Tom Phongsathorn: Why did you decide to stage Forefront and what do you see as the summit’s purpose?
Si Philby: Part of Background’s makeup is a network of very bright minds and interesting people dotted around the world, and we work with some great brand partners. Forefront represents a platform that brings our values to life and Australia is a wonderfully creative country, but one with a bit of a gap in the market. In America you’ve got SXSW (South by Southwest), Summit Series, Art Basel and others, but none of that exists over here. Our objective is to throw an event that goes beyond the event itself and is the start of a new community, harnessing a cultural energy, and bringing it to Australia.
TP: Your strapline is: “Conferences suck. Therefore: Forefront”. What are you doing that is different from – and better than – other conferences?
SP: Everyone has been to a conference where you turn up, get a name badge, sit down and listen to someone on stage. It’s formulaic. We want to do something a bit more energetic, and where the audience is as important as the speakers. We’re starting at 3pm and it may well go on till 3am. It’s less of a sit-down-and-listen and more of a conversation.
Tom Sigelski: A lot of conferences talk about solving problems, like “How to market to millennials”. Our idea involves getting future-focused, and a willingness on the part of the speakers to put themselves out there. If you look at the line-up that we have put together, there are some quite unusual people on it – a jet-propulsion expert from NASA, for example. We feel that different thoughts and perspectives can make sense together.
TP: How are you structuring the panel discussions that comprise the conference?
SP: What we are trying to do is set up the speakers in an intelligent way that connects the subjects. Let’s say we begin with youth, which links into music and that links into fashion, art into design, innovation into sustainability. We want a rolling conversation that threads together.
TS: The underlying theme is anticipating future culture, so it will all be focused around that. It might be Gary Aspden from Adidas talking about his design process and how that can play into other areas of culture; or it could be Stuart Holt from Javelin Block, who reanimates buildings of the past to make them relevant for the future.
TP: Forefront has a focus on the youth of tomorrow. Was that a conscious decision?
TS: The way that the Forefront brand is being positioned does lend itself to youth cultures, but what we’re looking to do is throw the doors open and connect people. If it’s a lot of younger people, great, but the bigger focus is to get likeminded, open and collaborative individuals in the room.
SP: When we talk about the future we are thinking about what the next generation’s behaviour is going to be like. Youth is important, but we’ve got a very broad spectrum of speakers representing a lot of different mindsets, places and ages, and we want to make sure that we are covering a diverse set of subjects through different lenses.
TP: Has your Australian identity played a role in the way Forefront has come about?
TS: There’s a real need in Australia for creative minds to connect, and I think that the spirit with which we’re going about it is what makes Forefront uniquely Australian. We want to develop new initiatives to support Australian creativity and those who are willing to look to the greater good, not necessarily always in pursuit of a commercial outcome.