The emergence of the DIY & boutique events – are they becoming a viable replacement for the touring festival?

As we welcome Summer and the New Year, we welcome the horrid sight of fake tans gone wrong, gym junkies parading the streets shirtless, long lines to use (much to our dismay) port-a-loos or to buy an overpriced beverage, sniffer dogs guarding entry gates and in the distance; a giant stage which will be home for the day to the artists that we dipped in to our savings to see. Festival season is approaching and while many may love this time of the year, it seems that this generation are turning to DIY and boutique events as an alternative to the dying big touring festival.


Are these DIY start-up events a viable replacement for big touring festivals and can they meet the demands of the music community?

The past few years have been mayhem for Australian festivals, leaving music fans around the country looking to the future of music festivals with uncertainty. Touring festival Big Day Out was cancelled for 2015 after the ownership changed hands to a US company, C3 Presents; the return of the summer festival looking highly unlikely for 2016. Another travelling festival, the Future Music Festival was cancelled indefinitely- the promoters Mushroom Group stating that, ‘it no longer made financial sense to continue the electronic travelling festival’. In more recent news, and what is a devastating loss to hardcore music fans, Soundwave Festival was cancelled less than a month before it was due to begin, promoter AJ Maddah tweeting that the cancellation was ‘due to poor ticket sales’.

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Music fans have become all too familiar with the ‘we regret to inform you that…’ statuses stating that a certain festival has been discontinued. That leaves us asking, why? What has changed to make big successful touring festivals suddenly drop off the radar?

The answer – this generation’s alternative – is DIY events. Punters have had enough of being herded into a massive festival ground and now expect a unique experience, leaving organisers scratching their heads on what to offer to their crowd.
Kevin Lyman, the creator and producer of the Vans Warped Tour (the longest running travelling music festival in North America today) spoke about the changing demands from music fans in regards to events in his TEDx talk titled “When your festival is older than your customers…”.

Lyman discusses how to stay relevant, saying that his festival’s age group is 13-19, and he keeps them engaged throughout the year through social media and non-profit events, building a community (book drives, blood donation, food tin donations) that allow the participating fans to receive merchandise or for some, wristbands allowing them into the backstage area come the day of the festival. Lyman stresses the importance of having activities at festivals, to entertain punters when they’re taking a break from the bands on the main stage. Examples from the Vans Warped Tour include acoustic tents and instrument teaching sessions provided by artists.

In the gaping hole of live music in Australia left by big touring festivals dropping like flies, such as Big Day Out and Future Music Festival, DIY and boutique events are growing, aiming to provide the music community with the unique cultural experience that the music community is demanding.

A DIY event doing just that is Newcastle based Grouse House, founded by Jed Kirbyshire, Ben Campbell and Kale Newburn. The idea began when the three met at Tafe (in a Cert III Music Business course), and mentioned the possibility of a house show featuring local bands. Their idea was to provide a positive cultural experience filled with music and art that they thought ‘Newcastle was missing out on’, as Campbell mentions, admitting that, ‘the first [event] was more of a social experiment to see how people mixed together’.

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Jed, Ben and Kale all agreed that the feedback they had received for their events had all been positive, as they offer a niche experience fuelled by the love of music and art. Their latest event saw them play host to artists such as Hockey Dad, Skegss, The Pinheads, Raavetapes, Wavevom and Vacations.

The Pinheads at Sounds of the Suburbs (Credit: Brooke Tunbridge)
The Pinheads at Sounds of the Suburbs (Credit: Brooke Tunbridge)

When discussing finance, the three were evidently thankful for the ‘supporting cast of Grouse House’ as Kirbyshire mentions, Newburn chipping in that it’s ‘like an extended family’. Kirbyshire spoke passionately about bringing bands to Newcastle as the town often gets skipped, making it clear that Grouse House are in it for the love of music and have had to make sacrifices, ‘if we lose a little bit of money then really what does it matter; as long as we’re getting these bands here’.
DIY events such as Grouse House hold a creative freedom; the events connect music and art with people, without having to deal with a middle man. Big touring festivals however require structure to be able to run effectively, sometimes cutting out the authenticity of the cultural experience.

Admitting that ‘it might not be a viable replacement but is a nice happy alternative’, Newburn mentions the legal issues they have come across when planning the events. Kirbyshire continues saying that they’ve had to consider things such as lockout laws, noise restrictions and liquor licenses, finding it difficult as they’re still learning the etiquette and ways in which you go about planning an event like Grouse House. The music community appear to be supportive of DIY events as they know it’s an entirely different experience to what they’d get at a massive festival.

Campbell spoke about the crowds that Grouse House attracts, saying that, ‘you don’t really get that ego that you’d get at a bigger festival or that sort of vibe from the crowd’. These events provide an intimate gathering of creative minds and music fans, enriching the experience for the bands, the organisers and the crowd. Perhaps those in the music industry may look at this and think that the organisers are naïve, as finances need to be considered in order for the event to become sustainable. Others may long for the passion and spirit that they have, as I’m sure that is how everyone in the music industry would start out- doing whatever it is they are doing for the love of music.

In between DIY house shows and massive events lie the boutique festivals, often found in regional locations. These events, such as Mountain Sounds Festival, Festival of the Sun, Lost Paradise and many others offer punters an extraordinary range of things to do, and of course features an impressive line-up. Horse riding, abseiling, yoga, belly dancing, art, meditation and skinny dipping are among the list of activities for some of these events.

Rare Finds, a Sydney based boutique PR agency and record label hold events known as Rare Finds and Visions in venues such as Oxford Art Factory, The Bank Hotel and Cliff Dive in Sydney. Their Visions event launched in 2013 and had its seventh edition of the event in October last year, providing free entry for patrons as they were exposed to artists such as Burn Antares and Deep Sea Arcade DJs. Launching in June of this year, Rare Finds also boasts free entry, hosting these events with artists such as Jenny Broke The Window, Food Court and Polish Club. These events bring the music community together as they are able to access these live acts for free, in an intimate environment.

These smaller events, whether it’s a DIY show or a boutique festival, inspire people to get creative. These events focus on collaborating with creative kinds who work to offer these adventurous activities and cultural spaces for ticketholders.
DIY events and boutique festivals within Australia have proven to be an entertaining alternative to the dying big touring festival, as they encourage a community spirit for everyone to let their creative talent shine as they provide a destination event that punters will want to remember. Grouse House is one example of the many culturally enriching niche events that have appeared from backyards in Australia and with the cancellation of more large festivals, the DIY show and boutique festival scene will only get bigger.