Right now, Australia should be bracing itself for its biggest-ever invasion of U.S. hip-hop and R&B stars. The likes of Nas, T.I., 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, J. Cole, Waka Flocka Flame, Joey Bada$$ and more should be preparing to headline not one but two urban-music festivals that would hit the continent’s major cities over the next week. The land Down Under should be paradise for fans of beats and bluster.
But it’s not happening -- not now, anyway. In the space of just a few hours, the inaugural Movement fest – five scheduled dates featuring Nas, 2 Chainz, Chiddy Bang, Joey Bada$$, Angel Haze, Spit Syndicate, Thundamentals and homegrown hip hop chart-toppers Bliss N Eso -- was canceled, and its rival Supafest – which would have featured T.I., Ne-Yo and 50 Cent, Akon, J. Cole, Waka Flocka Flame, Young Jeezy and others over four dates -- announced its postponement until later this year.
In a statement issued April 18, Movement’s producers Live Nation and Niche Productions cited the withdrawal of Angel Haze (due to a clash in recording commitments) and 2Chainz (due to visa issues resulting from a pending unresolved court case), which they say led to a change of venues in some markets – and some unhappy ticketholders. At the same time, the April Supafest dates were nixed, with its promoters blaming “difficulty completing venue contract arrangements” for the Melbourne and Brisbane legs of the festival. The site of the Melbourne show had never been announced.
Both announcements were made just a week before showtimes, leaving tens of thousands of ticketholders disappointed – and, no doubt, many other people involved in the music biz chain.
It’s an unfortunate situation, and all manner of excuses have been raised. But the reality is a mixture of poor planning, competition, contractual issues, let-downs from some of the artists, and extraordinarily bad timing.
Indeed, if there is a way for two simultaneous grand-scale hip-hop fests to work Down Under, this clearly wasn’t it. For starters, Australia's live circuit is already swamped and ticket prices are sky-high. Add to that, Australia has an uneven history of supporting live hip-hop, and, incredibly, the festivals were playing the country’s three biggest cities -- Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – on the same days. Live Nation announced its shows first, but Supafest’s promoter Dwayne Cross insists its dates had been locked in for a least six months.
Supafest, with three years under its belt, at least knows the ropes. And Cross, director of Paperchase Sports and Entertainment, has a track record, having toured the likes of Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown, Nelly, T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z and Rihanna over the years.
In the festival’s first year, Cross says ticket sales across Supafest’s four days topped 61,000, and its second year did nearly 90,000. But last year’s event ran into trouble when the Supafest bill didn’t go according to plan, with Diddy, Missy Elliot and Rick Ross not showing as advertised. Supafest still shifted some 53,000 tickets in 2012, Cross noted.
He insists there’s a “100% chance” the shows will be resurrected in November. “I’m working on putting together the dates and the run as we speak so I can come back with an announcement,” Cross tells Billboard.biz.
Movement, which was organized by Live Nation, represents the company’s first foray into festivals Down Under; the Australian company’s president, Michael Coppel, has long voiced his desire to add the right fest to its portfolio. When the company initially revealed its Movement plans, it boasted of helping Australian hip-hop fans “overcome the disappointment that has occurred in the past due to event cancelations and talent withdrawals from similar events in recent years.” That comment is likely a dig at Supafest and the now-defunct Heatwave, which last year also endured well-publicized problems with its line-up. Representatives for Live Nation declined to comment for this article.
Indeed, last year was a bad one for hip-hop festivals in Australia. The January 2012 Heatwave Festival – with Kid Cudi, D12, Chamillionaire, Obie Trice, Tech N9ne and others -- was a massive flop amid poor ticket sales, negative publicity and D12 and Chamillionaire missing some of the six gigs.
Adam Jankie, cofounder of Illusive -- whose act, chart-topping Australian Bliss N Eso, were prominently billed on the Movement line-up -- admits the current situation is “frustrating.” Now, he says local promoters are “losing confidence in relation to setting up these type of events. Over the past few years there have been a number of urban-style festivals that have either been cancelled, postponed or have not delivered the advertised line ups.” The late scratching of the two events was “a real shame” he added. “Hip-hop tours have had a great run over the past six months in Australia and both [festivals] had great potential.”
A host of factors may have worked against the rival Movement and Supafest shows. It’s an inescapable fact that Australia’s festivals landscape is saturated: Through the country’s warmest months, there’s a fest for every city on every weekend.
And going to a show in Australia doesn’t come cheap. In recent years, Australians have swallowed prices that would have horrified festival-goers in the United States and Europe. A high-water mark was reached with last year’s three-day mid-winter Splendour in the Grass fest: the top-priced general camping ticket cost upwards of Australian $500 ($512). Tickets for Supafest cost $115 ($118) plus booking fee at the lowest end, and $221.50 ($227) at the high point.
Obtaining visas for international performers and crew is another challenge for every major promoter here. Time management is the key here, and every big show that produces the goods has the visa situation under control.
Like others in Australia’s hip-hop community, Jankie was prosaic on the nixing of Movement and Supafest 4. “There seems to be a recurring issue with hip-hop artists pulling out of shows or being unable to fulfill their obligations, which is extremely detrimental to the whole scene.” He suspects promoters here are becoming cautious on what artists and agents they are dealing with when it comes to international hip-hop. “Every promoter in Australia that has worked in the hip-hop scene has been burnt at one time or another. On the other hand there are a number of hip-hop artists that have toured Australia multiple times and have been hugely successful. For some international artists, Australia is one of their strongest territories and they are well aware of it.”
It remains to be seen whether hip-hop festival tours will ever truly work on a big scale Down Under. Australians are bred on guitar music; their tastes are evenly reflected by the festivals in the game. The country’s biggest fests cater to fans of hard rock (Soundwave), alternative (Big Day Out) and EDM (Stereosonic and Future Music). Each of those events expect to sell 200,000 or more tickets on their respective annual runs. Even country music has a well-earned position. But hip-hop remains niche.
“Australia is predominantly a rock, dance and indie market. That’s the majority of what the country leans to,” admits Cross. “But hip-hop it has its place -- R&B and hip-hop always sit on the charts, they’re always popular.”
Should Supafest 4 return in November, as planned, it might come up against the Hype festival, whose founder John Denison is a former partner on Supafest. Denison declined to comment for this story.
“It's a mistake to think that a big hip hop festival can't work in Australia,” explains Tim Levinson, managing director of the award-winning hip hop label Elefant Traks and a high-profile artist in his own right, Urthboy. “There are idiosyncracies with some U.S. hip hop acts,” he notes, “but where there's money to be made and a market to invade there'll be interest.” The key factor, he says, is connecting the right curator and promoter. “The awkward reality for whoever gets it right is that part of the challenge is now clawing back all the lost trust from both audience and artists. It'll happen. I have no doubt whatsoever.”