It’s a big job putting together a music program for an event like Bleach*. But Graham Ashton, owner of Footstomp Music and Music Director for the festival which hits town in a few days relishes the task. Our Editor, Samantha Morris caught up with Graham to find out how he goes about programming events and what events like Bleach* mean to up and coming bands.
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Graham Ashton likes simply to be called Asho. He’s been around the music scene for a long time and he’s the kind of guy who just knows what sounds right, what looks right, and who’s going to make it big sometime soon. He’s brushed shoulders with some of the music world’s most impressive and talented acts and now he’s living on the Gold Coast. He fits right in.
He’s only been here three years and he’s already been involved in Bleach* for two.
“I hope to be a part of the Bleach* team until I’m a very old man,” he says. “Like everything, you just hope that the momentum of the event is heading in the right direction.”
This year’s main musical offerings happen at The Soundlounge, a change from the 2013 program. “Last year the central venue was The Cooly,” Graham said. “But The Soundlounge is our spiritual home – it was being renovated last year so we had to move temporarily.”
“We have those three key events happening at The Soundlounge over those first three Friday nights in March.”
He’s talking about three events with their own distinct flavour, something he seems quite proud of.
“Elizabeth Rose with The Trouble with Templeton and Hey Geronimo – they’re basically our indie party,” he explains. “Those bands are the hottest bands on Triple J right now. Any city in Australia would sell hundreds of tickets like that to this show.”
Then there’s Violent Soho with Bad//Dreems and The Sinking Teeth on Friday 14 March.
“The real highlight from last year was our rock and roll party, which Violent Soho headlined as well. We’ve invited them back this year and tickets are selling fast.”
To top off the three Fridays at The Soundlounge is a special screening of the film The Transparentsea Voyage, with a live soundtrack performed by Band of Frequencies. The Gold Coast’s surfing community will be out in force with legends like Dave Rastovich appearing in the film and hopefully in person.
But those three events are just the tip of the iceberg with top notch acts scattered throughout the three week program of Bleach* events. How the hell does a programmer even begin to decide what acts to throw in the mix?
“I’ve been programming festivals for a few years now,” Asho says. “I was programmer for BigSound for the last five years which really threw me into the deep end for programming. We had around 1000 applications for 120 spots so that experience taught me a lot about how to do it, but also where to find that talent in Queensland and northern NSW.”
“I’ve spent my whole life immersing myself in the local music community, so I have a fair idea for what feels right for each event.”
“This is only my second year involved in Bleach* so I learnt a lot of lessons from last year on balance and also learnt about the best way for local artists to get their best opportunity to play in front of lots of people.”
“Really, it’s a mix of gut feeling, a fair bit of research and then availability. We did get most of our dream targets this year,” he smiles.
It’s clear Asho is passionate about music. As well as having programmed BigSound and Bleach* he also has Teneriffe Festival, Live It Up (under 18 festival) and the Sydney Folk Festival happening this year. It’s an impressive track record given that Footstomp Music is only four years old.
“I’d worked at record labels for 20 years,” he said. “But decided to go out on my own and my first big contract was to program BigSound.”
That passion for music extends to a passion for getting music to the people who need to hear it most. He’s adamant that Bleach* is an important launching pad for local artists.
“For every artist, no matter what level, it’s about connecting with an audience,” he explains. “Bleach* provides an opportunity to connect with the Gold Coast community. But the other thing is that tens of thousands of surfers from around the world are on their annual pilgrimage to Australia this month. And a lot of them will be right here on the Gold Coast. You could be playing a show on the beach at Burleigh or Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and there could be a bunch of Brazillian surfers there, and then all of a sudden you’re on a surf soundtrack and a tour of South America.”
“It’s the best thing about music. It’s an international language. There are surfers from all over the world here in March – it’s no coincidence as to why Bleach* is on then.”
Graham’s other great love is surfing. Like most of the Gold Coast. He says surfers are very loyal to their musical roots.
“There’s always been this thing with surfers and music – the two things have coexisted forever. With surfers, surfing is the be all and end all but music is a pretty solid second. If the surf community embrace your brand, they’re very loyal. Much more loyal than other sub-cultures. There’s certain elements of people who commit to an artist forever. That’s the kind of audiences that Bleach* bands are going to be playing to.”
Of course the Bleach* program is chockas full of all sorts of cultural offerings – from sculpture to film, theatre to ukeleles and even opera.
“There’s some opera as part of Bleach*, happening on the beach in May,” Asho says. “I’ve never been able to connect with opera, personally – I came from a punk rock background – if it wasn’t short and angry I didn’t like it.”
“But my mind is pretty open now. I’ll be there at the opera with an open mind.”
We talk for a while about how this is what Bleach* is actually all about. Offering people the chance to experience things they wouldn’t normally seek out. Opera on the beach, barefoot on a picnic blanket might just be the way to a whole new generation of Opera fans.
“For me, my two great passions are music and surfing,” he says. But I’ll find some culture around the sides and learn some things on the way.”
And that, we agree, is the gift that Bleach* gives to the Gold Coast.
View the full program at bleachfestival.com.au
Thanks to Footstomp Music and Bleach* we have a double pass to give away to each of the Soundlounge gigs happening as part of Bleach*.
Friday 7 March: Elizabeth Rose, The Trouble with Templeton, Hey Geronimo
Friday 14 March: Violent Soho, Bad//Dreems, The Sinking Teeth
Friday 21 March: The Transparentsea Voyage with Band of Frequencies (film and live performance)
To enter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday Tuesday 4 March with the gig you’d like to see as well as your full name and mobile phone number.