Former BDO director 'We're working on BDO 2016'

PETER VINCENT AND BERNARD ZUEL
Last updated 09:32 27/06/2014
Big Day Out

SET FOR RETURN? Is the Big Day Out coming back in 2016.

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Is it that AJ Maddah won't go quietly? Or could the American company that now runs the Big Day Out still need him? 

Maddah, who is in London on business was busy on Twitter on Thursday, hinting that he is by no means done with the Big Day Out. This is despite revelations that all the shares he had in the company that operates the iconic summer music festival - B.D.O. Presents - have transferred to C3 Presents, the Texan company that also owns the giant Lollapalooza festival.

Australian youth radio station Triple J - which has a symbiotic relationship with the local live music scene - teased its planned live radio interview with the "former BDO promoter" Maddah on Twitter. Maddah couldn't help himself, responding "Don't jump the gun with the 'former' :) [sic]"

Then this email from Maddah to Fairfax: "We're working on BDO 2016 already. We're setting up a new JV structure."

A "JV" is a joint venture.

In the Triple J interview, Maddah, speaking frequently of "we" in relation to the ownership of and planning for the festival, confirmed he no longer owned shares in the Big Day Out, but said he retained a right to buy back his half share at some point in the future.

Big Day Out New Zealand promoter Campbell Smithy yesterday said he was gutted the music festival wouldn't be returning for 2015.

"We had a great show in New Zealand this year, I think we had the benefit of having a year off in 2013 and moving to a new venue [Western Springs]."

"It's mostly because the shows did not go well in Australia this year, so it's an opportunity for them to take a break and look at how they do things."

It was disappointing that New Zealand had to miss out because of failings over the ditch, he said.

Maddah explained that he put capital into the company when he bought in to make sure BDO "didn't fall over" but, as he needed capital for his separate Soundwave festival, was allowed by a "gracious" C3 Presents to withdraw capital, which he suggested may have been around $400,000. However, he had the option to buy back if/when the festival returns in 2016 at a share price equivalent to "what I've sold it for ...$1".

While confirming that "I ended losing around five-and-a-half million dollars" this year on the BDO and that C3 Presents lost "marginally more money than I did", Maddah insisted that he was involved with C3 Presents in planning for a 2016 festival. He confirmed the rumour that a name change had been considered, and discarded, by C3 Presents to link it with the American company's Lollapalooza festival.

"Yes I'm still involved, yes BDO will come back in 2016. The festival is alive," he said.

Not everyone is convinced with former owner and co-founder of the BDO, Viv Lees, who has been a critic of Maddah's operation of the event, saying "it's tragic" there won't be a return in 2015, but it was not surprising given difficulties between producers, Maddah here and C3 in the US.

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A senior music industry source, who did not wish to be named, told Fairfax that "as far as C3 was concerned AJ is completely out.

"They've shut down the offices, taken over social media... they've control of all intellectual property [connected to] the Big Day Out."

It's clear C3 calls the shots now, but would they want him around?

Unless Maddah is about to launch legal action over his removal as a director of B.D.O Presents - which could well be the case - any further involvement Maddah has in the BDO would be because C3 would want it that way.

So what does Maddah have to offer? Let's not forget Maddah forges considerable power in the Australia music industry: last August he topped the Australasian Music Industry Directory's Power 50 list. But he didn't get there just because of his successful track record as Soundwave promoter or because he can win an argument at 50 paces - although he can do that too.

Crucially, Maddah owns Billy Hyde Stage Systems: "Australia's Leading Backline Hire Company", which he quietly purchased in 2012 after then-company Allans Billy Hyde collapsed, reputedly owing $40 million. 

'Backline' means amplifiers and instruments, the term coming from the days that an imaginary line was drawn on stage, with the PA (public address) system, microphones, speakers and mixing desk considered 'frontline' and everything else behind it 'backline'.

Typically touring bands don't bring all their gear and instead hire backline equipment from a company like Billy Hyde - which Maddah owns and which outfits ... drum roll please... the Big Day Out and Soundwave.

It's speculation to know exactly what hopes and plans the indefatigable Maddah has up his sleeve, but it makes sense C3 might enter into a deal with Maddah out of pragmatism.

After all, how difficult would it be for C3 to negotiate prices with the boss of the company that provides the backline for the Big Day Out - when the same man might be unhappy at having lost the power of co-ownership? Not easily done, especially from Austin, Texas.

Such a (theoretical) deal might allow Maddah to remain as a local manager for the Big Day Out as a figurehead - with no real power - purely because it would be too difficult to run a Big Day Out without him.

But time will tell.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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