The aim of this blog is to contribute to the dialogue on the Sydney live music scene, with a particular focus on contemporary, activist-driven, punk and experimental music and the venues and events that promote this music. My own diverse musical experience as a bassist, double bassist, guitarist and songwriter has centred upon jazz, rock, indie and classical music. (I use the lower-case ‘c’ definition of ‘classical’ music to include all music of the Western ‘art music’ tradition). Such broad musical terrain has allowed me to participate in many divergent music scenes across Sydney, but only occasionally has my playing delved into the world of experimental music. It is predominantly as an observer and audience member that I have participated in the experimental, politicised and activist-driven, alternative-focussed music scenes in Sydney.
In 2013, I spent 7 months (March to October) researching aspects of this scene, as guided by a decades worth of my thoughts and observations, as I undertook an Honours year in Musicology which followed on from the completion of my three-year Bachelor of Music at the University of Western Sydney. My Honours research thesis, Neoliberalism, Live Music and the Performing Arts: The Red Rattler, was a musicological enquiry into the impacts of neoliberalism (I use the term neoliberalism in its contemporary sense, to refer to advanced capitalism and the ideologies that go hand-in-hand with it to justify the growing divide between rich and poor), upon creative freedom in the production of contemporary music. At a highly speculative level, I used local venue the Red Rattler to explore ways in which the commercial constraints to free-flowing artistic expression could be minimised.
My reasons for using Marrickville’s gorgeous, seminal, underground-turned-legit warehouse venue, the Red Rattler, as my case-study were not simply because as one of my favourite local venues, I was already a frequent audience member, workshop participant and one-time performer there. Moreover, I was interested in the Red Rattler because of the socially and artistically progresive ethos that I had observed from the way it was formed and continued to be operated, and the diverse array of avant-garde, unfettered creative expression within its walls that seemed to be a flow-on effect of this ethos. As a not-for-profit venue put together by a group of women artists who had a vision of inclusion and representation of a multitude of art forms and minority communities, the Red Rattler contained (and continues to contain) so many of the ingredients needed to revive the seemingly-dwindling Sydney live music scene as it was then in early 2013.
I have since learned of further DIY-warehouse venues around the traps that follow the model of the Red Rattler, and I have also witnessed the emergence of many new and revamped licensed venues across Sydney. I’m not alone in recently observing that the Sydney live music scene is now thriving more than it has in a long time! The climate to allow and encourage this renaissance of live music is no doubt due in part to the new live-music friendly policies of Sydney local government. Equally significant though, it became apparent in my research that places such as the Red Rattler come to thrive as a direct result of the harsh constraints of commercialism upon the arts in the broader mainstream – the windswept shadowlands!
Some years on from handing in my Honours thesis, and having finally gotten over the self-imposed emotional trauma of the whole process (this is something that seems to be common among Honours students!), I still have great aspirations of opening up the academic (and non-academic) discourse on Sydney’s DIY-warehouse scene and the music produced therein, as well as live music in other sites of experimental music production. My three years spent as an undergrad student doing my Bachelor of Music had shown me that there was little Australia-focussed academic discussion on this subject and none at all that touched upon this scene in Sydney. So, in short, I’m using this blog to lay my thoughts (from out of the emotionally-windswept shadowlands of Sydney) into cyberspace to promote some discussion! If I play at or see any exciting gigs in and around Sydney – or anywhere else for that matter – that stir up a feeling of hot, burning joy or are in the least thought provoking, I’m going to report them from here, to the world at large. I’d like to get some feedback and also hints for exciting gigs to attend, so please let me know of things coming up.