Features

5 Things Aussie Music Festivals Can Learn From South America

For starters, the festivals are mainly booze-free.

With the lineups for the South American legs of Lollapalooza Festival dropping yesterday, as well as the recent news that the festival will take place in Berlin for the first time ever next year, we take a look at what Australian festivals can take away from similar offshore events.


Travelling overseas to attend a music festival – particularly one hosted in exotic surroundings – is a badge of honour for any true music fan. It can also be smart economics. After taking exchange rates into account, tickets are often cheaper or on par with similar-style Aussie-based events plus there is the added benefit of being able to tack a holiday on in the lead up or aftermath.

And let’s be honest – hitting say, Rio or Buenos Aires to unwind post-party is infinitely cooler than being shoved into the last packed train home from Homebush. Recent years have proved dismal for Australian-based music festivals (we’ve lost Harvest, Homebake and Pyramid Rock festivals, among others) demonstrating the current limitations Aussie promoters are facing. Many are openly noting that their competition is not merely similarly-pitched local events, but also those taking place offshore.

Somewhere they appear to have it down pat when it comes to music festivals is South America. And while logistics, language and law enforcement are obvious challenges in attending a massive, three-day music festival in a Spanish-speaking South American country, the pay-off is massive. With the once-legendary Big Day Out festival in Australia MIA this summer, its sister iteration in South America is very much thriving. In fact Perry Farrell’s behemoth Lollapalooza which also takes over Chicago’s Grant Park in the first weekend of each August, has just announced the line-up for its 2015 South American franchises. And it’s pretty impressive.

Like the Big Day Out, Lollapalooza was once synonymous with alt-rock. It took seminal indie bands to a broad, often wide-eyed audience. In the USA, attending Lolla was a rite of passage, again not unlike BDO. However back in 1997, it was shuttered, before being revived in 2003 and closed again. It was resurrected two years later (with new partners C3, who also bought into the BDO a couple of years back) as a one-off Chicago event. Since then, it has once again become a staple of the American summer festival circuit.

In 2010, Lolla found some new partners and moved south, to the striking, mountain-surround metropolis of Santiago, Chile. There are now also dates in Brazil’s mega-city São Paulo and in Argentina’s glorious, tree-lined metropolis Buenos Aires. Lollapalooza was once an evocative adjective – a powerful alternative rock tastemaker. Now, in an increasingly crowded festival market boasting world famous brand names, it is a different beast. In Chile, Lolla hosts extraordinary crowd numbers (70,000+ each day), interesting and diverse acts and perhaps most surprisingly, they do it all without booze. Taken from first-hand experience, here is why they continue to do it well.


1. They have their act together

This point may be most salient for those residing in either Melbourne or Sydney. When a big music festival comes to town, the site booked for the event is rarely central and often requires a degree in logistics to coordinate transport to and from. One thing instantly noticeable from Lolla in Chile is that its site at Parque O’Higgins is a huge, leafy downtown park. There is plenty of shade and no end of green, cushy grass. The security outside through the streets of Santiago were remarkably efficient, if not perhaps a little heavy handed. Further, a diverse cluster of eating options were rarely clogged despite the enormous size of the crowd. When did you last say that about a festival?


 2. The festivals are mainly booze-free

Ponder this just for a moment. How would an Australian music festival fare if it were free of booze? Can you imagine a dry Big Day Out? Perhaps the most surprising element of my Lolla Chile experience was the lack of bars. In fact, after hours spent scouring the site, we realised there were none. The only place to acquire booze was backstage or in the VIP Bar. Australia would never stand for it! The side benefit of no booze was no audience belligerence. The crowd was hardly earnest, but it was also not overtly aggressive and based on this, there were a significant amount of children under 10 at the festival. Like, a lot. As with Chicago, there was even a Kidzapalooza stage welcoming the little tykes. Cute.

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 3. The sound is spectacular

Like Coachella in California, which is renowned for the vast amount of coin it invests in its sonics, Lolla Chile was near pitch-perfect. The stages were placed so as to ensure little crossover in sound and the main ones, located at opposite ends of the park, did not have any clashes. All through the site, there were speakers efficiently distributing the sounds towards the ears of punters and away from surrounding noise. It just worked.


 4. The line-ups are as diverse as they are great

When we attended Lolla in Chile, we saw Pearl Jam, Deadmau5, the Black Keys, Foals, Queens of the Stone Age, The Temper Trap, Of Monsters and Men and a heap of others. Next year, they get Kings of Leon, Robert Plant, Jack White, Calvin Harris, Skrillex, Damian Marley, Diplo, the Smashing Pumpkins and Alt-J. Not to forget Australia’s Chet Faker. Then there is the varied roster of local acts which reflects the diversity of the area’s growing music scene.

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Of Monsters And Men (Photo: Pablo Caro/Flickr)


5. The people watching is sublime

Yes, Lollapalooza Chile boasts a site as picturesque as any urban music festival in the world. The park, covered as it is in lush grass and surrounded by a spectacular mix of mountain ranges and skyscrapers, was brilliant and when it became dusty there were several places to escape. But there’s something else worth sharing – not to be superficial, but Chile could actually be home to the most beautiful hipsters in the world. Sorry Melbourne/Brooklyn/Berlin.

(Lead and Kidzapalooza image: Lollapalooza Chile Facebook)


Qantas is your gateway to South America.