Friday, 12 November 2010

Troubled Thoughts on a Troubled Legacy

Published on Collapse Board a few days ago.

“Brisbane has a brilliant music scene. Since I moved to San Francisco, I’ve struggled to get my new friends interested in local music in San Francisco. Their view is that when you have interstate or international touring acts playing in our venues every night for like $15 dollars, why the fuck would you go see some no name neighbourhood kids mess around on guitars, playing music that isn’t on the radio?” – Friend and former Brisbane resident, D.Kelso, circa 2009.

OK, so my friend Kelso didn’t exactly say that, rather something very close to that.

You get the gist, right? We’re pretty fucking lucky to have what we have here, but often we can’t see the woods for the trees. Sure, we miss the occasional international act, something I’m guilty of bleating about, but the payoff is that anyone who can play G, D, and A on a guitar can start a band and walk on stage, and people will pay to go see you and (sometimes) listen. Occasionally, they might even buy your music. That’s pretty much the definition of a vibrant music scene.

However, if those musicians have nowhere to perform, how long can scenes hope to survive?

Recent events have again brought into focus Brisbane’s fairly dire record of allowing its own cultural and musical heritage to shrivel and die. The stories are well-known. Cloudland, Festival Hall, The Rev and The Arena, all gone for a variety of reasons, and it seems that those in power did little to help these places stay afloat. In the case of Cloudland, they were directly culpable. Other places, such as the Regent cinema, the government is content to sit idly by and let greed triumph over history.

In the past few weeks, there have been more announcements of imminent closures of places where people can go and support local, interstate and international touring artists, including The Globe in Fortitude Valley and the LoFly Hangar in Red Hill. Now Brisbane finds itself facing a future without the iconic Troubadour, one of the few remaining bastions of live music within the so-called ‘entertainment district’ of Fortitude Valley.

With the unfortunate benefit of hindsight, many will think that the Troubadour’s closure was not exactly unexpected. The drunken masses that prowl Brunswick Street mall on the weekends have turned the once unique and quirky Valley into something akin to hell. It’s hard to blame any particular group, or class, or person – after all, if you’re reading this and you’re from Brisbane, you’ve probably been guilty of getting drunk in the Valley – but it’s safe to say that the area has fallen victim to its own popularity. What’s depressing is that genuinely fun places to go hang out either get bought out or, in the case of the Troubadour, are forced out by circumstance. True, other venues have popped up to fill in the gaps, but dedicated music venues like The Troubadour are rare (with the obvious exception of The Zoo). All these developments highlight an immediate problem, a sudden dwindling in opportunities for local musicians to ply their wares. West End has been touted as a possibility, but apart from the HiFi, the options are fairly limited there.

Many will take solace in the burgeoning success of a number of DIY venues and art spaces that have been popping up around the city over the past two years. I’m referring to places such as Burst City, Woodland and The Alley. These places are great, but they may not be sustainable long-term solutions. Inevitably, the arm of regulation will reach out to discipline these communities; raucous live music often does not sit well with inner-city residents and/or the police.

With the Brisbane City Council and the State government pumping money into the arts, it seems strange that venues are closing down at an alarming rate. I wonder if any of the relevant authorities has rang up Jamie and Corinna of the Troubadour and said, “What can we do to make sure you guys stay open?”

There seems no obvious solution at the moment. I would tentatively suggest nurturing the DIY scene and commissioning some serious research into the music scene in Brisbane and the best way to assist venues stay afloat. It seems that at a time when people are complaining that venue lockouts will kill live music culture in Brisbane, ignorance might do it first.

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