The New Bosses 2020: Filippo Palermo, Untitled Group
The New Bosses 2020 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual celebration of the brightest young talent in the live business today, as voted for by their peers – was published in IQ 93 this month revealing the twelve promising promoters, bookers, agents, A&R and production experts that make up this year’s list.
To get to know this year’s cream of the crop a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2020’s New Bosses, to discover their greatest inspirations and pinpoint the reasons for their success. Catch up on the previous New Bosses interview with Joe Skarzynski, a production co-ordinator in the US, here.
Filippo Palermo (27) is co-founder of Untitled Group, one of Australia’s largest independent music and events companies. After cutting his teeth on the Melbourne nightclub scene, aged 18, Palermo co-founded Untitled Group, which has grown to encompass a portfolio that includes music festivals and artist management, along with a booking agency, record label, international touring division and a music-tech investment arm. Since its first music festival in 2014, the group’s festival roster has grown to over ten touring and camping properties and bespoke metropolitan events, selling more than 250,000 tickets annually.
What are you working on right now?
We’re working on a number of new projects within the music, artist management, recordings and music tech industries, as well as using this “breathing space” while we don’t have a music festival on every second weekend, to brainstorm new event experiences for Beyond The Valley and Pitch Music & Arts in particular.
I’m currently in the process of hunting down, negotiating terms and actioning compliance and feasibility studies on new, exciting locations which have yet to be seen by the Australian music industry, in preparation for our return.
I’ve enjoyed discovering new breakthrough talent and brainstorming all Australian lineups with my UG team for when mass gatherings return but before travel sanctions update to allow for international touring again. I’ve also been assisting in the career growth of artists on my personal talent management arm such as Big Words, Cassettes For Kids and Bertie.
What are some of the highlights of your career to date?
Five years ago, when we were new to the industry, we flew to London, LA and New York in an effort to introduce ourselves to every major music talent agency in the globe. We found after a couple of meetings that a pattern had emerged; we would arrive nice and early with a company deck on hand and a big list of headliners we wanted to tour only to discover we were actually meeting the agent’s assistant to discuss emerging talent and the deck was a pointless accessory no one wanted to read.
In hindsight, it was a necessary reality check to help us reprioritise fostering emerging talent at the time, and it’s been a highlight walking into the same buildings in recent years to discuss the once-considered “unrealistic” headliners as real opportunities for us to work with in Australia.
“I’ve learned it’s important to find your own niche and bring something unique to the public”
Other highlights include receiving the bureaucratic green light on introducing our bespoke stage structure known as the Dance Tent to Beyond The Valley in 2018. It’s 80 metres long, 50 metres wide, covered in Mecano fabric rich in a colour gradient I chose myself, features 120 LED par ceiling lights and is paired with a 50 metre wide LED wall which intimately hosts some of the world’s most talented DJs and producers every New Years Eve.
Receiving government approval to activate a colossal, heritage listed, 70-year-old Wool Store warehouse to host artists such as Solomun and Jamie Jones since 2017 was also a special moment, especially considering at one point all signs were pointing towards cancelling the first event due to permitting issues. Highlights in more recent years include selling out Beyond The Valley 2019 in a record time of five minutes, marking it one of Australia’s most in-demand music festivals, as well as launching and selling out the inaugural Wildlands Festival in Brisbane which shared BTV’s 2019 headliners Rüfüs Du Sol and Tyler, The Creator.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt working in live music?
Whether you work in recordings, festivals, touring or artist representation, I’ve learned it’s important to find your own niche and bring something unique to the public. It’s also equally as important to acknowledge that innovation always means some level of risk, but if you educate yourself on every facet of your industry and work hard on mastering your craft, you can not only limit your exposure to this risk but also pull off something that will be genuinely enjoyed and appreciated by people.
Did you always want to be a promoter?
No, as a child I was a passionate guitarist and drummer playing in some pretty questionable cover bands. When I hit my teenage years, Mum shared with me her One Love and Ministry Of Sound compilations, introducing me to electronic music which was really influential.
“Our stunning Aussie outback, unique architecture, pristine wineries and CBD parks make fantastic festival locations”
At the time, I had my now business partner and best mate Michael make me a fake ID using nail polish remover, a toothpick and a printer (don’t try this at home kids) so I could DJ at nightclubs around Melbourne underage. I always wanted to be the star up on stage until I started promoting clubs at 18, discovering my true passion was in project managing and curating an event experience holistically from behind the scenes.
What’s it like working in the Aus market?
It can be challenging. We’re very far away from the rest of the world, so when it comes to touring, we’re traditionally an afterthought for a lot of artists. However, our stunning Aussie outback, unique architecture, pristine wineries, CBD parks and state of the art live music venues provide us with some fantastic festival location opportunities that I, personally, haven’t discovered abroad.
What impact has Covid-19 has on your job?
It’s had a massive impact. Simply put, mass gatherings is the core of our business, and this has come to a complete halt. It has however allowed us to refocus some of our time and energy towards growing our artist roster, the music tech arm of our company, our record label, and expanding on new ideas for our major festival properties for 2021 onwards.
Do you have a mentor in the industry?
There are many industry professionals I’ve admired and learned from over the years, but I don’t have one particular “mentor” who has been there with me along the journey. I would say I idolise the work of Ed Banger records owner and Daft Punk manager Pedro Winter most.
“Th industry needs to improve diversity in programming and subsidising costs associated with accessibility infrastructure”
What does the live music industry do well, and what can we do better?
Live music enriches the lives of its fans globally. As a massive live music fan myself, I would say I live a more fulfilling and happier lifestyle as a result of its existence. The live music industry needs to improve on its diversity in programming and subsidising costs associated with accessibility infrastructure.
At Beyond The Valley we’ve pledged for a 50/50 gender balance on our lineup from 2022 onwards and we’re proud co-owners of Australia’s first all-inclusive festival, Ability Fest. However, I know that there’s a lot more we, and the rest of the industry could be doing.
What advice would you give to someone who’s new to the business?
It really does take persistence to make it in the music industry, for most people it’s years of hard work. Stick at it and don’t give up when the going gets tough!
What are the biggest challenges you’re facing currently?
Trying to get creative with a temporary live music solution to Covid times. It’s very difficult to make a socially distanced gig commercially viable, to the point where I feel it’s worth waiting until mass gatherings can return safely.
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
I hope to see my team and I still proudly waving the Untitled Group flag, as Australia’s most influential live music promoters.
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Australian Festival Association: Drug policy “endangering lives”
The newly formed Australian Festival Association (AFA) has written to government urging urgent drug policy reform following the deaths of several Australian festivalgoers over the Christmas period.
Suspected drug-related fatalities over the festive period – mid-summer in Australia, and the height of its festival season – include a 19-year-old man, Callum Brosnan, at Knockout Games of Destiny in Sydney, a 20-year-old man at Beyond the Valley in Larnder, near Melbourne, and a 22-year-old man, Joshua Tam, at Lost Paradise in Glenworth Valley.
Despite the deaths – and a pill testing trial at last year’s Groovin the Moo that was hailed an “overwhelming success” by harm-reduction campaigners – the government of New South Wales (NSW), which contains Sydney and the Glenworth Valley, has once again rejected industry calls for permitting drug testing at live music events.
“The government position is quite clear on pill testing: We oppose the use of illegal drugs at these festivals,” NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts told reporters in Sydney. “We appeal to you, just enjoy the festival and do it without taking drugs.”
“Encouraging drug abstinence instead of education is out-of-touch, proven to be ineffective and unnecessarily risking lives”
In an open letter to Australia’s six state premiers and two chief ministers, the AFA today warned that by continuing to “encourag[e] drug abstinence instead of education”, the country’s decision-makers are endangering festivalgoers’ lives.
The AFA, which launched in December, represents Australian festival producers, promoters, organisers and operators. Its 2019 board is Jessica Ducrou (Splendour in the Grass, Falls Festival, Download), Adelle Robinson (Listen Out, Listen In, Field Day, Harbourlife, Curve Ball), Danny Rogers (Laneway), Matthew Lazarus-Hall (CMC Rocks) and Rod Little (Groovin the Moo, the Plot).
Read the AFA’s open letter in full below.
We are deeply saddened to hear of the deaths at Australian festivals during the recent holiday period and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Our thoughts are also with the medical, festival, production, security and law enforcement staff who were on the ground when these tragedies occurred.
Drug use is a complex issue and the current policies and strategies of our state and territory governments are needlessly endangering lives. Be it abuse of prescription medications, MDMA use at festivals or the devastating impact of ice [methamphetamine] on some of our regional communities, drug use is a national health issue that impacts many Australian families. We need to better understand drug use behaviour, identify significant intervention points, better coordinate between regulators, health, police, businesses and broader communities, and make sure that the health and safety of Australians is the ultimate priority.
As festival promoters, the last thing we want is someone to be hurt under our care. We need to be able to legally implement preventative strategies, not just reactive ones, and include any harm minimization [sic] tools that are available. We believe, and have evidence to support, that a combination of robust harm minimization strategies will help Australians make safer choices and reduce the harmful impacts of drug use on festival-goers and the broader community. This necessarily involves a collaborative, multi-layered approach of drug education, peer-to-peer support, pill-testing, health services and policing.
We ask state and territory governments across Australia to:
- Establish on-going state-based Music Festival Regulation Roundtables to ensure better relationships between regulators, medical experts, promoters, emergency service providers and law enforcement
- Utilise the significant experience and expertise of the Australian Festivals Association (AFA) – the national festivals representative body – and appoint AFA members to Regulation Roundtables across the states and territories
- Work with health, festival and drug experts to develop pill-testing trials
- Adopt an evidence-based, health-focused approach to drug regulation and commission further research into recreational drug use
- Collaborate to convene a national drug summit to allow in-depth, meaningful, expert-led discussion around drug use
We do not believe that pill-testing is the only answer. But it is a crucial part of a broader harm reduction strategy that prioritises people’s health and safety, over criminality or laws. Encouraging drug abstinence instead of education is out-of-touch, proven to be ineffective and unnecessarily risking lives. Young people deserve better. Older people deserve better. Families deserve better.
We implore Premier Berejiklian, Premier Andrews, Premier Marshall, Premier McGowan, Premier Palaszczuk, Premier Hodgman, Chief Minister Gunner and Chief Minister Barr to be open to better ideas and to work with experts on making festivals safer for everyone.
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