Heathen Skulls: Sunn O))) have “created a shit storm of controversy”

Heathen Skulls promoter ROBERT MACMANUS explains how the cancellation of the planned October tour by Sunn O))) has created a “shit storm of controversy” and backlash that will now and forever reflect badly on everyone concerned”. Earlier this week, the band issued a statement declaring that Heathen Skulls “has shown complete inconsideration towards the basic requirements of our agreement together”. But MacManus has stood firm, saying his biggest mistake was agreeing to the band’s demands in the first place.

If anyone knows anything about touring as a band, or touring bands as a promoter, the first thing they’ll know all too well is the high costs, huge financial risk, and the logistical complications of going out on the road and touring.

When you factor in touring Internationally as an independent band with no major label backing, no commercial or mainstream appeal, and a niche audience that’s limited to small clubs and bars, then the risk factor goes up ten fold. These are only some of the issues I face with my agency Heathen Skulls, all the time, on every single tour I present.

These are also some of the variables that fans don’t take into consideration when seeing their favourite bands live. It’s all good and well rocking out and seeing bands, but think about what needed to be done for that band to travel to other side of the world so as to rock out for you in the comfort of your own town.

When tours get cancelled, fans always get bent out of shape and take to public forums venting their anger at who closest the easiest target, without even considering the larger picture, like the huge financial risk that promoter had to take, and what it actually took to stage a production for a band from another country.

I started Heathen Skulls back in 2006 to tour obscure and underground artists, all of which have very limited appeal, and for the most part, have never toured Australia before. As a musician myself, I tour these bands first and foremost as a fan. It’s the reason why I started as a promoter. Very few other promoters were willing to take the risks touring these artists, so I made it my mission: If they didn’t, I would, as I personally wanted to see them live.

Regarding the Sunn tour, after touring countless smaller profile Southern Lord bands over the years, all of which toured Australia for the first time, I had a meeting with Greg Anderson of Sunn in the Southern Lord office in LA to discuss how better to promote his labels artists in Australia.

“They had a bone to pick and they made their point, publically, and for the whole world to read.”

The idea of touring Sunn was never my intention, as I knew, and had heard countless stories, about the complications of presenting their production, not to mention dealing with them as a band. Locating their backline was the biggest concern, and the cost of their International flights from every point of global stratosphere being another. The first mistake I made was letting [Sunn O))) member] Greg Anderson convince me that touring Sunn was a good idea, the second mistake was agreeing to their exuberant flat fees.

As a fan of the band, and the legend they’ve created, when you get to know them personally, it’s hard not to be somewhat awe struck with the thought of getting offered to tour them, which is what happened in my case. It was a great honour. I had trouble saying no.

If I’d done more research into the band and realised they’re not quite the draw they once were, maybe I could’ve gotten them on a much better deal (far lower fee with a backend deal). Because of this, their fees and production costs were so far out of my reach that I struggled to meet their demands. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong to agree to this tour and that I personally didn’t have the financial means and resources to make this tour happen. I thought I did, but then again, I also thought some of my previous tours would’ve done far better than expected, so as to offset Sunn expenses. Obviously this wasn’t the case.

With the high costs of presenting a Brisbane show at the Tivoli Theatre, and Brisbane being the way it is, always having lower than average ticket sales than Sydney, I was reluctant to present the Brisbane show in the end. That’s why it never went on sale, as pre-sale tickets for their Sydney and Perth shows were selling quite poorly. The Melbourne shows were the only shows that showed any potential of actually drawing a profit.

As for the band and their agent complaining about me advertising the tour and putting tickets on sale without their knowledge, once they agreed to the tour and the contracts had been drawn up, they knew I was announcing the tour and tickets were to be made available immediately. The issue in question was that I did so before paying the artist’s 50 per cent fee deposit, hence why the band never officially announced the tour from their end. They weren’t going to announce till the fees were paid.

After delaying the fee deposit due to logistical issues with the tour, this ultimately eroded any faith the band and their agent had in Heathen Skulls, which ultimately made the negotiations of the tour far worse, to the point of un-reconciliation. In the end, with the high costs of presenting the tour and the complex nature of their production, not to mention a complete break down of communication, there was no other choice but to cancel the tour.

The final nail in the coffin was their choice to hang their dirty laundry out to dry by the way of a completely unprofessional press release detailing the personal inner-workings of a tour that had nothing to do with the general public. A simple and modest press release announcing the tours cancellation would have been suffice, but clearly that wasn’t their agenda. They had a bone to pick and they made their point, publically, and for the whole world to read.

Ultimately they’ve now created a shit storm of controversy and backlash that will now and forever

reflect badly on everyone concerned.


Heathen Skulls have been touring “obscure and underground artists” since 2006, presenting tours by acts including Dead Meadow, Russian Circles, and Lightning Bolt. Upcoming Heathen Skulls tours include Tortoise, Russian Circles, Chelsea Wolfe, and Earth.