Splendour In The Grass’ Jessica Ducrou: “We want to be more than that typical 20-something event.”
“Very…familiar, like a pair of comfy moccasins ” laughs Splendour In The Grass co-founder Jessica Ducrou, when I ask her what it feels like to be back at Belongil Fields for the first time since relocating Splendour to Woodford in 2010. While Ducrou is genuinely excited about bringing the festival home to Byron, there is no doubt that she and business partner Paul Piticco would have much preferred for punters to be spending July 27-30 of this year stomping around the new site at Yelgun instead.
It’s been well reported that for the last few years Splendour In The Grass have been seeking approval to utilise land in the North Byron Parkland, purchased by Ducrou and Piticco back in 2006. Following some seriously lengthy negotiations with local council, two months ago they were finally given the greenlight to do just that – making this year Splendour’s last at Belongil Fields. While Belongil – with its muddy causeways and compact layout – has long incited mixed feelings among festival goers, most Splendour faithful are buoyed at the prospect of having one last chance to farewell the winter wonderland where Powderfinger, Something For Kate and Sunk Loto first got the party started twelve years ago.
Four weeks out from Splendour In The Grass 2012, FL managed to track down Ducrou in a rare moment of quiet to find out what she has in store for the festival’s future, how hard it was to book At The Drive-In and what she learnt from last year’s event.
There seems to have been an overwhelmingly positive reaction to this year’s lineup, with many people calling it a ‘more classic Splendour bill’, was this something that you intentionally set out to achieve?
I think when we were booking we were looking at it differently. It’s been interesting the response, how overwhelming positive it is because it’s obviously markedly smaller than what we’ve done in other years. But if everyone is happy, we’re happy.
“Last year we wanted to give the show more depth and challenge people.”
You received some criticism from Splendour loyalists last year for booking a handful of more ‘blockbuster’ acts like Kanye and Coldplay…
Which we booked very consciously. It’s kind of frustrating because we wanted to give the show more depth and more diversify and challenge people. Yes they are not your typical Splendour acts but they put on great shows and if you like music, you’ll appreciate their show even if you’re not necessarily a fan of their music. You know it was spectacular, I was really proud of the show last year, I really was.
Given just how spectacular both those headline sets proved to be, in retrospect do you consider the decision a success?
Absolutely. Maybe it’s just a cultural difference here; in Europe there are festivals that are much bigger that can carry big commercial acts. You look at the second card down from the headliners [last year] and they were typical Splendour acts, like if you are not into Kanye and Coldplay there was plenty of other great stuff to see. So, for me it felt like a bill for everyone.
The BDO subsequently had a difficult year with Kanye as a headliner – do you think Australian festival goers are not ready for ‘superstar’ headliners?
Maybe! The thing is I went to the Big Day Out and I was standing in the crowd when Kanye came on and people were running towards the stage and people were really, really excited. And, in fact, more so than Soundgarden, who is more your typical Big Day Out act.
I think as an Event Producer you have the ability to introduce ideas and I really felt like we were doing that last year and it was interesting to see how people processed that. And to be honest I don’t necessarily think the lack of a sell out had to do with the headliners, I think it was a sign of the times, it was a really tough year for a lot of events. So in hindsight I think there was a lot more going on than the fact we had untraditional headliners.
In your opinion are things looking better for festivals in Australia this year?
I think last year was a really interesting year and from my perspective the challenge that it was, makes us better at what we do. We really spent a lot of time considering how we can do it better this year and I think we set the right tone. So I think the festival culture is alive and well in this country, and it’s just up to the producers to deliver what people want – which are quality events. That said, I think there is a fine line, in that we as organisers need to lead with what we do and Id like to think that last year was the first step in doing that.