Australia's Bigsound Conference: Alan McGee Provokes; Robbie Williams' Hefty EMI Deal; Chugg Lambasts McGee
Australia's Bigsound Conference: Alan McGee Provokes; Robbie Williams' Hefty EMI Deal; Chugg Lambasts McGee

The 10th anniversary Bigsound conference took place last week in Brisbane, Australia. Billboard's Australia correspondent Lars Brandle was there to take in all the sounds and soundbites.

Bigsound
"The Australian" newspaper music editor Iain Shedden shares a joke with Creation Records co-founder Alan McGee. (Photo by Stephen Booth)

Alan McGee

Alan McGee has etched his name in the record business as the man who "discovered" Oasis and established one of the most notorious labels of the '90s, Creation Records. Last Wednesday, the Scot inscribed his name in Bigsound folklore with an opening keynote Q&A which will be remembered for his mix of wit and curmudgeon, and his resentment for the music business which made him rich and famous. McGee's comments went global when he applauded the recent Sony DADC warehouse fire during the London riots. "I'm probably the only person who thought that was funny. I call that a (good) result," he said. "It got rid of all the shit music. And you get paid for it, the stuff you couldn't sell." McGee also gave a spray to Sony Music, and admitted that he left the biz because "well, I don't like the music." Over the last 10 years, he said, the only bands that "boiled his brains" were Glasvegas and the Libertines. Though the music no longer plays for him, McGee still finds time to DJ. Later in the week, McGee spun tunes at an invite-only Bigsound party. His playlist, however, included a track by MGMT.

Post script: Later, on his Huffington Post blog, McGee said he had no idea the independent PIAS group had lost stock in the fire. Though he reaffirmed his dislike of Sony. "I have no issue with PIAS but I do however hate Sony - it's personal," he wrote.

David Enthoven & Tim Clark
The IE Music co-founders are a formidable double-act. In a day-two keynote address, Enthoven and Clark gave a candid and at times hilarious display which delved into drugs, the business and managing their ward, Robbie Williams. "Record companies have to change," Clark said. "There's only two people who matter - the artist and the fan. We have to look after both. The rest is the gloop in the middle. This is an extraordinary technological revolution. We need to grab it or we'll sink." Enthoven and Clark made history when they orchestrated the enormous "multi-rights" deal between Williams and EMI in 2002. "We have no regrets," said Clark on reflection of that pact. "Robbie got a shedload of money up front. We were all happy. Robbie was very happy." Williams is currently working with Gary Barlow on a new album, which is tentatively due next year. Williams, we also learned, is preparing to launch the Farrell clothing label this fall, but there are no plans to break the U.S. "He chose to live a normal time over there," said Enthoven. "He 'couldn't be arsed,' he would say." Enthoven also dispelled any rumor that his client Jimmy Page may reunite with his Led Zeppelin bandmates. The rock titans "won't play again together," Enthoven explained.

Bigsound
The "Exposing Michael Chugg" panel saw the promoter (far left) "interrogated" by journalists Iain Shedden (The Australian), Kathy McCabe (News Ltd) and Lars Brandle (Billboard). (Photo by Stephen Booth)

Michael Chugg
Colorful Australian promoter Michael Chugg is never short of a word of two. And to prove a point, he agreed to be "grilled" on stage by three journalists -- "The Australian" newspaper music editor Iain Shedden, "Daily Telegraph" music editor Kathy McCabe and this reporter. On the final morning of Bigsound, Chugg called for the creation of a new industry lobby body to "lead the way" and urged fans and the industry alike to "stand up and make themselves heard" to radio stations who didn't support local music. The 64-year-old chairman of Michael Chugg Entertainment also had a word or two for McGee. "He basically came to hangout with his Pommie comedian mate for a week and as part of that trip he gave us an hour of his time very boringly," Chugg said of that controversial opening-day keynote. "My attitude is, if you don't come out here to give, fuck off. If you're going to use a trip to Bigsound, or SXSW, for ulterior motives, you shouldn't be here." In one of the big surprises, Chugg admitted something few knew about him -- he's actually rather shy.

The nightlife
The Sept. 7-9 Bigsound daytime conference was a sell-out. Among the 680-strong delegation (up from 560 last year) were Sire Records chairman Seymour Stein, Beggars Group's director of digital Simon Wheeler and Agency Group's agent Dave Shapiro. But it was the nighttime program which really shone, with more than 80 artists showcasing across a string of venues in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. The highlights included sets by smoking hot domestic acts DZ Deathrays, Velociraptor and Bleeding Knees Club. Organizers estimate 2,500 folks visited the showcases. Bigsound 2012 will be held Sept 12-14.