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Online e-dition July 10, 2013: Burning Issue

Music denied a voice

Jon Rose, City Conversation 2013, City of Sydney, 26 June

Jon Rose, “Neue Musik ist niemals von allem Angfang an Schön” (New music is never very nice at the beginning) Jon Rose, “Neue Musik ist niemals von allem Angfang an Schön” (New music is never very nice at the beginning)
The title of the City Conversation on 26 June was “You Can’t Stop the Music…unless you have a properly approved Noise Abatement Order.”

You can't stop the music. But you can certainly hinder public debate on the matter.

I've earned my living as a musician for 40 years, mostly playing music that could be described as ‘unpopular,’ but somehow I've survived as the situation for both popular and unpopular music has recently reached impossibly low levels of general interest and sustainability. The public won't pay what it costs to support live, kicking musicians of any genre; they will pay for expensive meals, holidays and the latest shiny piece of technology, but they will not pay the true cost of live music.

Without government subsidy (ie arts funding or the dole—most performing musicians’ income) the entire edifice of music performance in Sydney (and most places in Europe) would crumble, leaving the practice of music as an amateur past time. I care about this; so much so, that I wrote a small book on the subject—suggesting options for changing the situation.

The City Conversation at The Sydney Town Hall on 26 June left me wondering if the whole event was trying to do something to transform the dire situation for live music in Sydney for the better, or the worse.

A colleague and I had with us a small flyer advertising the existence of two books published by nonprofit Sydney publisher Currency House: History is Made at Night: Live Music in Australia by Clinton Walker, and my own The Music of Place: Reclaiming A Practice—both relevant reads to the task in question. Could we leave these flyers on the seats? No, we could not, I was informed. Why not? I asked. Because this event does not allow advertising, was the reply.

I explained that it is on the very subject we are discussing, it is not for profit etc, but to no effect. I asked a gentleman sitting in the next row if he would like one. Yes, he said. So I handed one to him. The official in black swooped—and demanded he give it up immediately, adding that if I continued, I would be removed from the proceedings. I acquiesced, wishing to hear what the panel of experts had to say and not wishing to add to my list of confrontational events on the subject of live music (such as being apprehended by security guards for playing the violin in front of The Sydney Opera House). I underline that we had no books with us to sell; I would be just as happy if people accessed this nonprofit book at their local library.

On taking my seat, one thing became clear. The Sydney Morning Herald was the sponsor, and they told us so on three huge screens. I wondered, was this the same newspaper that used to run several pages of arts reviews in the 1970s, and that these days is mainly content free of such writing? Ah, and here is the first speaker–you guessed it—from The Sydney Morning Herald. He [Bernard Zuel] is described as the “Senior Music Reviewer,” inferring there is a whole team of others out there reviewing concerts right, left and centre. The chair is Meagan Loader, described as “Content Director of Triple J.” That, after decades of ABC management's destructive policies of removing home grown original content from all networks, must be a contradiction of terms.

An opening Australian country duo features a guy singing with a non-ironic put-on American accent. Aren't we supposed to be further on than this by now?

But this is a diversion, as it becomes clear what kind of live music is on parade here. The panel, with the exception of the representative from FBI radio, is really only talking about one kind of music—rock bands. Okay, so we are having a discussion about pub rock, sticky carpets, moshpits and large PA systems. Then why is the whole event set up like a corporate or political party function with 20 or so goons in black patrolling the aisles to make sure no one causes trouble? Why are there three or four rows of VIPs—some look much too young to have ever experienced rock in its Sydney heyday, others look like successful accountants or real estate dealers. Why are our questions moderated through SMS texts or bloody twitter feeds? I'm sitting five meters from the people talking; why can't I ask a question directly to them, face to face? This is symptomatic of our paranoid society, and the control freaks that run and censor free debate, and it has as much to do with the decline of live music as the rise of poker machines, building codes and public liability insurance. The music this panel is discussing used to be in opposition to such hierarchies.

I want to ask Mark Geber, 'the boss' of the Oxford Art Factory, how much he pays his bands when he has his freebie nights—in other words, how much does he think live music (without a minor celeb involved) is actually worth? But I know if I stand up and ask him, I'll be ejected from the meeting, so I bite my tongue instead. Actually, if you listen to the opening remarks from 'the boss' and the agent (I think that was Brett Murrihy, CEO Artist Voice), you would get the impression that everything is going great guns for live music, lots of talent, lots of new ‘acts’ (these two blokes at any rate), couldn't be doing better. Then WTF are we all doing here if there is no problem?! Anybody who comes out with ‘it's all about the music’ and is in arts management, well you better wash your hands after dealing with them. Their breed has not changed since the characters I first met in the late 1960s. The atmosphere in the Town Hall is compliant and conformist—and if that is what Rock and Roll has become, then it deserves to die. The presence of Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus only reinforces that we are talking about one kind of live music from the past. The truly mediocre, soft rock that ends the proceedings, confirms it.

The only one who seems to be engaged with the problem of live music in all forms as a necessary component of culture is the quietly spoken and thoughtful John Waddle. As it turns out, he is the Chair of the City of Sydney live music task force. So there is some hope.

If you are involved with other kinds of live music in Sydney, it is important that you raise your voice: [email protected];,

See also Julian Knowles' review of Jon Rose’s Platform Paper, The Music of Place: Reclaiming a Practice and a review Jon Rose's 60th Anniversary CD box set Rosin

RealTime issue #115 June-July 2013 pg. web

© Jon Rose; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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