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Halloween Hysteria: Founder Joey McGahey On Hysteria’s Leap Into Live Music

24 October 2018 | 2:10 pm | Alex Sievers

"Me, personally, this is what I really want to do: book mini-festivals. " - Joey McGahey.

Hysteria's first ever live event, Hysteria Halloween, kicks off this Saturday, October 27th at Brisbane's Jubilee Hotel. It's a diverse 42-band line-up, ranging from King Parrot and Black Rheno; The Bennies and The Hard-Ons; Alpha Wolf and Void Of Vision; Press Club and Bad Juju; Drown This City and Earth Caller; and plenty more. Not many publications go down this live music route and I think it's a very interesting topic of discussion with the current climate of media and promoters here in Australia. So in his first ever interview, Joey McGahey - founder and editor of our peer website, Hysteria Mag - opens up to me about the publications current jump from media outlet to live music booker and balancing both sides. Also speaking further about going from promotion and media to working with production crews and booking bands; any conflicts of interest and grey-area challenges that may come up with this leap; handling the bill's initial Whoretopsy debacle; and on Joey's hope for future Hysteria mini-fests and what positives they can bring for the local Queensland music scene. 

I’m not expecting you to drop the actual figures here, Joey, but when it comes to booking the line-up and organising the event, is it all coming from you personally, Hysteria as a company, even the venue itself? Or maybe all of the above?

It has mostly come from myself and [my partner] Brooke personally, with help from our sponsors, Young Henrys and The Jubilee Hotel. The main side of things comes down to the focus of the production and people running the event on the day too. I must say that we’ve learned more so in the last couple of months in working with the crew, staging, and production – just about this whole side of the business – than ever before; about just how busy it is. I don’t think anyone understands it unless they actually book tours or shows, that’s when you realise how much work has to go in. As you know yourself, Alex, running a website and music publication means that the profits are pretty minimal. The advertising budgets have dried up since most people now book Google ads, and run sponsored Facebook posts. This is also another way for us to encourage revenue into our business.

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I know that fact all too well. With the event being announced well in advance, have you since found ticket sales going solidly and netting a decent return on what you’ve already invested? Or are you bracing for a bit of a loss?

Well, Brisbane loves these smaller music festivals. For instance, Dead Of Winter Festival, this was their ninth year and the last three years, it’s sold out. This year they did around 3,500 tickets, I believe. As we work with the Dead Of Winter crew with helping promote their event, they’ve helped me work on this Halloween Hysteria. We announced this Hysteria Halloween event on the day of Dead Of Winter Festival, and they let us announce it right there; getting it dropped right in front of a few thousand people – a direct audience. The Bennies, King Parrot, there are bands that crossover with our line-up and their ones too. There’s been a lot of interest from the South East Queensland music community as well. It’s a unique scene up here.

As this is our first year, I’m not solely about the ticket sales and making money, it’s more just investing in the scene up here as well; about exposing new bands and exposing Hysteria to new people too. This being the first one, and as everyone has kinda told me already, it’ll probably lose money. But let’s hope not too much! [Laughs]. I’ve even entertained the thought of doing more and maybe having it happen in a different city each year too, but we’ll just wait and see. Hopefully, everyone is through the doors by 1pm and can just check out some great new talent. That’s what it’s all about.

[caption id="attachment_1104535" align="aligncenter" width="608"] The full Hysteria Halloween line-up. [/caption]

With the actual line-up, how was that bill vetted and selected? Was it based off what your whole team enjoyed or what Hysteria as an entity enjoys and supports?

There are a lot of developing bands in there that we booked that we’re being really impressed with. Then there are higher end bands like The Bennies and King Parrot, who are different but also not at the same time. Up here, it’s different than what it’s like in Melbourne and Sydney, or even in Adelaide and Perth. Each city has a different vibe. I like to think people here will watch both The Bennies and King Parrot’s set. Same with The Hard-Ons fans, who will also like to see the headliners. The same goes for Void Of Vision, Alpha Wolf, Stepson and Bad Juju too. There’s plenty of rock, metal, alternative, and punk there; which has some good crossover.

As we are media, we are here to promote bands that we believe in and like. There’s not one band on the bill that I second guessed myself on. Every band I genuinely like. These are all bands that we promote heavily in some way on Hysteria, including Press Club. That’s a band we’ve been backing for the past two or so years now; even before they were as well-known as they are now. I booked a line-up of bands that we have worked with or will work with in the future. I’m always asking the rest of the Hysteria team questions and their thoughts on certain bookings, just so we’re all as involved as possible.

It’s a diverse line-up, for sure. And I think you’re right about the Brisbane music scene enjoying that variety. In terms of coverage, I imagine that Hysteria will be covering the day with videos, photos and reviews. Though do you think that will be kinda weird, covering your own project to such a degree?

I haven’t even thought about it that way, honestly. I know how it sounds weird in how we will cover the event. I feel like we’ll cover it all on the fly, though, and not just go: “Oh man, our festival was the best!” [Laughs]. Because people see right through that bullshit. This isn’t some exclusive Hysteria thing either. Whether other websites want to cover it – whether you guys or someone else – I’m all about that! I’d be stoked if others want to come and cover it. And whether it’s good or bad, I don’t mind. If something’s getting covered, whether it’s praised or bashed, it’s STILL coverage. I think if everyone can take stuff on instead of getting defensive than we can learn from our mistakes. At least, that’s what my mindset has been like for the last few years. And ever since, things have been working out for us much better, I’ve found.

That’s a mature way to look at it; probably the best way in this day and age. And in terms of other places covering the fest, if they don’t like a certain band’s set, that doesn’t then mean they hate you or Hysteria either.

Yeah, of course! And sometimes, bands have an off-day too, you know? But look, honestly, the internet has just gone crazy the last couple years with bashing tours, promoters and festivals, anything and anyone. The scene has come such a long way in the 20 plus years I’ve been a part of the music industry – from playing in bands, going to gigs, and to doing media now – but sometimes it’s all so counter-productive to the industry itself. I feel like people just want real blood now, which is what we saw with the reaction to some festival announcements this past year. The thing that scares me the most about this next generation, it’s almost like they’re not allowed to make mistakes and they become vilified for their whole lives. Yet character is built on us learning from mistakes. Cause if you get hammered when you’ve made a mistake – big or small – it’s not productive. The same thing happened with Soundwave and AJ Maddah. As soon as he was in a spot where it wasn’t working for him, people were so ready to chop it all down. Soundwave employed so many people; from the production and stage crews who were put on during that time of the year and the Soundwave tours throughout the year too. Just like when any big company folds, a lot of people lose their jobs. And I don’t think that was a thing to have ever been celebrated. It’s sad. Some people don’t want the end-goal right away; they just wanna cut people down.

Yeah, there’s a thin line between asking for accountability and removing ignorance, and just starting to employ genuine bullying tactics. Although, Soundwave was an outlier; a company that had such a monopoly on Australia. That being said, did you guys cop much flak like Download 2018 or Unify 2019 did with their line-ups regarding gender at all?

This is a real hard question for me, mate. But no, we didn’t, as we have a really good presence of female artists on the line-up. We have a lot of great talent on the line-up, but the female side of things especially. I was aware I had to have a certain amount of female talent on the bill. But I didn’t book it on percentages or quotas or anything like – we genuinely like all the bands that we booked. As it’s also something we do support 100%. What’s coming through now talent-wise is the best it’s been in years, really. There are so many great bands featuring women lately, like RAAVE TAPES and WAAX for instance. I personally grew up listening to punk rock; it made me what I am and I follow the same values through my idols and the music. This has never been an issue for me personally, but I have seen it [sexism] exist. I get why bands like Camp Cope can be very vocal about it all. In saying that, sometimes this attempt at burning people can be very counter-productive toward the cause. We support bands like Camp Cope and their messages, but not some of these people’s actions online and their comments (from both sides). After all, not all bands – male or female – are available to play festivals, whether financially or timing-wise. Honestly, we’d even have a few more women-centric bands on the bill; it’s just that some of the bands we asked just weren’t available to play it. And all of the big promoters are across these kinds of discussions too.

[caption id="attachment_1104536" align="aligncenter" width="515"] Hysteria's Joey McGahey, smiling politely. [/caption]

Exactly – just cause a band is asked to play a tour or festival, that doesn’t mean that they can make it. Off that topic, though, after the Halloween show, and heading into 2019 with some of these bands dropping new material within the next 12 months, do you think there will at all be a conflict of interest there? That people may see it as: Hysteria booked these bands to play their event in 2018, and now they’re just saying nice things about these artists’ new releases? How do you see it, Joey?

I haven’t even thought that far ahead, to be honest. I believe our publication has covered news stories in the past that were not so beneficial to some of the bands we have booked and/or worked with. It’s hard, though. We can’t control what other people are thinking of us. Me, personally, this is what I really want to do: book mini-festivals. When it comes to the bigger bookers, we can let them know which bands are vibing with the crowds, and it’s all better for the future of live Australian music. On the media perspective of things, I’m kinda stepping away from it. Still doing coverage and what not, but I’m going more on the other side of the industry now with the booking side of things. At the end of the day, I’m always gonna be with Hysteria and this Halloween idea; we’ll be trying to book the most high-end local talent for what we have the budget for. It’s all about the punters and the scenes at the end of the day. With smaller festivals, it’s not like anyone’s getting rich from this. If people think we have our own agenda or something because of who we’ve booked in the past/future or who we’re covering, then there’s nothing we can do or say about that.

Alternative Press and Pitchfork have done similar things, just as a couple examples, but not many publications move into the live music and booking realms. It’s a real grey area; that line between booker/promoter and being a media outlet.

Oh yeah, it’s a different beast entirely, mate. And sometimes, things can have a real domino effect, like with us and the whole Whoretopsy thing with this line-up.  

Well, with the Whoretopsy removal, they had another Victorian show canned recently too. In your case, what happened with this Whoretopsy/Hysteria Halloween thing?

As I’ve said, the Brisbane scene is different in vibe to the other cities, and Brisbane loves Whoretopsy. Whoretopsy were great to deal with as people too. Everyone who goes to one of their shows knows that it’s all satirical – just like Cannibal Corpse and even the Misfits. It’s the same with any of these death metal, gore bands and horror punk bands. It’s like putting on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in music form. We don’t aim to alienate the people who like that genre of music from our publication, so why would we do the same when we’re booking a festival? We were excited to book Whoretopsy, I was ready to work with them. And then someone said something and it became a big domino effect. Jake from Whoretopsy has done charity work before and they even got barred from their own charity show in the past too! It’s really nuts! I know that this band is full on and not everyone likes the lyrics, as with most death metal bands. But for me, it’s like Dead Kennedys back in the late 70s and 80s – it was confronting. It was “extreme” at the time. Just like when Marilyn Manson came through into the mainstream and everyone shat themselves. I was bummed out by this but will continue to support Whoretopsy. I just feel that too many people are too quick to judge.

[caption id="attachment_1104537" align="aligncenter" width="760"] For those of you heading out on Saturday, here's all the info you'll need![/caption]

I can see that – you just wanted to put on a show and have people enjoy live music. Not have it be this bigger conversation about agendas or politics.

That’s it! We just wanted to book the best possible small fest for Southeast Queensland. We didn’t book Whoretopsy – or anyone else – to upset any of the other artists or to cause any unease. Every single band that we booked is there because we really dig them and because Hysteria shows support with these artists. Whoretopsy being one of them. I know that this stuff does have a personal effect on those guys, as they’ve lost money. When they get banned, they lose money and it rocks them personally. And no one understands that side of things. Why should they be stripped of their rights because people don’t understand or like what they’re about? It’s extreme but it feels like sometimes it can all go too far. What’s your take, Alex?

It can go too far, yes. The sad part is that most people do want better representation, and to have a safer, more inclusive music space. But some people die on these smaller hills; thinking that banning Whoretopsy from their own show is a win when it all does it upset the “other side” and ensures all parties involved don’t communicate with each other. It sucks.

For sure! And yeah, it does suck. People just need to really talk it out sometimes. It’s a shame. What I’ve tried to do in the past is get either side to hash things out properly. Some people just read the headlines or don’t want to look further into things. Hysteria published an article earlier this year after that whole Ocean Grove/Music Feeds business, mentioning how we should all encourage people to go out and watch more female bands perform live. As it’s a valid point: a band will get better with more shows and playing in front of larger crowds. We got hammered from a certain demographic online but it didn’t hold much weight for me. This is where I think we need to get more productive instead of just bashing a festival bill or a promoter on social media. Start your own festival then, you know?

But the last time someone tried to start their own festival was Legion Music Fest and look how that turned out! More goes into than people ever realise; the security, the venue rules, getting everything signed, ensuring the budget isn’t blown, and so on.

Legion was weird because it had that crowdfunding stigma attached to it. Not everyone wants to drop $100 or however much it was and not be entirely sure the event will actually happen. Because at the time, we’d just had the biggest touring and festival entity in the country – Soundwave – go belly up. I really do think that Australia didn’t need any more festivals added for a few years or so, just as we got so spoiled. Look at some of the Soundwave line-ups – they were crazy! There’d be ten or fifteen bands people would want to see but still not sure if they’d go. But dude, that’s huge. I remember going to old Big Day Out shows just for one or two bands I wanted to see live! Ten or so bands for those prices are a good deal, as these events weren’t cheap to put on. So I think it’s really good that Download and Good Things didn’t rush into their own festivals right away too. I just think everyone is ready again for bigger music festivals in Australia. As these larger events are just as good for each city and scene as the smaller shows like ours are. That’s my hope, anyway!

Hysteria Halloween goes down this Saturday, October 27th at the Jubilee Hotel in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley - tickets here.