Download Festival Rocks Melbourne, Prepares to Expand in 2019

Prophets of Rage at 2018 Download Festival Australia
Photo by Ian Laidlaw

Prophets of Rage at 2018 Download Festival Australia

Melbourne is often praised as Australia’s capital of sport and culture. Weather, however, has never been its strong suit. And so it was on Saturday, March 24, when the skies emptied over the Victorian capital, drenching the site for the inaugural Download Festival Australia. Never mind. A city that boasts a lane named after AC/DC doesn’t fret about a little rain.

Nearly 30,000 turned out at Flemington Racecourse to see this nostalgia-heavy lineup led by Korn, Limp Bizkit, Prophets Of Rage and NOFX. “We love coming to Australia. This is a country where you party a lot, right?,” roared Amon Amarth frontman Johan Hegg during the Swedish metal veterans’ late afternoon stint on the “Red” stage. The sun was now beating down. All this rock and metal apparently blew away the clouds. Hegg’s comment rings true as a man in a wheelchair is lifted above the crowd, throwing devil horns back to the stage. “Holy shit,” says the rocker spotting his hardcore fan. “That’s metal as fuck.”

Presented by Live Nation, UNIFIED & Secret Sounds, Download is a member of a hard rock and metal family, ruled by the long-running U.K. fest at Donington Park, which has grown into a multi-day beast and expanded into new territories (France and Spain). Download founder Andy Copping flew in from the U.K. to experience this launch into Australia. 

Download Festival adds another piece to LN’s enviable stack of assets in this part of the world. And it enters a festivals space now devoid of the once-mighty touring monoliths -- Big Day Out and Soundwave among them -- which no longer occupy space on the calendar.

Download Festival will lock up a space on the Australian calendar for the immediate future. The team behind this first fest Down Under declared the day a full-throttled success and plans are to bring back Download to Melbourne in 2019, with an additional date in Sydney. Billboard caught up with Download Festival Australia booker Nigel Melder for a scan behind the scenes.

Photo by Lars Brandle
Download Festival Melbourne, 2018

Billboard: I’m told this festival was four years in the making?
Nigel Melder: It’s definitely been a long time coming. We got close-ish two years ago. It wasn’t a lineup thing, we just weren’t happy with the dates we had and the venues. It didn’t feel like the right time so we reset and loaded up this year. 

A lot has changed in the marketplace over the last few years. The four biggest touring fests all fell over, which no doubt created opportunities to launch Download here?
It was. When gaps open up I’m sure we’re not the only promoter looking at the space. Several people were looking at trying to jump in there. Something we’re very careful about is not launching something that’s too big, something that’s not sustainable. They were big festivals, selling out 50-60,000 tickets a show in some markets, it’s hard for that level of business to sustain anymore. We’re seeing in a lot of places around the world where boutique festivals and the smaller experiences are becoming more attractive. People want the experience curated a little more, and we’ve done that.

I’ve attended Download in the U.K. It’s massive. But you’re starting small here.
To be honest it’ll never be as big as the U.K. (version). For a start, a multi-day camping festival and just the pure logistics of flying that many artists to Australia -- even though a third of our lineup are Australian anyway – you couldn’t do it and make it particularly affordable. It’s not to say we won’t grow. We’ll grow slowly. If we wanted to aim for something that is monolithic, it’d probably fall over pretty quickly. It’s happened to everyone else who’s done it. The market is going to change. Because of the geographic isolation it’ll be very hard, and it depends on the (fluctuation of the Australian) dollar. Maybe in 10 years’ time it’ll be a different situation.

So how big can you build this?
We’ve been quite upfront about expanding into other cities. We’re building it slowly, expanding it slowly, making sure we get it right and the public the fans are along for the ride for us and we give them what they want. And just not misstep or get ahead of ourselves and build something we can’t control. When we get to March in the back-end of summer and people are back at work, school and university, they have to hold out a couple of weeks and then Download is here. That’s what we want and that’s the long-term aim.

Photo by Lars Brandle
Download Festival Melbourne, 2018

You’ll expand into Sydney next year. What next?
The plan within the first three years is to at least get to three cities. I think the smart move would be one city at a time. Over west it’s a really hard market at the moment. I don’t have a crystal ball. I just know if we take it slowly and calculated, we’re going to get it right and we’ll be able to sustain it for everyone. In an ideal world, sure, it’ll go to Perth and Adelaide in the next five years. But the market is going to determine that. 

There’s been a real movement for boosting the representation of women on festival bills. Is that something you’ll look to address in the years to come?
It’s definitely in mind and we do come from a genre that isn’t probably as well represented as perhaps some other genres. We do keep it in mind. It’ll always be that balance of getting the right acts and what acts are out there that we want. For good or for bad, nothing is quota driven here. It’s hard and it’s definitely a hot topic that is with us.  We’ve had acts that we want that we couldn’t get on and maybe we’ll get them next year. I don’t know what the solution is, and there’s definitely not a quick solution. Could there be more (female artists represented)? Sure. Will that change in future? I hope so.

Festivals 2018