The Final Breakfest: The Interview
With the iconic W.A. dance music festival wrapping up this year, we caught up with founder and head honcho Liam Mazzucchelli to talk about the history and last hurrah of this local institution
If you live in the West and are a fan of dance music, Boxing Day has traditionally only meant one thing - a reprieve from the festive onslaught in the best possible way by dancing the day away in the idyllic surrounds of the Belvoir Amphitheatre at Breakfest, the long running breakbeat and adjacent genre-oriented festival that after 22 years, is having it’s last hurrah this year.
Having seen musical trends and other (often much larger) festivals come and go, Breakfest has been a constant, pushing the latest and greatest in breaks, hip-hop, drum & bass sounds, maintaining a focus on programming the best DJs from around the globe, as well as a ensuring the festival stuck true to its roots and kept the experience of discerning attendees as the key focus, rather than aspiring to become the next “mega festival” (and losing its soul in the process).
After a rough few years with COVID, the bad news is that Breakfest will be no more after 2022, with the twenty second and last edition going down on, of course, Boxing Day this year. In light of this monumental final event, we caught up with Liam Mazzucchelli - Breakfest founder and still the main man as the head honcho of local promotion legends Boomtick to find out about the festival’s history, why Breakfest is wrapping up, the future of Boomtick and more… including of course discussing Breakfest’s iconic mascot, Stumpy!
Image Credit: Matsu Photography
So let’s start by going back 22 years to Breakfest volume one, how did all of this start in the first place?
So the origins story is that prior to 2001, for about three years, I was doing a little bit of side hustle promoting - I actually worked in the construction industry, but some promoting on the side. I used to do a house party on Boxing Day, they were referred to as the House of Tate parties and they got pretty big, two or three hundred people at the last one that I did.
Then I bought a nightclub at the end of 2000, opened it early 2001, and that was Ambar. So they were the origins I guess of the outdoor, predominantly breakbeat and hip hop sort of festival, because I thought “wow, there’s a real love for that sound in Perth”. It was emerging, there was a real wonderful sense of community and support around it, and it was just evident that if you built, you know, I guess “a space” is the current term, but if you build it they will come. We’d had a moderately successful opening of the nightclub, and Saturday night being the breaks night, I thought “well, there’s a demand for people to do something on Boxing Day, why not, let’s have a look at Belvoir”, and that was that.
So at the end of 2001, that was the commencement of a now 22 year relationship with Belvoir. Back in those days there wasn’t the festival marketplace that there is these days, I think there were maybe two or three. Big Day Out was the flagship event, and there was Vibes on a Summer’s Day. I don’t even think Summer Days was around, Future Music came later, all those sorts of things. So there was a real opportunity for a grassroots event that was built around a community that loved a particular sound and I thought “why not Boxing Day? People don’t want to hang out with their family for a second day”, everybody wanted something to do on Boxing Day, and it just seemed like a really, really good fit. And that was it, that was the genesis of it.
I love that you’ve already answered a few of my next questions, cos I was curious about the origins of the Boxing day date! I’m also curious to hear more about your relationship with Belvoir, such an iconic venue that’s had peaks and troughs of activity itself, other things have come and gone like Good Vibrations and others, but you guys have always been there and are still there, so yeah, how did you initially link up with Belvoir?
Image Credit: Supplied
Well there was no introduction. In those days there was very loose internet, I think I got their number out of the phone book. I picked up my landline and I spoke to Margie, who was the matriarch of the property out there, and I said “I've got this crazy idea and I'd like to look at hiring the venue”. I went out there and met her and her partner, Frank, and I guess they were probably a little bit wary, because they were like, “who's this guy that's never done an outdoor event?”, but we hit it off initially so that always helps, I think they liked me. But I think because I came from a construction background and had managed major commercial construction projects, they thought “well, this guy kind of knows what he’s doing, let’s give it a try”, so they allowed me to use the venue. Also, it wasn’t a truly original concept, because as you said, there were certainly other things that happened out there, after me, but there had been events out there prior to me. I mean, historically, it was known as an incredible kind of rock and live music venue. And, you know, Will, Vibes on a Summer's Day turned into good vibrations. But you know, the first couple of Vibes on a Summer's Day were out at the Belvoir and there used to be an incredibly successful dance music promoter, Jeremy Junk, who sadly passed away a number of years ago, Jeremy had also done events out at the Belvoir.I'm a bit hazy about the dates, but I feel like there were things like Delirium that he did out there.
He certainly had done, you know, one or two things out there at different times of the year, so the synergy between the venue and dance music had already been formed, butI think our unique selling point was boxing day, and I guess supporting, you know, breakbeat, a little bit of drum and bass back in those days, not a huge amount, but it was definitely breakbeat and hip hop, we were big supporters in the early days of the Aussie hip hop stuff, as much as anything from a programming point of view, but also to sort of a build an event that had to last for 12 hours. It's also worth saying that the original ethos was around a one stage one vibe. That has sort of changed, I guess in 2010 or 2009, thereabouts, where we were in a really competitive space, and announcing a lineup that would only satisfy one stage just wasn’t enough to sell tickets, so that’s when we introduced the second stage, and ultimately now the third, smaller, local stage as well, but we try to keep it tight on the site, and have never had any great delusions of grandeur about what it could or should be. I think part of its success over the over the journey has been that we've stuck pretty true to that, you know, smaller capacity - boutique is probably an overused word, but that boutique kind of flavour, because let's face it the best part about the experience at the Belvoir is the amphitheatre, so to try and make the event grow to ten or twelve thousand people and have the crowd split is not the ideal scenario. So I think the less is more ethos worked for us, and staying true to our original roots of the event.
Yeah I can’t remember my first Breakfest but it would have been early 2010s and I remember mates talking about the “new'' second stage, which I must admit was definitely something that helped attract me to the event… So just curious if those discussions about expanding to a 15,000 plus person event or whatever did actually happen a little?
Well, it certainly has formed part of the conversation every year about whether or not there was an opportunity to expand. But at the end of the day, it's me and they're my decisions ultimately, I've got a great team of people and we consult and we discuss, but that's not what I wanted for it. There's also the challenge, and it's never more evident than it's been in the past probably seven or eight years that a single stage only run event is very difficult to program talent for, because we're now in the machine where everything's national. There are national promoters. There are national lineups. So for me to be able to secure a talent for a one off show the costs are just too prohibitive. It’s not an attractive offering for an artist manager to say, “Hey, you're gonna fly all the way out to Australia and do this one festival and then we're going to try and get you some other gigs” - that's just not the way it works.
So that's definitely been a conversation but you know, I've never wanted more than what it was for the event, I've always been really happy with it. And as I said, its roots were community, its roots were about the Breakfester experience. So the commercial opportunities may have been there, but the risk reward also probably wasn't there in that regard, such that I wanted to compromise the integrity of the event. I think that's why we're pretty pretty hand on heart, pretty proud of the fact that it hasn't grown, and I think that's actually a bit of an achievement. Because as much as the temptation and from year to year, the opportunity has been there, we've stuck to the original kind of values. And I think even 22 years later, there are still people that are probably five, six and seven years deep in the cycle that probably I would hope appreciate that.
The other thing is that this is not my only event, you know, I've done other major events. The biggest that was ever in my portfolio was Parklife, and that turned into Listen Out. I recently sold out of that back in 2018, so I'm out of that major event space and to want to do much larger events around Christmas time, it was never really an ideal scenario for it
I think if adding a second stage was Breakfest “selling out”, I think you guys have more than kept it real! And Parklife… could have a whole different nostalgic chat right there! Let’s not do that, let’s get nostalgic about Breakfest and talk about the inaugural event, like what can you remember from that first event and over the years?
Artwork for the inaugral edition of Breakfest
I think the highlight for me was that sense of satisfaction of being able to deliver and program an event because I had never done anything that size. Back in the early days, you were able to program your artists the way that you wanted them and that's not the case these days, because artists and their management and their reps often tell you what time they're playing - that's a whole other subject matter. But the difficulty is around booking the talent is one thing but programming is another whole gamut of arguments and stress that you don't get to control entirely as the event promoter, so the highlight for me was being able to sit back and I did - I can vividly remember moments throughout that day where I was out in the crowd and feeling a swell of emotion and satisfaction like “wow look at this!” and “how well is the music going?!”.
Because I knew the artists and I'd had relationships with each and every one of the artists that had played and that's how we were able to establish that first event you know it was a guy on Mob Records called Tayo. Tayo had played for me a couple of times as a touring DJ. It was Soul of Man, who I in the previous year or two had developed more than just a working sort of relationship with and become friends to this day. We're still friends. Krafty Kuts who has become a close and valued friend over every year. I mean, he played the first and he’ll play the last, that's pretty cool. So the highlight for me was I guess the sense of satisfaction of being able to pull all of these resources together you know, deliver a stage that I’d never done before and produce this event. But then to also sit in the amphitheatre for small chunks of time and have a punter experience, that was important and I do remember that and value that.
I’m kind of getting goosebumps imagining what that must have been like! So Liam, I’d be remiss to not ask about Breakfest’s iconic mascot Stumpy - what’s Stump’s story?
It’s funny, before memes were a thing, Stumpy had become a meme - a living, breathing meme. So I’ve had the same graphic designer that’s been doing the artwork since day one, he did some club stuff for us, he did the original Ambar concept stuff. Then when I said I'm doing this outdoor event on Boxing Day, I gave him a three line brief, and he came up with some artwork that, you know, the year one artwork was a bit fun, but it's also a bit cringy. We often joke about that to Jared still. So year two, out of the brief came the birth of this tree stump. Let's put a speaker driver in it, nothing's going to say, I'm out in the outdoors at an outdoor music event by having a tree stump with a big 15 inch bass driver in it.
You can see the evolution of Stumpy in the form of the artwork as it changed every year. I can’t remember the exact year but I feel it was around maybe 2006 or 2007 when he suddenly had transformed from this rooted inanimate object to having his own personality in the artwork.
Breakfest 2007 artwork and the emergence of Stumpy the mascot
I think the idea was Micah’s, because Micah’s injected a lot of creative impetus over the years, and I do want to acknowledge Micah’s creative impetus over the years. So then it was “let’s get a mascot made”, so we did that we, you know, mailed off a check, or whatever you did back in the early 2000s to some company in South America and emailed a couple of graphics across and they made us this Stumpy. So every year, the artwork has embraced a form of Stumpy, there’s generally a theme attached, you know, Stumpy in Space, this year it’s Stumpy free falling into 2022 with some iconography around him. Let me give you a fun fact - in 2010, the artwork was sort of a Western motif. After 2009, I thought 2010 was going to be the end, we were kind of planning for it to be the end, because 2009 was such a terrible year sales-wise and there was also the rise of the mega festival, you know, Parklife had gone from 15 to 25,000. Future Music was all of a sudden getting up around the 20 thousand, so there wasn't a lot of appeal for the small single stage or smaller type boutique event. So 2010 was likely going to be the end, I was going to call it stumps, the pun is intended, so Jared said “why don’t we do Stumpy riding off into the sunset?”, so that was the 2010 Stumpy artwork, and there’s a bit of correlation with the venue as well, because the venue had miniature horses out there because apart from being a venue, it’s an agistment, and every time we’d go out to the site to build, we’d see these Shetland pony miniature horses or whatever.
So the idea was to put Stumpy on a miniature horse and he’s tipping his hat and riding off into the sunset. So there’s always a bit of a background story to every Stumpy, it may not be apparent to people. Some people develop their own narratives around it, but what I can assure you every year it’s conceived and worked on, it’s not just thrown together and blasted out. And then the living meme is whoever dons the suit and goes out and engages with the crowd, we’ve had a number of different people do it over the years. I mean, it’s cheesy, but it’s funny and it’s fun, and it’s what people connect to.
Image Credit: Supplied
Yeah wow, I had no idea about some of that! Wild to hear that 2010 was nearly the end of Breakfest, thank god it wasn’t, but I guess that does bring us to 2022 and the final Breakfest - why is the festival wrapping up after this year?
There’s a number of reasons, I don't think there's any one reason, but the truth is, we’re in a marketplace that is so highly competitive, and I don’t want to play in that space anymore. I want it to be fun, and a lot of the fun aspect of it has sort of been evaporated for a number of different reasons. I’m also of an age now where I don’t want to be Perth’s oldest promoter, I probably already am. The sense of satisfaction is still there for me when the event is over, but the planning, the execution - we live in a new world where the costs are through the roof. Accessing resources is getting increasingly difficult. Boxing day used to be a day where nothing much else was on, now there's so much other stuff competing in the space and, you know, I'm up for the fight and I'm up for the challenge. I always have been. But I think you know, like the Sopranos, of which I'm a massive fan, like Seinfeld, which I like millions of people am a massive fan, I think to be able to control your own exit with your own narrative, and to ask everyone to join you that wants to, I think is a poetic end to what has been a stellar era. That’s it, really.
Love those TV show analogies, for sure. So you are going out on your own terms and let’s finish on a bit of a positive note and talk about the final Breakfest - what would your ideal final festival look like, what are you looking forward to?
Getting to eleven o’clock, or one minute past eleven.
So let me tell you - my ideal Breakfest is to see as many of the old faces that can make it out there. I absolutely get that it's difficult for a lot of people, I mean, just a sidebar, everyone that came in the early 2000s are all late 30s, early 40s, some of them are my age in their 50s You know, they don't have one more show left in their tank and I respect and value that. They've got kids, Boxing Day is not a day to go out and party.
But my ideal scenario is to have a wonderful turnout and we're on track for that which is great. It is for the weather to be warm, but moderate. We don't want any record setting sweltering days out there. What I'm really looking forward to is looking around and just seeing as many smiling faces as I can and people embracing their social groups and all and all facing forward. Not on their phones, not worrying about meeting so and so at some touchstone point half a kilometre away from the stage, just everybody all in one place at one time. Not you know, worrying about you know, meeting so and so at some, you know, Touchstone point, you know, half a kilometre from the stage just everybody all in one place at one time.
I love it, I love it. Amazing. And facing forward, a bit of a metaphor there I guess, ya know, because I guess I should ask about what’s happening with Boomtick moving forward, future plans?
Thank you for asking that question because I think there are people that think no more Breakfest means no more Boomtick, and that is absolutely not the case. COVID certainly has ironed out some wrinkles and changed the way that we do things for sure. I'm still going to be in the event space, there's no question of that. We've got other brands that we're going to continue on with. I've got a wonderful staff, a team of staff here that I want to keep actively employed and enthusiastic about what we're doing moving forward. We still run two of the fucking coolest venues in Perth, that all happens out of this office and there's no immediate plans for any of that to change. Conversely, there's no expansion, you know, on the horizon, either
I think the truth is that we are not over the effects of the previous two years. I think as a market I think there has been a false inflated value around the attendances that have happened, you know, certainly from April through to September, but it's going to be a rough summer. And it's going to be a rough Q1 and Q2 for the events next year. Some are going to do okay, a couple will do well, a lot of them are going to end up with casualties. So setting Breakfest aside, I’ve still got an outdoor festival event in April to produce, I’m currently delivering the Rufus show for our partners in the East, in Perth. So we will continue in that event space along with the venue operational side of things and no staff layoffs. Other than saying goodbye to Breakfest, it’ll be business as usual.
Image Credit: Matsu Photography
The Final Breakfest is on December 26 at Belvoir Amphitheatre - Tickets