Features February 24, 2020

Jessica Ducrou on 20 Years of Splendour [part two]

Jessica Ducrou on 20 Years of Splendour [part two]

co-founders Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco were tossing around names during a Bali break for their new festival, among those thankfully discarded were Home And Away and Bandcamp.

The search continued when they returned to Australia, Piticco to Brisbane where he was managing Powderfinger, and Ducrou to Sydney.

At the time Ducrou and her then-partner were living in a warehouse in inner-city Newtown.

She’d go to the record store around the corner every day flicking through album titles and song names for inspiration.

The search extended to films, and Ducrou’s partner suggested Splendor In The Grass (note American spelling), the 1961 movie directed by Elia Kazan and starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, about a teenager’s sexual and romantic rites of passage.

Add to that the William Wordsworth poem Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, which eerily has a contemporary message.

“Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind.”

Why Splendour In The Grass?

I wanted something eccentric, a bit wordy, which didn’t describe the location but had an energy about it.

It summed up the melancholy in the movie and the poem.

Plus the festival was going to be in Byron Bay, which has a whole dope culture, so there was a bit of a pun on that.

It just ticked boxes. It’s a weird name for a festival, but that’s what we wanted. We wanted eccentricity.

You didn’t think of symbolically asking Warren Beatty to come to host one of the shows, or just hang out?

I would love to welcome Warren to the festival!

Which acts on the 2020 bill took the longest to hook?

I don’t think I should single them out. But I’ll give you one example.

We have been talking about the Strokes playing Splendour since May last year.

That’s not because they were difficult, it’s the nature of booking artists. It’s a really long road.

How long does it take for Splendour to be put together, how many people work on it?

20 years ago, it took about six months to build, launch and do the show.

Now I reckon it’s about 18 months.

For instance, we are already talking about negotiating talent for ’21, and we’re talking about our Artist In Residence for ’21.

So there is an overlap of that 12-month window

In terms of numbers of people, there s probably 80 of us that work on it year-round, although we work on other projects as well.

There are a couple of hundred contractors who come in for six months, and as we lead into and during the show, our total workforce would be about 7,000 or 8,000.

Talk us through some normal challenges as you put together the event

Market challenges, your competitors…

Talent is competitive for us. We’re on during winter, which is summer in the northern hemisphere and the height of their festival season, and geographically we’re a long way away.

The dollar, the currency fluctuations really impact on us, because you’re negotiating internationally in US dollars. The (Australian) dollar is not doing well for us.

What does climate change mean for Splendour, and for our industry and for Australia more broadly?

Engaging with stakeholders. A year ago there was a spate of drug-related issues.

Engaging with governments on festivals (Ducrou is a founding board member of the Australian Festival Association), that takes an inordinate amount of time.

The economy. Are we in a happy healthy strong economy?

I saw how the GFC (Global Financial Crisis, 2007/8) affected things. It is a material industry but I find it challenging and exciting.

I get a lot of job satisfaction of what I do. So I accept it’s part of the process.

You’re putting together an event that will draw maybe 50,000, and involving hundreds of musicians and speakers. What was the very first gig that you promoted and how many people did it draw?

Hard to pinpoint, because I was working at Rolling Stone, and then started booking venues and then became an agent.

One of the first acts I started working with, and whom I thought had a lot of potential, were Powderfinger. I was their agent.

All of us had met on holidays in Byron Bay over Easter, coincidentally. They were a band and I was in the music industry.

I was working at the Lansdowne Hotel. They’d been to Sydney, maybe once.

I gave them a show at the Lansdowne on a midweek night and I think they got about 23 payers.

We had a really good party afterwards.

Read part one of TMN’s interview with Jessica Ducrou here.

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