The Hot Seat: Declan Forde, Harvest Festival

Published in The Music Network


Conventional wisdom would have it that Australia’s festival market is saturated. Why launch with Harvest in Australia, and why now?
Yes, saturation certainly seems to be the word that’s being thrown around the Australian festival market. There’s a perception that there are more festivals than the market can sustain. Compared to the US, UK or Ireland, Australia has a relatively level playing field. No one or two promoters dominates the market here in the way they do in most other countries in the Western world. So the negative, anti- competitive practices that try to smother many good ideas overseas are a little more subdued here. The flip side of that, of course, is that there are a lot more promoters here and there is a high level of competition for the scene in general and ultimately for bands and punters.

AJ [Maddah] and I have been talking for many years about launching a music and arts festival in Australia, and we’re very conscious that it’s not going to be a stroll in the park by any stretch of the imagination, and that there are a few music festivals here already. But we do feel that what we’re setting out to do with Harvest is different from other festivals, and that it will be a success both commercially and in terms of the quality and overall vibe of the events. We’re happy that we’ve succeeded in selling that message to the bands we targeted for this year’s event, and that the team putting together the three festivals are very excited and clearly focused on what Harvest is about.

Any good initiative seems obvious with hindsight, so hopefully that will be the case with Harvest.

What will set Harvest apart from the many festivals already on the scene?

We have taken a very organic approach with the development of Harvest. We’re coming into this with excitement and positivity about what our festival will be about. The team who are working on Harvest are not discussing what other events we’d compete with, or identifying any particular “hole in the market”. We work from the heart, and want to make these events as thoroughly enjoyable for the artists and punters who come to it. As corny as it sounds, that’s the truth.

We will just be doing it in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. Three festivals is as many as we can do while maintaining the attention to detail that will be crucial in making each event special. In each leg, there will be three music stages and three broad art and performance areas. Each leg, will run from 11:00am ‘til 10 or 10:30pm. They all take place in beautiful sites, and there will be a general overall emphasis on aesthetics — a feast for all the senses. We aim to surpass people’s expectations. The fact that each leg will be situated within 30 minutes’ drive of each of the respective city centres means that it will be a proposition less taxing — in terms of money, time and effort — than some other events.

How did Harvest come about?
AJ and his wife Jo first came to Electric Picnic in 2006 and have been to four of the last five Electric Picnics. My partner Jenny and I really hit it off with them and they looked after us when we came on holiday to Australia the following Christmas and New Year’s. Since then we have talked about bringing an event with a similar ethos to Australia, and over the years discussed many different options. I think we’ve hit the right format at the right time this year.

A leak threatened to rain on Harvest’s parade. Did you ever identify the source and how did it affect the event’s plans?
It was quickly established that our phones had been hacked by some of Rupert’s cronies. Probably. Probably. Retributive action has since been taken.

You’re relatively new to Australia. What do you make of the live sector here?
One thing I noticed when at SXSW and The Great Escape this year was how many of the best acts coming across were from Australia and New Zealand. I’ve been a fan of the likes of Cut Copy, The Temper Trap, Dappled Cities, Midnight Juggernauts, Fat Freddy’s Drop or Angus & Julia Stone for years. Obviously, the sheer distance from other touring markets is really a defining issue for bands from Australia and New Zealand. The cost of getting to London or L.A. is obviously massive so there have been scores of acts over the years who haven’t managed to make it big outside their home country.

It’s a familiar story for quite a few Irish acts, and we’re only a couple of hundred miles from London rather than several thousand. The local content quotas for Australian radio is really important in ensuring there remains a healthy indigenous scene here; it really does my head-in to look at festival bills all around the world with the same list of North American and British acts. There’s loads of brilliant new music coming out of Australia, and Australia should be exporting it to the world.


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