Western Australia deserves more music festivals

WA (Western Australia) doesn’t have it easy. It’s the biggest state in the country, covering over 2.5 million square kilometres (yes, it’s bigger than Texas). With out-of-this-world scenery, fantastic wines, rich history and Aboriginal legacy, it has quite a low population density (which means that you’re very likely not to have any neighbours on the horizon). The capital, Perth, is the only true city in the area as we know it (with nearly 2 million inhabitants).

Part 10 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

I have been to a very small part of WA but – maybe because of that – it is my favourite state in Oz, hands down. In my humble opinion, it is also the most neglected one when it comes to music festivals and gigs in general. Sadly, it’s not only my opinion.* 

Here’s why. 

Last weekend another edition of Splendour In The Grass (SITG) finished on a high note. This is, undoubtedly, one of Australia’s biggest festivals and the most anticipated one this time of the year Down Under (where it’s winter now) due to (always!) epic line-ups and the chillaxed Byron Bay vibe.

Snowtunes at the end of August will be the next bigger festival coming up. But the rest of the big music events in Oz are held mostly in the spring/summer season.

Listen Out happens in September/October. November is reserved for Spilt Milk and Melbourne Music Week (MMW). The Christmas/New Year’s Eve season is literally packed with music festivities: Falls Festival, Woodfork Folk Festival, Lost Paradise, Meredith Music Festival (MMF) and Field Day. Then, the first 4/5 months of the year are a real feast for live music fans with Electric Gardens, MONA FOMA, Rainbow Serpent, WOMADelaide, Laneway, Byron Bay Bluesfest or Groovin The Moo (GTM), just to name a few. Even in the autumn months Big Pineapple Music Festival, Dark Mofo and Wide Open Space Festival keep the Australian live music scene warm. 

Overall, there are around 70-80 different major music events (festivals, weeks, conferences) in Oz annually. About one third of them happen in NSW (New South Wales where Sydney is located). Even Canberra and ACT (the relatively small Australian Capital Territory) host a decent number of music festivities throughout the year (six/seven).

The business is hard these days, so many of the smaller events come and go (for instance, now discontinued Stereosonic or just announced Festival X). Some of the biggest festival brands have legs in different states (like Laneway), but it’s not always the state’s capital (thank you, GTM). Some others have been held in the same unique place for years (say hi to Aunty Meredith). One location is so popular, it is home to various festivals (yes, it’s Byron Bay where SITG, Falls and Bluesfest take place). 

I’ve discussed it already here but there’s a real demand for live music in Australia. Many times tickets literally sell out in less than an hour, no matter how early they’re released or what it takes to get them (refreshing the ticketing page with your credit card ready instead of answering calls at work – we’ve all been there). Aussies are very enthusiastic gig goers that love to have fun and, thus, are willing to spend that extra buck on a music experience.

Now, if you have any idea about those festival brands I’ve listed above, you’ll notice that none of them is a strictly WA event. 

To be completely fair, there are festivals that hail from the state but I seriously doubt an average Aussie (not a Sandgroper – a person from WA) has heard of them. Do any of the names: Wave Rock Weekender, In The Pines, Afrobeatz, Rottofest, Perth Int’l Jazz Festival, Dunsborough Song Fest, Blues at Bridgetown, Northwest Festival ring a bell? No? My point exactly.

So let’s take a few minutes to break down the pros and cons of having a major (inter-) nationally recognized festival somewhere in WA.

What works against it?

It’s far. Literally, from anywhere, even in Australia. Let me put it in perspective for you. A flight from Melbourne to Perth is over 4 hours. Flying from Brisbane you’ll be there in 5.5 hours. Even the closest capital city, Adelaide in SA (South Australia) is 3.5 hours away by plane. The shortest car route from Darwin is over 4,000 kms (two days driving straight up, no breakes). Alice Springs is much closer – you’d only sit in the car for 1.25 days since it’s only (!) 2,500 kms. Do you know what I mean now about it being effing remote? 

Because of the above, it’s soooooo expensive to go to WA. I remember wanting to fly to Broome from Melbourne once outside of the high season and the flight was AUD 500 (approx. USD 350 or EUR 310 or GBP 275 or JPY 38,000) one way. And that’s when you’re lucky to get a direct flight, without having to change in Perth (which is most of the time). And because it’s so remote, that means you have to stay there longer. Which – in turn – means spending more money. Yeah nah in that case.  

Something that’s technically called “adverse weather conditions” plays a role. In reality, most parts of the state are uninhabited because it’s steaming hot there. Broome’s average max temp is lovely 32.2°C (90°F). Welcome to hell.

Sharks is a thing. I’m not not even joking. WA is probably where most incidents happen. And since it has amazing waves and surf conditions, heaps of people take the risk. In 2018 the World Surf League (WSL) comp at Margaret River was cancelled due to shark attacks close-by. So it’s actually serious. And I get it: maybe you wouldn’t want to have thousands of people off their faces jumping into the ocean to cool off at the same time.

But if the distance, prices, weather and sharks don’t kill you, here’s what WA has going for it.

A very vibrant music scene. If you’re not Aussie, you wouldn’t probably know Karnivool (progressive rock), Jebediah (alt rock), Arno Faraji (hip hop) or San Cisco (indie pop). But you might have come across Tame Impala (psychedelic rock), Troye Sivan (pop) or John Butler Trio (bluegrass). They’re all from WA, mostly Perth.

Karnivool on Spotify

[Fun fact: at the very beginning of the band’s history, INXS (known then as Farris Brothers) spent about 10 months in Perth in 1978, performing as The Vegetables on the local music scene.]

WAM – West Australian Music – is the state’s peak body with the aim to champion local music. If there is an official organization promoting WA’s sound,  there are clearly means, need and representation to support bringing more festivals to the state. 

In the music biz, it’s all about the line-up and ticket prices, yes. But it’s also very much about the location. And WA’s got so many unique, beautiful places (google Broome or Esperance) and SO MUCH SPACE to put an epic festival together. I mean, 2.5 million square kilometres. Actually, WA’s own Wave Rock Weekender takes place in an ace location after which it takes its name. Let’s find another one.

Wave Rock Weekender promo clip

The wineries and vineyards of the Margaret River region are an obvious festival choice for me. There are already music events happening in the vicinity. And The Drop Festival has its WA leg in Busselton as well. But we can surely do better than that. What’s more epic than listening to music whilst sipping wine in a historic and internationally famous location, Leeuwin Estate?

Wolfe Creek Crater is another WA landmark. Soz to disappoint you but the 2005 horror movie Wolf Creek is not completely correct, factually speaking: the crimes happened in a different location (in NT – Northern Territory) and the story was pretty different. But screw it. It’s (in)famous already and the location is a-ma-zing. So you could potentially save heaps on marketing already.

Kalgoorlie is not considered the happiest or hippest location Down Under, either. This mining town has a turbulent history, related to horrible treatment of Aboriginal people, amongst other issues. So it’s not your typical tourist destination. But its industrial character and authentic Aussie outback vibe could be an interesting setting for a festival and serve as redemption for the difficult past, bringing all Aussies together in peace and harmony.

Winter time is pretty bearable in WA. It even gets quite chilly down in Perth. And in some places (like the Kimberley region in the North where Broome is) winter months are actually the recommended ones to visit. Since there aren’t too many festivals Down Under in June, July and August, why not fill the gap?

Aboriginal music, not necessarily in its traditional form, is a big factor. Kimberley rapper Dallas Woods has made a name for himself performing as a dancer for Indigenous Hip Hop Projects and later along Baker Boy. Another talented Aboriginal hip hop artist, Ziggy Ramo, has also contributed to the WA music scene, highlighting the racial problems in Australia at the same time. They surely would be interested in sharing their stories and craft to curate a WA-based (hip hop?) festival.

And to top it all, one word: Fremantle (aka Freo). It is to Perth what Fitzroy is to Melbourne and Newtown is to Sydney. It’s where everything happens in WA: live music, Little Creatures Brewery and the fairy to Rottnest Island (quokkas!). If I were to move to Perth, I wouldn’t wanna live anywhere else.

If those arguments don’t convince festival promoters to create a new rad WA-bred music festival, then there’s only one thing left to do.

Shall we start a petition? 🙂

References:

  1. https://insiderguides.com.au/music-festivals-australia/
  2. https://www.ozmusicfestivals.com.au/west-australian-music-festivals.html
  3. https://www.jonesaroundtheworld.com/30-music-festivals-in-australia-to-experience-before-you-die/
  4. https://www.australia.com
  5. https://australianhiphopdirectory.com/western-australia/
  6. https://www.triplejunearthed.com/article/5-new-indigenous-artists-you-need-hear-0

* Check out these articles if you’re interested in what the locals and music mags have to say about WA’s fate in the Australian music scene. 

The Rockpit

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