Despite luring old mate Lars Ulrich (who enticed him to forge a career in the music industry) and Metallica to headline Soundwave 2013, AJ Maddah says he’s still on a mission to create “the perfect festival”.
References to his vision of “the perfect festival” and making his brand as appealing as possible to punters made up the bulk of his keynote conversation with Marcus Teague at Face The Music in Melbourne today.
“My prime responsibility is to the people who buy tickets to the show… and it’s my responsibility to come up with the best show possible for those guys,” he said.
He made this comment following a question about why not many Australian bands feature on Soundwave. As reported by TheMusic.com.au, Maddah said he only picks ‘serious’ acts for Soundwave – and that local acts wanting to live it up backstage in the early years forced him to introduce the policy.
“Soundwave is not Australia’s Got Talent,” he told the crowd. Soundwave is not the place – and I do get emails, bless ‘em, from kids looking to play… Soundwave used to be 50/50 Australians and internationals. Being with a niche festival you don’t have a great pool of talent to draw from. If you’re serious about your band and it is your life, those are the bands we want. If you have a day job or are doing it for a laugh, or I don’t think you have the right experience, we can’t put you on Soundwave.”
“If you were there in 2007… the cockhead that’s sneaking people backstage – that’s inevitably the Australian band… We want serious bands who aren’t using it as a last chance to party.”
Maddah admitted that he is somewhat of a “control freak”, hand-picking and co-ordinating negotiations with every single act on his festival lineups.
He also said he’s constantly focused on building up his festivals and their brands year after year, instead of just investing money elsewhere and reducing the quality of his products.
“You can’t strip a business every year and expect it to keep thriving,” he said.
“While my peers are driving Aston Martins, I’m driving a 20-year-old car. But that’s my choice.”
A huge focus of Maddah’s vision of a perfect festival is one that doesn’t have people standing around in queues for drinks or food.
He initially tried to achieve this vision with the 2011 Harvest Festival – until it unravelled in Melbourne with its much-publicised long queues, traffic problems and lack of beer. It’s a “catastro-fuck” he takes full responsibility for.
“I didn’t want to see any lines more than three deep – I wanted to set a new standard… It was a catastro-fuck,” he said.
“It was the most heartbreaking day of my life.”
While he feels he’s “come close to a dream festival with next year’s Soundwave lineup”, Maddah is still aiming to create an event that “doesn’t have people lining up for things.”
“At the end of the day, you get 10 hours of entertainment, and I don’t want people to spend 10, 15, even 5 percent of that time standing in line.”
“I’m putting on a show, I want people to get as much out it as you can and see as much as you can.
“To me, it’s just crazy that people have to stand in line so long for things, because to mind my mind, food and beverage should be a service, same with toilets, first aid and security.
“Security shouldn’t be there cause they’re a bunch of boofheads who want to bash people – they should be there cause they’re keen to help people. I will go around and if security doesn’t have a fucking smile on their face I will knock it off and send them home.
He cites Holland’s Lowlands Festival as inspiration for his ‘perfect’ festival – due to the enthusiasm and happiness of the punters.
“Lowlands actually made me angry, I’m walking around and there’s all these smiling Dutch people picking up rubbish from the floor and they’re all polite to everyone, everyone’s happy,” he said.
“I’m thinking, you’re here at a fucking festival with 40,000 people, why is everyone saying hello… total strangers just going up to eachother.”
“Once I was done reaching for the bucket, I was like, this is quite nice… the ideal festival is a happy festival.”