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Why Adelaide music can besaved

From the ashes of the much-loved Jade Monkey, comes a renewed sense of optimism for South Australia’s live music scene, writes RYAN WINTER.

Last week’s announcement of South Australia’s “Music Thinker In Residence” was the biggest industry news to come out of Adelaide in some time. The recent appointment of Martin Elbourne – chief Glastonbury booker, Great Escape founder and a man of industry calibre far beyond anyone presently residing in South Australia – drew national coverage, and deservedly so. It signifies the highpoint of a process just seven months old: To fast-track the redirection of the state’s music industry before the same issues that are presently affecting the rest of our country bury it alive. It’s a proactive move from their government and welcome acknowledgement of the cultural value of live music in South Australia.

Contrary to reports that Elbourne’s appointment is an 11th-hour effort to save a failing scene, the SA music industry has been in steady growth for the past five years. Start-up businesses in music licensing, record label and artist management, festival direction, music agency and online broadcasting have emerged against the closure of dated industry infrastructure. While smaller venues like the Crown & Sceptre, The Producers Bar and Urtext are no more, The Academy, The Metro, The Ed Castle, Glenelg Surf Life Saving Club, Arcade Lane, The Promethean and Format have staked their claims as quality venues of moderate capacity. At the top end of the venue chain, The Governor Hindmarsh has again been named the “Best Entertainment Venu” in the country by the Australian Hotels Association (sharing the honour with Sydney’s Ivy Hotel).

SA has also been blessed by the work of policy mediators, specifically Dr Ianto Ware and John Wardle, who have facilitated industry and state government conversations to affect positive reform to liquor licensing laws. As Dr Ware recently explained, these changes aim to “involve more room for venues to outline how they’re servicing alcohol responsibly, and remove some of the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach we’ve seen over the past decade”.

But among this positive backdrop, not everything is running smoothly, which is precisely why Elbourne is being brought in. Government funding for contemporary music in SA has remained fixed at $546,000 for some time now, and while there has been a further $185,000 of tax-payer money injected into the Music Thinker In Residence program, it’s unlikely that any of this will filter down to assist the development of key industry bodies. FL was present at the FUSE Industry Conference in Adelaide during February, where Music SA Industry Development Officer Gordon Andersen called for a banding together and conversation between players in our industry infrastructure to help address gaps in supporting the ever-increasing quality of live music in the state. Part of Elbourne’s brief will be to facilitate these conversations, and he should be ably assisted by Dan Crannitch, who has been employed as his offsider for the duration of his residency. Crannitch, the lead singer of rock band Leader Cheetah, is a well-respected industry member and should help contextualise each consultation as Elbourne comes to grips with the politics behind existing infrastructure and licensing issues.

An early indication of Elbourne’s vision looks to include the development of a hub, or a series of hubs in order to “establish a cluster where creative industries, such as music and the arts, can be located together”. This could help overcome the disjointed nature of internal industry communications as they stand, but beyond that, any future hub should also address the lack of a broader skill-set among industry professionals, with publicity, artist management, record producers and label managers severely lacking in SA.

The opportunity to create a test environment for a local music hub has been recently presented by Adam Daze, founder and director of online music broadcaster Soundpond. Late last month, Daze made public his vision to combine the online broadcast element of his business with live music studios, pod spaces for music entrepreneurs, a possible record shop and a bar, which he’s already positioned as a trial for small venue liquor licensing reforms presently on the table. From the outside, it looks the closest any local organisation has come to proposing a sustainable business model for such an endeavor, and Daze looks as if he’ll be going ahead with his plans regardless of government support. The fact that the government wouldn’t assume any of the overall financial risk of the venue should actually give them additional incentive to become involved. The Soundpond hub would present a great opportunity to learn how the local industry might interact with this sort of business, something that would need to occur after the Thinker’s residence term, anyway.

“[There’s] an optimism that things are going to get better for our industry as a whole.”

It’s hard to believe that we’re discussing all this in one article, considering that just seven months ago, Adelaide was little more than a live music scene frustrated by its status quo. The tipping point came in the form of a Facebook post from Jade Monkey owner Zac Colligan, which explained that after 10 years of service, his much-loved venue would be shutting its doors. “Our wonderful 131-year-old bluestone walled building at 29 & 29a Twin Street, Adelaide will be no more,” he wrote. “Because even though we aren’t on the exact spot, it seems that the owners don’t want a live music venue next to their shiny new hotel.”

From the ensuing reaction, and through the efforts of local musicians and industry folk in the days immediately following the announcement, SA saw the first seeds of government interest in live music in years. The media caught wind, and so did politicians who also noticed 4000 potential voters sign a petition asking them to “do something”. To their credit, the government has stepped up and the legacy of the Jade Monkey’s last hurrah which will be come in October is an optimism that things are going to get better for our industry as a whole.

But the lasting lesson to take from The Jade Monkey is this: Step up to the plate if you want things to change. SA’s Music Thinker In Residence may well leave a positive mark on music in this state, but whether it’s a turning point or a missed opportunity remains in our hands.


Ryan Winter is FL’s editorial coordinator for Adelaide.

Photo credit: marjorie rose

Comments arrow left

AdamDaze said on the 18th Sep, 2012

wow, big thanks for the mention. the soundpond hub proposal mentioned in the article can be found at our blog site, !


Ianto said on the 18th Sep, 2012

an interesting article, and thanks for mentioning john and i. a couple of points on the venue situation though - i'd agree things have slightly improved over the past five years, but measured over anything more than five years its a colossal decrease, particularly if you measure the decline of live music in suburban pubs. claims that there's been an increase in live music venues tend to be based, to my eye, on fairly selective indicators, such as granting of evl licenses, or class 9b compliance but not all the necessary requirements to host music. there does appear to have been a slight increase in larger, music specific venues (the promethian is a fine example of this), but smaller 80 to 150 person venues are rarer than in the past, and venues have decreased very significantly over the past ten to fifteen years.

moreover, if we measure the actual volume of live, original acts performing from the introduction of the current building code in 1996 and the licensing system in 1997, the reduction is far clearer, and closer to 75%. venues (particularly pubs) hosting live music has decreased substantially. in the city, the botanic, the austral, the producers, the rosemont, the tivoli, the seven stars, the union, as well as clubs like fad, the lizard lounge, the madlove and so many others ceased having music between about 2000 and 2005, whilst some of the existing venues had to decrease their quota of live music. that tends to get buried by only measuring things like apra membership by venues, or by including a guy playing an acoustic guitar in the corner as 'live music'. the increase in apra membership is heartening, but it doesn't inherently mean there's a healthy volume of spaces hosting live music. as a case in point, the exeter lost its band room when apartments moved in behind it, cutting their capacity in half - but they'd still show up as a live music venue. also, the metro replaced the prince albert as a live music venue - and i'm pretty sure the pa didn't continue bands under the new owners. and let's not get started on what happened to the university bars and the regular mid-sized festivals at universities after vsu, which were a key part of our national and, indeed, international touring circuit. mid sized national and international acts used to come to adelaide regularly to play both the uni bars and the mid-sized festivals hosted by universities.

none of these problems are unique to adelaide. all states are dealing with them - and shane homan's excellent book 'the mayor's a square', and his report 'vanishing acts' gives a great context to this in nsw. whilst i agree things have improved marginally over the past couple of years, we're a long way behind where we were.

incidentally, it's good to see urtext getting a mention. interstate, spaces like serial space, bill and george, fraser's studios, red rattler and many others indicate new cross purpose models for running multi-purpose hubs/aris/creative spaces might produce sustainable ventures, and i look forward to seeing more of those spaces setting up in adelaide, and setting up with a regulatory system that makes them easier to operate sustainably and start having paid staff.

sorry, that all sounds unnecessarily negative. you're right though, the current state government in sa is taking very positive and proactive steps, and there is a stronger sense of community cohesion around this sector than i've seen in years. similarly, there are some great efforts happening in victoria through things like slam and music victoria, and city of sydney is reasonably likely to be addressing this in the nearish future, so a very good time to be optimistic and an excellent time to take responsibility for working with those supportive sections of government to re-establish both music and other creative spaces.


rwinter said on the 18th Sep, 2012

i confess my involvement in the live music scene here has been only for 6 years since i became old enough to be served legally. interesting to hear the overall decline in venues over a ten year period. aside from venues, i know there was a huge exodus of major record label infrastructure from 2000-2005 as well, but i'm curious whether or not we had very much else in the way of industry support which has disappeared since then. i've heard music house was a disaster, and samia stopped around that time too. it still doesn't account for the fact that we are lagging so far behind in terms of small to medium size labels based here, have only a couple of touring and booking organisations, very few managers and not very many record producers. did all the skills go interstate during that rapid 5 year decline?


Scorcherfest said on the 21st Sep, 2012

hi ryan, nice overview. karen & i have been to a few shows in adelaide lately, some cranking like the riot runners ep launch, & some awesome shows to not many people. to get sa noticed nationally, it takes a lot of persistence. after 10 years of scorcher fest it has only been lately that touring bands are choosing to play adelaide alongside their eastern states shows. things generally seem to be getting better : ) k & a