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Ex-Adelaide Festival director slams budget cuts after music festival unplugged

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Former Adelaide Festival artistic director David Sefton has blamed budget cuts and a “decimated” Arts SA sector for an international electronic music festival dropping Adelaide from its touring schedule.

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Unsound Festival announced this week it would not be coming to Adelaide to present its 2019 feature.

The progressive three-day music festival – which has been likened to Tasmania’s Dark MOFO – consists of gigs, talks, film scores and visual and sound art installations revolving around avant-garde and progressive electronic music.

“After six editions, Unsound Adelaide will not take place in 2019,” the statement said.

“Thanks to everyone who has attended over the years – and stay tuned for information on our future activities in Australia.”

The first Unsound originated in Krakow, Poland in 2003, but has regularly toured to international cities such as London, New York and Montreal.

David Sefton believed Adelaide was a fitting destination for the event and debuted Unsound as part of the 2013 Festival program.

When Sefton left the  Festival in 2016, he continued to organise Unsound, after winning financial backing as part of the State Government’s Live Music Events Fund.

But funding to required to run the festival in 2019 was not renewed or extended.

“The total subsidy we would need from the government this year to run Unsound Adelaide would be around $150,000,” said Sefton.

“I’ve spoken to everyone I can who is responsible for funding in the arts in this town and it’s just basically, ‘sorry, we haven’t got the money’.”

The South Australian Government Department for Innovation and Skills confirmed the festival was given funding from 2017 to 2018 but the subsidy wasn’t approved for 2019.

“Unsound is an experimental avant-garde electronic music festival which was supported through the Live Music Events Fund in an attempt to seed fund its first years,” they said in a statement.

“While the Live Music Events Fund continues, there is not the level of funding available to meet the amount required to stage Unsound without additional (non-government) investment secured by the producers.”

The Live Music Events Fund holds $550,000 per annum, and offers financial support for music events and festivals that have the “potential to grow into major tourist attractions” and “events that have the capacity to build their audiences, transform into major tourist draw-cards and are financially sustainable,” the Music Development Office (MDO) outlines.

The Adelaide Festival couldn’t speculate as to why the South Australian Government had not renewed funding for Unsound 2019, but said it had  “successfully carved out a distinctive niche on the contemporary music scene.”

Sefton said patronage for Unsound Adelaide was in the “low thousands” but was an incentive for young people to travel to South Australia.

“Even though the numbers are not comparable to WOMADelaide – we’re talking about the low thousands as opposed to hundreds of thousands – we had 40 per cent interstate visitation, so quite a lot of people came from outside South Australia, but who were young and incredibly enthusiastic,” he said.

“The city makes lots of claim for its creative status, and its UNESCO City of Music Status, and being at the forefront of those things; Unsound Adelaide was one of those things that gives you the right to make that claim.

“You look at the decimated Arts SA and all the signals are is that money is just being cut out of the arts, and they may keep making terrible TV ads with crying old men but no one is going to come here for no reason.”

Driller Jet Armstrong, owner of Sugar Nightclub which hosted a number of the Unsound Adelaide 2018 events, said the showcase attracted younger patrons and had substantial social and financial value as it brought crowds to the night club.

“This is an extreme disappointment from a cultural perspective for Adelaide and from a business perspective one of our busiest weekends of 2018,” he said.

“No wonder the young are deserting the state. Who can blame them? Melbourne looks pretty good as a city that actually embraces events of this nature.”

In September the South Australian Government released a document, titled the Arts and Culture Plan, which set out broad objectives to promote the role of arts and culture in the state and to drive advocacy and government investment in the sector.

In step with this announcement, Premier Steven Marshall said he had a vision for South Australian arts organisations to move towards “independent” funding models rather than looking for government support.

Sefton said Unsound Adelaide is a festival that requires subsidy as it isn’t geared to be commercially viable independent operation.

“WOMADelaide not a commercially viable festival, the Adelaide Festival is not a commercially viable festival… Unsound Adelaide was never intended to be a commercially viable festival,” he said.

“It would be nice for somebody in government, or somebody who makes those decisions, to understand that there is a value to Unsound Adelaide but not a huge investment, and to watch that investment just disappear, maybe to another state, is just foolish.”

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