How New Bloom Festival Is Blazing A Different Path

New Bloom Festival is a chance for Australian audiences to witness some of the world’s best alternative/heavy bands in action. Writer Sose Fuamoli spoke to Canadian grunge duo Softcult, as well as the festival organisers, to unpack how Australian music festival culture is shifting. Words by Sosefina Fuamoli

By Sosefina Fuamoli, 13/3/2024

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Australian festival culture has undergone its fair share of change in recent history.

In days gone by, a nationwide music community could plan their summers based on the number of travelling festivals that were around. But with festivals like Groovin The Moo and Falls Festival either cancelling or going on hiatus, that’s changed. Largely gone is the number of travelling festivals that a nationwide music community could plan their summers around. 

In their place, a generation of boutique stand-alone events have emerged. While these festivals have platformed beloved local and in-demand international names, they are an infrastructure that, while catering to the masses as much as possible, still leaves different music genres on the outside. And then you have the effects of the pandemic, combined with ever-rising levels of inflation, which have left a long-standing impact on the Australian industry across the board.

Still, music communities around Australia are persevering, and when it comes to the alternative and heavy scene, it’s a particularly good time to be a fan of new music given all the new spaces for those artists to thrive.

At one end of the spectrum, the emergence of the Good Things Festival in 2019 filled the void Soundwave had left open in 2015. It built a strong reputation for itself as a touring festival that was able to bring top-tier international artists back to Australia, including Bring Me The Horizon, Deftones and The Offspring. The festival has also proven itself to be a playground for the up-and-comers and popular new names alike.

Local bands like Redhook, Void Of Vision, The Beautiful Monument, Polaris and Thornhill have also appeared at the festival. Many of them went on to have a strong impact internationally, touring to rapidly growing fanbases in the UK and Europe, and North America.

It’s not just big players like Good Things that have their finger on the pulse when it comes to bringing a spotlight to a changing music community of names, faces, and sounds. Curated, boutique events are becoming more prominent within the Australian alternative and heavy space, providing opportunities for a dynamic generation of new artists to solidify their following on larger stages around the country. 

Launching in 2024, the New Bloom Festival is the latest three-city festival to promote these sorts of sounds, promising to “usher in a new era of alternative and punk rock”. It’s headlined by US rock group Citizen, and fleshed out by an impressive run of established international names including post-hardcore groups Movements and Touché Amoré, pop-punk outfit No Pressure, and Canadian grunge duo Softcult. New Bloom is focused on introducing Australian audiences to bands they have not heard of as well. 

When it comes to the Australians represented, New Bloom has gone headfirst into creating a festival experience that throws its support behind groups who are striving ahead with their own vision for their music, and the scene. “I think people are loving the revival of alternative rock right now,” festival organiser Ash Hull says. “In terms of discovering new bands, people are very open minded right now. I think a lot of people’s favourite thing about being at these festivals is the discovery element.

“You’ve got a band called Blind Girls in Brisbane, we have them on tour right now — they’re killing it every night. In Sydney, you’ve got Amends; they’ve been grinding it out for six or seven years. In Melbourne, you’ve got this new alternative/emo… they’re almost a post-hardcore group, called Post Heaven; their singer Yasmin [de Laine] is awesome. There are heaps of exciting bands coming through, especially in that scene.”

In a similar vein to New Bloom, CVLTFEST — the festival experience curated by Melbourne-based metalcore favourites Alpha Wolf  — enjoyed a successful second year in 2024, attracting an enviable lineup of Australian and international artists to Brisbane’s Eatons Hill Hotel. 

Developed out of a desire to create an experience for their community, CVLTFEST has grown exponentially in its short history, with the ambition to continue to evolve manifesting in tandem with the band’s own growing profile in Australia and around the world.

“The scene is a very positive space right now,” Ash says. “Even with a festival we’re not involved in, but Back On The Map, which is run by SPEED and Candace [Krieger], their management, that is another one that highlights how good the hardcore scene is. All these smaller festivals are exciting for the future of music here.”

For the international acts too, having the avenue to tour in Australia without that initial backing from major tastemaker outlets, is an opportunity not taken for granted. “It’s really hard for them to get into Australian print media as well at the moment. It is very pay for play,” Ash says. “I’m hoping that for a band like Softcult, they’ll play to a crowd of 2000 people in each city on this festival, they’re doing sideshows with Movements… hopefully, if they win over 60 percent of their crowd, it gives them a foot in the door to get looked at, maybe for a Groovin the Moo, or a Laneway Festival, or at Good Things.”

Mercedes Arn-Horn, one half of Softcult, is well-versed in how hard it is for developing bands, specifically bands featuring women, to be taken seriously in the alternative scene. Though she and her twin sibling Phoenix had been in a successful pop-punk group through the 2010s, it has been in Softcult that they have been able to see change in the alternative scene.

“It’s an exciting time now. I’ve been in the music industry for a while and I am happy to say that I am noticing a change,” Mercedes says. “It is frustrating that it’s still the same issues, generation to generation… the different waves of feminism all have a different issue that they’re tackling, to try and overcome. But it is cool to see, even in the last ten years, how much things have changed.

“It’s part of the reason I think this band is the way it is. I love making music and being a musician, but Softcult feels, to me, like a vehicle for the activism that I want to do. Representation is so important, for other people to see someone they can relate to, doing something that they always believed they couldn’t do in this space. It’s life-changing when you have that moment of ‘Hey — if they can do it, if she can do it, then I can do it too’.”

With more festivals like New Bloom, CVLTFEST or even standalone events like Knight and Day Festival (held over Summer 2021, boasting the likes of Parkway Drive, Make Them Suffer, To The Grave, Windwaker and more), fans are able to become exposed to more artists in the alternative scene than before. Sometimes, the bands themselves provide input and guidance, which only adds to the fruitful, collaborative nature of the community.

“Citizen had a lot of input with this lineup, which is really cool,” Ash says. “That’s what we want to do: we want to give a band the chance to work with our team at Destroy All Lines to curate a lineup we all love.

“On the domestic front, we wanted every band to be different, to highlight what each city has. I feel like a lot of people listen to music from overseas, but they sometimes forget what we have in our own backyard. A lot of those Australian bands don’t ever get a chance to play those big festivals.”

The DIY, grassroots nature of the alternative and heavy community — one that has long existed amongst bands and fans — has now almost become the new blueprint for success. Where the classic label and radio play framework used to dictate the success and longevity of an artist, we’re seeing more and more that it is laying foundations on the ground with the fans that is generating legacy.

“You can totally do things DIY, that’s always been our mentality too. Even if we don’t have the most expensive gear or the best studio, you can still make it work if you have a vision,” Mercedes says. “You can work around the challenges of being DIY. A lot of bands aren’t interested in signing with labels anymore, because it’s such a fan-led movement. If listeners are curating their own playlists, you don’t need radio play like you used to.

“When we started, we had no expectations, because we’d already been in a band previously. It’s quite rare to be able to get that second life, where you start a new project and it’s completely different. We were just excited to finally do things on our terms: not sign to a major label, just being able to write, produce and record everything ourselves. Really do it DIY style. It was such an empowering experience. Being a little older and wiser now, I just don’t take this stuff for granted. The fact that we get to come to Australia and play is still so mind blowing for me, I can’t believe it.”

The promotion of these artists in the live space is crucial, especially for the alternative, punk and heavy groups who are still largely ignored by the mainstream music media space. The success of local bands in the scene comes directly from the relationship they conjure with their live audiences who then invest their dedication and support back into their favourite bands, venues and events.

“I think these types of boutique events provide a good way to see music in a like-minded environment,” Ash says. “The coolest thing when I was a teenager, was getting given a burned CD and finding my new favourite off that — we don’t have those avenues anymore. I think one of my proudest moments is when people are able to see bands like Softcult, bands who they wouldn’t have heard of before, for the first time. They’re probably going to be fans of them forever.”

New Bloom Festival is on in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne from March 15 to 17. You can learn more here.

Sosefina Fuamoli is an award-winning Samoan-Australian music writer and radio broadcaster, based in Melbourne.


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