Shane Wickens

This March Push Over celebrates its 21st Birthday with an impressive line-up of bands playing at the Sidney Myer Myer Bowl. An annual local staple catering to young people, Push Over this year features the like of The Amity Affliction, Northlane, Twelve Foot Ninja and DZ Deathrays. catches up with The Push’s Artistic Director, Shane Wickens to discuss the evolution of the festival.

The festival is only a few weeks away now, you’re in the home stretch. Where does preparation currently sit?

We’re really excited to be in a new venue at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and in terms of our preparation we are using the venue in quite a unique set-up, we’re in the phase of designing the site. We’re doing an interesting thing where we are putting the main stage on the Myer Music Bowl stage. We are building it physically on the stage and the audience has the opportunity to be on that stage. That should be really exciting for young people in the way they’ll be able to be invited to be part of the show by being on the main stage. Behind that main stage, we’ve got stages two, three and four in the gardens. We’re just speaking with all our contractors and getting the last bits and pieces nutted out in terms of the site design.

That was actually going to be one of my questions later, with the new venue at the Music Bowl, how crazy has that been organising all that?

It is really interesting in the way with Push Over we have a generational thing where young people come to the festival at 14 or 15 years of age and they might stay with us for two or three years before they are at adult age, and they move onto other festivals like the Big Day Out and Soundwave. We’ve got this constant revolving door of generational change. They’ve come to know the Abbotsford Convent for the last five years where we’ve been and we’ve got a new generation of kids coming through at the minute, so moving onto the Bowl is going to be a real interesting model. Our philosophy at Push Over is to do it in a unique space. So, to come back to the Myer Music Bowl – we’ve only been there once – in 1998, it should be really interesting to return back to our roots.

This is a bit of a broad and general one, but as a starting point, what specifically are your roles as the Artistic Director?

My background is in event management, so basically, I’m responsible for the creative content The Push does. Whether that be the band line-up at Push Over or if it’s a conference or a training event it might involve guest speakers. It is basically the program content. I work really closely with the youth committee and all the FReeZA groups to get their opinions on what they want to see as young people. It is really important to us that young people are part of our governance and have a say. So, I work really closely with them to see what bands they want to see and curate the bill based around the opinions of young people. On the day it is a more structured event management role. I’m effectively the site manager. We’ve got a really talented team of volunteers, we’ve got about 100 volunteers who are building their résumé’s around event management. The show doesn’t happen without those guys.

When you were saying there your background is in event management, in our office, we work with Destroy All Lines who put on a lot of tours and clubs events and working under the same roof as them, I’ve seen how much work goes into working with the bands and their management and labels. What is it like when you’ve got a festival and you have so many bands and have to deal with all the requests?

In terms of putting that bill together as you can see from the bands, it is a real mash-up of styles. We’ve got everything from hardcore to indie rock to hip-hop. Like you said, we are dealing with different managers and agents, so it is a bit of a task. Certainly I think all of the bands that play Push Over do it for the right reasons and have a really good attitude. I find all the bands really easy to work with because we are all on the same page in terms of doing a really dynamic show for kids that is enjoyable.

I know before you were also mentioning your team of volunteers with getting young people to help out, what advice would you give to someone who was looking to start out in event management and this industry?

I think the landscape has changed in the last ten years. We never had uni courses or TAFE courses, so that is becoming a more important space young people are working in obviously getting their qualifications. To balance that I think it is really important to do a lot of volunteer work and get your name out there, and be a known quantity. We run a mentoring program at the Push and buddy young people up with people from the industry in their chosen field. That is a really good, interesting program. We are always encouraging our volunteers to go and work for as many different events and festivals as possible – whether it is at community level or working for Soundwave or Big Day Out or Falls, it doesn’t matter whether it is big or small. We just encourage people to go out there and build their résumé. It just gets them job ready and every bit of experience counts.

I know you’re not in direct competition or anything, but there has been a real advent in festivals and specifics, like Soundwave and all the other genre festivals. Has that made it easier or harder for Push Over to put on a festival? Or it doesn’t really have any impact on you guys?

I think it is interesting. The festival landscape has changed a lot. For every festival that closes its door, a new one is starting up. In terms of us, we are operating in a real niche market. It is an all ages show, but most of the people that come are under 18. We operate in a market that is a specific community that we work through the FReeZA groups that are running all ages shows. In terms of competition, we don’t see it that way. We are a small boutique festival, with a capacity of 3,000. We aren’t competing with Soundwave, which is a juggernaut (laughs).

For yourself personally, what has been your favourite experience so far being involved with Push Over?

Prior to my role as Artistic Director with Push Over, I was previously a performer and my band played at Push Over in the mid 90’s and we were fortunate to win the band competition in 1996. After our release we were picked up by Triple J and came back and played in 1997. I’ve got really good memories previously as a performer and ironically to be back full circle and be able to run the show with a new generation of kids that is really exciting as well. Last year was really interesting with Parkway Drive and 360 – two completely different audiences, both who respected each other. It is interesting talking to young people who now work in the industry they speak so passionately about a particular year at Push Over they went to. There is a bit of a legacy there.

That ties in, I don’t if the word is satisfaction or vindication, I remember back when I was in high school in 2006, Parkway Drive were playing at Luna Park and then them playing last year, they’ve just exploded. It must be good to see these bands that are just about to breakthrough and then a few years down the track they’ve gone onto massive things?

For me personally I’m really about working with artists at the grassroots level and we hope they go onto to perhaps headline the festival in subsequent years. That stretches back to the 90’s even, with Killing Heidi, for example, playing in their infancy just as a duo and they were signed to their management after being seen at Push Over.

And generations later, Parkway Drive is a classic example where you’re correct, they played at Luna Park in 2006, they played one of the early spots and they’ve since gone onto headline the show twice. We’re all about that.

Obviously, it is the 21st birthday, which is a pretty big achievement. You’re always aiming to take it to the next level. Ideally, where would you like to see Push Over go next?

I’m really interested into looking into strategic partnerships and I would really like to present more stages and more styles of music and make it even more diverse. At the Myer Music Bowl we feel we have space to grow it. We are really open if organisations want to get on board and work with us to grow the festival. Certainly we can pack more in there I think (laughs).

I know this one might be a hard one to answer in a broad sense, but as you were talking about at FReeZA, I know at Killyourstereo we are involved with a lot of hardcore bands, that seems to be a genre that has always been pretty good at putting on all ages shows. At the moment there seems to be quite a bit going on. What is your take on where all ages shows are currently?

I think FreezA is an interesting one. When young people are put in the decision making seat and they have the ability to run their own shows and be in charge of the major decisions like, who is on the bill, and when and where it is, you get some really interesting trends. I think punk, metal and hardcore broadly speaking it is really interesting. It is a real community. All ages as a term has become a real business now. In terms of those genres it is tribal. People are really passionate about it.

This year it is a really good line-up, who are you most excited about seeing?

It would be easy to say we are excited to see the bands at the top of the poster but honestly I’m really interested to see D At Sea and see how that works. We just came off St Kilda fest doing a hip hop show there and that worked really well. The Push Underground stage as well, with the hip hop showcase, we are involving a lot of non-English speaking background kids from multicultural communities, so that is a really interesting one for us as well.

This one might be a harder to think about off the top of your head, bit if there was a dream band or an ideal band you would love to headline, who would you pick?

That is a really difficult one (laughs). Given our funding and where we’re at ultimately we just do Australian bands. It is very rare that we have an international. But back in Push Over 1998 we did Rancid and that was a really interesting one. Occasionally if there is an opportunity to do a major international [band] like a Rancid that would be really special for a new generation of kids, we’re really open to that.

Were there any finals words you wanted to pass on?

I think obviously it is an all-ages, alcohol, smoke free event and that is important to us, and the reputation of the event is really strong as well. We don’t have any security or first aid incidents typically, it is one of those ones if you’re a parent reading the interview, you can feel confident that a young person is going to come along to Push Over and have an amazing time, and be well looked after on the day of the show. Hopefully they get to meet their favourite band and have an autograph, and have an amazing time and an experience they’ll take forward into their adult years. We pride ourselves on being a safe event.

Really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today Shane.

Any time man, we really appreciate the support.

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