A timeline of Stereosonic’s spectacular rise and sudden fall
The tale of Stereosonic is near Olympian in scale: from humble beginnings as a one day event in Melbourne, it rose rapidly to become a national touring festival within three years.
Seven years later, Stereosonic would become the biggest touring festival ever in Australia, as it launched two-day events in every major capital city on the back of the EDM boom, and attracted tens of thousands of fans. That same year, the festival’s success would see it snatched up by US entertainment giant SFX for $75 million.
But just two and half years later, SFX would dive into bankruptcy – and take Stereosonic with it (for now). Take a journey through the timeline of Stereosonic below.
Stereosonic launched humbly – a single Melbourne festival featuring only 21 DJs on the bill – but it got people very excited, with a roster that included late legends DJ Mehdi and Ajax, as well as Armand van Helden, Booka Shade and Trentemoller.
Its second year saw Stereosonic expanding nationwide with festivals in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, while in Sydney it staged four “satellite” events, with the festival broken up and delivered over four different genre-specific venues.
The zeitgeist-riding lineup spanned techno, house and trance legends Carl Cox, Booka Shade and Paul van Dyk, plus a whole stack of French electro and fidget house acts – and in true 2008 style, hipster icon and party shooter The Cobra Snake was flown out to cover the festival.
In 2009, Stereosonic became a national touring festival for the first time, staging one day events across five cities with the fast-rising star Deadmau5 making his first (and only) appearance on a Stereosonic line-up.
Elsewhere, the roster was still firmly angled at electro and the underground, with Miss Kittin & The Hacker, Surkin, Marco Carola and Hudson Mohawke all sitting underneath drawcard names like Fedde Le Grand and a Mafia-less Axwell. But the biggest act of all? The Bloody Beetroots.
2009 also marked the introduction of a ‘Tops On’ Policy – an Australian first. Stereosonic declared that anyone not wearing a shirt would be ejected from the festival – unsurprisingly, this proved impossible to enforce.
The superstars started coming out in ‘10, with Tiesto, Major Lazer and Sebastian Ingrosso all making their first Stereosonic appearance. Meanwhile, a very different-looking Calvin Harris also made his first appearance, riding the wave of his sophomore album Ready for the Weekend, and Swedish electro-pop star Robyn was booked out of left-field, but had to cancel because of an “unforeseen commitment clash”.
In 2011, Stereo hit the big league and just about doubled the size of its line-up, with EDM, trance, techno and dubstep dominating the bill. The Sydney festival also took the gong for ‘Largest Australian Festival Ever’ as 60,000 punters hit the Showgrounds.
Avicii made his first local appearance, billed halfway down the poster (before Levels happened), and party rockers LMFAO pulled disturbingly large crowds (riding the wave of Party Rock Anthem, which went on to be the biggest selling single in Australia of all-time).
In 2012, Stereosonic continued on its upward trajectory, with Tiesto, Avicii and Calvin all leading the line-up as EDM started to peak in Australia. But the underground also got plenty of nods, with names like Gallic techno dream team Brodinski and Gesaffelstein, Siberian queen Nina Kraviz and German tech don Loco Dice. And Stereo’s sixth year also ushered in dance music’s next wave of talent, as Porter Robinson, Dillon Francis and Zedd all made their local debuts.
Stereo doubled down in 2013, expanding to a two-day event in every city (another Australian first) and delivering “the greatest EDM line-up Australia has ever seen”.
The supersized poster featured just about everyone in dance music, and the star-powered triple threat of Calvin Harris, David Guetta and Armin van Buuren at the very top of the bill. The festival also took out the inaugural inthemix award for Best Major Festival, an award it would go on to dominate for the following two years.
All this success attracted the attention of US entertainment giant SFX, which was in the middle of a billion dollar spending spree in the dance music market (despite SFX founder Robert Sillerman admitting to Billboard that he knew “nothing about EDM”).
SFX bought Totem OneLove for $75 million in October, putting Stereosonic in with 51 other festivals bought by the company worldwide, including the Electric Zoo series, Sensation, Tomorrowland and its (now-cancelled) US offshoot TomorrowWorld.
Meanwhile, cracks started to appear in the Australian festival market as Fuzzy cancelled its national Parklife tour, replacing it with the smaller-scale and broader-scope Listen Out tour.
Image by Rukes
Stereo returned in its super-sized form in 2014 for another #twodays in every city, with a blockbuster line-up topped by superstars like Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Diplo, Steve Aoki and Tiesto, while Porter Robinson’s live show made its Australian debut.
But at the same time, speculation was rife about the future of “mega-festivals” in Australia after news dropped in June that Big Day Out would not tour in 2015. Organisers said they “intend to bring back the festival in future years” – two years later we’re still waiting on news.
And things started to go sour over at Stereosonic’s parent company SFX at the end of the year, as it announced major restructuring and a significant “reduction in workforce”.
2014 was also the year Stereosonic co-founder Frank Cotela lashed out at what he called a “roid up bros muscle culture” at the festival, after footage emerged online of a brawl at Stereosonic Sydney. “We are sick of the charged up violence you bring…time for a change!“ Cotela wrote on Facebook. “If it means that we will profile you at entry point and stop you entering – you will be stopped!”
For its last year (for now?) Stereo reverted back to a one-day festival, headlined by Armin van Buuren and Major Lazer on the mainstage, while sidestages dedicated to trap and bass, trance and house were equally stocked with drawcard names, from DJ Snake to Headhunterz to MK.
But the music was sadly overshadowed by two tragic drug-related deaths at the Sydney and Adelaide events, in the middle of an horrific summer of overdoses at festivals across Australia that brought the wrath of mainstream media, police and politicians down on the scene.
Meanwhile, SFX’s stock crashed, diving from its 2013 peak of USD $13 a share down to just 91 cents a share. Speculation swirled as Sillerman announced various take over and rescue plans, none of which came to fruition.
News broke in February this year that SFX had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and in March its major US festival TomorrowWorld announced it won’t be going ahead in 2016. Reports started circulating that the Australian Totem office was emptying out, as people wondered about the fate of Stereosonic.
As we now know, it wasn’t to return this year: an SFX rep told inthemix today that the festival will take “a hiatus during 2016 and will return in 2017 bigger and better than before.”
The festival’s Australian offices are currently empty and on the rental market – so will the Stereosonic brand be able to arise from the crash of SFX and return “bigger and better”? We’ll have to wait and see.