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What makes or breaks a festival, according to the people who run them

This month, the Electronic Music Conference will hit Sydney for another year. With artists like Andrew Weatherall and thought leaders like Amsterdam Night Mayor Mirik Milan locked in to appear, EMC 2017 promises to be two of the biggest days on the local dance music calendar.

Topics covered in this year’s program include everything from the future of radio to creating safe spaces and how the electronic music industry handles mental health. Also on the agenda is the future of Australia’s festival scene — in the session Our Festival Scene’s Homegrown Heroes, EMC will turn the spotlight on three operators who’ve created festival brands that have succeeded either here in Australia or abroad.

As a taster, we hit up EMC’s panellists — Falcona’s Chris Murray, Andrew Li from Singaporean festival powerhouse Zouk and For The Love’s Ben Tucker — to find out what makes or breaks a festival, and what the future of partying in Australia looks like. Here’s what they had to say.


What works for Australian festivals but doesn’t work overseas?

“Shoeys work pretty bloody well here but lack the same ‘impact’ overseas. As does domestic talent on major festival bills. We’ve all noticed how much this is increasing as Aussie punters realise we don’t need to look overseas — we make some of the best music in the world, particularly per capita, across all genres and we’re very, very happy to let  that be known by way of our ticket buying patterns.” — Chris Murray, Falcona


What makes a great festival headliner?

“Timing. It’s everything. Obviously it’s different for every festival, but generally speaking: they can’t be too big, they can’t be too small, they can’t be too legacy, they can’t be too expensive, they can’t be too off-brand, they can’t be too off-cycle, they can’t be too controversial, they can’t be too chill. So yeah, basically anything but that.” — Chris Murray, Falcona

“While popularity is important, I think it is also equally important for a great festival headliner to also be a great performer. A great festival headliner knows how to command the energy of his or her crowd and knows how to create moments. This, essentially, is what makes his or her set memorable.” — Andrew Li, Zouk

“Being current and, most importantly, a great performer. When you’re headlining with an artist that naturally speaks to the hearts and minds of your audience because they’ve connected with them through an incredible show and performance previously, your job is already half done.” — Ben Tucker, For The Love


What advantages do homegrown festival brands have over international brands?

“Well, the Viet Cong amazed the world by digging in and eventually winning even though they were outnumbered and outgunned by the Yanks — because they knew their own backyard better than anyone else possibly could.

“But the imported festivals must have paid close attention to this and learnt that the only way to do it is to partner with a strong local promoter. The question remains — will a cashed up foreign festival brand ever attract the same kind of organic loyalty that an event like Meredith has built over twenty years? The foreign electronic ones have certainly all failed, let’s see how the indie and metal ones go.” — Chris Murray, Falcona

“While Australian festivals may not have as much of a multicultural or diverse dynamic, where they shine is in the fact that they are very in tune with the Australian audiences and how they experience an event.

“I’ve noticed some of the bigger festival brands trying to establish their roots in the Australian market miss the mark or attendees subconsciously associating all that comes with these international brands that they hear about or see online, not play out the way they envisaged as that international formula isn’t able to be replicated.” — Ben Tucker, For The Love

“The biggest advantage is that you understand your people best, and are able to have the creative control to curate a festival that is unique in its own identity for them. It gives you the opportunity to pioneer and innovate. With big international festival brands, more often than not, it’s just about replicating a set formula. ” — Andrew Li, Zouk


Do you think the future of Australia’s festival scene is mostly homegrown events, or mostly international ones?

“I try not to play guessing games. I prefer to sledge from the sidelines. I will say that it would be a shame for our homegrown events to all die off to the foreign invading hordes. But perhaps that’s why the super festivals are not working and the local boutique ones are: they all have a certain je ne sais quoi, don’t you think?

“That being said I am all for competition: the cornerstone of capitalism! It will result in an improved offering and experience for attendees and let’s be honest, it keeps us on our toes!” — Chris Murray, Falcona

“I think homegrown festivals will always have a special place in Australians hearts for the fact they are built specifically for their interests and how they enjoy experiencing them. There’s also a sense of pride and something special about seeing one of our incredible homegrown producers bring the house down on home soil that cant be beaten.” — Ben Tucker, For The Love

Electronic Music Conference 2017 visits Sydney’s Redfern for a two-day program seeing international music leaders and industry experts appear across an array of panels, talks, workshops, parties and masterclasses on November 29-30.

Tickets are on sale now via electronicmusicconference.com, with Our Festival Scene’s Homegrown Heroes’ tickets available here