In surprising news following on from the likely cancellation of Harvest 2013 due to poor ticket sales, it now looks like the event’s promoter, AJ Maddah, has added a major ace to his music festival deck.

Unconfirmed reports are circulating this evening that Soundwave promoter AJ Maddah has purchased half of rival event music festival Big Day Out.

According to industry sources, Maddah’s stake comes from the 50% owned by festival founder Ken West. The other 50% of shares in the festival will remain with C3 Presents, the promotions company behind Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits in the United States, who bought into the festival in 2010 after founder Viv Lees walked away following poor ticket sales and community backlash to a lacklustre lineup.

Industry whispers tell us that Ken West’s exit has been precipitated by similar circumstances, with ticket sales falling well below expectations for the 2014 event despite a blockbuster lineup which includes triple co-headliners Blur, Arcade Fire, and Pearl Jam.

It is believed that Ken West is to retire from live music once the sale has been finalised.

The purchase by Maddah brings to a close an interesting chapter in the life of the Big Day Out, once the king of the Australian music scene. Faced with increased competition from rival music festivals, tough economic conditions, and huge increases in the price of bands, Big Day Out has struggled for the past few years to capture the attention, and wallets, of Australian punters.

The crisis came to a head in 2010 when the festival was unable to find an appropriate headliner after attempts to secure Prince and Eminem both proved to be dead ends. “I’m a little dismayed that AJ [Maddah] has come into the picture… he plays fast and loose and he’s quite an odious character” – Viv Lees, former Big Day Out promoter.

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The resulting crisis saw Viv Lees quit the festival, and C3 Presents step in, and although the American promoters have attempted to inject new life into the iconic festival – including what was considered a successful “ground-up reboot” in the words of Ken West for the 2013 edition – ticket sales have failed to increase to levels seen just a few years ago.

Speaking to Tom Tilley on Triple J’s Hack this afternoon, Lees said that he is concerned about his former business parter, Ken West, and dismayed to hear that Maddah may have scooped up the festival.

“I’m hearing that Ken is withdrawing from the situation and I’m very concerned for him,” says Lees of the reports. “I am alarmed at what I have heard.”

Lees was said he was even more upset at the allegation that Soundwave’s Maddah has been the man to purchase the festival, labelling him an “odious character.”

“I’m a little dismayed that AJ has come into the picture,” he said. “When I see the amount of work that has gone into building up the event over a 22 year period, and then to see [Maddah] come in to take it over really does alarm me. He plays fast and loose and he’s quite an odious character… This event has been so instrumental to the careers of many Australian artists… and AJ’s got no commitment to that.”

Continuing to colour Maddah as an unreliable promoter, Lees continues: “I’ve seen him in action. If he doesn’t like the way something’s going, he’ll cancel it. He’ll get halfway along in one direction and turn 180 degrees in the other direction and think that nobody notices. He has skin as thick as a rhino, and he’s a gambler. It’s an amazing turn of events.”

Assuming the proposed buy-out by Maddah into the Big Day Out prove true, it comes as quite shocking news considering the crisis point that Maddah’s own Harvest festival has reached, with the promoter admitting that flagging ticket sales to the November festival could mean a personal loss of $5.5 million should he soldier on.

Interestingly, at the time Maddah directly referenced competition from Big Day Out’s ‘Harvest-centric’ lineup as contributing to the “lack of interest” in his own arts and music event.

Whether still industry rumour or first signs of a major shift in the music festival market, the news follows what’s been an alarming amount of reports this month over the struggles many high profile festivals and their promoters are facing,

On top of Harvest’s likely cancellation, there’s been Pyramid Rock folding on its 2013 edition and Bluesfest promoter ringing alarm bells over the lack of interest in the Boomerang Indigenous arts and music festival to “cultural apartheid.”

There’s also the likely cancellation of Summadayze as messy liquidation proceedings await major Aussie promoters Future Entertainment Pty Ltd, along with McManus Entertainment and Fat As Butter promoters Mothership Music.

Meanwhile, OutsideIn suffered the loss of not one, but two major acts on its lineup cancelling on the event, followed closely by a major band pulling out of ATP Melbourne’s Release The Bats ahead of its kick-off next month.

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