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Jessica Ducrou exits Australia’s Secret Sounds

Secret Sounds co-CEO and co-founder Jessica Ducrou has announced her departure from the Australian company after eight years.

Ducrou launched the group, which includes festivals such as Splendour in the Grass and Falls, with Powderfinger manager Paul Piticco in 2016. Live Nation acquired a majority stake in the firm later that year.

Following her exit, Ducrou will continue her roles as chair of Sounds NSW and deputy chair of the Australian Festival Association (AFA), plans to take time off to spend with her children and travel.

She describes the last near decade at Secret Sounds as a “wild ride” full of “so many memorable moments”.

“I’m well due for an overseas summer holiday so it’s a good time to take a break before I embark on my next chapter,” she says. “It has been an epic journey that has been truly inspiring, and an opportunity to collaborate with the best in the business. It would not have been as rewarding, possible or enjoyable if it weren’t for the people I have worked alongside of.”

“I wish all at Secret Sounds and Live Nation the very best success in their future endeavours”

After a spell as a booker for Sydney’s Lansdowne Hotel, Ducrou joined the city’s APA booking agency and went on to represented clients such as Powderfinger. She later teamed with the band’s manager Paul Piticco to launch Splendour in the Grass (SITG) Festival in Byron Bay in 2001. She also set up the IMC agency with booker and manager Joe Segreto, which spawned the all-Australian festival Homebake.

After taking over Falls Festival in 2012, Ducrou and Piticco merged their businesses into one entity to create NSW-based Secret Sounds. The group is also home to Secret Sounds Touring, Village Sounds booking agency, Secret Sounds Connect commercial rights and creative agency, Secret Service PR agency, North Byron Parklands, The Triffid venue in Brisbane and more.

Through its Live Nation partnership, it also brought brands including Download Festival to Australia. However, SITG’s 2024 edition was cancelled due to “unexpected events” and last year’s Falls was also axed to “allow space to reimagine how the festival will look in the future”, amid a testing period for Australia’s festival scene.

“Paul Piticco has been a great business partner for more than 30 years and we will no doubt continue our friendship well into the future,” adds Ducrou. “The Secret Sounds team, notably Elise Huntley and the festivals gang, are the absolute best, I will miss working with the awesome individuals who inspired me every single day. I wish all at Secret Sounds and Live Nation the very best success in their future endeavours.”

 


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Oz festival woes deepen with SITG cancellation

Australia’s festival crisis has deepened following the cancellation of the long-running Splendour in the Grass (SITG).

The festival, held at the North Byron Parklands in Yelgun, New South Wales, was due to take place from 19-21 July, topped by Kylie Minogue, Future and Arcade Fire.

But just two weeks after unveiling the bill, Live Nation-backed organiser Secret Sounds today confirmed that it has called off the 2024 edition, blaming “unexpected events”.

“We know there were many fans excited for this year’s line-up and all the great artists planning to join us, but due to unexpected events, we’ll be taking the year off,” says a statement posted on social media.

“Ticket-holders will be refunded automatically by Moshtix. We thank you for your understanding and will be working hard to be back in future years.”

The likes of Groovin the Moo, Coastal Jam, Summerground, Vintage Vibes, Tent Pole: A Musical Jamboree and ValleyWays have also been cancelled

It follows a difficult couple of years for SITG. Co-producer Jessica Ducrou reported a 30% drop in sales from 50,000 tickets to 35,000 in 2023, while the previous edition was hit with the worst weather in the festival’s 20-plus-year history, resulting in the cancellation of its first day.

SITG, which was launched in 2001, has become the highest-profile casualty yet on Australia’s 2024 festival circuit, joining the likes of Coastal Jam, Summerground, Vintage Vibes, Tent Pole: A Musical Jamboree and ValleyWays, all of which referenced financial difficulties amid the cost-of-living crisis, plus Groovin the Moo, which cited slow ticket sales.

In addition, New Year’s Eve’s Falls Festival, which is also organised by Secret Sounds, fell by the wayside for 2023 in order for promoters to “allow space to reimagine how the festival will look in the future”.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year, Music Victoria CEO Simone Schinkel suggested the challenges were a legacy of the pandemic.

“There is a generation who missed out on those coming-of-age, life-affirming moments,” she said. “We’ve had a really fundamental shift. If you grew up in a pandemic, going into an enclosed space that’s small and meant to hold lots of hot sweaty bodies just might not be the same vibe you’re calling for. It’s also really hard when we have a cost-of-living crisis, when tickets are going up.”

“The Australian music festival industry is currently facing a crisis”

SITG had received a A$100,000 (€60,000) in funding via the Live Music Australia programme to assist with organising this year’s festival.

“The cancellation of Splendour in the Grass is devastating news,” says NSW government’s minister for music John Graham. “The festival industry is under extreme pressure, and I am deeply worried about the health of the festival scene here in NSW. The NSW government offered financial support to help the event proceed this year. We will continue to work with them and hope to see them return next year.”

Australian Festival Association MD Mitch Wilson says he is “devastated” by the event’s predicament.

“The Australian music festival industry is currently facing a crisis, and the flow-on effects will be felt across the local communities, suppliers and contractors that sustain our festivals and rely on them to support their livelihoods,” he says. “We need government at the table to help us through this period and assist in stabilising our industry to sustainable levels. This needs a national approach.”

More than 40 Australian music festivals have also been cancelled, postponed, or evacuated due to heat, fires, rain or floods over the past decade, including more than 20 in 2022 alone, amid record rainfall in the eastern states.

Rabbits Eat Lettuce Festival, where two people died in 2019, is set to become the first in Queensland to introduce pill testing

This year’s cancellations follow a patchy 2023 season in which Bluesfest lost 30,000 punters and Dark Mofo (Tasmania) and Goomfest (Victoria) took a year off. Several festivals also called it quits for good, including Newtown Festival in Sydney, Play On The Plains in Deniliquin, and Wangaratta Jazz & Blues, Music In The Vines and Goldfields Gothic in Victoria.

In addition, the parent companies of Now & Again, Grass Is Greener and Lunar Electric, went into voluntary administration or put in liquidation.

Meanwhile, ABC reports that Rabbits Eat Lettuce Festival, where two people died in 2019, is set to become the first in Queensland to introduce pill testing. Health minister Shannon Fentiman says the state government would invest almost $1 million to fund the the scheme over the next two years.

Festival organiser Eric Lamir describes the move as a “step in the right direction in reducing drug-related harm”.

Last week’s announcement followed a study which analysed drug-related deaths at Australian festivals over almost a decade, which showed that most could potentially have been prevented through harm reduction strategies such as pill testing.

The study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, and led by Associate Professor Jennifer Schumann, from Monash University’s Department of Forensic Medicine, looked at drug-related deaths at music festivals throughout the country between 1 July 2000 and 31 December 2019.

 


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Splendour in the Grass reports 30% drop in sales

The organisers behind Splendour in the Grass, one of Australia’s biggest and longest-running festivals, have reported a 30% drop in ticket sales.

Co-producer Jessica Ducrou says sales are down from 50,000 tickets to 35,000, with only a few days to go until the Byron Bay event.

It comes after last year’s Splendour was hit with the worst weather in its 20-year history, resulting in the cancellation of the first day.

Many campers opted to sleep in their cars to avoid pitching a tent on the swamped campsite. The downpour also caused significant traffic delays, for which the Splendour organisers were forced to pay $100,000 to schools.

“No doubt last year’s experiences have impacted sales,” Ducrou told ABC. “There has been a lot of thought, consultation and consideration to avoid what happened last year.”

“No doubt last year’s experiences have impacted sales”

Ducrou pointed out a range of traffic management measures that have been put in place, including vehicle passes sold to ensure visitors come onto the site via designated directions and at particular times.

The co-producer believes that the drop in ticket sales for this year’s edition is also “a reflection of the current economy”.

“We are seeing a lot of people buying single-day tickets rather than three days and that is very much a reflection on the budget,” she added.

The 21st annual Splendour in the Grass Music and Arts Festival is returning to Ngarindjin/North Byron Parklands from 21 July to 24 July.

Lizzo, Flume and Mumford & Sons top the bill, with support from acts including J Balvin, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sam Fender, Little Simz, Arlo Parks, Tove Lo and more.

 


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Australia’s Falls Festival to forego 2023 edition

Australia’s long-running Falls Festival will not take place this year in order to “allow space to reimagine how the festival will look in the future”.

The travelling festival last took place across New Year’s Eve 2022 with artists including Arctic Monkeys, CHVRCHES, The Wiggles, PinkPantheress, Amyl & The Sniffers and Spacey Jane.

The Victorian leg of the event last year was due to move from its longtime home in the seaside town of Lorne to Birregurra in Colac, a small city in the western district of Victoria, after the local authority approved a planning permit.

However, local farmers raised concerns over the event’s potential impact on cattle at neighbouring farms and launched an appeal against the decision, which wasn’t heard until February/March. Therefore, organisers Secret Sounds were forced to move the event to Sidney Myer Music Bowl in downtown Melbourne.

“We look forward to updating you with our plans when the time is right”

Falls has faced other challenges in the last couple of years, including two postponed festivals due to Covid-19 lockdowns and a 2019 event in Lorne cancelled due to insurmountable bushfire risk.

“The past few years has seen unprecedented change in the live music space, both front of house and behind the scenes,” Secret Sounds co-CEO and Falls producer Jessica Ducrou said in a statement. “While Falls’ reboot in 2022/23 was full of amazing moments and we were thrilled to reconnect with our Falls Fam, our team needs a break, so this year we’ll take time off to enjoy the holiday period and allow some space to re-imagine how Falls will look in the future.”

Ducrou added: “We send huge love and appreciation to all our patrons for their ongoing support and for the great vibes they brought to the 2022/23 events. You really are the heart and soul of Falls and we look forward to updating you with our plans when the time is right. We also want to send our love and thanks to our extended Falls team including staff, contractors, volunteers, sponsors, partners, suppliers, stakeholders and key agencies that we work with each year, for their enduring passion, dedication and support.”

Live Nation-owned Secret Sounds has been organising Falls Festival for 28 years, alongside other events including Splendour in the Grass, Harvest Rock, Spin Off​, ​Spilt Milk​ and ​Heaps Good​.

 


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Splendour in the Grass organisers fined $100k

The organisers of Australia’s Splendour in the Grass (SITG) have been fined A$100,000 (€63,000) for the traffic chaos that marred this year’s festival.

The first day of the Secret Sounds-promoted event in North Byron Parklands on 22 July was called off amid what was described as the worst weather in its 20-year history.

Thousands of festival-goers had been forced to wait up to eight hours to get into the site the day before due to the conditions, leading the main campsite to be closed to new arrivals. Those still queueing the next morning were redirected to an off-site camping ground, 13km away.

As the knock-on effects caused significant delays to local traffic, NSW’s Department of Planning and Environment has ordered SITG’s parent company Billinudgel Property to pay $10,000 each to 10 schools within a 10-kilometre radius of the venue for failing to comply with its traffic management plan.

“Traffic queuing resulted in short term, but significant traffic delays to the community, including school children travelling home from school on Thursday, 21 July 2022,” says a spokesperson for the authority. “After considering all of the options available to us, we have decided that the best outcome for the community is for the company to contribute financially to improvements to nearby schools through an enforceable undertaking.

“We place strict conditions on events such as Splendour in the Grass for a reason, and organisers need to abide by them.”

“We faced an unprecedented weather event, unlike anything we have seen in our 30 years of presenting festivals”

“Our compliance officers will once again be on the ground at that festival, to ensure those revised plans are followed,” adds the spokesperson.

Secret Sounds co-CEO Jessica Ducrou apologises to those impacted by the delays.

“Residents and schoolchildren were frustrated by unusually long queues, made worse by the weather, as Splendour festival goers tried to access their camping accommodation,” she says.

“We had a rigorous planning process in place through the Department of Planning which included council involvement and local committees such as the local traffic committee, local emergency management committee and a regulatory working group.

“However, we faced an unprecedented weather event, unlike anything we have seen in our 30 years of presenting festivals.”

Billinudgel Property will also be required to carry out an independent audit of the event a year early. In the meantime, the firm has been warned it needs to review and update its management plans ahead of its Falls Festival scheduled for later this month.

“Our compliance officers will once again be on the ground at that festival, to ensure those revised plans are followed,” adds the spokesperson.

 


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Splendour in the Grass endures first-day washout

The opening day of Byron Bay’s Splendour in the Grass festival was cancelled after being hit by adverse weather.

All performances on the main stages were cancelled, including sets by Gorillaz, The Avalanches, Kacey Musgraves, DMA’s, Yungblud and Jungle, amid what has been described as the worst weather in the Australian event’s 20-year history.

The remaining two days (23-24 July) of the 50,000-cap festival in North Byron Parklands, headlined by The Strokes and Tyler, the Creator alongside acts such as Glass Animals, Liam Gallagher and Jack Harlow, are currently set to proceed as planned.

“In the interest of patron safety and in consultation with all relevant emergency services, we have decided to err on the side of caution and cancel performances on the main stages today only – Amphitheatre, Mix Up, GW McLennan and Park(lands) Stages,” says a social media post by promoters.

“All of our destination spaces (Global Village, Tipi Forest, Forum, Comedy and Science tents etc.) will remain open today for patrons who are already onsite as well as those at our satellite campground at Byron Events Farm… Day patrons are asked not to attend to the festival today while we work on repairs.”

Ticketing firm Moshtix will be contacting ticket-holders directly with refund information in the coming weeks.

Splendour in the Grass co-founder Jessica Ducrou tells the Sydney Morning Herald the decision was vital to ensure the grounds could be repaired in time for Saturday’s and Sunday’s events.

“This is definitely the worst weather that we’ve experienced at Splendour in its 20-year history,” she says. “As quickly as the mud arrives, we are doing repair works during the event and after the event to try and keep the show operating.”

As a result of the conditions, thousands of festival-goers were forced to wait up to eight hours to get into the site on Thursday night (21 July), leading the main campsite to be closed to new arrivals, with those still queueing the next morning redirected to an off-site camping ground, 13km away. The Guardian reports that free bus shuttles were provided to help people get around the sites.

The festival, which is being held for the first time since 2019, was hit by controversy before it even began after ticket-holders received an email from ticketing company Moshtix, informing them that all festival-goers under the age of 18 now have to “be accompanied by a responsible adult at all times whilst at the event and campgrounds”.

Previously, only those under the age of 16 were required to be accompanied by an adult.

 


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Splendour in the Grass hit by alcohol rule change

A late change to Splendour in the Grass‘ alcohol licence threatens to cast a cloud over the festival’s first edition since 2019.

The 50,000-cap Australian event returns to North Byron Parklands from 22-24 July with headliners Gorillaz, The Strokes and Tyler, the Creator.

But just weeks before the event, controversy has erupted after ticket-holders received an email from ticketing company Moshtix, informing them that all festival-goers under the age of 18 now have to “be accompanied by a responsible adult at all times whilst at the event and campgrounds”.

“This is not Splendour’s decision,” stresses the festival in a social media post. “These new rules have been imposed on us by NSW Police. We were only informed of this [the night before] and we are very unhappy about these major changes being forced on the festival at such a late stage.”

Those who fail to comply with the ruling risk “considerable fines” of between AUD$2,000-$5,500. Previously, only those under the age of 16 were required to be accompanied by an adult.

“We’ve never had any issues with our underage audience, intoxication or any kind of breach”

“We understand the impact it will have on many of our patrons,” adds the statement. “We also don’t want you to walk away with a fine. So we want you all to be aware that police will be present at the event, roaming through out the crowd checking that underage minors are with a responsible adult.

“The only place you can purchase tickets for accompanying responsible adults is via the Splendour resale facility, where all monies go to the previous ticket holder.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the rule change has led to hundreds of tickets being off-loaded by under-18s for the festival’s landmark 20th edition.

Festival co-promoter Jessica Ducrou describes the changes as “heavy-handed, and unnecessary based on historic performance”.

“We’ve been all ages since we started and we’ve never had any issues with our underage audience, intoxication or any kind of breach,” she tells the newspaper.

“We have to follow the direction… But it’s really important the event is all ages. Our under-18 audience is very important to us, we cater for them.”

The entire festival area… is akin to one giant open air-pub. The risks for minors mingling unsupervised in this environment are obvious”

The Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA) has spoken out in defence of the move, which it says is supported by NSW Police.

“The entire festival area is licensed; it is akin to one giant open-air pub,” it says. “The risks for minors mingling unsupervised in this environment are obvious.

“Under 18s are still allowed to go, but they need to be supervised by someone responsible – just as they would in a pub or other entertainment venue that sells alcohol.”

ILGA cites the Music Festivals Act 2019, which was brought in to make festivals safer following the drug-related deaths of seven young festival-goers between 2017 and 2019. Splendour’s 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to the pandemic.

“The community demanded the NSW government act to address the crisis, and the laws were introduced after extensive consultation with groups including the festivals industry, NSW Police and NSW Health,” says the authority. “This year’s Splendour in the Grass will be the first since the Act began and now requires a plan on how health and safety risks will be managed.

“The condition to require minors to be accompanied by a responsible adult is not a last-minute change – it is an obligation under the law and was agreed to at a meeting with the festival organisers, NSW Police, Liquor & Gaming NSW and ILGA on 16 June.”

 


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Live Nation-owned Secret Sounds unveils new event

Secret Sounds, the promoter behind Australian festivals Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival, has revealed details about its new Adelaide-based event, Summer Sounds.

The Live Nation-owned company has teamed up with Adelaide-based promoters Five Four Entertainment and Groove to deliver a concert series featuring more than 20 shows which kicks off in the late December summer season.

Timmy Trumpet, Lime Cordiale, Hot Dub Time Machine, The Jungle Giants, The Veronicas, Ocean Alley, Human Nature, Bernard Fanning, Mallrat, Spiderbait, Hayden James, Ball Park Music, Dune Rats will perform at Bonython Park/Tulya Wodli between 30 December and 30 January.

Each concert will feature party pods, which have been described as ‘an island oasis for a group of 4 or 6 people’ that is ‘decked out with its own esky of pre-ordered drinks and tasty snacks’. The event has been approved by South Australia health officials.

Each concert will feature party pods, which have been described as ‘an island oasis for a group of 4 or 6 people’

The announcement follows the news that Secret Sounds recently received AU$1.5 million from the federal government’s RISE fund to develop a new festival in 2021 ‘that would keep audiences connected while also reaching new audiences across Australia and overseas’.

Live Nation bought a majority stake in the New South Wales-based company in 2016, acquiring a 51% stake in Splendour in the Grass and Falls, as well as its touring, sponsorship, PR, artist management and agency divisions.

The 2020 Splendour festival was called off in June and will instead now go ahead next year with headliners, Gorillaz.

Meanwhile, though the December/January Falls Festival events were set to move forward with an all-Australian line-up, they were also called off in August.

 


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Australia prepares for live music comeback

The Australian recording industry association (Aria) has teamed up with the New South Wales (NSW) government to put on 1,000 Covid-safe shows across the region, as Australia announces a furthering easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Artists including Tones and I, the Presets, Thelma Plum, Jimmy Barnes, the Veronicas and Tash Sultana are performing as part of the Great Southern Nights series in November.

“This celebration of outstanding Australian artists and incredible live music venues across NSW gives us all something to look forward to, from eventgoers to industry,” comments the minister for jobs, investment, tourism and western Sydney Stuart Ayres.

“With the NSW Government’s 24-hour economy strategy set to reinvigorate Sydney’s nightlife, Great Southern Nights will be a big step forward for our state’s live music and hospitality community that has been hit hard in recent times.”

The government has invited venues in Sydney and regional NSW to nominate themselves to host the shows, which will be put on in accordance with appropriate physical distancing and capacity requirements.

In NSW, a current 50-person capacity limit on music venues, theatres and pubs will be scrapped from 1 July, replaced instead by a one-person-per-four-square-metres rule. Outdoor venues with space for 40,000 people will be permitted to operate at up to 25% capacity, giving the go ahead for events of 10,000. All events must be seated and venues with a capacity of over 40,000 must remain closed.

“This celebration of outstanding Australian artists and incredible live music venues across NSW gives us all something to look forward to, from eventgoers to industry”

Festivals and club nights are not expected to return in the region until August, depending on the public health situation.

Organisers of Byron Bay’s Splendour in the Grass festival last week called off the 2020 edition, which had previously been rescheduled from July to October. Tickets for the 2021 festival, which will take place from 23 to 25 July, are available here.

The new follows an announcement from Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison last week that the four-square-metre rule, rather than capacity limits, was to apply to venues as the country moves into stage three of its reopening plan next month.

Under the regulations, any seated, ticketed events of under 40,000 people is to be allowed to take place, given there is the adequate amount of space. Nightclubs and large-capacity stadiums will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The different regions in Australia are approaching the reopening of live music events at varying paces. Large venues in Western Australia were this month able to host up to 300 people in multiple, divided spaces, whereas venues in the state of Victoria will only begin to welcome 50 guests from next week.

Industry body Live Performance Australia has proposed a AU$345 million (€209m) recovery package for the country’s live business, which typically generates $2.2 billion (€1.2bn) each year.

 


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SITG sells record 50k tickets for 20th anniversary

Australia’s Splendour in the Grass festival celebrated its largest ever ticket sale today (27 February), with fans clearing out all 50,000 tickets under an hour.

The festival has sold four times as many tickets for its 20th edition than it did for its inaugural event in 2001. This year’s festival is the biggest ever, marking a 7,500 capacity increase from last year.

The Strokes, Flume and Tyler the Creator are heading up the festival from 24 to 26 July, which will also feature performances from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Midnight Oil, Denzel Curry and more.

“The response to our 20th edition of Splendour in The Grass has been phenomenal,” says event producer Jessica Ducrou. “We know many people are doing it tough in our local communities at the moment and we’re grateful for the opportunity to bring people together in Byron through the uniting power of music.”

New South Wales is one of the regions most affected by the Australian bushfires, which have been raging through the country since September.

“We never would have thought when we produced our first edition of Splendour back in 2001 that it would resonate and mean so much to so many people 20 years later”

“We never would have thought when we produced our first edition of Splendour back in 2001 that it would resonate and mean so much to so many people 20 years later.”

Harley Evans, managing director of Splendour’s ticketing partner Moshtix, comments: “It’s been Moshtix’s great privilege to be involved in this wonderful event for so many years and the incredible demand for the 20th edition is a testament to the efforts of Jess, Paul, and their amazing team, and the love that the public has for Splendour.

“In difficult times, it will be wonderful to see 50,000 people come together in July to celebrate music and life.”

Moshtix, formerly the biggest independent ticketing service in Australia, was acquired by Ticketmaster in February last year.

Fans can sign up to the resale waiting list here.

 


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