A regular review of interesting cultural shifts & marketing developments as viewed through the collective lens of the Stancombe Research + Planning Team

Monday, February 25, 2013

A State Of Emergency Or A Storm In A Teacup?


There has been increased attention recently around the demise of Sydney live music, culminating with federal minister Peter Garrett declaring a state of emergency for the scene. This was triggered in part by the Annandale’s ‘buy a brick campaign’, a last ditch attempt by that potent symbol of Australian pub rock to keep its doors open.  As it happened the Annandale was a lucky survivor largely due to its creative business solution, but sadly, the Gaelic Theatre, Hopetoun Hotel and Darling Harbour Jazz Festival weren’t. Have Sydney-siders just stopped caring? Is Sydney live music being blitzed by competition from other forms of entertainment and almost unlimited access to free online media? Are council regulations slowly strangling live music or are we just getting dragged kicking and screaming into a new era of live music?

As researchers with our fingers firmly on the pulse we took it upon ourselves to investigate the social and cultural factors contributing to this ‘state of emergency’. Could the internet be threatening live music just as it is retailers? Surely not, that would be ignoring the unique spine tingling euphoria that comes from seeing your favourite band perform that favorite track. You’ve heard of AMSRS, what about ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), try getting that online!
A few visits to music venues in the local neighborhood revealed that Sydney siders still appear to have a healthy appetite for live music. A trip to Oxford Arts Factory on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night is enough to confirm this. What you’ll find is a room packed full of outwardly excited or at the very least nonchalantly-enthused live music goers. So maybe live music isn’t disappearing it’s just changing shape by moving to hipper venues. The shutting down of those iconic Sydney stages has simply triggered the emergence of new and improved ones, The Standard, GoodGod Small Club, The Beresford and FBI Social to name a few. If this is the way live music is going then so be it, respond, revamp or get left behind.
Sydney live music is also becoming more concentrated. With fewer available venues, music festivals are increasingly becoming the standard way of experiencing live music. Ten years ago there were a handful of large-scale music festivals on offer. Nowadays there are a myriad of (often extravagantly priced) music festivals catering to fans of all musical persuasions.  You could attend one every second week if time (and indeed your wallet) allowed. Perhaps this is a reflection of our increasingly busy lifestyles and appetite for efficiency. Sydney siders are so time poor nowadays they’d simply prefer to get 10 doses of live music in one hit! 10 good bands for $100 or one for $50?
And finally, live music isn’t just changing shape and becoming concentrated it’s now moving in some very strange directions. Just last year we saw the live comeback of deceased American rapper Tupac at the world famous Coachella festival. That’s right, after 18 years he returned from the grave to grace the stage as a hologram thanks to US company AV concepts. So what will the future hold? Perhaps we will see a transformation of live music into a semi-digital experience? Imagine the potential. John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis, together at last, performing live at the Annandale Hotel, brought to you via the magic of hologram!
So yes we acknowledge that live music is suffering at the hands of the obvious economic and legal factors. Increased residential living in many areas that have traditionally been home to live entertainment venues has led to an accompanying trend of legislative and regulatory changes to protect the rights of residents. But just as artists are driven out of Surry hills and into cheaper industrial spaces in Marrickville (triggering another era of gentrification), so too is live music making its way out of its dingy traditional venues and into new venues, fields and…projector screens?

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