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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  • Steve Fellows

    What a sensational article. Congratulations Michael and I too am raising a glass to A.J. for bringing bands to Australia that I would otherwise not have been able to see live and for the amazing week every year that was a flight to Melbourne, 3 nights of sideshows and the Melbourne festival; a flight to Adelaide with numerous band members on the same plane then the festival that night, then home to Perth to recover.
    Cheers A.J.

  • Sam Trezona

    Maddah… Fuck you… You always change a system that works now you have destroyed the big two. Let’s hope they don’t come in three’s. You useless prick..

  • David Browne

    Live Performance Australia members have privately raised how this promoter was reported by Deloittes to have used forward revenue to cover current expenditure. About time such festivals were run by professionals who have solid financial qualifications. In my case, a Finsia diploma in financial markets over five years. Regards, David Browne, Rock Against Boredom Pty Ltd.

  • kapam

    Totally disappointed about the loss of Soundwave! Every other festival is brim-full of the stuff I hate: i.e,, DJ’s, electronica, dance pop, etc., etc. Soundwave was more or less the only one with good, honest, extreme music. I hope there is someone with the business savvy needed to resurrect this annual institution to its former glory.

  • Greens Guns n Rock

    Absolutely gutted 🙁 I was flying to Aus especially for this! Hopefully one of the bands puts on a Melbourne gig around the same dates! I get that people are angry but maybe some should think twice before spewing soo much hate at AJ, it’s a shitload of responsibility, and he aimed for the stars. We all fuck up, he just happened to do it on a grand scale. It’s life. I can’t say that I definitely could have done a better job so…

  • CUFCfan616

    AJ was in it for the money, nothing more. He may have started the festival for the music but it quickly turned into what he could get out of it and thinking himself bigger than the rockstars he was publicly pissing off. The other people running Soundwave took his tune and any criticism of the fesitval, no matter how it was written was always met with ‘if you don’t like it, fuck off’. That so many bands no longer wanted to deal with him should’ve made everyone realise that he’s no businessman and not really a fan of the music. Endless clashes between similar bands, poor disorganisation on the days, not announcing bands as they’re signed up instead making a big song and dance about announcing the announcement. No other rock/metal/punk festival runs like that for good reason.

    One of my own personal favourites was the first time Less Than Jake were booked to play on the main stage, first on the billing ahead of some dodgy barely known bands. For Brisbane their flight was delayed and they missed the festival. A lot of pissed of skapunk fans later, AJ said he didn’t realise how big they were. How do you not know who you’re booking, even moreso when they were one of the bigger punk bands of the 90s and 2000s, the genre which Soundwave started off as. No, AJ couldn’t give a shit about the music or the fans, he was in it for personal gain and to do favours for his mates. Good riddance to a poorly run festival, it and AJ has gotten what they deserve. I
    I get why people are upset because there is no other alternative music festival in Australia. For that you have AJ to blame as well. No Sleep Til in 2010(?) was fantastic for its first year. The next year, all of a sudden AJ announced Soundwave Revolution at around the same time and No Sleep Til didn’t come back for a second year as they were crowded out of the market by the big bully. And then AJ cancelled Revolution and never mentioned it again. So yeah, when people say ‘thanks AJ, but now where will I see bands?’, you guys have AJ to thank for there being no other festival in Australia.

    I’m just glad there are people like Metropolis Touring working hard bringing loads of bands over that Soundwave wouldn’t have even touched, and they do it for the love of bringing them over

  • shayneo

    Whatever sympathy I might have had for AJ , he lost it when he cut WA out of the touring circut. Dog move. So whatever. Just don’t let him near event management again folks.

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