Splendour in the Grass: behind the lineup

Splendour in the Grass promoter Jess Ducrou’s boasts that “There was a lot of speculation that we couldn’t improve on last year, but we think that this is our best lineup yet.” She’s chuffed to welcome personal favourite Coldplay back to the festival and the “super cool” Kanye West to the festival and rattles off a long list of up and coming bands that she’s eager to see on stage in Woodfordia.

On the morning before the festival officially announced that the Event-Camping tickets had sold out, Ducrou took a moment from her busy schedule to speak to FasterLouder about this year’s event – answering questions about the contentious lineup and ticketing issues and offering her vision for the future direction of the festival.

Does the speculation and rumouring about the Splendour lineup each year stress you out – particularly when you see fantasy lineups like this years ‘leaked’ poster featuring Radiohead, Arcade Fire, The Cure, Kanye and more. When people are prepared to believe a lineup that unrealistic does that worry you?

It’s interesting watching who people think are going to play at the festival. To be honest it doesn’t bother me particularly it’s all part of everyone getting excited about who’s playing the show.

I assume you would have approached most of the bands on that line up though? The annual phone call to Radiohead…

Absolutely. There’s bands that are just so obviously the top of the list for us, and probably for most other Australian festivals. We always start with those obvious choices that people are often rumouring to be on our lineup. Unfortunately they’re not all available.

As the festival has grown I imagine it becomes a little easier to attract the top tier of bands to the festival. What was it like putting together this year’s bill?

This year was difficult compared to last year which was just incredibly easy when we had a lot of acts approaching us and there just seemed to be a lot of bands ‘in cycle’. This year we’re absolutely thrilled that Coldplay and Kanye are playing the show. And Jane’s Addiction. We just can’t actually believe that that all came together. There was a lot of speculation that we couldn’t improve on last year, but we think that this is our best lineup yet.

There have been complaints from some punters in our forums that Kanye West and Coldplay aren’t appropriate headliners for Splendour. What makes them ‘Splendour bands’ for you?

I think that’s just people being narrow minded. We constantly try to challenge our audience. Kanye’s record is just super cool with all the artists he’s collaborated with. It’s an amazing record, he’s just obviously more commercially successful than other, or previous, Splendour headliners. And Coldplay played the show in 2003.

I don’t see them as being massive departures but they’re big bands, probably some of the biggest in the world and that’s what people push back on. That’s balanced with the acts that by the time the festival comes around people will be much more familiar with. There has to be a broad variety of talent that appeals to a lot of people – especially when you’re trying to sell 32 thousand tickets.

That number – 32 thousand – is obviously a point of difference between Splendour and some of the overseas festivals you are often compared to like Coachella, Glastonbury or Lollapalooza. What do you see as the main differences between Splendour and those festivals?

The difference is that geographically we’re a lot longer away than the US or Europe. To put on a show with the volume of acts that those shows present is just not logistically possible. So we have less acts than they do, but that said the smallest of those festivals is 80 thousand people and we’re 32 thousand.

We’re a whole lot smaller but we’re sharing headliners that they’re using. Coldplay is playing at Lollapalooza. Kanye played Coachella. While we’re smaller we’re certainly keeping abreast of what those events are doing. People whinge about Kanye and Coldplay, but they’re also headlining those other festivals that they’re coveting and that they want to go to. It was always going to be a controversial move putting on commercial, or perceived commercial, headliners. But it’s the direction that the festival is heading in.

In a more commercial direction?

Well, into a more varied lineup. When you need to sell tickets and you want the festival to grow certainly in the longer term we want to have the Coldplay’s alongside the Strokes alongside Bruce Springsteen alongside Neil Young alongside the Arctic Monkeys. That’s what makes for a truly great event.

When Jay Z headlined Glastonbury there was all this controversy about him headlining and they were in a similar situation to us – their sales suffered, not that I think ours has to do with those two acts [Kanye and Coldplay] – and now Beyonce’s on the lineup. It’s about challenging people and not everyone’s going to like what you do.

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