Features March 21, 2019

Astral People: “People trust our brand, our values, and they come even if they don’t know the artists”

Astral People: “People trust our brand, our values, and they come even if they don’t know the artists”
Image: Vichara Edirisinghe and Tom Huggett. (Supplied)

When Sydney clubbing friends Vichara “Vic” Edirisinghe and Tom Huggett officially formed Astral People after a late night pizza eight years ago this August, they pushed hard from the beginning.

Explains Edirisinghe, “Tom and I listened to so many genres – hip hop, funk, soul, grime, house, techno, RNB and everything in between.”

“What we found in Sydney at the time, was that people were just doing just house music parties or just hip hop parties.

“We wanted to change that, we wanted to encompass all those different styles that we loved. As for touring, it had to be any genre. It didn’t feel right for us to focus on just one genre or concept.

“Eight years on, it’s the same. We can book whoever we want, whether it be a jazz band from the UK like Kamaal Williams or a techno DJ like Objekt or a hip hop artist like Jay Rock.”

“People believe in our brand, people believe in our values, and based on that they come to our shows even if they don’t know the artists.”

The first show, in a 400-capacity nightclub, sold out in advance. So too did all following events soon after that, and it was obvious Astral People had touched a movement.

Edirisinghe and Huggett widened to managing artists (Wave Racer, Roland Tings, Cosmo’s Midnight, Winston Surfshirt, Basenji, Milan Ring, GL etc) and touring acts as Dizzee Rascal, Stormzy, AJ Tracey, Lil’ Louis, Autechre, Big Boi and Dave.

The business ideology early on was to put all the proceeds from these early sold out parties right back into the company.

“We were in a tiny shitty office without air conditioning, we’d work with our shirts off in summer, haha.”

The last five years has seen a major shift for Astral People.

Their audiences were getting younger, from the original 25—32 to 23—25 and now even lower.

This is obvious with their current day-time Summer Dance series at the National Art School, their most consistently successful event, hitting its 1,500-capacity at each turn these past three years.

The final one for the season takes place this Sunday (March 24) with Ireland-via-Berlin’s Brame & Hamo, disco selector Frank Booker and movement connoisseur Lex Deluxe.

The two initially chanced upon the National Art School for their three-stage OutsideIn festival but which was put on the backburner because it was too ambitious at the time.

Q: How does the ambience of the National Art School add to the event?

A: “What struck us the minute we went there was the architecture, the heritage listed sandstone buildings, it used to be a women’s prison.

“It’s a real special place. We limit the lighting there because the venue is a beautiful canvas.”

Q: How are younger audiences’ expectations and sense of experience different?

A:  “They’re more open, they’re more individualistic.  There’s a keenness to learn and to discover things.  I’m proud to have an event that young kids go to. When I was just discovering club music a lot of that initial love came from discovering new artists in venues just cause i was always out and about. Sometimes it’s nice to discover something organically, on a dancefloor… you know rather than digital platform telling you what you should like.

“There’s an excitement and passion. Sometimes they enjoy themselves so much that after the show they look up the artist, get their background, see who their influences were and so the discovery continues.”

“It’s a first time for many of them, and it’s a beautiful thing to introduce them to underground dance music.”

Q: What’s Astral People’s next immediate project?

A: “Last year we successfully launched the New Year’s Eve Last Dance party, which sold out months in advance. We’re working on that again.

“Besides that we have a bunch of international tours coming through, we announced four for Vivid Live at the Sydney Opera House just the other day. We’ll also be launching a couple of exciting properties in line with Last Dance and Summer Dance so keep a look out for them.”

“We manage 14 Australian artists, so over the next months some of the larger ones will be touring nationally and putting our new music, that takes just as much time and office hours as the touring and events side does.”

Q: What’s a long term project?

A: “It would be bringing back the idea of a festival, along the lines of OutsideIn.

“It was a bit ahead of its time in our eyes, so we’d love to bring it back if it makes sense to us.

“We’re at that stage where if it makes sense financially and timing-wise, we’ll do a special event.

“Otherwise we have a lot of things on the touring, management and publishing to take on more.

“At that time we were looking at 2,000 for the festival but now we’d be looking at 5,000 and we’d make sure it provides something unique to the landscape.

“With Last Dance, the concept was having it one hour outside of Sydney as a warehouse party, which was unique in the marketplace at the time which is why it sold out so quickly.

“We wouldn’t dive into bigger scale shows and unless we thought there was a space in the market for it”

Q: What’s the biggest challenge these days to growing or throwing a festival?

A: “It’s more about the political climate, there’s been so much talked about it in the last few months, and I’m sure people must be tired of it now.

“There were festivals in March that were hit with extra expenses of up to $150,000 and that’s a festival’s bottom line, if not more

“ All these ridiculous licensing laws and subsequent extra user pay police costs are ridiculous… I went to a couple of these festivals, and watched 10 to 20 police in a circle having a laugh.

“I mean, what are they doing? We have to pay for it. It’s not the government that pays for it, not the council.

“That’s the main uncertainty at the moment. Are these festivals even going to be viable in the current climate?”

Q: Bluesfest’s was talking about how fees for headliners and some middle league artists fees have doubled in recent five years.

A: “Totally! Competition between festivals has caused artist fees to rise quite a bit.

“Australia’s seen as a cash cow but that’s not true, it’s actually very small in the grand scheme of things.

“Worldwide, we’re competing with Europe and America for acts, and those countries are so much bigger than we are and aren’t as sparse landscape wise so touring is a lot more cost effective in those markets.

“Plus our dollar is relatively weak at the moment which again brings the costs up.”

Q: What’s a recent accomplishment that you two rate highly?

A: “Our NYE event from last year, it ran so smoothly and it was exactly what we wanted.

“To us, all the research, the knowledge, and shit we learned over the years, all the losses, it all fell together on NYE.

“It sold out three months ahead. 3,000 people came (with a 5,000 person waitlist), all the reviews were great, it was a great achievement because it was us learning from pass errors. With this same knowledge applied, we’ll be looking to launch some more special boutique events over the next 12-18 months”

“I also thought 4 metro theatres with Cosmo’s Midnight’s last tour was also something else. We’ve been working with them from the very start so to see things pick up the way they did (somewhat unexpectedly) was crazy to see.”

Q: What was your first job in the ?

A: “I did a lot of internships, whether in offices or in clubs, which was aid for my Saturday night out. I was also a bit of a club rat –  promoting at whatever club would have me.

“I also interned at Future Music Festival. On the first day, I went in there, nice shoes nice shirt, long pants… and they told me to put posters up and down Parramatta Road.

“Best intro to the music industry I could have had, to be honest!”

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