AJ Maddah Confirms “Ugly” Big Day Out Losses, Looks To 2015

UPDATE 3:45pm 25/06/14: AJ Maddah has pulled out of his involvement with Big Day Out.

Australian touring mogul and Soundwave promoter AJ Maddah appeared on Triple J‘s current affairs program, Hack, this afternoon, to address rumours circling his latest investment, Big Day Out. The interview focused on the viability of the event and neccessary changes for the future.

The interview follows months of turmoil for what is arguably Australia’s most iconic festival. Late last month, Big Day Out organisers confirmed what fans had long been speculating and announced that 2014 would see the last ever Big Day Out event in Perth, with Adelaide speculated to be axed next.

Last week, an investigation by Fairfax alleged that Big Day Out’s 2014 instalment had put the company in the red for between $8-15 million and that organisers had inflated their attendance figures for this year and that they’d failed to pay their vendors and contractors.

When asked by host Tom Tilley if Australia would soon lose Big Day Out, Maddah was less than optimistic, saying, “I hope not.” Maddah said that he thinks “it’s a brand people will come back to” and revealed that Big Day Out 2014 was not going to go ahead when he walked into the company.

“It wasn’t gonna go ahead this year until I walked in,” said Maddah. “They were on the edge of cancelling the event. In my mind, then it would be lost and you could never bring it back.” Maddah described the company as “wobbly” when he walked in, but that he was aware of the “full picture.”

“I was rowing the lifeboat back to the Titanic,” quipped Maddah. “I was under no illusions that it was going to be a financial fuck-astrophe.” Maddah confirmed BDO were running a loss after the 2014 event but said he didn’t know specifics. “We still don’t know, but it’s gonna be ugly,” he said.

However, Maddah assured listeners that allegations of insolvency and non-payment of contractors made by Fairfax were false. “No, that’s absolutely nonsense,” said the mogul, adding, “the thing about Fairfax is they’re essentially just enablers for gossip mongers and people with axe to grind.”

In particular, Maddah laughed off the paper’s allegations of vendor and contractor non-payment, saying, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and you don’t stick around if you don’t pay your bills. All of the vendors for Big Day Out are the people I need three weeks out for Soundwave.”

Maddah explained that he offered Fairfax the opportunity to have reporters look through his email account, but that they declined, saying, “I actually offered them [the chance] to come in and see my emails and they weren’t interested…because the truth isn’t sensational.”

The topic then shifted to potential changes for Big Day Out 2015, with Maddah emphatic about a change of date for the festival’s Sydney event, saying that it will “definitely” be held on a Saturday. Maddah also addressed ticket prices, one of fans’ biggest complaints about BDO 2014.

“It was just really dumb. $185 is just ridiculous, but that was not long before I came in this year,” he said. Maddah stated that he would not want ticket prices to exceed $160 and said that 2014’s ticket prices were “jacked up” after headliners Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, and Blur all confirmed.

“When this was booked by Ken and C3 they were expecting to have two bands out of Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, and Blur, and when all three came in, to accommodate them, I think they jacked up the ticket price.” Maddah also said that more festivals mean agents often increase prices for bands.

Maddah then continued to address repeated criticisms of Big Day Out’s business model, agreeing that the festival’s headliners often appeal to an over-30s demographic and insisting that there ought to be a “balance,” while offering praise to the organisers of Laneway Festival for their acumen.

Answering a caller’s question, Maddah condemned “drinking cages” and explained that high alcohol prices are the result of being “gouged” by venues, saying, “I was terribly disgusted with the situation at BDO where they were charging $8 for a piss-weak beer…I got it down to $6 for Soundwave.”

Addressing the cancellation of the event’s Perth leg, Maddah said, “The East Coast has to subsidise Perth. That’s been another reason for BDO high ticket prices this year. Generally speaking, you lose money in Perth.” Maddah blamed the exorbitant logistics costs and government interference.

“For all your trouble you get a kicking from the local and state government,” said the promoter. However, Maddah said that he was “pretty confident that we’re gonna go back to Adelaide,” explaining that the city’s close proximity to Melbourne means that it can remain viable.

Addressing questions raised about CEO Adam Zammit, he said, “That’s something that we’ll review in good time. He’s a really good guy and I enjoy working with him. He obviously have his own certain style of things which could probably be tempered, but sometimes those liabilities are also assets.”

Maddah blamed last year’s cancellation of his Harvest Festival on his decision to focus on ’90s bands, saying, “It was very much a ’90s-centric lineup. I made the mistake of booking bands that I like instead of being a bit more current and the market didn’t like it.”

The interview concluded with Maddah explaining that Big Day Out “always has a tough time because it tries to bring so many tribes together.” Australia’s most powerful music industry figure said that to be successful, organisers must ensure each “crowd” receives value for money.

Photos: Big Day Out Perth – Arena Joondalup, 02/02/14

Photos by Court McAllister

Must Read