Popping his phone interview cherry, 22-year-old DAL promoter, Greyscale Records co-owner and Invasion Fest organizer Ash Hull (finally getting to experience what his bands do) spoke with me about the history, the victories, the failures, the vibe as well as the future of his baby: Invasion Fest.
After a couple weeks of drip-feeding band announcements, Invasion Fest 2017 is now fully sold out well in advance of the anticipated day, has both The Acacia Strain and Kublai Khan as its two headliners and boasts plenty of local talents, such as Stepson, Eat Your Heart Out, Broken, Justice For The Damned, Alpha Wolf, Endless Heights, among others. And you can bet that it’s going to be a great time for Hull, punters, and bands alike! With KYS being the co-media presenter for the show, we knew we had to chat with the event’s creator about it all, where it was, and where’s its going.
Since setting up shop for Invasion Fest at Melbourne’s Arrow On Swanson, two years ago, the venue’s third-hosting goes down on Saturday, December 9th for Invasion Fest 2017. However, despite the solid run he’s had with Arrow, Hull has previously announced that this year’s Arrow show will be the last one there before the event moves to be a larger, possibly outdoors event in the future; a far-off dream from when the promoter first started Invasion Fest five years ago.
“When I first started Invasion Fest in 2012, it was at OLP in Richmond – a 300-cap room with just one stage” recalls Hull. “ The following Invasion Fest we had Northlane and Dream on Dreamer as the headliners, which was a big deal at the time and it sold out instantly. The last two years at Arrow have been really good, but this year I’ve sold the most tickets before the second band announcement! And I’ve been thinking, that with the way Invasion Fest is going, I can’t really make a bigger budget work with the number of tickets I can sell right now. But I also don’t want it to lose its uniqueness and I want it to be different to what Unify and Download are doing with the larger capacities.”
While that will be a tricky balancing act, it will all be for the better, and it will ensure that Invasion Fest can still be the top dog in its own all-age realm; something that helps to fill the gap in the local Melbourne heavy music scene.
This year, Hull sold 650 tickets for the sold out Invasion Fest, an increase from 2016’s instalment. However, expansion is a must for the event right now, and Hull gave me some thoughts on where it’s all headed next.
“The dream, for next year, is to sell around 1500 tickets and go outdoors with two stages – one with a barrier and one without a barrier – all while keeping a low ticket price. It’ll still be really DIY but doing so would improve the chances of getting those bigger bands out that punters are asking for but still keeping the focus on those up and coming Australian bands. That’s what Invasion Fest is and has been about.”
He continues. “Even when Invasion goes to that next step – it won’t ever go past the 1800 ticket mark – it won’t get any bigger after that as I don’t want Invasion to compete with something like Unify. All of this is in my dream world, it’ll probably change, but my ideal scenario is that it’ll go outdoors licensed/all-ages and use local businesses around the market stalls and food stalls instead of just using all the big companies. It may even be a mini-Warped tour in a way with the way the site is set up, just only hitting up one city. I did a little tester on Twitter to see what people thought of the fest going bigger and so many people were all about it. It will just come down to what bands we can get; but whether if it’s in a shed or at an outdoor venue, it’ll be the right move for Invasion.”
In the young organizer’s eyes, he sees Invasion Fest as a stepping off-platform for the many local bands it hosts, as he explains it:
“The thing with Invasion Fest, it’s all about getting these bands are about to go to that next step. Like, in 2015 no one really knew who Justice For The Damned was and now two years later, they’re one of the best Australian bands; they’ve gone through all of their vinyl, they’re playing higher up on bills, and they’re touring Australia heaps and they even went to Europe. In 2015, we had Hellions headlining before they released ‘Opera Oblivia’, which was one of the best records of last year. Also last year, I had Ocean Grove headlining before ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’ dropped and they went massive.”
“The bands that play well at Invasion Fest this year, will probably be on the following Unify Gathering line up. It’s about getting the bands ready for the next step. It’s really cool to see what bands are going to take off after they do the festival.”
Now, as for the show’s two headliners – The Acacia Strain and Kublai Khan – Hull spoke of the hype generated about which two international bands were going to be leading the pack.
“The best thing about this year is that the Aussie bands playing didn’t know who the two internationals were, which made it way more exciting. As The Acacia Strain is one of the heaviest bands that Invasion has ever had and Kublai Khan killed it last year. I think people will be stoked on the profile of these two bands, and it was so cool to see people putting together all of my hints.”
And as for people putting together the hints that he’s given, there is a funny little thing that Ash experiences as a promoter with a well-known name on social media.
“Whenever I post about a band on Facebook, it doesn’t matter which band it is or what I’m sharing, everyone just comments saying that I’m going to tour them”, laughs the organizer. “But I used this to my advantage for Invasion Fest to help build the hype. I’m the face of Invasion Fest as it is my thing at the end of the day and I think people connect to it as I do push my shows and tours a lot through my personal social media platforms. I’ve made a community out of this and hopefully, it can stay that way as it gets bigger.”
When our phone call eventually turns to the topic of the show’s finances, Hull is actually pretty open about the money side of it, also revealing that “we don’t take a cut of the band’s merch and as it’s a DIY fest I feel that we shouldn’t have a cut of it anyway as the bands are the ones selling and organising it all. I know that the bands appreciate it.”
“This year’s ticket price increased to around the $44 mark due to the addition of two internationals [The Acacia Strain and Kublai Khan], but even then, we don’t have the money to throw around on guarantees due to the limited capacity we currently have at Arrow. The hardest thing about Invasion Fest is to get bands on-board with an affordable guarantee due to the low-ticket price. Which does affect which bands I can secure on the bill. And that’s fine; it just rattles my brain a little bit is all.”
Obviously, his work with Destroy All Lines and Greyscale Records does ensure that Hull is used to this kind of work and savvy to how it all operates, but he does keep his dealings separate from the other companies he works with.
“Invasion is my savings money, it’s legit my own money”, he says. “Last year I was really worried I was going to lose 4K on it but because the door sales really came home and it saved my arse. It’s just funny how one minute you could think you’re going to lose money and then have over 100 door payers on the day and you’re fine.”
Thank fuck! However, Hull has experienced the other side of that, when the day of arrives and those door sales don’t swoop in to save your hide. “Back in 2013, the one I did at Mitcham, and I lost close to $4,000 on that one. I was a fresh 18-year-old and had all of my savings gone. I was so bummed. But it’s the industry that I’m in, and it’s a real gamble. “
And that’s Hull’s only real advice that he’d give to his younger self: “Just book bands that I actually like cause then I won’t hate it if it all goes south. Or… maybe just don’t do the one at Mitcham. Yeah, that’d be better!”
However, those small worries even crept into this year’s event as well.
“At one point earlier this year, I thought, “Shit, I can’t get a lineup I’m fully happy with” and I thought that maybe I wouldn’t do it this year. Cause if you lose money on something you love, you’re not that upset. But if you lose money on something that you’re not stoked on, it just hurts more. Like, “Why did I do this!?” So with that 2013 show, where we lost the headliner [For The Fallen Dreams], that was a real awakening when I lost all of that money. Plus I wasn’t happy with the overall lineup and it felt like a real waste of time. So I came back with the 2015 lineup and I was really happy with it – that show broke even, so I was stoked.”
To some, those scenarios sound scary and to Ash, they just might be, but he simply understands it’s just apart of the industry he’s in.
“It’s just one of those things with the music industry. Look at Soundwave. One minute they’re on top of the world, and one minute you’ve gone under. I know some people think that any music person is killing it in the money department but it’s more about the passion for it, as everyone from promoters, managers, record labels is risking money.”
Short of losing 4K, I was curious to know if there have ever been any issues that have gone down at an Invasion show, with either the punters, the security or with the bands playing? Turns out, no, not really.
“There are always issues booking the bands. Often the case is that there’s a band I really want but they can’t do it due to other plans or other touring. Honestly, the biggest issue is that I still haven’t gotten Carpathian to reform after three years!” he laughs.
As for the actual bands on this year’s solid lineup, Hull is stoked on them all, but especially one smaller Melbourne band in particular, saying that “Broken are like the Australian Turnstile, they’re so much fun live. They’re going to be one of the most hyped sets this year in my opinion. They all come from other heavy bands in the local music scene. Plus, a normal Alpha Wolf fan probably has no idea who Broken are, so that’s great for them.”
While Broken are indeed one of the hardcore bands to not miss at this year’s event, when it comes to the genre’s showcased at Invasion Fest, I’m told that how it’s been for the past few years and how this year’s lineup is looking is exactly what the future will hold for its bills. Ash says that he won’t be going any softer than bands like Our Past Days, Aburden or Harbours.
Even with this year’s Invasion Fest still being well over a month away, Hull is already putting plans in motion for 2018’s lineup.
“I’m already planning next years show. 2018 will have a couple of international bands and both stage headliners are Australian bands if all goes to plan, but it will ultimately come down to who’s doing what, when, and where. “Basically, if you can have fun and stage dive to the band or crowd surf, they belong on the fest – that’s my vibe. It’s about high energy, so maybe one year I’ll get Basement and The Story So Far on it? We’ll see…”
Near the end of our chat, Hull recalls how he snagged up Arrow as one of his go-to venues for the shows that he runs.
“After Footscray, OLP and Wrangler Studios, a mate went to a church group thing at Arrow and I went and sussed it out and thought it was sick. My first show was there in 2013 or 2014. And while it does suck that there’s not much phone reception down the bottom, it’s very cool to be able to see a band in the small room to 200-people or to 700 people in the main room. All kinds of promoters, from DAL, Live Nation, Unify, they come to me to put on a show at Arrow and it’s a great way to keep AA shows going.”
I agree and another thing that I really agree with is the philosophy in which Hull runs his shows.
“How I run these shows is how I’d want a attend a show as a punter. The best rule that was ever brought into play was ‘Mosh at your own risk’. It’s fun, it’s a way of expressing yourself but do it at your own risk. Nothing was worse than going to shows at The Castle and kids would mosh only to have security come up and grill them”. [Never forget the often cancelled Castle mosh].
Since then, and with the success of Arrow’s shows, it’s become a close-knit community of people, and one that ensures there are rarely any mood-killing issues and keeps a very supportive venue even happier.
“We have Josh from Sound System Studios in Sunbury supplying production at all events, He’s my backbone. Invasion would not be possible without him and he’s a good dude who really knows his stuff. When this goes outdoor, I’ll make sure he’s there doing sound for us. He’s my guy! At Invasion Fest, bands share backline, they even put other bands up at their houses – it’s a great vibe all around. Last year, the morning when everyone’ was loading into the fest, it was all hugs and catch ups and smiles throughout the venue. Other bands are on side of stage watching others set, or nearby at the merch desks, walking around, chatting… or there’s Jake Zammit from Belle Haven moshing to all 16 bands!”
The best thing about it is that it’s all about a coming together of friends; whether you’re in a band or a punter, you’re bound to know a bunch of people in the room and it’s a great atmosphere. As awfully cheesy as it is, it’s all one big family. And that’s what makes Invasion Fest so goddamn special.
And Ash himself concludes, “At the end of the day, it all comes down to the band’s and their music”.
Killyourstereo.com & Hysteria Mag present Invasion Fest 2017. Check out the full lineup below:
The Acacia Strain
Eat Your Heart Out
Justice For The Damned
Void Of Vision