Earth Frequency Festival Promoter Interview With Paul Abad

Earth Frequency Festival takes place at Ivory's Rock (SE QLD) 14-17 February, 2020.
National Music Editor, based in Brisbane, Australia.
'Passionate about true crime docos, the Swannies, golf and sleep, I’ve been writing about music for 20-plus years. What I’ve learnt? There’s two types of music – good and bad.’

A staple of Australia's outdoor music festival landscape, 2020 marks the 15th edition of Earth Frequency Festival.

Having evolved from a single day 'landcare doof' to a 4-day event that attracts 5,000 revellers, Earth Frequency offers much more than just another musical adventure for festival goers.

Working hand-in-hand with the local community alongside a dedicated crew of experienced event organisers, Earth Frequency Festival's Director Paul Abad leads the charge in evolving the event to the world-class offering it is today, adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of the local festival scene as well as remaining relevant with a musical programme offering the best of international, national and local artists – year in, year out.

The 2020 Earth Frequency is the 15th anniversary of the festival; congrats on evolving the event across 1.5 decades (especially given the current landscape of festivals in Australia) – that's some serious heavy lifting as well as buckets and buckets of blood, sweat and tears; how have you managed to keep evolving the event while maintaining the core values instilled from the very first event?
[Paul Abad] Thanks Gareth. Yes, it’s been a wild journey over the 15 years and it’s not getting any easier to deliver this type of multi-day outdoor event in the current industry situation with a lot more scrutiny and regulation coming in.

Over the years, Earth Frequency has definitely evolved and changed – starting out as a 300 person, 1 night landcare doof, and now sitting at 5,000 people for 4 days across 4 stages.

But the key themes from the beginning were about partying with a purpose, connecting different communities through musical diversity, and providing a platform for positive expression and personal transformation, and over time we’ve been able to maintain and expand these ideas in many directions, while responding to the shifts and changes in the industry.

I think that having a limited capacity venue at the sweet spot of 5,000, and not selling alcohol at the venue really helps too – it’s a tight-knit community vibe with really positive patron behaviour and that makes it easy to maintain and develop our key themes.

How important has your support network/ crew become to maintaining your own drive/ creative juices to keep building EFF year on year?
It’s impossible without the core team. For a small event we have a high participation rate, but that helps it all flow smoothly. About 130 paid workers during the festival in different roles, and 600-plus volunteers.

This gives the event a well defined structure, everyone has a clear role to play and isn’t pushed to uncomfortable/ unsafe limits in their work, and we all have a great time making it happen. If it was chaos and unhappy people, I’d be way less keen to make it happen each year.

Since our last festival promoter interview we did with you in 2017, how has Earth Frequency evolved – both on the festival side of things as well as integrating yourself further into the local community?
We’re coming up for our seventh year at Ivory’s Rock, and it’s never been better in terms of community relations with the local community.

We’ve been running the EFF community grant for five years, and between that and local community groups fundraising we’ve seen $150,000 of fundraising from the festival flow through to various community groups and projects. It’s awesome being able to work with everyone from the local RFS, footy club, school, Lions club as well as Queensland Trust For Nature.

All this has really helped make our positive intentions clear and consolidated community support. We also have long-term planning approval from Ipswich City Council and we’re negotiating a multi-year agreement with the venue at the moment, so things are feeling very solid.

The festival itself has been refined and improved every year and we now have a great formula that works for our audience and the local community. 2019 was our best edition to date where that all seemed to lock in together very positively.

EFF 2019.5

Are the emails (and answering then) still the biggest part of your role?
Hahaha, yes! [Emails are] still the most efficient way to get a lot of comms and planning going. When it hits February, it’s overwhelming but good comms are the glue that bring it all together.

Let's get to the music; again, you've programmed an eclectic line-up of some of the best international and local talent as well as emerging names sure to dominate the scene for years to come; what's your elevator pitch to punters about who is playing in 2020?
Diversity is at the heart of Earth Frequency.

For people who love to party outdoors and enjoy hearing new music and something different to what the mainstream festivals have to offer, I like to think we’re at the cutting edge of innovative electronic music with offerings across the spectrum of bass music genres like glitch-hop, drum and bass, dubstep, mid tempo and trap, as well as the much loved 4/4 beat genres: techno, psytrance, house, and progressive.

We also have a great selection of live bands and our prime-time slots focus on acts that meld together multiple styles, live and electronic music, and visual arts to create a multi-sensory experience you won’t find elsewhere.

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Any acts that you are especially stoked to have part of the 2020 line-up?
I’m really happy to have KOAN Sound on the bill this year – they will be touring a vision show so it’s going to be mind-melting.

Also very happy to have Clozee back after her sensational Australian debut in 2019, and she’ll be collaborating with a visionary artist Mugwort for her set. As a lover of techno, it’s also a huge honour to be hosting Thomas Schumacher, one of the true pioneers and legends of techno since the '90s.

While music plays a major part of the EFF experience, it’s only the start of the adventure that awaits people who head to the festival, right? What else is offered?
Aside from the three stages, we have a central hub of the festival which has a lot going on.

The Luminarium gallery hosts the visionary art and live painting, and it’s really coming in to its own with seven international guest artists this year as well as some of the best Australian talent. The Frequency Village hosts lectures and workshops on a range of topics, as well as yoga, ecstatic dance and cabaret.

EFF 2019.2

The Family Realm has performances, creative workshops and game for kids of all ages and their parents. We also have a number of theme camps and smaller stages including the Sanctuary chill stage, Wonky Town, Love Camp, Chai and Vibes and the Liminal Caravan, which push the music programme in to even weirder and more wonderful directions in intimate zones scattered throughout the festival.

Can you tell us a bit about the visionary art line-up you have planned?
This year we have a great international line-up including Mugwort (his first Australian tour), Autumn Skye, Miles Toland, Luke Brown, Adam One, Luna Charlotte and Dela. And we’re about to announce the full gallery line-up, but you can expect the best of Australia’s visionary artist talent.

It’s actually incredible to see how much this has grown. Five years ago we had to work hard to fill a small gallery. This year we’re doubling the size of the gallery, and we have about three times as many artist applications to available space, so the visionary art movement within the festival culture is really blooming in Australia.

The sustainability aspect of EFF; what practices have you installed over the years that you continue to maintain?
Leave no trace and waste sorting has always been a big focus.

We’re lucky to have this ethos well ingrained in our audience now, so the festival is always very clean, and people are organised and bring less and take their rubbish home to separate there. Any waste collected onsite is split in to compost, recyclable and landfill which means we minimise landfill. It’s actually incredible to see a totally clean festival ground the day after and not a wasteland, and we’re so grateful for our audience getting behind that.

Earth Frequency also raises money for tree planning in the property next door, owned by QTFN, and each year we’re able to donate about $4,000 to this organisation which is a great, positive step. When conditions are right, we’ve been doing tree planting at the venue and also partnering with Grounded Permaculture to host a permaculture education retreat in the lead up to the festival at the venue’s organic farm.

We’re also exploring a solar energy project with the venue, taking advantage of the grid power they have. So basically investing in increasing the power distribution to deliver grid power to where we need it and therefore eventually abandoning generators, and at the same time installing enough solar panels to farm more than what we need in the days of the festival over a year so therefore becoming carbon negative. Hopefully this will be all up and running by 2022.

The Market Place area at EFF – how important has the growth of that space being to developing the overall vibe of someone's experience at the festival? We all need to eat and connect.
The market place is right at the centre of the festival and we provide a wide range of food and drinks for all tastes and diets. Over four days it’s not all party – sleep and food are essential to make the most of the party times.

And it's not just food and art/ fashion offered – it's a diverse selection of bespoke vendors offering locally based, handmade and ethically produced wares, right?
Absolutely. We favour local/ handmade/ ethical stalls and the EFF market place is packed full of art, fashion, jewellery, quirky crafts and party accessories from artisans and creators all around the country and abroad.

Are you still accepting volunteers for 2020; if so, what roles are you looking to fill?
Yes. Selections have been underway for a while and we’re about three-quarters of the way to completion, but there are still spots available across a wide range of tasks: Front gate, sustainability, camping, info tent; the list goes on.

Volunteering is a great way to work for your ticket and meet new people and contribute to the festival, so anyone keen to volunteer should jump in now. Applications open via the website until 31 December.

EFF 2019

Is there anything else you'd like to share about the 2020 event (or anything else for that matter – the floor is yours)?
Well, in light of the industry mood at the moment, which is especially pronounced in NSW with too many festival deaths and an increasingly harsh government and police crackdown on festivals, my focus for the past year has been on increased collaboration with the policy makers in QLD Health and QLD Police on the topics of festival safety, harm reduction and even the on going discussion of pill testing.

It’s an interesting time where festival promoters are bearing the effects of our nation’s failed war on drugs – as public events, the effects are visible and somehow the problem is projected on to festivals and not seen as a broader social/ health issue that rocks up on our doorstep.

I’m happy to say that the mood in Queensland is much more positive and progressive than NSW where things are very combative, and we’re making some good relations and good steps towards collaboratively developing a more holistic approach to festival safety through documenting and sharing our approach to harm reduction with the regulators.

It’s been well received and this year we’re even planning a festival safety panel at the festival with some great representation from government policy people.

At the same time, I think it’s worth saying that there is no magical panacea; it’s always a balance, and as much as we can talk about pill testing, better police practices, and harm reduction services, it’s also up to the festival participants to be smart and safe, avoid risky behaviour and over-intoxication and to care for your mates.

If you love festival culture and enjoy having these events to brighten up your life, remember it’s a shared responsibility we all have to care for and maintain them, and put the best foot forward for how our festivals are perceived by the wider society.

Earth Frequency Festival takes place at Ivory's Rock (SE QLD) 14-17 February, 2020.

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