Words by: Michael Winsall
In December of last year, the inaugural showing of the Disconnect Festival went off with a bang. However, as it has been reported lately, some 5 months later, many smaller artists and back stage crew have not yet been paid. How did this go down? Well, we are here to unpack this debacle and shed some insight into what has happened.
Billed as “How a festival should be”, Disconnect certainly delivered. Called “the best new festival in WA… maybe ever” by The West Australian and compared to the Meredith Music Festival and Golden Plains, Disconnect was a hit both with punters and staff alike. Kelly Ashley, the Event Manager for Disconnect said “It was a very enjoyable weekend, even for those of us that were pulling 17 hour days in the heat. It was easily the most fun I’ve had on an event site in nearly ten years”. Even with the late cancellation of headliner Chet Faker, the replacement in Touch Sensitive was well received. So, with a turnout of 3000 punters, many high hopes were placed on what the festival could offer for the years to come.
Return to sender
However, the honeymoon period didn’t last.
Smaller artists weren’t getting paid, and nor were the staff that actually made the event happen. Invoices were sent, and letters of demand were coming back marked “return to sender” from promoter Knight. Weeks went by, weeks turned into months, and nothing was heard back. Those owed remained silent, discussing their options. However, this all changed when in April the Disconnect Facebook page posted a survey asking what could be improved for the 2016 Festival.
For some, including Jasmine Clea Danks from Danger Cabaret, this was the last straw.
“It was a kick in the teeth for everyone that worked so hard in 2015” She said. “You shouldn’t even think about organising the next one without paying everyone from the last one”.
150 Days later
When the artists and crew started to make some noise, Mr. Knight promised full payment “within the next 4 weeks”, or 150 days after the festival ended. This deadline passed on the 11th of May, and nothing has been heard. Mathew Bonser, a site co-ordinator, had this to say:
“I don’t know what I hope to achieve by running this gauntlet again, but I’m tired of the empty promises, the lack of contact and the spiteful treatment. The money I’m owed was for my next adventure fund. For others, that’s rent, groceries, or a gift for their child. That sucks to watch”. Ms. Ashley added “With it I could pay my rent without worrying about the next event. I said no to a few other contracts whilst getting [Disconnect Festival] ready.”
The aftermath, and where to go from here.
Those unpaid are not letting go. The amounts owed range from a few hundred into the tens of thousands. The West Australian puts the total at $100,000, however the real total could run much higher. The longer the media coverage on this goes, the greater the pressure on Mr. Knight to resolve this privately. Should this fade from public view, then legal recourse may be the last resort.
Until then, you, as a punter, can go out and support local musicians and talent outside of festivals. Danger Cabaret regularly hosts amazing events around town, including their weekly karaoke night at the Rosemount Hotel every Wednesday. The local artists, such as Abbe May, Bedouin Sea, The Tommyhawks, and all the other acts from WA that performed at Disconnect will almost certainly be playing at a bar near you soon. If a new festival starts up, be there. You can never guarantee that this won’t happen again, but most promoters would much rather run a successful event that brings punters, staff and musicians back in later years.
And as for the state of the music festival industry in WA?
To quote Ms. Ashley, “The only positive change this situation brings is how [the festival industry] does business. No more handshakes and verbal agreements amongst mates. It’s time to get real about Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.