Beyond the Valley – a name that already feels like an established brand in the Australian music scene, and one of the mainstays of our yearly festival calendar. But it’s easy to forget that the festival only saw its inaugural event in 2014, and that its rise has been, by all measures, meteoric.
It’s a statement that applies not only to the festival though, but also its creators – a team of event promoters who rose swiftly through the ranks from running small uni club nights, to putting together a massive New Year’s festival, all in a few short years.
One member of the crew is Nick Greco, who veered of his path as an accountant to pursue a dream, one that ultimately lead him to the helm of Beyond the Valley. In only its third year, the 2016/17 event will see an enormous lineup of acts from international acts including Chance the Rapper and Hudson Mohawke, to big local names like Sticky Fingers and Dune Rats.
It’s a success story that serves to inspire anyone with the burning desire to strike out on their own and create what they feel is missing in the world, and show what’s possible with passion, determination, and the right people behind you.
With the festival’s third year just around the corner, and a host of other plans going forward for the brand, we’ve spoken to Nick to hear about his journey into music, and the story behind the hugely impressive rise of Beyond the Valley.
Beyond the Valley 2016 is set to be the biggest year yet
Getting His Start
It takes a true love for music to put together something on the scale of Beyond The Valley, and for Nick, music was a resounding influence from the very beginning. In fact, it was a festival that made him realise he needed to change his path and immerse himself in the music industry.
“I guess music is such a big thing for everyone,” he says, “from the radio, to the Internet, to how everyone gets their enjoyment on the weekends, and all that. I was always very big on seeing bands, going to gigs, and going to as many festivals as possible. The energy at festivals and live music gigs – especially my first festival Pyramid Rock 2007 – kinda finalised my decision of wanting to work in the music industry, and change my career path.”
“There was one act that really made a big impact on me, this big hip hop act called ‘Yo Majesty’. They were doing some crazy things; I had never seen anything like that, and that really changed up my perspective on a lot of things.”
For someone who had been conditioned to take the safe route into a traditionally stable career, it was a turning point in his perspective, and his life.
“From high school you’re taught to be a lawyer, accountant or a teacher – something that’s very, very safe – and I was actually studying accounting when I went to Pyramid. And very quickly I realised that this was not a career path for me – it’s just to sterile and stale.
“I feel like you want a career that becomes enjoyable and is such a big part of your life. This generation is a little more entrepreneurial as well, so I thought I’d take a step out and take a bit of risk to switch it up very quickly.”
For Nick, a switch was flipped, and he wasted no time at all in diving into the music industry – beginning with the exact band that had put him on this path.
“I actually started working with the group I saw at Pyramid, Yo Majesty. I went to their gig a few days later and had a chat with them, and continued to talk with them over email, helping them come back to Australia about a year later.
“It’s pretty much how I got my start in everything – just working with those guys at the start, which lead onto to working in club nights and with other artists, and it all took shape from there.”
That First Club Night
Club nights, of course, became the main jumping off point for the young promoter, with fairly humble beginnings swiftly growing into an invaluable learning experience and a long-lasting passion.
“The first club night I ran was six years ago, Oasis,” Nick recalls. “It’s actually still running, it’s still on every Tuesday at Tramp Bar in the city. It was a fun little Uni night. I only really intended to run it over summer, just a little something to start my events career, but I had such a great time doing and the venue was a great place to work with and I learnt so much, so I kept it going – we’re still going up until last night.”
It was at this ‘little Uni night’ that the wheels for a proper career began to be set in motion, as Nick realised he could steer away from his pre-destined career and make a real go of this thing.
“I think it was over that summer, actually,” Nick tells us. “Before that I had done a few little things with little bands and talking with different people, but to see that I could actually run an event all by myself… that people would actually rock up, and I would put this marketing plan together that would work, and I could support myself financially.
“I had a job offer for an accounting firm that week, and I said, “Sorry guys, not coming anymore!”, he laughs. “I took the risk.”
“And that year it was pretty hard, because I was all out on my own doing that, trying to get other events up and going. Some were successful, and some weren’t. But with each event that I did, I got more out of it and met different groups of people.
“That’s how I met my current partners with Beyond the Valley – we all met out at different events, or DJing and doing different things. We just got along , had a real natural connection, and kept doing more and more events together.”
“There’s four other partners beside myself,” Nick explains, “Phil (Palermo), Mike (Christidis), Christian (Serrao) and Tom (Caw). We’ve been partners for five years, and we get along great, we’ve never really had heated arguments. We also just end up agreeing on everything, which I think is quite rare in a business partnership.”
That group became Nick’s core team, and an incredibly rare and valuable asset as he continued on his path towards bigger and better shows – with a couple of hurdles along the way.
“We had another club night before Anyway called Treehouse,” Nick tells us, “which was just a fun party night every Saturday. That lasted about a year a half – we were pretty devastated when it finished! That was when Melbourne bounce got introduced…
“We weren’t really playing any of that at our club night, as we didn’t have much appreciation for that sound. So, once everyone else was playing it, we closed up pretty quickly. People went to other clubs to get their fix…” he chuckles. “But we got a call up from Palace Theatre… That was a venue that we never thought would be at our disposal; it’s just so huge with so much history behind it.”
Enter The Megaclub
The group’s involvement in the Palace became the massive new ‘megaclub’ Anyway, a club night at an incredibly ambitious scale that hadn’t been seen in Melbourne for a long time. In 2013, it burst onto the scene with a massive opening night.
“We put the plan together to run Anyway, and at the time Melbourne bounce was very popular in Melbourne – it was all anyone was playing. So we said, “We’re not going to play any Melbourne Bounce,” and we’ll create a bit of a change. And everyone was like, “You’re crazy, no one’s going to come!”
“That first night was insanity,” Nick reflects. “The riot police shut down the front doors. People used to line up next to the Palace Theatre, and we came outside to get everyone inside, and looked down to see people screaming and passing out. It wasn’t pretty.
“But once we got in there, we thought we were doing something different. We put lots of production on, and we were getting all these cool DJs doing big things – we got Alison Wonderland to open up our first night. That was a DJ we never thought we’d get, because she was doing pretty huge things. Anyway, that provided a platform to take our events careers onto the next level – and all thanks to the Palace Theatre!
For Nick and his team, Anyway was a massive risk, but one that thankfully paid off in the end.
“Yeah, that was huge for us,” says Nick, acknowledging everything that was on the line. “We put everything we had into Anyway. It was a lot of money to get off the ground and get our marketing happening. It was such a huge venue to make work.
“We sort of thought we knew what we were doing at the time, but once we had the mentors from the Palace Theatre they showed us how to run a business properly and how to run a big event and to really take it to a bigger level.”
A punter’s view of Anyway’s huge emergence onto the Melbourne Club scene
The First Festival
“It was in the very early stages at the Palace Theatre,” Nick tells us, when the group realised that their experience with Anyway could translate into something even bigger. “It’s always something every promoter wants to do – they always want to own a festival or a nightclub, but it didn’t seem achievable at that stage.
“We sat down with the owners at the Palace Theatre and they told us, “You should do this, and you should do that,” and introduced us to the right people. Then it all started happening – we started to find a site, talking to booking managers, found site managers and publicists. Before we knew it, everything started rolling pretty quickly.”
Even from the earliest days of the festival, Nick maintains that the music industry banded around he and his crew to help get their dream off the ground, which came as a bit of a surprise considering their experience in the competitive club scene.
“It was interesting actually,” he tells us. “We thought in the club world that anyone who is running other clubs is a competitor, and you don’t work with them. But we found with festivals that everyone wants the festival to happen, because it creates more business, and it’s a positive thing for the industry.
“So, we sat down with other festival owners, other media outlets, publicists, booking agents, and everyone was just really, really wanting Beyond the Valley to happen. At that time Big Day Out had finished running, and Pyramid Rock had finished, so I guess it was a big gap for artists and I guess for a lot of other people in the industry out of work.”
So, the support was there when they needed it, and they certainly weren’t short on ambition. Even then, diving straight into a first-year festival the scale of Beyond the Valley’s debut wasn’t entirely planned, but it became an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“Initially we wanted to have a 4,000-person event,” Nick claims. “The goal was to keep it small. But we found that there were a lot of artists floating around. We didn’t expect to really get any internationals our first year, and we were getting really cool offers like Dylan Francis, AlunaGeorge, MØ… Acts we didn’t think would even want to be part of a first year event.
“I think the scale of the talent we were getting offered then dictated the scale of the event, ’cause we just thought that we didn’t want to turn down these acts – so we just had to make the festival bigger.”
And bigger it became, far outstripping the early goals by more than double.
“It was just off 10,000 people,” Nick exclaims. “It was pretty crazy!”
Thankfully, despite the teething problems that always come with first-time events – let alone something of this scale – Nick & Co. were happy with the result.
“It was great! We had a very windy first few days – that was crazy. My camp blew away, and I was onstage at one point with 100km wind, and had a security guard holding my shoulder so I didn’t blow away – it was nuts!
“Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves,” he adds. “The artists had a great time, vendors loved it, and the staff had fun, which made us really excited to sink our teeth into year two.”
Now, with two huge leaps in the rear-view mirror, which was the bigger challenge: moving from those earlier club nights to something as big as Anyway, or making the jump from Anyway to Beyond the Valley? For Nick, it isn’t even a question.
“Looking back to it,” he ponders, “running a club night is just so much easier than festival stuff. For us, that first year putting together BtF was a nightmare, and so stressful. We were in the office super early, and we didn’t leave ’til ridiculously late. And it was just constant artist opportunities popping up, and other important events happening at the same time – it was relentless.
“It was exciting but at the same time scary, because we put everything on the line for that – some of my partners had to ask their parents’ to loan us money, and we had other investors, so there was a lot riding on us to pull off a successful first year. There was a lot of pressure involved.”
It was only through the ridiculously hard work of that core of five partners that the festival thrived, and it’s a burden that still rests mostly on their shoulders, despite the festival’s continued success.
“Between us, we split up every single area of the festival,” Nick says. “We don’t really have many other employees in the office – there are a couple others that work with us. But we split up the sponsorship, the marketing, act booking, flights, website stuff, food vendors, bars, staging, production…
“We make sure that one of us is accountable for each thing that happens at the event, and that one of us is very hands-on with each area, just to make sure that we never lose track of how the event is going. It definitely keeps us busy full time.”
The first year of Beyond the Valley, all those years ago
Recent years have seen the demise of many of the huge, lineup-focused events like Soundwave and Big Day Out, and the shift towards the more all-encompassing experience of the new guard of ’boutique’ festivals.
Looking at the current state of our festival scene, Nick believes that Beyond the Valley was ahead of its time in offering something that many earlier festivals did not, and that it’s ultimately been a great thing for the festival-goers.
“I think everything is now boutique,” he says. “It’s a lot more focused on the experience, the food, the luxury camping, rather than a huge marquee artist lineup. It’s not all about the line-up now but the experiences involved. And I think it creates a less aggressive crowd, which is something we were mindful of going into it. I think the lineup, branding, and the aesthetics of the festival dictate the kind of crowd that comes out.”
The rapid rise of Beyond the Valley isn’t a fluke. A large part of its success comes down to knowing the audience inside out, and the team have worked tirelessly in the years following that first event, responding to feedback from punters and studying the market to shape the festival into a better event with each passing year.
“We kind of say that a part of it is that we’re the age of the punters that we’re marketing to,” Nick says. “Between us all we’re aged between 23 and 27, and we’re actively seeking out events, listening to music, so we really know what our patrons want. That helps us put this experience together and book the right line-up and make sure that we’re very aware of what punters need.
“At the end of last year we had a bad heat wave and on the last two nights of the festival it was forty-two degrees on both the 30th and 31st, which was really unexpected for that area – the forecast leading up to it was beautiful. From that, we had a few complaints about shade, ice, and a few other things.
“Literally the next day, we sat down and discussed how we can make next year better,” Nick tells us. “I think it’s always about improving for the following year. We actually called the people who complained to us and asked how we could make the festival better, and part of that was putting an extra day on the festival to give you a day to set up and get comfortable and then really get into the festival.
For the Beyond The Valley team, the key has been to react immediately to any negative feedback that springs up, and put a plan in place for the following year.
“The feedback we received was to work on our shade structures, so we got the specialty team in from the US who do lots of festival over there, and they are designing these huge, vibrant, practical shade substructures to be place all over the festival arena.
“We’re working really heavily on camping next to cars, too, which is something that wasn’t allowed last year by the council, but this year we’ve appealed it nice and early. We’re bring a lakeside bar in; we’re bringing in what we call ‘the necessities’, which are like little hubs in the campground area with toilets, showers and information booths that are manned by people from first aid centres.
“I think it’s just always working on different areas to make sure that event never goes stale,” Nick believes, “and to make sure the experience is always spot on. I think it’s always dealing with what happens, and to make sure the punters are always comfortable.”
Last year’s Beyond the Valley introduced a host of improvements over the first year
Bigger And Better Booking
While the experience and comfort are incredibly important for festivals these days, that’s not to say that the lineup is being neglected, and the BtV team have a leg up when it comes to picking a list of acts that’ll resonate with an audience come year’s end. As it turns out, the key is remembering where you started.
“One of the great things about having the club nights,” Nick explains, “is having that platform to test out a lot of different artists. A lot of the smaller guys who come to the club end up playing at the festival, and we have a great relationship with a lot of Australian artists and DJs.
“We’re very mindful of what’s getting radio play, who has an album coming out, how past albums have gone, what sort of shows they’ve been doing overseas, what sort media attention they’re getting… So it’s pretty much keeping an eye on every aspect of the artists for the first six months of the year, and trying to predict how that’ll go. Some of them are just no-brainers like Chance The Rapper or Sticky Fingers, and you kind of look at acts like that and think, “Okay, I need this.”
When the opportunity to book an artist of that scale finally arrives, it’s an incredibly proud and satisfying moment, and Nick reflects on the booking in relation to those of previous years.
“I think looking at this year’s lineup, it would definitely be Chance The Rapper,” Nick says, “that’s like the crown jewel on a line-up this year. We’ve been going for him every year, but for one reason or another it just hasn’t worked out. And this year it just seemed to happen.”
“I think the timing is great – every week is different. He’s on a huge talkback show in the US, or he’s collaborating with this person, and Beyoncé is tapping him on the shoulder. I feel this time next year he’ll be so much bigger. He’s the biggest artist BtV has ever had.”
What’s Next For BtV?
So much has been achieved in such little time, and Beyond the Valley already feels like a very established name in the local festival scene. But for Nick and the team, they’re already looking well into the future – they want to set the standard.
“We would like to see the event become a staple in the festival landscape,” Nick tells us, “it feels like we’re sitting quite well at the moment. We’ve had two really successful years, and this year is looking like it’s going to follow suit. But our vision is to have BtV run 20 to 30 years, and be the landmark festival – everyone as they’re growing up wants to come to BtV when they turn 18.
“And we want it to be known internationally; we’ve had a bunch of overseas patrons come in from the US, Singapore and NZ, so I guess we want to increase that a little bit too. And keep building the lineup as well, and have a lot more international focus.
We’re building more of an international touring arm through BTV; we did Wu-Tang Clan at the start of the year, and we’re looking at more tours to bring in. There’s definitely a long-term focus for BtV.”
Not only that, but they’re already working on another camping festival, the recently-announced Pitch Festival, taking place over Labor Day weekend (March 10-13) with a massive lineup of acts.
“We’re collaborating with our friends at Novel, so it’s a little bit more dance music focused,” Nick tells us casually, “so that’s the other big project we’re working on, but we all manage artists internally in the office – each of us manages a couple. I manage Ivan Ooze, who just released his track with Ghostface Killa, so we’re sort of working on as many different projects as possible – we like to keep busy.”
No doubting that. But with genuinely massive growth in just a handful of short years, and so much achieved already, is there a fear of expanding too quickly? A risk of trying to do too much, as previous festivals and promoters have done, and losing sight of what made Beyond the Valley such a success to begin with?
“I guess we’re always mindful of everything going on around us,” Nick says. “I think it’s about keeping a level head, keeping good counsel, and making sure we do everything properly.
“And keeping our fingers crossed,” he adds. “Definitely don’t want to go back to that accounting job!”