INTERVIEW: ‘It Needed To Reset’: How Download Is Reinvigorating The Aus Festival Scene

Published on, Mar 2018

There’s no shortage of heavy acts touring the country, but when it comes to multi-stage festivals catering to such a fanbase, there’s been a hole in the market in recent years, following the collapse of juggernauts Big Day Out and Soundwave. “I think it was probably good that there was,” begins Download Melbourne producer Nigel Melder. “It needed to reset a little bit for people.”

With punters now yearning for that drought to end, Download Festival will make its Australian debut this month, bringing with it Korn, Prophets Of Rage, Limp Bizkit and more. “Realistically, the wheel’s not being reinvented, but what we want to do is try to offer a day that is going to be a lot better than what people have had previously,” Melder tells.

“Part of that is making sure that we keep the start, the beginning and the growth of the thing humble and make sure we don’t lose sight of why people are excited to go to this type of thing.”

There are a number of reasons why larger festivals began to collapse a few years ago and, with that in mind, Melder and co are placing a lot of emphasis on how the festival grows and ensuring they carve a new path. “We want to try to make something that’s sustainable and is going to be around for a long time,” he explains. “I think an easy way for it to go badly is to get ahead of yourself and try to replicate what someone’s done before you; I don’t think that’s a smart play.

“We need to make sure that we can deliver on what we’re promising and then have people enjoy what we’re promising. Gone are the days where people want to be in a field with 50,000 people.”

As a result, the festival’s playing times are easy to digest and there’ll hopefully be few clashes for fans, with 29 acts across four stages. “I just don’t think you can ever get [the timetable] right because everyone is different. We’re lucky enough where we have different genres where we have half a chance, but just given the number of acts we have playing and the number of stages, it really reduces the clashes.

“If we ever got into a situation where we had seven or eight stages and it’s all heavy music, I think it creates too many problems for people and they feel like they’re missing out on as much as they’re getting.”

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Unless the market “radically changes”, Melder doesn’t think we’ll get back to festivals of that size anyway. “For [heavy music], we were never really that well represented in Australia, versus overseas where you might look at something like Warped Tour or even Download in the UK, which has been around for years now. It took a long time for Australia to really respect heavy music.

“The problem with running a massive festival every year for the same genre, is, how do you come up with the talent to keep people interested? Where do the headliners come from every year when you’re working at that level and you’re trying to sell that many tickets? I’d much rather work on something sustainable that will be still be running in five years.”

In keeping the line-up sustainable, Download has turned to Australia’s local talent pool. The result is a third of the line-up consisting of Aussie acts, including Northlane, Clowns, Make Them Suffer and more. “That’s important to us,” Melder says. “It’s important to nurture Australian talent and I think that we also need to recognise it. I’ve played in bands for years – this isn’t my way of paying it back, I just think there are good Australian bands in this country. You go to shows and half the time, the Australian support bands are better than the international bands.”

The attention to detail when picking even the local opening acts highlights how dedicated the team at Download Australia are to providing a full-day experience that will hopefully become a regular fixture on the festival calendar for years to come.

“We want people to make the most of it and we want it in their minds for the next year. When it gets to March, ‘Hey, it’s Download.’ You know, school’s back and work’s been well and truly back for a month or two and summer’s winding down – this is how we’re going to cap off the summer and that part of the year. The plan is to expand it, of course, and then hopefully we get into more cities… if we get it right and we take our time, I think we’ll have success.”

Download Festival Melbourne will hit Flemington Racecourse on 24 Mar. Check out the festival’s website for all the details.