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RIP Soundwave. Why Legion may be the best thing to happen to Australia’s festival scene.

Legion music festival

The saying goes something like: good shit and fun times goes tits up after three generations. Unfortunately for AJ Maddah, in about three years he managed to take his touring company from making $7m in 2013 to now owing $26m in debt. That means there’s no more Soundwave, for a while the pre-eminent touring music festival in Australia.

That’s a big hole in Australia’s music scene. The sort of acts that would grace a typical Soundwave festival play music that undeniably provided most of Australia’s greatest artists: AC/DC, Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel, The Saints, Parkway Drive, INXS, Silverchair, The Living End and so on. Many people believe that the Big Day Out’s shift from their alternative and heavy roots to something more welcoming had a good hand in its demise.

Legion festival

From the ashes of Soundwave, Legion hopes to emerge. But will this phoenix be able to take flight or will it perish before it gets the chance?

Another Australian heavy music export – drummer John Sankey of Devil You Know has stepped into the hole created by Soundwave to start a new festival, Legion. There are two great things to note about Legion, which is fantastic considering it’s all much of a muchness at the moment. They’ll be discussed a bit later on, but the much of a muchness has to be dealt with before we can move on.

Legion isn’t actually set in stone. All the acts announced – none of which, sorry to say, set the pulses racing – have only agreed to appear if the pledge is reached. This target is $3.275m which Sankey is hoping to raise via crowdfunding. So far, at the time of writing, Legion has raised $264k; the deadline is 25 January. Eesh.

Obviously, Legion has run into two catch-22s here. To garner interest, the festival needs to lock in the big names. To lock in the big names, Legion needs to show it has the money. To get money, the festival needs fan interest. Then there’s also the conditional interest (“I’m only going if he’s going”) playing a part too.

If Legion could somehow reach its crowd-funded target, it’d be ground-breaking. It’d open up another way for festivals to raise capital, and if successful, would at least take away the notion of festivals being a power-hungry promoters’ play thing.

That last sentence might seem a bit weird, but the popular opinion on the digital street before, during and after Soundwave 2016’s demise were both very critical of AJ Maddah and that proposed festival’s lineup. Despite Soundwave always being owned and operated by AJ Maddah, many followers piled scorn on him for collapsing his own business, which is just outright strange. “Ronald I loved your burgers, why’d you have to lose all your money in poor business decisions, what am I gonna eat now dickhead?

Then there’s criticism of Soundwave’s lineup, which for an article-length of reasons are again unfixably dumb. Interestingly, the main attitude that seemed to come through was that people attended Soundwave solely to see the headliners and didn’t perceive the music festival as, y’know, a festival of music where you walk around and see new bands and buy overpriced beer and cobs of corn.

With that being the case, it’ll be hard for John Sankey and co to easily overcome the borish attitudes of many and get their crowd-funding project off the ground unless Metallica or some other great band feels charitable and includes themselves in Legion (Sankey has stated that if Legion works out in 2016, he’d be looking towards making it a regular fixture).

That brings us to the second great thing about Legion, its inclusion of Australian acts. There’s an avenue here that Legion could follow to richness.

First of all, given that Australia’s in season (i.e. it’s summmmah time) when North America and Europe are off season and along with Australia’s reputation for rock and metal, this country has always been a happy hunting ground for overseas Soundwave types.

This also means that for Australian heavy bands, they’re probably spending this time of year at home waiting for the northern hemisphere to warm up again. Surely it’s in the interests of the vast range of quality Australian acts to get something like Legion up and running (the fact that Legion’s crowdfunded also helps it seem more communal too).

If bands like Karnivool, Northlane, Dead Letter Circus, Parkway Drive, Twelve Foot Ninja, In Hearts Wake, Frenzal Rhomb, Amity Affliction, Ne Obliviscaris, Sleepmakeswaves, Voyager, Chaos Divine, Psycroptic, Portal, King Parrot, Royal Headache, Violent Soho, Closure in Moscow and many, many more were to perform at Legion, it could make the festival exciting, profitable, give it and the national scene a healthy dose of vitality and make it something important to Australian music culture.

The short notice of Legion makes things difficult, but it’s far cheaper and easier for domestic bands to rock up given a couple of weeks to prepare. Given that the organisers of Legion are slating for it to appear in the three big eastern cities over the Easter long weekend, many artists would probably be only too happy to can on and make some rock rather than remove spiders from their missus’ tents whilst camping up at Barrington Tops all weekend.

Northlane, Dead Letter Circus and Frenzal Rhomb were already gonna appear at Soundwave 2016, and Violent Soho and Royal Headache are going to be at Laneway in February too. Plenty of bands are in the midst of producing new records (Karnivool and Twelve Foot Ninja are, anyway) and probably quite keen to escape the studio and earn some cold hard dosh. Well, you’d think so anyway.

There is definitely potential in Legion; huge potential, even, given that Soundwave made a fat profit in its healthiest year. Its crowd-funding approach is admirable, as is its focus on Australian acts. A lot of things are up in the air at the moment, which doesn’t help – I personally haven’t contributed to Legion, although I probably will and should – but if Legion works, it could be great even if Disturbed are the sole headliners. Even if you hate metal’s guts (good on you for getting this far, by the way), this space should stay watched for the good of Australian music.

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January 11, 2016