Here we go again, off on our global musical travels.
This time we’re heading Down Under for Elena Wewer to introduce us to the music scene in Sydney, where despite abundant bands and fans music is struggling to survive changes to the industry.
If you asked a Sydneysider to describe the local music scene, chances are that you would get scattered, varied and vaguely uncertain answers. And perhaps that’d tell you exactly what you needed to know.
Unlike Melbourne’s DIY punk scene, or even the psychedelic rising in Perth, Sydney’s soundscape has become a contentious topic in recent years.
Battling noise complaints and subsequent venue closures, live music in Sydney almost seems under attack from the very people it serves, so much so that the city council recently conducted a report into the matter and launched its Live Music and Performance Action Plan this past November.
It’s a far cry from the garage rock revival of the early ’00s which catapulted Australian bands The Vines, Jet, and The Living End onto the national and world stage.
Ten years ago, Sydney seemed at the forefront of it all, with rock revival frontrunners and Sydney band The Vines causing a stir worldwide, paving the way for other local rock bands such as Wolfmother, Youth Group and Red Riders to find success alongside them. Now, after the fall of most of these bands, Sydney’s scene has been left a shell of its former self.
In the wake of a gradual demise in interest in The Vines, and their eventual, spectacular (though tragic) self-destruction at the hands of troubled frontman Craig Nicholls, Sydney was left with a handful of willing, but predominantly underground, replacements.
Though Sydney is never short of alternative bands who play rock, bands like Palms and Straight Arrows, despite having a strong cult following, haven’t quite captured the more mainstream appreciation their forefathers found. While the late ’00s saw no one Sydney artist reach dizzying heights of fame nationally or internationally, the last few years has seen the most media attention afforded to more indie-inclined Sydney artists such as Josh Pyke, Sparkadia and Philadelphia Grand Jury.
Recent years have also seen a rebirth of underground psychedelia in the city’s Inner West. The scene has spawned, most notably, The Black Ryder (now LA-based), whose 2011 debut album drew much critical acclaim and featured collaborations with a host of guests including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Peter Hayes and Leah Shapiro, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Ricky Maymi and Graham Bonnar.
Still flying the flag for Sydney alternative music from the city itself are Inner-West bands such as The Art, and psychedelia outfit The Laurels, whose on-point shoegaze experimentations got them onto UK independent label Northern Star Records’ compilation album Psychedelica 5.
With a strong culture of mateship and social drinking, the Northern Beaches produces an abundance of heavier bands that play the region’s many local venues. Among this garage noise comes more earthy tones, though, and while this culture is largely self-contained to the Beaches, some bands break the barrier and make waves beyond the local bar scene.
Take Sons of the East for example, an alternative/folk outfit from Manly who hone the art of Australian coastal soul, favouring delicate harmonies, keys, banjos, harmonicas and the odd didgeridoo over an excess of aggressive vocals and distorted electric fuzz.
While The Presets, Empire of the Sun and Sneaky Sound System all gained wide exposure as Sydney’s premier electro artists in the ’00s, this scene, like local rock, has fallen quiet in recent years as national interest shifted slowly elsewhere.
However, if the 2013 ARIA Music Awards are anything to go by, one man may be heralding the dawn of a resurgence of electronic music. Breaking the rock-and-pop traditions of the event, Sydney producer Flume took home no less than four ARIA awards this December, winning Best Male Artist, Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Best Dance Release and Producer of the Year.
Whether or not Flume’s recent success is the beginning of a new era for live music in Sydney is uncertain, but for now Sydney is full of smaller bands, playing smaller venues, with interstate and international artists boasting the headline slots at festivals and concerts alike (despite Sydney being the birthplace of the now nation-wide festival Big Day Out).
While venues such as the Hordern Pavilion, Sydney Entertainment Centre, and Enmore and Metro Theatres have long been standard, and though recent years has seen the opening of the Oxford Art Factory, The Hi-Fi and The Brighton Up Bar among others, pointing to a continued interest in live music, the fervency of Sydney punters is being called into question as the industry falters. Most recently, controversy has surrounded the iconic Annandale Hotel in the Inner West, which went into receivership and came close to closure as a result of mounting costs and noise complaints.
An abundance of bands, an abundance of fans, but no single, championed genre or artist. Increasing amounts of venues, but controversy around them all. It seems the future of music in Sydney is not in the hands of neither punters of music nor the producers of music, but the very structure of the industry itself.
All words by Elena Wewer.
Image by RaeAllen on Flickr.