Anyone looking forward to this weekend's Jabberwocky festival at the ExCeL got an unpleasant surprise in their inbox last night when organisers All Tomorrow's Parties (ATP) cancelled it just 72 hours before it was due to go ahead, blaming financial troubles.
Although fans are being offered refunds, it's unlikely they'll be able to see acts such as Caribou, James Blake, Liars and Kurt Vile (who had been due to perform at the event), unless rescue efforts by other promoters are successful. A Facebook group has started up with the aim of collating information about gigs which other promoters are hoping to stage in order to save some of the bands' shows. So far, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Ex will perform at The Forum.
ATP's statement says that "despite healthy ticket sales...all our efforts could not take those sales to the point that we needed to finally stage the event".
Yet the cancellation has raised questions about the financial status of the London-based promoter, as companies owed money were quick to vent their frustrations.
The festival's PR agency, Zeitgeist, immediately issued a statement to all media distancing itself from the promoter and claiming it is owed months' of money, which it is now pursuing through the courts.
"We have tried hard to overcome this situation and find solutions, but [ATP parent company] Willwal’s representatives have revealed to us in writing that they used the funds destined for us in order to protect payments for venue and artists, rather than settle essential and agreed amounts to our company," the Zeitgeist statement says.
"We love the industry we are in and feel for everyone else who’s been affected by this mess, from the fans to the bands, to the media that trusted our word and gave great coverage."
Ticketing agency Dash Tickets also issued a statement, refuting ATP's claim that refunds will be offered, explaining that it has already given all ticket income it has received to the promoter. In addition, the statement says: "In addition to giving ATP all the ticketing funds, Dash has made substantial advances to ATP which remain unpaid, as do considerable fees for the work we have undertaken on their behalf."
Clearly frustrated, the company says: "Our entire team has poured immense effort into helping ATP with their ticketing programme over the past several months, investing considerable time, money and energy, all in good faith. Our trust in ATP seems to have been misplaced..."
ATP has had some financial troubles in recent years. In June 2012 the firm went into liquidation, transferring all its assets into a new company, Willwal Ltd; while in October of that year, multi-venue and festival owner, MAMA and Company, bought a 50 per cent stake in ATP.
Despite the restructuring, an I'll Be Your Mirror event in Japan was rescheduled and then cancelled due to poor ticket sales; ATP's Grizzly Bear-curated I’ll Be Your Mirror event set for London in November 2013, was also cancelled "due to problems with the venue and date", though a second day of the same event under the stewardship of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did go ahead.
The Stool Pigeon ran an investigation into the collapse, which is worth reading — and while ATP founder Barry Hogan has disputed its accuracy, the publication stands by the story and the facts clearly haven't been sufficiently disproved for the article to be amended or removed.
ATP has steadfastly and admirably stuck to its independent principles and refusal to accept commercial sponsorship in the face of these financial problems, and it is probably one of the few promoters in the world which attracts such deep loyalty and love from fans. The company is a stalwart supporter of indie acts and thousands are grateful for its efforts to fly in sometimes niche acts from around the world to play for British fans — despite the odds.
Hogan himself acknowledged the perils of being an independent promoter, in his statement on the cancellation of Jabberwocky: "...the position we unfortunately find ourselves in as a result of a succession of events that have lost money in an increasingly aggressive festival market, means we are no longer able to [deliver Jabberwocky].
"In the past ATP has weathered losses such as this and gone on with the show, taking huge direct financial blows as an independent company. But on this occasion, with an event of this scale and the high production costs that come with it - if we had gone ahead; it would have 100% been the end of ATP."
The company says future ATP Presents shows will go ahead as planned, including a 2015 festival in Iceland, so perhaps this latest cancellation is just an example of the high-risk world of being an independent promoter.
And yet — one has to wonder how much damage will be done to the trust of fans, artists and suppliers.
Londonist contacted ATP for comment, but the company hasn't responded yet.
UPDATE: ATP posted a statement on its website on 15 August:
In the past 72 hours there have been many accusations thrown at ATP and some so vindictive that we feel it necessary to defend our position.
Firstly, the claim that ATP has received all the funds for Jabberwocky is not true. We have not received a payment from Dash for more than two months. Any advances from the sales before that, went straight into event costs such as various artist fees and venue hire. But we have not received all the funds for Jabberwocky sales from Dash, and for them to make statements on their social media saying we have in fact received all these funds is simply not true. If that was the case, then we would not have struggled to stage the event.
As per their Terms & Conditions at the time Jabberwocky went on sale, we were always under the impression that in the event of a cancellation; all refunds would be processed by Dash, as the funds were sent directly to Dash's PayPal account - not ATPs. Since then, Dash's Terms & Conditions have changed on their website without our knowledge, well after Jabberwocky was on-sale, in an attempt to reflect no responsibility for the payments accepted into their PayPal account.
We know you are angry, and quite rightly so as you are hearing contradictory information concerning the source of your refunds - we are NOT trying to pass the buck, but any funds we did receive from Dash are tied up in the cancelled event and we too have lost considerable amounts of money. But we are petitioning Dash and working closely and restlessly with Paypal to ensure all customers receive their full due amount.
Secondly, the PR firm we originally engaged for Jabberwocky, Zeitgeist, felt it was necessary to announce to the world that they were taking legal action against us. What they neglected to mention was that we actually terminated their services for doing a disappointingly substandard job on the Jabberwocky press campaign and are in a legal dispute with them over the amount owed. When we dismissed them, they also started circulating rumours that Jabberwocky was in trouble, which of course did not help with advance sales and unfortunately, became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We are trying to get everyone refunded as soon as possible and honour all bands agreements. We have tried to assist in organising shows this weekend so all the door money goes to the artists to help pay their fee due for Jabberwocky and ensure that they are not out of pocket. The rumours that we stopped a band from playing a show because of a contractual obligation is also untrue. They assure us that they had not confirmed a show with another venue and were happy to book a show assisted by us in order to help secure their immediate expenses for the weekend and go towards the original fee that they were offered, which is being honoured.
If people want to continue slinging mud at us, we can't stop them, but we would ask that you pause to think about what it takes for a company of our size to continue to exist in the current music climate, and question if you really believe that there was some machiavellian intent to rip off music fans that we have given so many years of our life to, whilst trying to survive and deliver quality shows. If anyone out there says they believe in what we do; now is the time to support us more than ever, rather than letting others try and kick us while we are down.
We are devastated the event didn't happen. It has always been a dream to finally get together two of our long time friends - Pitchfork & Primavera - and Jabberwocky was to be this dream realised. We have all worked tirelessly for almost a year on this, and so of course, tried absolutely everything in our power to stage it right up to the very moment that there were no options left other than this absolute last resort.