Astral People’s Vichara Edirisinghe On Five Years Of Astral, Cancelling OutsideIn And Their Plans For The Future

Building an unrivaled reputation for supporting innovative, emerging artist and putting on great events, Astral People is brand synonymous with the best in electronic music at home and abroad. Turning five this year, the artist management, events and touring company continues to grow having toured over 50 artists and tripled their management roster.

Bringing acts like Wave Racer, Cosmo’s Midnight and Basenji into the national spotlight as well as establishing flagship events like Summer Dance, the company has achieved a lot. However they surprised everyone earlier this year when they announced they would be cancelling OutsideIn Festival, their yearly marquee event at the Factory Theatre in order to focus on management and touring.

With their stacked anniversary party 5 Years Of Astral coming up on October 22nd at Oxford Art Factory in partnership with V Movement, we caught up with co-founder Vichara Edirisinghe to discuss where the company is going as well as what it feels like to no longer be a toddler.

Music Feeds: Congratulations on making it to your fifth birthday, how does it feel to finally be out of diapers?

Vichara Edirisinghe: To be honest, sometimes I feel we are still in diapers, but it feels good. We have a bit more of an understanding and a bit more of an appreciation of everything that’s happened to us and we are just super grateful to be in this position. We look on everything with a lot more of a positive outlook now too which is nice.

MF: Have there been any hard lessons you’ve learned along the way?

VE: We’ve definitely learned some hard lessons along the way, but what has really helped us is that every time that we have made a mistake – at the end of the day we are still human and we do make mistakes –  we’ve made an effort not to repeat those mistakes. Unfortunately we do work in an industry where it is very personal and things can happen like an artist can get sick and cancel a tour or a local artist we manage can have things happen in their personal life that pushes back a release, but we’ve really learned how to deal with that and manage it. Most of all we’ve learned to work with people rather than see it more as a business. That more than anything has been the big lesson over the past five years.

MF: Working as a small company like yourselves, your relationships with the artists must be at the core of your business.

VE: Exactly right. Some of these artists we started with five years ago and they’re only just now starting to blossom. So we’ve worked with them and we’ve watched them grow and go through some personal hardships too and it’s almost like they’re a part of your family and you’re there for them to lean on during these tough times .

MF: That kind of mentality seems to be what really separates you from a lot of the larger companies you’re in competition with.

VE: Definitely. We are very hands on and we are very personal. Our artists are coming through our offices on a daily basis. We get to see them, we get to chat to them, we get to see what they’re up to, and that’s what it’s about. When we started we really had no idea what we were doing to be honest, and we had to learn along the way. My business partner was working in accounting, I was studying to be physiotherapist and we just dropped everything and said “yep, we can be artist managers.” And we learned some real hard lessons really quickly. Because of that, because of that building everything from the ground up nature of it all, the lessons we learned were hard lessons but they were lessons that stuck with us over the five years.

I mean we taught ourselves everything that we know. We were downloading manuals off the internet and talking to other people and making friends with people who have been through the same thing that we have been through. So it’s been a really tough but really rewarding experience for us and the main thing we’ve always tried to do is not to treat people like they’re a product. I think a lot of people do that these days and it’s easy to get caught up in that, so we treat them as people and human beings. They have feelings, they have wants and they go through all the same shit we all go through as humans and we always try to understand that.

MF: From an artist’s perspective that must make all the difference.

VE: Yeah I think so. We definitely see it as a family. I’ve even been away on holiday with some of my artists and it’s a lot more than just a business relationship. It’s not in my partner Tom (Hugget) or my nature to run a business without that kind of mentality because that isn’t the world that we come from. So we’ve really tried to apply our personalities and our personal approach to Astral People.

MF: It reminds me of Springsteen and how he still has a lot of the same team of friends around him as when he started.

VE: Springsteen is one of our absolute heroes and it’s awesome to be even mentioned in the same sentence as him. For us we’ve learned with our artists, we signed a lot of our artists before they even had a Soundcloud or a Facebook page and so we’ve learned lessons together, we’ve made mistakes together and we’ve overcome them together. So it’s very much a team exercise instead of you work for me, or I work for you. We’re a team and we work together.

MF: You’ve always been able to think ahead when it comes to signing artists, what or who is next?

VE: To be honest we’re pretty full at the moment. We’re in a pretty lucky position right now where five years on we don’t have to do a lot of scouting, and a lot of things come to us. Unfortunately we are so busy, and our staff can only give so many hours a day to this business, so we can’t really afford to take on any more management artists. However in saying that we have just recently signed our first act in over two and half years, which will be announced soon. I can’t tell you who it is, but you’ll know soon enough. So we are always looking for new acts, but it has to be something really special.

MF: You’ve always been supporting innovative artists, and most of them in electronic music. Is that a case of personal preference?

VE: The thing with Tom and I is that we listen to every single genre, we love all sorts of music and we were always mindful of never pigeonholing ourselves into any one thing. Obviously though what we focus on is electronic music, but if you look at the spectrum of artists that we not only manage but tour around the country here, we work in everything from hip hop, grime and r’n’b to instrumental bands, pop music, house and techno. So we try to cover the whole variety of electronic music and that’s because we love it and we listen to it all the time. And why restrict yourself to one genre if that’s not what you are passionate about? So that’s what’s we’re trying to promote here with Astral People, a real wide range of music.

MF: That being said, there certainly does seem to be an Astral People sound, at least in terms of the artists you manage.

VE: Yeah and that’s amazing to hear that. When we signed them, we weren’t really thinking about that, we’re just trying to sign great local artists that we love. But there is a kind of flow on effect with signing artists like when my business partner signed Cosmo’s Midnight he got turned onto Wave Racer, and from Wave Racer he got turned on to Basenji and signed him. And just recently we got introduced to our latest signing through Polographia. So we very much try and support movements and communities.

MF: The big news recently, of course, is that you’ve decided to cancel OutsideIn Festival to focus on artist management, can you tell us about that decision?

VE: Well this is something people sometimes forget and it’s nice to talk about but Astral People did start purely as a management company. It’s what we thrive on and what we love to do and the main reason why Astral People started up. When we started it though, all our acts were very new, as I said some of them didn’t even have a Soundcloud of Facebook page yet and we signed them because we loved the music, but because they were so new there wasn’t enough income coming into the business to make management the primary focus.

So that’s when we started getting into international touring and through that the idea of OutsideIn Festival came about. And while it was our bread and butter and we absolutely loved it and had great success doing it, it’s gotten to that point where all the artists that we started with five years ago are now blossoming. They’re doing their thing, they’re releasing their debut albums, they’re touring overseas, they’re selling out show across Australia and now they deserve that attention we’ve always wanted to give them, and they need it.

So something had to give, and OutsideIn, as anyone who runs a festival will know, is a long and grueling process, and at the moment we don’t have the man-hours to give to it when our local roster is doing so well. To be honest it was a hard decision to let that go, but at the same time the silver lining is that we’re going back to the fundamentals and the roots of Astral People and really focusing in on that.

MF: Does that mean we’re going to see less touring and less events from you guys in the future?

VE: The great thing is we’ve actually merged with Handsome Tours for all our live electronic touring which has really helped us keep the touring going. We’ve been able to split the roles up where Astral will look at the promo and we’ve got the brand to get these tours to right audiences while Handsome gives us that amazing infrastructure for doing the logistics of it. So there will definitely be a lot more tours coming through, and we’ve got a lot penciled in for the next year or so already, so the touring side will still keep going as it is and it’s going to get bigger and bigger. But as I said something had to give and that was our festival. So over the next couple of years our focus is going to be on management and international touring.

MF: Does that mean we’re not going to see another Summer Dance?

VE: Summer Dance is still going I’m very happy to say. This is the thing, because events have very much become the core of our business financially these days, we still need to do events that we absolutely love and Summer Dance is that for us. It’s a real unique thing in the Sydney market at the moment and it’s in a great location no one else is using and we can’t wait for it to return in the summer.

MF: Speaking of events you love, The Astral People 5th Birthday Party is coming up, what is the secret to getting events like these right?

VE: The artists that we tour, the artists that we manage, it has to be music that we love. When Tom and I met going out to clubs we were always finding that you’d end up going to a house night, or a techno night or whatever and when we started Astral People we asked ourselves why do we have to segregate the music like that? Cant’ we program it in a way that we can cover all those genres within the concept of one big night? And for us we get to do these big marquee events like the birthday parties where we get to showcase what makes an Astral People party unique and distinctive which to us is the bridging of live music and club music.

MF: Looking back over the five years now, would you do anything differently?

VE: Hahaha, yeah probably a lot of things differently but to be honest when I look back at all the hard times we went through and all the mistakes that we made and I realise that all the mistakes and the hardships led to something so beautiful and so positive in the end. They all needed to happen for us to get to this point right now so with that being said I don’t think there is anything we would change. We’ve given this our all,  especially in the early days in the first two or three years of the company we were working seven days a week sixteen hours a day really giving it everything. Now coming into our fifth year we have a great team behind us that makes everything easier. Not to say we don’t work as hard, but we work with a lot less stress and a lot more focus.

5 Years Of Astral is happening on Saturday 22nd October at Oxford Art Factory with tickets on sale now and full details below alongside other upcoming Astral People events.

5 Years Of Astral

Saturday 22nd October

Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

Tickets: Moshtix

November 10th – DJ EZ’s tour begins.

November 19th – Moodymann and Dan Shake perfrom at Cake Wines Cellar Door.

January 4th – UK alt-pop artist Shura plays at Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club.

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