As is pretty clear in today’s live music landscape providing a festival that caters to a heavy music fan base can be a bit of a gamble, however the crew at UNIFY have managed in now two years to singlehandedly prove that a heavy music festival can work in the Australian market.
Having just sold out their 2016 instalment (this weekend, January 16-17th) the festival’s sophomore edition will be headlined by Parkway Drive, In Hearts Wake, and Tonight Alive.
With a strong ethos on community building, boutique appeal, heavy music acknowledgement and fostering local talent, UNIFY Gathering is sure to become a local festival institution in no time.
The Original Idea
[include_post id=”459332″]I had the idea for a boutique camping festival for a year or so and was exploring ways to make it happen. I guess I’d enjoyed the vibe and atmosphere at events like Meredith and The Hills Are Alive, and I wanted to replicate that sense of relaxed belonging and acceptance in an event that caters to people who enjoy the same music I enjoy.
Jaddan and I had been discussing for a while, when the brothers Aidan and Rhett McLaren from The Hills Are Alive came and met with us to pitch almost the exact concept to us. A few beers later, we realised that these were the kind of people we wanted to be involved with and that our ethics and drive were the same. And the madness began…
Time span from idea to actual event
It took us about nine months to decide on a site, and about another nine months to get all the approvals and budgets, lineup etc together. The first time always takes a long time to nail, especially when you are perfectionists like we all are.
We paid close attention to every detail and the boys did an amazing job of making sure the local council and community groups were well looked after and behind the event.
New festival assumptions
It was my first involvement with a festival, but Aidan and Rhett (Hills are Alive Festival) have sold out like 50 years in a row of their festival, so they are absolute professionals.
I just wanted everyone involved to walk away stoked and I wanted to make sure we at least broke even in year one.
How the end result matched the assumptions
The response to our first event was overwhelming – I think one kid on social media made some complaints, and before we could even respond the kids spoke up and responded to him for us.
And we didn’t lose money, which I’m told is near impossible for a first year event.
Main hurdles from the first year
Mostly logistical stuff I guess. Working out how to cater for 3500 people coming to a small beach town a few hours from Melbourne, and how to get them in and keep them entertained on a site we hadn’t worked with before.
We were perhaps a little under resourced too, which made everyone quite overworked in the lead up. But we got through it and it was one of the best days of our collective lives.
Biggest lessons learnt
Well it was mostly small stuff – where the cars go, when to open gates and how to cater for everyone. What food trucks work, what drinks work, where to put security and when / how to schedule media and all that.
[include_post id=”461001″]We sent out information to punters and bands a little too late last time, and we didn’t staff enough on social media / email in the lead up to the event. Everything was smooth, but we just learnt how to make it even better.
But we just debriefed and listened to everyone and asked them for advice after the event, and made our adjustments. This year everything will be 10 times better.
We were smart though and we had 3,000 tickets last time before 5,000 this time.
Greatest moments from last year
I stood by the entrance gate and high fived like the first 30 kids coming through. That was amazing.
Watching all the bands playing cricket back stage was special too. And just once it hit night time and I realised “Man, we DIDN’T fuck this up!” and everyone started coming over and hugging us and telling us we did good. That relief and joy lasted for weeks.
How to build a community vibe
BYO drinks, reasonable food and water, programming positive bands and music, having security be supportive and caring towards fans, we had a good recipe for success in that regard.
Tips for others wanting to start their own festival
Do your research and take your time. Don’t assume it’s easy when you have thousands of people’s safety and money on the line. Also, have an identity and a culture – not just a genre of music.
Plans for 2017
Well the big thing will be seeing if we can expand to two nights. I think that will be a big challenge but its something we’d love to achieve. We’ll get into it once this weekend passes.
Main thing will be going for the hatrick of three consecutive sell outs.
UNIFY – A HEAVY MUSIC GATHERING 2016
In Hearts Wake
Neck Deep (UK)
State Champs (US)
Stray From The Path (US)
Hands Like Houses
Dream On Dreamer
Make Them Suffer
Void Of Vision
The Weight Of Silence
Saturday, 16th January & Sunday, 17th January 2016
Tarwin Meadows, South Gippsland
Tickets: UNIFY Gathering *SOLD OUT*