BRISBANE, Australia — After a brutal 16 months, this year’s edition of Splendour in the Grass will be out of this world.
Truly. The 2021 event, staged under the brand Splendour XR, will be a first-of-its-kind virtual experience, built to look and feel just like the much-loved, multi-day party in Australia’s Byron Bay.
Splendour XR is a grand design, built out of necessity.
The pandemic crushed the best-laid plans for Splendour in the Grass last year, and, with more than half Australia’s population currently under lockdown, a late July 2021 show was a non-starter.
So organizers hatched a bold plan.
Splendour XR’s architecture was drawn up at the dawn of the health crisis. Since then, Splendour co-founder Jessica Ducrou and her teammates have regularly worked 12-plus hours each day, building an immersive, pandemic-proof space.
“It has been a huge project,” she tells Billboard. “In many ways, it’s been more challenging than a real-life festival. I haven’t worked as hard ever on a project.”
The hard work shows. On July 24 and 25, more than 50 international and local acts perform across stages in seven precincts, including headliners Khalid and The Killers, and a cast of leftfield a-listers and rising stars from Tash Sultana to Duke Dumont, Masked Wolf, Band of Horses, 2ManyDJs, Grimes and others.
Ducrou and Co. worked alongside Linden Lab, the American digital entertainment developer that’s best known for building Second Life. “The money that’s been invested into developing the platform is extensive,” she notes.
This second Splendour doesn’t need to be packed down afterwards, though it can have a second life. In time, it could be staged in tandem with the physical event, and pumped into the devices of music fans around the globe, pushing out the Splendour name like never before.
Since its first edition back in 2001, SITG has hosted a who’s who of international stars, from Coldplay to Arctic Monkeys, Kanye West, Tame Impala, Lorde and many more.
Like any promoter who works in greenfield events, Ducrou and Splendor co-founder Paul Piticco have rolled with volleys of punches, from flooding to clapback from council. “Yeah, I do think you become quite resilient. You have to have a fairly healthy risk appetite to do,” notes Ducrou. In late 2016, Live Nation, keen to add festivals to its portfolio, acquired a 51% stake in Ducrou and Piticco’s Secret Sounds, the entertainment company behind the Splendour and the traveling Falls festival.
Based on ticket sales in the weeks leading up Splendour XR’s open day, more than 20% of visitors will attend from abroad, including the U.S., U.K. and Japan.
Ticket holders can create an avatar, mingle with others, purchase virtual kit and, of course, kick back and enjoy music. The Avalanches’ performance was recorded during their show at Sydney’s the Enmore, Vance Joy’s set is shot on a Gaudi creation in Barcelona. Five of the performances are green screen, including Charli XCX. All are pre-recorded, and available for a limited time after the show wraps with a “re-live” ticket.
Also, expect to hear exclusives. “There’s definitely new stuff being played. There’s a number of sets where you’ll hear music for the first time,” explains Ducrou.
Gaming has become “the new after-school hang,” Ducrou adds. “In our day, you’d be running around the block or you’re on your bikes hooning around. Our kids are literally jumping on Fortnight or Minecraft or Roblox. People are going on there for the game, but it really is a backdrop to them being social and connected. And that’s very similar in a live festival. So this model of our online festival, is all about connecting at the heart of it.”
Splendour XR is available on mobile, tablet, browser, desktop and VR. Visit splendourxr.com for more.