How to host your own DIY Festival, according to Adelaide’s SIAMESE

If you’re across Adelaide band SIAMESE, you might know they’re signed to Swirl Records and have been releasing some quality tunes in their short career so far. As a DIY band, these guys have their paintbrush in many pots, from graphic design to music production, including their debut EP, Code One. However their DIY talents extend beyond just the band. SIAMESE frontman Tom Matheson co-runs Swirl Records and has been the driving force behind local Adelaide DIY festival, Swirl Fest.

Held at the end of each year by Swirl Records, Swirl Fest is a community festival developed with the intention of celebrating the Adelaide scene, while also raising funds for charity. Having operated for only two years, once at The Producers Bar and then at The Ed Castle, Swirl Fest has already boasted stacked lineups, including the likes of Flyying Colours, Sweater Curse, Body Type, and Druid Fluids.

The idea first came to Matheson in 2016, when he felt there was a need to showcase the often overlooked Adelaide scene. Matheson says, “We like the festival to focus on the local scene and showcase some of the bands that are working really hard. With the first one we had all the profits go to Reclink Australia and then with the second one we wanted to have some national bands on the lineup so we went out on a limb money wise and hoped for the best.”

According to Matheson, the festival has been really well received by the Adelaide public, and he would love to see its profile increase so people around Australia can see what’s going on in Adelaide. “I think what sets us apart is that it really is a celebration of Adelaide talent. Not many bands in Adelaide get to get out and be seen, so we hope that this helps people realise that there is some superb talent in this city.”

With a bunch of DIY festivals across the country showcasing local talent, such as Canberra’s No Front Fences, and Lennox Heads’ Beach Sounds to name just a few, Matheson shares some insights and tips into doing it yourself.

The Team

“If you are looking at doing a DIY festival of the sorts then I’d really advise getting a solid team together that you can trust, and share the same vision as you. Having Hamish and Gerry [from Swirl Records] really helped with the productivity aspect since we all wanted to do it and we all had the same idea, plus it’s great to have more than one set of hands on deck. We don’t really designate specific roles for each of us, it’s more like if something needs to be done then one of us will do it. Although, Gerry takes care of more the booking side of local gigs. Hamish is a bit more of our numbers/ideas man, and I just usually take care of any general stuff, media and artwork.”

“With the festival and a lot of the other shows we put on, we have a lovely group of friends and volunteers from Music SA that always put their hand up to help out which is really kind and helpful.”

Get the locals on board

“With the first Swirl Fest we had no sponsorship, so the second time around we made sure that we could get local businesses in on the festival to help promote their brands. This year we had the lovely people of Sparkke sell their beverages and merchandise to punters. Obviously, we learn a little more every show or festival we do, amping it up with food trucks and the like. It would be great to have the pull to involve even more local businesses into the mix, as it’s something we as a label really stand behind.”

The Budget

“When I brought it up with Gerry and Hamish from the Swirl Records team, they said that we should try and do a two-stage festival, which at first was very daunting considering that we had to somehow get all these bands to agree to play with no guaranteed fee.

“Budget for bands, staging, lighting, venue hire, staff, sound techs, photographers, etc. Make sure that you set the ticket price to something manageable. I find that for this it’s good to ask yourself “Would I pay that much to go to this?” Compromise a bit and find a nice middle ground where you can break even, but it’s not a wallet drain for fans.

The Legal Stuff

“Be careful with legalities, make sure bands sign a contract so that if something happens you don’t cop the rear end of it. In the contract carefully outline what you expect of the band in relation to set times, attitude, payment and general occupational health and safety.”

Getting the word out

“Make sure you have a plan with promotion. It’s all well and good to have the event all booked and finalised but you need to make sure people actually know about it. You can’t rely on bands and word of mouth to promote it, you really need to set aside some money and do some Facebook advertising and press releases for media sites.

“Never underestimate the power of putting up posters too, people actually do see them and keeps it fresh in their mind. You should really love your artwork, it’ll be the first thing people will see and what will draw them to it.”

Most importantly…

“Have fun with it! Be creative and put on something you’d be proud to invite your mum to.”

Regarding the future of Swirl Fest, Matheson explains “Hopefully we all find the time to do another one, this year’s one was pretty stressful budget-wise as we did it all off our own backs and thank god we got there in the end. We will probably be looking to expand the lineup again, get some more interstate acts and give them the opportunity to gain a following here in lil old Adelaide.”

“I’d really like to thank the Ed Castle, Global Staging Solutions, Sparkke Brewing Company, all of our volunteers and bands for all your help. The local scene too, for getting behind the festival, it really makes it worthwhile that we actually get people coming out to these shows and enjoying the music.”

SIAMESE recently dropped their debut EP Code One, available now via Swirl Records.