Matt Johnston is giving himself the time and the space to get a little nostalgic. When we give the legendary industry figure behind The Gum Ball, Dashville Skyline and Pigsty In July a bell, he is mired in memory.
“I’ve been watching some footage from the tenth annual Gum Ball,” he says in his relaxed Aussie drawl. “That was only three or four years ago, and so much has happened since then. It’s crazy. So much has happened to the site, and to the people working there. It’s all good, but it’s scary too.”
Not that he can spend too long reminiscing. Although Johnston is meant to be enjoying a well-earned rest, he still has a lot on his plate, from the just-beginning-to-gestate Dashville Skyline lineup to his appearance at Australian Music Week 2017, a Cronulla-hosted celebration of the music industry in this country.
“We start working on Dashville Skyline pretty early. I mean, this is meant to be a downtime – although we usually do Pigsty In July around this time, I decided not to do it this year because we’ve had a bit of growth around the summer period.
Whatever we can do to increase the success of Australian artists is a good thing, I reckon.
“There’s just too much going on, so we thought we’d have a break from the site for a couple of months. But I mean, there’s so much to be done that it means there’s never really a quiet time. That’s just life, I guess. You just have to keep pumping away and see how it goes. Although, I’ve definitely been doing this long enough to know when I’ve got too much happening. Back in the day, I’d just put the blinkers on and there’d be a deadline to work towards and that’d be it. But these days, I have learnt how that’s affected me and everyone around me.
“You have to manage it, because it becomes too much like a hated job if you work too hard at it.” He laughs. “I’m fortunate I don’t have children. Fuck, I can’t even imagine how it would be doing all this with a family to worry about too.”
Not that Johnston is complaining. After all, idle hands are the devil’s work, and Johnston finds it immensely satisfying to build up the Dashville brand by spreading the word at industry occasions like AMW. Indeed, these days, he doesn’t just have his reputation as the mastermind behind a series of increasingly successful festivals – he’s the manager of an inclusive venue, a musician, and a valued source of advice and support for a range of burgeoning music acts.
“The venue’s the venue – it’s pretty popular in terms of people wanting to host their weddings there, or having their parties, or just having a camp. It’s all cool, man; it’s fun to work on. And I play music as well, so I sometimes set myself a goal to work on my music more too, but it just gets forgotten with everything else and the deadline comes around and I go, ‘Oh fuck, I haven’t even done that yet.’
“But I’ve met a lot of great people, been to a lot of great parties, and in terms of Dashville itself, more people are being aware, and more things are starting to pop up. People are starting to recognise us because we’ve been around long enough. We’re enjoying where we are at right now.”
That’s why AMW is so important. I know it’s only been going for three years, but similar events in other countries have been going on for 40 years.
For the very immediate future, Johnston is going to turn his attention to preparing for AMW – something he’s awaiting with bated breath. As far as he’s concerned, the three-day-long celebration of the local industry is exactly the kind of event Australia needs more of, and he feels it represents a welcome chance for players to look out for one another – something that happens far too infrequently in this country.
“Lots of other countries develop their artists with government grants and stuff. Like, Canada are amazing and really forward-thinking in terms of how they respect their arts and culture. That was part of my experience being over there – I was like, ‘Wow, we are so far behind.’ So whatever we can do to increase the success of Australian artists is a good thing, I reckon.
“I mean, I can list even a bunch of artists here locally who are exceptional, but without that fostering and that development, who knows where they’ll get to within their career? … That’s why AMW is so important. I know it’s only been going for three years, but similar events in other countries have been going on for 40 years, you know?”
For Johnston, the key will be intra-organisation communication: something that AMW is explicitly designed to bolster. The conference is more than just an opportunity for a bunch of bigwigs to chinwag and undercut each other in order to foster relationships with the next big thing. It’s about the industry growing as one cohesive, interconnected unit.
“Everyone’s got to work together,” Johnston says. “It’s great to be in a position where we have the ability to ring people up and see how we can help and see how we can work together with other organisations. It takes time, but I would love to see some more of it. I think we should all be developing relationships in that way. There’s a lot of big agencies out there, but there’s a lot of industry that’s below the radar, and that’s what makes the industry special.”
Australian Music Week 2017 is taking over Cronulla Beach from Wednesday November 1 – Friday November 3. Conference tickets and showcase registrations are open now at australianmusicweek.com.