, who partnered with the superannuation fund Future Super and the developer Impact Investment Group.
#BYOBottle Campaign was launched by Green Music Australia. The campaign encourages artists to travel with reusable water bottles, requesting venues and festivals provide water refill stations for both fans and artists. Fans are also encouraged to make their own #BYOBottle commitment and show their support by bringing their own reusable water bottles to concerts and festivals whenever possible, thereby reducing their reliance on and use of single-use plastic, while sharing their #BYOBottle commitment on social media.
The campaign sparked international players to follow in 2019, with the Sustainable Concerts Working Group (SCWG), led by well-known musician Jack Johnson, later announcing its campaign to encourage festivals and festival-goers alike to reduce their reliance on plastic bottles. You can read more here.
Later in 2019, ahead of the summer festival season, another campaign led by not-for-profit organisation Green Music Australia called ‘Party With the Planet’ was launched. It has so far featured the backing of 10 festivals, countless musicians, and a host of businesses and non-profits, to tackle the general issue of waste management and reduction. You can read more on how to get involved and download the campaign resources at www.partywiththeplanet.org
Meanwhile overseas, Glastonbury – one of the world’s oldest music festivals – announced its ban on single use plastic bottles.
7. Australia’s only festival industry conference launched
The great land of Oz witnessed the return of an industry-specific conference dedicated to festival management personnel – the Australian Festival Industry Conference (AFIC).
AFIC presents a nationally significant opportunity for all festival management personnel (including those who supply services to any types of festival, such as arts & culture, music, food & drink, ‘ideas’ and sporting festivals, etc) to access a professional development opportunities that are specifically tailored to their needs. Moreover, AFIC is an opportunity for people to physically connect with other like-minded professionals in their industry.
In today’s business world, I believe we are all victims of being “over-connected”. It’s important at industry events to take a moment to breathe and to take time to connect with people in a relaxed, face-to-face setting where there isn’t a preconceived agenda – an interaction which isn’t being driven by a pre-arranged appointment slot and features strict time limit constraints imposed by our phones. It was evident that everyone did this effortlessly at AFIC and this was truly humbling to see.
After speaking with the International Festival and Event Association’s Australian representative, I learnt that the industry had been without its own industry event for over twenty years.
Some of Australia’s top festival management personnel attended as speakers, partners and delegates travelled far and wide to be there – from Adelaide, to Townsville, to Tasmania and beyond.
Delegates learnt from AFIC’s keynote speaker, retired SXSW Business Development Manager, Phil Tripp, about the abundance of opportunities and threats our industry is facing heading into the future; which is precisely why AFIC was created – to bring everyone together in order to stay abreast of the latest best-practices and benchmarks; or to quote Tanya Plibersek, it’s about “turning best practice into common practice”.
As the founder and event director, I couldn’t have asked for a better result. I personally received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback both during and well after the event had concluded. Again, thank you everyone for making the effort to attend.
By coming together on a regular basis, we can collectively keep delivering events of a national standard and safeguard the future of the industry.
8. Bushfire devastation sees a number of summer festivals cancelled
The 19/20 summer bush fire season claimed the cancellation of a number of festivals and major events, such as Falls Festival in Lorne (VIC), Lunar Electric in Maitland (NSW), Lost Paradise in the Central Coast (NSW), and the 2019 World Rally Championship in Coffs Harbour (NSW).
A number of Councils over New Year’s Eve, such as Sydney and Adelaide reconsidered the running of their fireworks displays, while other destinations and events such as Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and ‘NYE in the Park’ completely cancelled their displays as a safety precaution.
50,000 attendees of Adelaide’s fireworks display were horrified when they witnessed a section of reeds along the River Torrens catch fire. The incident attracted widespread public criticism, particularly since there had been calls in the lead up to the event to cancel the fireworks display. Read more here.
Did you like this article? Keen to stay abreast of key 2020 event announcements? Subscribe here.
About the author: Carlina Ericson is the founder and event director of the Australian Festival Industry Conference (AFIC) – www.australianfestivalconference.com.au. She is also the director of Australian Festival Consulting Pty Ltd, a consultancy that offers content, event management and destination services to festivals and tourism businesses.