In the wake of Australia’s recent slew of overdoses, injuries, deaths, arrests and general volatility at several of the Stereosonic music festival’s stops in Sydney and Adelaide, authorities and officials have begun to express their concern for the future of the country’s events. Early this month, Premier of New South Wales Mike Baird released a passionate statement that called for drastic reform of the nation’s festival circuit, placing responsibility both on individual attendees and the organizers themselves. In his footsteps now follows Richie McNeil, founder of Stereosonic and 25-year veteran of the area’s event promotion scene.

In an extensive interview with In The Mix, McNeil details his own very comprehensive and encompassing plan for reform. From sniffer dogs and onsite pill testing to police presence and water, he believes that drastic changes are needed to curb the danger experienced this season and to restore the reputation of the festival. Below, we’ve provided clippings of McNeil’s responses. To read In The Mix‘s full report, click here.

First, on the concept of promoters’ ability to prevent drugs from entering festival grounds:

“All of the major promoters go over and above the call of duty to provide a safe environment, and just because people are making bad choices as individuals we are seen as the bad guys. . . We don’t fucking promote drugs. We can’t search people. We can pat them down, but we can’t say “open your wallet mate” and then hold them if we find something illegal. We can make them pull stuff out, but we can’t do a proper search. We can’t arrest people – you try to arrest some big six foot dude who is juiced up on steroids and alcohol, he’ll tell you to fuck off and smash two of your guards while he’s doing it. The steroid issue and “gym hulk” mentality in Australia is big too.”

On why attendees can’t bring in their own water:

“We have been giving away free water for 20 years. We used to allow people to bring water into festivals, but then GHB happened and people started using syringes to punch stuff into their bottles because we couldn’t test the water. So we had to ban people from bringing their own water in – but what we did is allow punters to bring in an empty bottle and fill it up inside. I don’t know any festival that doesn’t provide free water. They always have. The media suggesting this as a solution of late just shows you the people commenting have no clue what is happening, if they did they would know we already do.”

On onsite pill testing:

“If it saves lives it should be allowed. It also makes the government aware of what is being sold, so that they can give out warnings [when pills are bad]. I go to events in Amsterdam and there are signs up at some venues telling you what is on the market and what to stay away from. That can save people’s lives. I think it’s ridiculous that stuff can’t get tested here – pill testing isn’t promoting drugs, it’s making them safer and the majority of the time, it is deterring people from taking drugs..”

“In Europe, people go off on their lunchbreak during the week to get their pills tested – they drop them off, come back half an hour later and get their results. So they might buy one, test it and if it’s crap, they aren’t going to buy 10 for them and their mates. They might not get any for the weekend and just go grab a drink instead. That could save their life.”

On sniffer dogs and amnesty bins:

“Sniffer dogs are a double-edged sword. I’m all for them because they’ve helped us keep a lot of drugs out of the events. They’ve assisted the police in finding large amounts of pills, charging people and then making their way back to the manufacturers, so there is a positive. But with the positive comes a negative, as kids freak out and they drop stuff before they come or they pre-load. Or they get there and if they see there’s lots of dogs so they’ll drop everything that they’ve got before they go in, and that puts them under an incredible amount of risk. It’s one of those things where I’m split right down the middle. I believe in them for helping to keep drugs out, but there is also the flipside that it’s encouraging and making punters take their stuff in larger amounts before they get detected.”

“Everywhere else there is amnesty bins so if [punters] see the dogs and they freak out they can just put it in the bin, walk away and no problem. It’s really fucking simple, they do it at Glastonbury and they do it at most major festivals. If there’s dogs out the front, you’ve got drugs on you and you don’t want to get arrested, you put them in the amnesty bin and go off and have a great day.”

On police presence at music festivals:

“The police were at the cricket because a lot of politicians like the cricket, they were at the football because a lot of politicians like football, and they were at the horse races because a lot of politicians like horse races. Then at Big Day Out and certain other sporting events there were hardly any police because they didn’t have the resources. For a good four or five years in Melbourne there was no user paid police. There is now, thank god, but there wasn’t in Perth until a couple of years ago. We had big police operations in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide for Stereosonic, but not in Perth because Perth didn’t have a user paid system.”

On how to make festivals generally safer:

“When GHB first came on the market in the late 90s/early 2000s there was the Dance Industry Association, which ran for four or five years. It was a proactive group that worked with the state government to develop policies for self-regulated events in Melbourne. It was a safe code for running dance parties in the 2000s and it worked. We need to bring something like that back on a national level.”


Source: In The Mix