Image for The Truth Behind The Death Of Soundwave FestivalSoundwave 2015 Sydney / Photo: Yael Stempler

The Truth Behind The Death Of Soundwave Festival

Written by Michael Carr on December 17, 2015

It was announced today that Soundwave Festival will not be going ahead in 2016, officially due to poor ticket sales.

However, when you look at the bigger picture, it all seems to have less to do with the number of tickets sold, and more to do with the financial difficulties surrounding festival boss AJ Maddah and his associated businesses reaching a critical mass.

Reading like a Shakespearean tragedy, the seeds of the festival and its promoter’s downfall seem to have been sown – ironically – when both were at their peak.

The heavy music festival has for years been one of the biggest events in the Australian music calendar, bringing over huge acts like Metallica, Slipknot, Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, Green Day, Iron Maiden, Smashing Pumpkins, Blink 182 and so many more.

While cracks have been appearing in the SW universe for a while now, they became more prominent this year, with many fans expressing apathy towards the proposed 2016 lineup, and question after question being raised over the festival’s financial state.

Much of this can be traced back to 2013, a huge year when, after the Soundwave promoter’s company raked in $62 million gross revenue and cleared $14 million profit, Maddah chose to expand.

Buying BHSS Pty Ltd (formerly Billy Hydes Staging Systems Pty Ltd), launching Harvest Festival and buying into the Warped Tour and Big Day Out, those decisions would prove fateful, as he would end up losing around $30 million on the ventures, on average at a rate of $800,000 a month. A situation only made worse by the falling exchange rate of the Australian dollar.

All this was happening behind the curtain, but things came to a public head this year when – seeking restitution for unpaid debts incurred during the festival’s 2015 run – staging company World Stages Pty Ltd took Maddah to court seeking to liquidate the company’s assets.

In classic AJ style and in an attempt to distance the Soundwave brand from the legal proceedings, Maddah changed the name of the festival’s former operating company from ‘Soundwave Festival Pty Ltd’ to ‘Penny Denny Pty Ltd’ on September 24th, only to be changed once more, the following day, to ‘ACN 127 870 866 PTY LTD’.

At the time, Maddah said that the company under administration had ceased to be the operating company of Soundwave Festival as of April, and therefore the 2016 festival would still go ahead.

Despite these legal manoeuvres though, the company went into voluntary administration, with AJ entering into a Deed of Company Arrangement with his various creditors.

Now this is where it all gets complicated, with the deal covering a litany of other companies set up by Maddah in addition to the former operating company. Including Hounds Of Hell Pty Ltd (the company under which Maddah was hoping to run the 2016 event), BHSS Pty Ltd, Sonic Travel Pty Ltd, 3wise Pty Ltd, and Madjo Enterprises Pty Ltd, the end result of this agreement was that creditors somehow agreed to terms that would see Maddah pay back $4,320,000, only 25% of the over $16 million owed.

The deal specifies that the funds would be raised by selling off BHSS Pty Ltd (at $600,000 – well below what he would have paid for it), in addition creditors taking 50% of the net profits of Soundwave 2016 to cover the remaining $3,720,000 still owed.

However, with the festival no longer going ahead, the deal – which even under the best circumstances would have seen creditors recoup no more that 25 cents on the dollar of the money owed to them – will now see creditors getting a mere 3 cents on the dollar return in the form of the $600,000 raised from selling the staging company.

As for the festival no longer going ahead, the final nail in the coffin came only recently, when Maddah announced it was all off. Citing poor ticket sales, it seems the promoter was unable to meet the requirements of the bands, venues and other businesses involved in running the festival.

AJ managed to keep this all under wraps for a while, until headliners Bring Me The Horizon claimed they weren’t 100% confirmed to be playing the festival. Seeing the end in sight, AJ then posted on Twitter that Soundwave would not return in 2017, but things still looked like they were going ahead as planned for 2016.

That didn’t last long though, with NOFX and Frenzal Rhomb also making posts to social media suggesting the 2016 festival might not happen. Taking to Twitter himself in an attempt to dispel the cancellation rumours, Maddah dashed the hopes of many by replying: “Not true yet. We’ll Know This Afternoon.”

When asked what the deciding factor in the festival’s looming cancellation was, he claimed that it was “down to some scumbags at Eventopia/Tickete[k]”. The ticketing agent, however, wasn’t taking that lying down, and issued its own statement claiming that it “takes instruction from the Soundwave Festival promoter”, and tweeted that it doesn’t have a say “in whether the 2016 festival goes ahead.”

Maddah then made a full statement to Twitter claiming that after having secured an initial advance (which was reportedly approximately $1.9 million) from the ticketing company to cover various costs, a further agreed upon advance was then allegedly withdrawn by the ticketing company. It is these missing funds that Maddah says is responsible for the 2016 festival’s apparent demise.

As the festival’s cancellation  is now official, attention has now turned to an ongoing stoush between the festival and the ticketing agent, over who is responsible for refunds.

Looking over the events that led to this sorry situation, one could argue that it was Maddah’s ambitious expansion that took the festival down a path to destruction. Racking up unsustainable amounts of debt in his various attempts to keep the festival going, it seems likely that many bands would have been worried by the prospect of not being paid.

One would imagine his difficulties with securing this year’s line up stemmed from artists seeking to be paid large deposits upfront, and Maddah’s inability to raise the necessary funds after over committing on prices.

As revealed by Music Feeds, large sums are still owed to over 50 acts who took part in the 2015 edition of Soundwave in February, including rock heavyweights Soundgarden, Slipknot and The Smashing Pumpkins.

This sorry end to the festival aside, and as sad as it makes us here at Music Feeds, we can’t help but reminisce fondly at AJ’s many colourful moments. Truly a larger-than-life figure within the Australian music industry, you can’t deny he cares about the music and certainly embodies a certain type of rock’n’roll attitude.

As big as his personality is though, it won’t replace the gaping hole in Australia’s festival season left by the event’s cancellation. And while fans of heavy music across the nation are sure to be mourning the loss the hardest, with Soundwave one of the few major events left championing the cause of punk, heavy metal and rock’n’roll, this is a loss that everyone in the Australian music industry will feel.

At the end of the day, as ugly as all this is, Soundwave certainly provided some treasured memories for more than a few of us.

So as it all seems to be going to shit, we here at Music Feeds want to raise a glass to the festival and say thanks for all the good times, killer sets, controversy (and web traffic) over the years. Here’s to you, Soundwave. It’s been a blast.

Gallery: Soundwave Memorable Moments 2008 – 2015

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