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Could Australia Pull Off A Large Scale Hip-Hop Festival?

Written By Sam Murphy on 02/07/2018

Photos: L by Gabrielle Clement, R by Bianca Bosso.

Suggesting another major festival in a very overcrowded space is somewhat silly argument but despite the plethora of new and old festivals there seems to be one genre that’s underrepresented.

The major festivals in Australia right now feature a smorgasbord of genres. Laneway Festival errs to the alternative side of things, sitting acts like The War On Drugs side-by-side with Anderson .Paak, FOMO Festival treads the line between electronic and hip-hop music as does Listen Out, Splendour In The Grass and Falls Festival pull from a huge pool and Groovin The Moo satisfies the triple j‘s audiences diverse tastes.

Recently, there have been a number of successful attempts at carefully curated festivals surrounding one genre. UNIFY Gathering occupies the punk space and Pitch Festival and Days Like This are delivering expert electronica bills. There’s one genre, however, that has always been left to fit into all-encompassing lineups or throwback bills with a very sketchy past.

The truth is, Australia doesn’t have a very good track record with hip-hop festivals. Supafest delivered four lineups but every year it was marred by cancellations. In its final year, it was completely cancelled leaving us to dream of a bill that included T.I., 50 Cent and J. Cole. Poor ticket sales eventually took the festival down but it was also accused of falsely advertising headliners including Missy Elliott. Soulfest, which featured the likes of Miguel, Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli and Mos Def, was cancelled in 2015 due to poor ticket sales while rumours swelled that some of the billed artists were never locked-in to play anyway. Nas even attempted to curate a festival, Movement Festival, in 2013 featuring 2 Chainz, Joey Bada$$ and Iggy Azalea but it was cancelled too.

Interestingly, the closest thing we come to a hip-hop festival now is The Hit Network’s RnB Fridays tour which in the past has featured Nelly, Sean Paul, Fatman Scoop and 112. And therein lies the problem. Hip-hop and R&B festivals in Australia have always been treated as a nostalgia event rather than focussing on the hip-hop pool we have now. It’s also been largely international.

The US obviously has a far larger market for hip-hop. Last year, hip-hop surpassed rock to become the most popular genre on streaming services. Migos, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, JAY-Z, Big Sean and Future also topped the charts. It has a wealth of hip-hop festivals, responsible for some of the biggest lineups of the year. Rolling Loud nabbed J. Cole, Future, Travis Scott, Cardi B, Lil Wayne and more while Tyler The Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw is arguably one of the best curated festivals going around right now, attracting Tyler, Solange, Migos, Vince Staples and heaps more.

One of the UK’s largest festivals Wireless is a hip-hop event headlined this year by J.Cole, Stormzy and DJ Khaled.

There are a number of reasons why they work better in the US and the UK than here. The geographical advantage is obviously a huge financial benefit but hip-hop has a much larger presence in the mainstream music scene in both the US and the UK than it does here in Australia. Particularly on a local front, commercial radio gives little to no airtime to our local hip-hop community and that makes a lineup expensive. Expensive because we can’t fill top tier positions with local acts like Splendour In The Grass can with, say, Flume or Gang Of Youths.

That said, triple j‘s playlist dictates much of the festival scene in Australia and the enthusiasm for hip-hop has never been stronger. Obviously, we had Kendrick Lamar at number one in the Hottest 100 countdown with HUMBLE but Brockhampton also proved to be a wildcard coming in at 11 with Sweet. That’s encouraging evidence that Aussie audiences are picking up on new hip-hop projects faster than they used to. Childish Gambino, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Illy and Stormzy were also in the top 50 most played artists in 2017.

Local hip-hop has also never been in a better place. Some of last year’s biggest breakthrough acts included Manu Crook$, Miss Blanks, Midas.Gold, Baker Boy, Imbi The Girl and Okenyo who all show the local scene is progressing and thriving. We also already have a slew of heavyweights like Tkay Maidza, Allday, Sampa The Great, One Day, Illy, Remi and, erm, Iggy Azalea. There’s no doubt these artists are deserved and worthy of sitting amongst internationals if Australia were to take a chance on a contemporary hip-hop festival.

It’s not like hip-hop acts aren’t already coming to Australia. Over the summer festival period Post Malone, Vince Staples, Run The Jewels, Stormzy and D.R.A.M. all played while last year, Migos, J.Cole, Kehlani and more sold out tours overwhelmingly. Future, Young Thug, Playboi Carti and Aminé are all slated to come this year.

This should be cause for no complaint but just those acts mentioned above are spread over seven festivals and five headline shows. That’s a big hit to the bank account.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge the presence of newcomer JUMANJI Festival which has a bill that includes Lil Wayne, Metro Boomin and DJ Mustard. There’s more fun to be had here though with a much more extensive bill. We’re not talking a Migos, Drake and Kendrick Lamar-headlined festival but one that really celebrates the up-and-coming hip-hop talent both here and abroad. The audience is there, someone just needs to take the risk.

TL;DR: Bring BROCKHAMPTON to Australia.