Soundwave: Where To Now?
I always thought that it was a little ambitious for the Soundwave people to attempt TWO massive touring festivals in the space of six months. It was without doubt an audacious move, but up until a couple of weeks ago it looked like it might actually do ok. Never mind that it would be slap bang in the middle of the grand Australian tradition of football finals - how many die hard heavy music fans care about footy, anyway, enough to miss acts like Machine Head, Devin Townsend, Alice Cooper, Steel Panther and Van Halen? And of course once Van Halen was finally revealed as the major attraction it honestly looked like it couldn't fail. VH is one of those bands that almost everyone likes. They're like Aerosmith and Queen. Even people who don't like rock like Van Halen. And this would be the first time the Van Halen brothers and David Lee Roth would be on stage together in this country. How could that not succeed?
Like the festival earlier in the year, as the event got closer the excitement levels rose. Online and on the street, there was a buzz, perpetuated by interviews and articles with the artists that were gradually reaching saturation point. There were contests and giveaways and after-parties being organised.
But then everything started to stop making sense. On a web forum I read that another line-up announcement was being made that would add another two headlining acts to the bill when, for all intents and purposes, the talent had been finalised months before. I even heard a rumour that it would include one of the worst bands in history which to my way of thinking would have sullied quite an excellent line-up. The big announcement was set to happen on Monday, August 1, but that day came and went with nothing but silence from Soundwave. By the end of the week, still no announcement was forthcoming, and on August 5 this article about Splendour in the Grass on Crikey -- of all places -- presaged some kind of trouble in the Soundwave camp. The SWR Facebook page (I still don't do Twitter), usually an almost constant stream of updates, press releases, interview snippets and competitions, suddenly stopped being updated the following Sunday afternoon.
Then on Tuesday, Steel Panther's drummer Stix Zadinia began tweeting that the festival had been cancelled. Not usually the most reliable source of information on anything except partying with hookers and fat chicks, a lot of people at first probably dismissed this. Steel Panther is, however they present themselves, still a professional band. It may have been a reckless move, but they stood to gain nothing from it if there wasn't some element of truth to it. Publicity for the event? Announcing it had been cancelled --before the promoter says anything -- isn't the sort of thing any band should be doing if they want to be booked on major festivals in the future. In the hours afterwards, as Zadinia's tweets got more cryptic and then eventually disappeared, people grew concerned. Triple J contacted Soundwave and got no answers, but they didn't get a denial either. The SWR Facebook page started getting flooded with people wanting answers and -- as is typical of people facing disappointment over relatively trivial matters when 500-year old buildings are being burned down for no reason in London and thousands are starving in Somalia -- claiming that their lives would be ruined if the rumours were true.
Eventually, in the late afternoon, Soundwave's director AJ Maddah spoke to NOVA FM and confirmed that Revolution would be no longer going ahead, citing the peculiar reason that one of the still-unannounced other two headlining bands had decided not to participate. This did little to assuage peoples' disappointment; after all, they'd already bought tickets to see the festival as it had been so far announced. It was like being promised apple pie and custard for dessert, then not getting it because there was no ice cream and sprinkles. That a band they didn't even know would be there had cancelled probably doesn't sound like a very good reason to dash the plans they had to see the 40 or so other bands that they did know about, and it's likely many had already booked accommodation and travel, taken time off work or moved other things in their life around to fit in with Revolution. And yeah, that would pretty much suck.
But -- as rioting sweeps the UK and innocent people are machine-gunned in Syria -- let's put this in perspective. Soundwave is not a fly-by-night operation, like the clown who tried to tour LA Guns earlier this year. AJ Maddah has been a promoter for a very long time. Ever since this festival was announced, I have received press releases and interview requests from his company every single day. Every. Single. Day. At times there's been so many this website hasn't been able to accomodate them all. Everytime I've had to ring someone there to check something, change or confirm an interview time or get some information, the phone has been answered right away. Every time. By a human being. I've never had to leave a message and hope someone will call back. Every email has been answered. That is not the resume of a shonky company. And while this website isn't the most popular or the most influential, we've been pretty well looked after. We've been given access to more artists and to more shows than we've been allowed by other big name promoters.
This is a company that works hard to put on large-scale European-style music events that cater for the crowds that the more established festivals have either moved on from or never cared about: punks and metalheads. What other festival promoter in this country has ever considered Iron Maiden -- one of the biggest bands ever -- as their headliner? When has Slayer -- one of the most popular underground acts of all time -- ever appeared at any other big festival? Who else has ever thought that Alice Cooper -- one of the most influential rock artists in history -- should be on a festival bill?
While other festival organisers pander to the fans of whoever's popular at any given moment, Soundwave has been looking around for bands that Australia's metal and punk fans will go to a festival to see. Earlier this year they did so well they made the Big Day Out bill look positively lame by comparison. Following it up so soon was always going to be a gamble. A gamble they lost. But it's a gamble in which they've potentially lost much more than anyone who had a ticket to Revolution has lost. Cancelling a show this enormous will likely have repercussions for Soundwave that most of us will never have to face. Months of hard work and massive amounts of money has been utterly wasted. Worse, the damage to the reputation of their brand may be unsalvageable: how many punters will likely not even bother going to the next Soundwave, if there ever is one, because of this? How many bands will turn them down? How many armchair cynics will think them fools?
In the intensely competitive music industry, having a show like this fall apart is just about the worst thing that can happen. Soundwave will suffer for this for far longer than punters will cry in their beer about it.
So where to now? If there's any good news at all, it's that having worked those two Revolution weeks into their touring schedules already, a lot of the bands will probably still come here. On the last Soundwave tour almost every single band played at least one sideshow. Even though fewer were actually announced this time, it's equally likely that plenty of Sidewaves were planned and booked: Alice Cooper's Sydney and Melbourne concerts are confirmed and AJ has already tweeted that both Yellowcard and Alter Bridge will more than likely still play smaller shows. Plenty of the others will almost certainly still go ahead. If there's any face to be saved from this series of events, it will come from how many replacement shows can be organised at such relatively short notice. This will no doubt be a very interesting few weeks for the Soundwave crew.
-- Brian Fischer-Giffin