Music Opinion

Splendour cancellation leaves dark cloud over live music industry

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This year's Splendour in the Grass festival has been cancelled, raising questions as to why (Background screenshot via YouTube, stamp via iStock)

The cancellation of one of Australia's biggest music festivals is leaving people wondering how things went wrong and what it bodes for the future, writes IA's music reporter, David Kowalski.

IN NEWS JUST to hand (as of the time of writing), one of Australia’s major festival draws, Splendour In The Grass, held annually in Byron Bay, NSW, has been cancelled after the tickets going on sale for a week and two weeks after the festival lineup announcement.

Splendour is regarded as Australia’s answer to the massive Glastonbury festival in the UK, with major international touring acts making it a priority to attend. This year boasted an exclusive appearance by none other than Kylie Minogue, as well as Canadian indie legends Arcade Fire and hot new acts like G Flip, Future, Royel Otis, The Last Dinner Party and heaps more across three days in July 2024.

(Screenshot via Splendour's Instagram account)

Arguably the largest music festival in Australia this side of the Tamworth Country Festival in January, the abrupt cancellation sends ominous signals about the state of the Australian live music industry. Are the insurance premiums too steep? Are corporate backers getting too greedy for returns?

Are the festival lineups too broad in terms of the music being programmed? Compared to bespoke single genre festivals like Knotfest (the travelling heavy metal festival curated by U.S. band Slipknot) and the folk, blues and roots and soul focus of Bluesfest, both of which are very successful, it’s a fair question to ask.

It seems like so much was invested in the festival up front and so much riding on recouping costs early in the sale period that it caused the festival to shut up shop. What held the punters back? I don’t have the answers, but a lot of music fans and industry observers are clutching at straws in desperation to find some.

Australian Hip Hop artist Illy had a take on it:

The cost of living argument doesn’t hold water for me when Tay Tay, P!nk and Fred Again shifted over 1 million tickets between them on their recent tours. Climate change causing extreme weather events is also touted as a factor. There’s a lot of screaming at government arts ministers to do something, but what can they do? There has since been a Government inquiry announced, but I’m doubtful much will result from it.

The large-scale live music sector is a mess. It’s been here before and it has pulled itself up by the bootstraps. Can it do it again? Watch this space...

Mark Knopfler’s Guitar Heroes

One thing that seems to be a mainstay on the music scene is the charity fundraising single.

Mark Knopfler, best known for his work in Dire Straits, has been on the march to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK. He auctioned off over 100 guitars earlier this year, raising in excess of £8 million (AU$15.5 million) for cancer sufferers.

Knopfler's next project to aid the cause is to re-record an extended version of his iconic Going Home (Theme From Local Hero), in tandem with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey from The Who, who are patrons of Teen Cancer America.

Daltrey, Townshend and Knopfler play on this new version, which also features guest players from all over the world and from deep within rock and roll history — from Joan Armatrading to Black Sabbath axeman Tony Iommi; from Duane Eddy from the 1950s to Sam Fender from the 2010s.

In the video below, every player is identified as they perform and there are too many to list here. However, this beautiful track is given reverential treatment by all concerned and I was profoundly moved. Tears may have been involved, but I can’t be sure...

'We Are the World'

Speaking on the topic of charity records, one of the most successful of them has been chronicled in a new Netflix documentary entitled The Greatest Night in Pop. The song We Are The World was produced by Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie in response to the famine in Ethiopia and inspired by the UK pop single Do They Know It’s Christmas, assembled by Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats and Midge Ure of Ultravox.

Written by Richie and Michael Jackson, the track collates the who’s-who of American pop music, credited as USA for Africa and assembled by Harry Belafonte and fundraising expert Ken Kragen, with an added side order of Bob Geldof who was invited to be part of it.

It was recorded right after the 1985 American Music Awards had concluded in Los Angeles, where most of the musicians were appearing anyway. The recording started right after the telecast and continued until about 8am the next day.

The recording process, in general, fascinates me and this documentary ticked all the boxes of the sound engineer in me. Recording so many voices for one song is a gargantuan effort. Working out who was going to sing which line was a mission unto itself.

Bette Midler was none too impressed at being overlooked for a solo and Sheila E was only included in the chorus on the track as bait to entice Prince to appear. In the end he didn’t show because he was actually quite nervous in large groups of people.

However, the story of the process is full of hilarious moments, including Lionel Richie being both accosted and frightened by Bubbles the Chimp and a cobra snake that escaped its enclosure, respectively – among many other members of the Neverland animal menagerie – while trying to write the song at Michael Jackson’s house; Quincy Jones, good-naturedly but naively, putting a handwritten sign reading ‘CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR’ above the entrance to the studio (spoiler alert: that didn’t happen); Bob Dylan looking like he’d rather be on Mars than in that room with all those people; Stevie Wonder showing Ray Charles where the bathroom was (I’m not kidding — that actually happened); and Huey Lewis working up vocal harmony parts with Kim Carnes, just for Cyndi Lauper to screech over the top. 

The resulting record, ‘We Are The World’, continues to earn money for famine relief charities in Africa and has raised over USD$80 million (AU$122.8 million) for the cause. Not a bad effort for a night’s work.

Jye Sharp and Lemon Joe

A couple of new tunes to finish off this week, with a NSW Central Coast band, Lemon Joe, releasing their new single last week — a minor key sunset soundtrack called ‘Before We Let Go’, which has all the relaxed surf vibes you’d expect.

In a surprise move however, lead singer and guitarist in the band, Jye Sharp, released a new solo single one week later called ‘It’s Not That Bad’ — a song for soothing a troubled soul that is washed in salt water and has sand between its toes. The musical equivalent of petrichor on a hot summer afternoon. Both tracks would sound good on stage played by the band and I hope to see them do so soon.

Until next time…

David Kowalski is a writer, musician, educator, sound engineer and podcaster. His podcasts 'The Sound and the Fury Podcast' and 'Audio Cumulus' can be heard exclusively here. You can follow David on Twitter @sound_fury_pod.

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