Pioneers of the Australian outdoor electronic music movement have generated public success in the last decade, and have commercialised and packaged the scene to a broader audience. This corporatisation can be viewed from two polarities.
Finally, doof entrepreneurs are being paid to do what they love, and now a broader audience can enjoy the experience of alternative electronic music parties in Australia’s outdoors.
However, how much freedom has been taken away from both punters and organisers? Promoters are increasingly viewing parties in terms of logistics and numbers, rather than art. The priority of parties is now to make sure that they can foot the bill for their increasingly high overheads. Organisers have to look after a larger number of patrons who have little or no experience in camping outdoors, and many take little or no care of the outdoor environment that they camp at. This equals more work for organisers to take account of, and turns punters into a hindrance to be dealt with.
The overall objective for large electronic music festival organisers has turned from presenting participants with a truly unique experience and presenting them with quality art. Doof festivals could now be interpreted as primarily focusing on selling tickets for profit, getting the green light from councils and paying the man, keeping punters moderately entertained for the duration of the festival, making sure people don’t hurt themselves, and then ejecting them with a minimum of impact on the environment.
On a large scale, this requires a larger-scale process that is less considerate to individual rights and needs. In this regard, humans have become little better than consumerist cattle. They are sold internationals and a promise of an experience, then are micro-managed, processed through the festival machine and then ejected with an attempted minimum of hassle, minus hundreds of dollars and brain cells. Hopefully, the people have gotten a good experience for continued business, but one has to wonder as to whether the promoters are concerned more about music and art, or with running an event or business.
Perhaps thing aren’t as simple as seeing things from either entirely pro-art or pro-business sides, but perhaps the two go hand in hand. All successful annual festivals could be tracked as taking a certain linear route.
The majority of truly pioneering festivals like Rainbow Serpent Festival were initially flawed arts gatherings that have multiple fuck-ups, but provided a haven for artistic entrepreneurs to express themselves, which in turn inspired many and gave them a truly unique experience. I’m sure anyone who attended psytrance events in the late 90s and early 2000s can attest to this.
Some festivals like Exodus in Northern NSW (early 2000s) were left behind and fell apart, unable to manage overheads, council demands or site particulars. These kind of festivals are often talked about by old-timers with nostalgia as the “real article”, but the fact is they couldn’t keep up because of an inadequacy to work as a team within society’s constraints.
The ones that did adapt to ongoing societal demands (like Earth Frequency) became well-oiled machines that now sell entertainment as a commodity. While retaining a relative degree of integrity in terms of offering new and exciting acts, they now have to entertain a broader audience, so look for acts that draw a crowd and inevitably have to stop working with artists who are deemed as less productive or professional.
In worse case scenario, large festivals can reach a point of heinous self-destruction, as with Earthcore several years ago and its failure to pay overheads or look after the site properly. We can blame individuals, but the central kernal of this matter is that there’s a certain shelf life for all organisers and festivals. Earthcore has since recovered for an anniversary celebration since its inception, but it wouldn’t be far off the mark to say that the golden days and original spark of the festival have past now, although retro-revolutions do occur within music. But in the end, we have to let go before the pleasure of creating life is gone. An anniversary festival may be fine, but perhaps a completely new format is needed.
With this consideration, perhaps it may be healthier for festivals to recognise when they have reached a point of managable size, and then pull the plug before the festival reaches radioactive meltdown. This then can allow new growth. Some outdoor movements turn full circle and become new evolutions, such as Bojangles and its revitalised grass-roots format and focus on newer music forms.
What does the future hold for any festival? Are they all just latent viruses that will evolve into parasitic ventures that consume the environment, economy and sometimes even lives? Are they hotbeds for culture, art and life, or are they just another way for to create jobs and commerce?
There are many issues, and perhaps none can be separated in the end. Perhaps humans themselves are the virus, and the “culture” is just like that of any form of mould, reaching a point of maturity and flavour, before decaying, then settling again to create new culture and flavour. Everything has a limited lifespan, but we can take condolence in that perhaps there is a central and always prevalent lifeforce.
Festivals (and indeed all human creations), in the end, are not machines, although they can emulate them and transgress humanity. Any human production is always flawed, no matter what form it may take. Our creations flawed because they’re created by us, and we, like everything else on this planet, operate on a life/death cycle without any objective purpose.
If you break it right down, festivals have no real logical purpose. But then again, neither does life in the end. It’s beautiful and horrible, logical yet making no sense. The cycle continues unabated, old matter decays to lay a potential garden-bed for new shoots of growth under the Australian sun.