Local council to reconsider pop-up venue guidelines

Wollongong gallery space Good Jelly was recently fined after a music event hosted at their Globe Lane location. The penalty attracted significant attention both online and in local media, with this Illawarra Mercury article generating heated discussion about the uses of many similar spaces in Wollongong.

As a follow up, Radar Illawarra posted an article by Rob Carr, a long-time Wollongong musician, historian and community advocate. The Radar piece generated a long overdue discussion about venues being fined and audiences being broken up by police.

In less than a fortnight, both Good Jelly and The Drop have shelved plans to re-open for the time being. The Drop was meant to re-open last Friday. The last few months have seen The Art Bar and Sol Studios caught up in the confusion as well. Neither of these initiatives looks to resurface.

Carr’s Radar article called for Wollongong Council and police to come together with venues and the music scene to address growing confusion over licensing and DA.

Now, Radar has just received word that Council will begin to create clearer guidelines for prospective small bars and “pop-up” venues. Carr said: “The details aren’t too clear at this stage but hopefully this will include what seems to be a much needed, new kind of event DA.”

“It sounds promising for venues facing fines and issues with police. In the meantime there are still concerns about the way police are interacting with venues.”

Carr states: “From what I understand these changes are directly related to Radar’s coverage of the issue last week. This is definitely a small victory for independent journalism in Wollongong.”


Music scene needs nurturing, not police heavy-handedness

By Rob Carr

Liquor licensing enforcer at Wollongong Local Area Command, Wayne Hadfield, is relatively new to the job. In the past his colleague Paul Hoyer did not seem to have minded, as much, pop up and live music venues in Wollongong city centre.

Liquor licensing enforcement at Wollongong LAC has a chequered record. Last year the LAC was embroiled in the leaking of Wollongong Council’s public surveillance footage to national media, the ramifications of which are still playing out. Public trust was shaken by the deliberate misuse of our local government CCTV system.

Now music fans attending the Good Jelly pop up gallery-come music venue in Globe Lane are outraged about the fines recently imposed by police on the new venue. The fines amount to $1,500, and proprietor Dioni Pinilla says he will likely have to close the venue just when it was starting to gather momentum.

Certainly, before Hadfield’s spell as enforcer of the Liquor Accord, the pop up style venues – Music Farmers, Sol and Yours & Owls – rarely if at all raised a blip on the police radar. Has something changed since Hadfield come on board? Have new orders been issued to crack down on emerging live music venues in Wollongong? Or is Hadfield simply throwing a bit of muscle around?

Perhaps it is because of a lack of violent episodes to occupy the officer’s time. After all, crime rates are down, and NSW statistics show that public violence in the central postcode has declined consistently since 2007.

By all indications music venues are the least of worries for Wollongong police. The culture of live music venues is much different, generally speaking, to that which you’d find at the Harp, Ivory, Illawarra or Abbey’s.

To give credit where it’s due, the police have a role to play in monitoring alcohol consumption, which includes music venues. Saying that, some gigs at these gallery style venues are BYO alcohol, so there is a conflict in terms of what regulations apply for venues – such as what police can and cannot enforce in terms the Liquor Accord and alcohol legislation; dealing with the smaller venues which are not members of the Liquor Accord; and when the venues are not selling alcohol but offer a “social” and “cultural” space.

Most important is the social and cultural role pop up venues play in the rebuilding of the city centre as a hub of activity. At the pop up venues there are now scores of die hard live music fans finally getting a sense that they’ve found a new home since the centrally established venue, the Oxford Tavern, closed its doors in 2010. Two years on, musos and alternative crowds are starting to regain their bearings along with a centre of gravity for their favourite pursuit – a centre of gravity that emanates directly from pop up venues.

Music Farmers, Yours and Owls, and now Good Jelly are heroes to local musos, taking it upon themselves to provide a space for creative activity when the business sector has lost its interest in supporting live music (excepting pubs Dicey Rileys and The Patch).

For the last decade RDL’s control of the nightlife scene in Wollongong proved to be shambolic. Their venues, along with the Oxford, forced musos, many of whom are students and working people on low incomes, out of night spaces. Before its closure, even the Oxford required long-time patrons to pay for entry, to accept gentrification of an important cultural space or go home. That battle was lost, for better or worse.

But where the business sector has failed local musicians, the small, independent pop up venues have taken up the slack. Importantly these spaces are a source of connectedness. To quote Wollongong Council’s 2022 Community Strategic Plan, they are part of the provision: ‘We are a connected and engaged community’.

These venues connect live music fans and performers, in all their diversity, and appreciate the creative economy, which is often financially non-rewarding, but they do it anyway. And now instead of being rewarded for their efforts, the independent pop up venues are being slapped with thousands of dollars in fines for breaches that remain unclear.

Who is to blame? Sure, it’s the responsibility of the venue operators to investigate and look into what activities they are and are not allowed to undertake. There are basic Work Health Safety standards all night life spaces should adhere to like basic fire exits, provision of toilets and the like.

But it’s not entirely the venues’ fault. Good Jelly has been running live music gigs for months without any issues being raised by police. Good Jelly’s operators say they thought they were adhering to their D.A. conditions – a scheme that includes a rent-free space with leeway for live music.

The rent-free scheme is available to anyone wanting to run creative and artistic ventures, but it does seem, at least on the surface, to be vague in terms what operators can and cannot do in terms of live music. Officer Hadfield told the Illawarra Mercury that Good Jelly should have run a proposal for ‘events involving non-acoustic music and alcohol should be arranged in co-operation with police.’

So is Council at fault for the confusion? Not entirely. Neither Council nor the operators should be criticised, not least without some context.

On one hand the rent-free scheme is a relatively new program, and this is a learning curve that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. If venues need specific licenses to run live music gigs that are deemed ‘non-acoustic’, then Council should consider providing this information in briefing applicants for the rent-free scheme.

Moreover, the rent-free program must be better managed, particularly if this is part of Council’s plan to ‘Activate’ the city centre – to light up laneways, alleys and unused business frontages with buzzing, creative, cultural and economic activity at both night and day. That also means bringing police into discussions about the importance of live music in Wollongong, and creating a new consensus between all the stakeholders on issues that impact live music as a whole. This includes recognising the importance of providing and nurturing spaces for live music culture to exist and develop within Council’s broader strategic plan, especially in regards to the ‘2022’ policy.

City Centre management wants the city to recover from what seems to be stagnation in the city centre economy. It wants to ‘activate’ that space and change the community’s perceptions on how it is used and why. Council purports to want community members to feel free and creative, not scared and unsafe. It wants to bring light and synergy to the city centre, and “turn on the lights” so to speak.

Police have a job to do, but I urge liquor licensing to come to the table on this issue. The rigidness of the application of police powers, whether they are justified or not, needs to take into account that Wollongong city centre needs to recuperate, to repair itself. That means allowing members of the community, such as independent venue operators, to try to assist in that task.

Police need to come to new terms with the music scene. Issuing thousands of dollars in fines on emerging, independent live music venues is counterproductive to the bigger task for Wollongong as a whole. Come to the table. Be part of this community, while being responsible contributors to public safety.

OPINION: Designs sought for CBD sculpture

By Rob Carr

For a long time musicians have been calling for more money to be spent supporting Wollongong’s live music scene. Council funding is usually channelled through youth services for Youth Week and weekly new bands nights, and the occasional bit of money will go out through cultural services to musicians performing at Viva la Gong.

Council was recently given an extra $5 million from the Federal Government to revitalise the CBD. $500,000 will be spent on just one piece of art to go in the CBD.

While musicians may feel we’ve missed out on an opportunity to divert funds into venues, gigs and the like, Council’s long term vision of the city includes other opportunities for musos.

This includes being part of the big revamp about to be undertaken in the new arts precinct, specifically plans to turn Civic Plaza into a hub of arts and nightlife activity.

So how do musicians want to use this space? Some live music venues down that way, or an outdoors pavilion for gigs perhaps? What if the Town Hall opened onto Civic Plaza, and more regular gigs could be held there?

Another question for the short term is how musicians think $500,000 could be spent on city centre art.

There has been a callout for artists to submit a tender, so why not a sculpture that reflects Wollongong’s rich musical heritage, or at least a work that recognises the live music scene alongside the city’s visual or performing art scenes?

Perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there has been some light-hearted discussion on the grapevine about a bronze “Beezy”, standing firm with bass in one hand and guitar pick in the other, looking out across the city as it grows and morphs into a vibrant cultural space.

I suppose, why not a monument to such a seasoned musician? My money is that there aren’t many Wollongong musicians who have played in more bands, and who have performed and composed in a diverse range of styles with such tenacity and precision (and volume!).

Who knows what can be produced if local musicians put their heads together, but I’d love to see a sculpture dedicated, at least in part, to Wollongong’s diverse music scene. The tender process is open until July 10. To submit an expression of interest go to the link http://www.tenderlink.com/wollongong

SCENE PLAYERS: Music Grants, and Developing a Sustainable Music Scene

This is the first article of a new project called SCENE PLAYERS, a series of opinion and feature articles that Radar has commissioned from local music identities and advocates. We hope this series will act as a forum to broadcast important opinions and thoughts, and stimulate debate and thought about where Wollongong stands as a music community, what we’re doing well and what/how/where we can improve. 

If you’re interested in contributing an article, email radar.illawarra@gmail.com. All submissions welcome!


The GFC has made times pretty tight in Wollongong. The rate at which local jobs are getting cut by the day is almost unprecedented. The music scene will feel the impact of this, if it has not begun to already. People are now spending less time enjoying live music and buying CDs. Venues are struggling financially, but its not just the reality of less and less playing opportunities that may impact bands. When times are tight, recording companies, promoters and bands themselves are less likely to spend money on quality recordings, promotion for shows and touring expenses. Even in the D.I.Y. cheap-and-digital age, we still need decent musical equipment, software for recordings, and a decent artist to design a CD cover. We still need quality production and promotion to pull crowds in.

Maybe if musicians had more control over some of these things their chances of success would increase. Maybe there is a way for bands to make more of an income from recording and performing music. What if we could, say, stop a venue from shutting down, or make sure a venue can expand or renovate when it needs to? What if there was a way of increasing the quality of recording without extra costs for musicians or the studio owners? What if there was a way to pay a decent web designer to create and maintain your band’s website? What if there was a way to subsidise promotional and touring costs?

Funding is available for most of these things – to prop up venues when they are struggling, to fund better recordings, to subsidise tours, to subsidise promoters that will allow cheaper ticket prices and get more punters through the door, and so on. The only thing standing in the way is filling out the paper work. Bodies like Music NSW, APRA, Wollongong Council, Prime Minister’s touring program and companies in the private sector all offer funding opportunities.

In the past many Wollongong musicians recognised the need to make the music scene more sustainable and took the initiative to do the leg work, fill out the paperwork and get on with supporting the scene. With a broad community ethos, scene advocates sought to gain funding to assist the scene as a whole. Advocates promoted equity and long-term strategies; they promoted the scene as a whole rather than pockets within. The scene has thrived from the involvement of countless team players over the years, as well as the involvement of youth workers keen to drive live music culture further. Many Gong musos today got their first gig at an event funded by the Wollongong Music Round Table, at one of our local skate parks, youth centres or in a band comps.

Advocacy for the music scene has tended to have long-term goals in mind. Think about the different cogs in a clock or pieces of a watch, and apply this to the Wollongong music scene: venues, scene media, graphic artists, music suppliers/stores, recording studios, promoters, event organisers and P.A. suppliers. We could even add affiliated aspects such as transport for audiences, local government (DAs, noise restrictions etc.), police (who work with venue owners) and the like.

All of these things need to be working together for the clock to function properly, but a community perspective is vital. If venues falter, then bands have less playing opportunities. If a recording studio closes down or is struggling to keep costs low for bands, then bands will have to travel farther away and spend more of their own money. If venues close or have heavy restrictions placed on them, then touring bands will stop coming to Wollongong and local bands miss out on networks and playing opportunities.

Each part of the scene has a function to play; each musician, scene media, venue, music promoter, funding body and local music store has an important place. If funding is able to reach each of these aspects of the music scene, then the scene will be better equipped to sustain itself.

If you are interested in getting some grants to prop up your music project, generally there are usually three types of schemes: private business, government and public philanthropic. In some cases you can apply as an individual or as a small business, but at other times you need to be part of an NGO which is Incorporated. Private companies such as the IMB and Bluescope have community funding schemes so be sure to do some Googling on whatever business grants you’d like to check out.

The most common grant schemes are funded by government or government appointed bodies. If you keen on grants for touring, events and music business activities more generally, check out some of these links.

APRA: http://www.apra-amcos.com.au/musiccreators/grantscompetitions.aspx

Music NSW: http://www.musicnsw.com/2012/02/aca-grant-opportunities/.

For all ages and youth events, apply to Indent: http://www.indent.net.au/grants/.

Regional Arts NSW: http://www.regionalartsnsw.com.au/grants/grants.html.

Wollongong Council’s Cultural Services Grants will re-open later in 2012, having just closed: http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/services/funding/pages/default.aspx.

The Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Regional Touring Grants closes on 1st June 2012: http://www.arts.gov.au/topics/regional-touring-arts/playing-australia.

A new Wollongong-based philanthropic initiative called Culture Bank, which aims to be up and running by mid-later 2012, will announce application process soon so stay tuned for that as well. The scheme seems to have a “no strings” element too which will be highly beneficial to local musos.

Wollongong has no shortage of passionate businesses keen to support the scene. We see these pop up every time a band comp is organised – notable examples include Haworths, Music Farmers and Main Street. Partnerships are vital, but we also need partnerships to expand – from local music business and venues to funding bodies like Music NSW, APRA, Music Council of Australia, Music in Communities Network and of course Wollongong Council.

Advocacy is about the future; its about building our scene in a way that is sustainable. It’s about passing on Wollongong’s music culture to the next generation. It is about the next generation of musos taking the stage for years to come.

OPINION: More than the working-class cliches

Radar Illawarra will be contributing a monthly column to the University of Wollongong’s student magazine, Tertangala. The below article can be found in issue #3, available free at UOW.

The only music that comes out of Wollongong is hard rock, punk and metal… right? If you listened to most media banter around music in the Illawarra, that’s the impression you’d get. Of course, you’d be wrong, but that’s the impression you’d get. Typically a working-class area, Wollongong has typically produced and embraced working-class music (probably why Cold Chisel can sell out the Entertainment Centre, playing the same songs from when they were 20 years younger and 30 kilograms lighter), but today there’s a quickly swelling number of acts bubbling away just beneath the surface, looking to change public perceptions of music in Wollongong. Scratch the surface, take a closer look, and you’ll find a wave of artists that – pound for pound – could challenge the musical diversity of any other area in Australia.

There is maybe no more distinct and noticeable indicator of the shifting paradigms of the local music scene, than the fact that our most prominent, popular and promising young artists are creating work that does cannot be stuffed into the “loud, heavy and simple” pigeonhole that many are quick to shove Wollongong music into. Take for example, Alotta Presha. The eight member reggae/dub (that’s got nothing to do with “dubstep,” for all you Skrillex aficionados playing along at home) outfit have quickly developed into one of the region’s most loved and talented outfits, with sets at Rainbow Serpent and Foreshore festival, a headline spot at Stacked Music Festival, support slots for The Herd and Thundamentals, packed-out local shows wherever they play, and serious love from Sydney radio station FBI.

For another, try Rocking Horse & The Baby Dolls. The rhythm’n’blues ensemble filled the Heritage Hotel to the brim for their EP launch a few weeks back, won the UOW band comp in 2011, have toured up and down the East Coast, and singer Christie would give any soul singer in the country a run for their money. Consider, too, Tommy M & The Mastersounds, the insanely youthful reggae eight-piece (yes, there’s a bunch of eight-piece bands around) who have won pretty much every competition there is to win in the region, and will be one of the more entertaining live acts you see.

Bec Sandridge has scored massive plaudits from overseas, and already completed a handful of international tours, while Bennie James is a semi-permanent fixture in the Sydney music scene. There’s a strong indie pop scene led by Jenny Broke The Window and Round The Corner, as well as Beaten Bodies and Firelucy tapping into some bluesy, soulful stuff. We’ve got outstanding electronic prospects in This Mess, Elliphant, Reactionary and Moonbase Commander, producing the sort of music almost never seen before in Wollongong; a burgeoning hip-hop scene led by Common Grounds, Cass Clay and Mass Effect; and folk-pop acts Yetis, Vicious Dickens, Paisley Park and Obscura Hail, bringing a much-welcomed tender touch to the local scene.

If you didn’t know already, Wollongong is no longer a town solely producing rock and metal. Pound for pound, our scene is as strong, vibrant and diverse as any other area in Australia. Get out and see for yourself.

OPINION: Fracturing, disputes and meanness don’t help anyone

As some of you may have seen online in recent days, there has been a mountain of tension between a certain local online media outlet and a certain local artist collective. Being more respectful of the process than one of those parties has been, Radar won’t mention the name of either, but the debate essentially rages around the use of a word which has been trademarked by one party, and used for the same purpose by the other party.

After speaking in depth with one of the involved parties, who owns the trademark to the word (disclaimer: this writer has a prior friendship and minor business relationship with this party), Radar understands that this party had sent the second party a brief letter, asking for a discussion about  the use of this word due to trademark reasons; “we did not ask a certain website to remove the word from their website, we asked them to contact us to discuss the capacity of the meaning. They decided independently to remove the word… we wanted to speak with the company because there was confusion on our branding… we did not take legal action from beginning to end,” reads a press release from the trademark-holding party.

After a period, this second party posted news of what was a private, civil and polite letter to their 500-odd Facebook followers; this Facebook post then devolved into a quite rude, uncivilised and offensive series of comments from followers of this page, which identified the other party in the legal dispute, and which (at time of writing) have not been removed.

The trademark-holding party has since received death threats from supporters of that media outlet.

Radar has gone to great pains to avoid identifying either of the parties involved here (unlike one of the involved parties), but with the escalating situation as it involves the local creative scene, decided it was time to wade into the debate.

A private legal dispute has escalated quickly to a frankly appalling, disgusting and juvenile attack on the character of one of the involved parties. While of course the second party has no influence over what their followers say, think or feel, they DO have an obligation – especially due to the legal situation – to not identify the other party… at least try to maintain a semblance of dignity and maturity, which thus far has been lacking.

This fracturing of an already fragile scene is petty, childish and totally uncalled for. Airing of dirty laundry in public, as one of these involved parties has done, is utterly disrespectful, and just plain mean and spiteful; while ganging up on one person, and not giving them a right of response, is a pretty low act. The fact that the second party has allowed this to escalate to the point where the first party, technically in the right in this situation, is now receiving death threats, is inexcusable.

This dispute just weakens a local creative scene that is just FINALLY starting to gather some momentum and regather some strength. For this to devolve into degrading, disgusting personal attacks on a party who invests countless hours into the Wollongong creative scene, for little reward, is something that Radar will not stand idly by and accept… especially when Radar has been privy to this sort of thing in the past, too.

This is not something that has ever been publicly discussed by Radar, but in the few weeks after its creation, Radar too was sent a letter by a well-known online media outlet, with some illuminating details about its future: “I’m not convinced the local scene will be able to sustain two sites doing essentially the same thing,” stated the media outlet’s creator, before going on to say that if Radar continued, he would promise a “fight to the death.”

This is not Radar’s fight, Radar is in no way involved in this; but with it concerning two prominent players in the scene, and with one of these players not having the platform to have their views known – and having had their name dragged through the mud, publicly – this is an issue that affects many facets of our community.

Ugly comments don’t help anyone. Airing your dirty laundry in public doesn’t help anyone. Having your followers harass, publicly ridicule and send death threats to someone who you are involved in a dispute with, doesn’t help anyone. Fostering a gang mentality and then ganging up on someone, doesn’t help anyone. Have some respect for one another, and don’t hang people out to dry just because they’ve dared to question you.

And if that doesn’t work, try this:

OPINION: Band Comps (a follow-up)

After the big response to, and discussion generated by, our article on band competitions, local music advocate Rob Carr – organiser of the ‘Rock The Vote’ campaign, and the State of the Music Scene forum – wrote to Radar, to submit his own take on the idea of band competitions.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Supporting the Wollongong Music Scene: the ups and downs of local band comps
by Rob Carr

Established nightlife venues should be doing more to support the music scene in Wollongong. Live music venues are crying out for assistance but there seems to be little help available financially to get a successful run of shows up and running. Local venues, as they have done many times over the years, sometimes resort to band comps to get punters through the doors and cover costs. Better bands than pokies, hey?

Whether there is a place for band comps in the local music scene has been debated over and over again for years. I wrote an article about this in Illawarra Sounds street press back in 2003. The article followed heated public posts on the Wollongong Music Scene.com forum about the issue. Nine years later, we are still arguing about it.
What came out of that debate, and which I think is still an important insight today, is the culture of competitiveness that band comps generate. Isn’t music meant to be about music, the critics said, and not about “winning”? On the other hand, young bands need any opportunity they can get to gain experience and create networks both in Wollongong and beyond the local area. Both of these points of view are probably correct, and I suppose it depends on the level your band is at whether you agree or not.
Despite all this, one of the great successes for a local band comp was undoubtedly the Illawarra Youth Services Band Competitions in 2003 and 2004. Myself and other youth workers from Helensburg to Kiama came together to produce dozens of heats for young local bands, many inexperienced and some more experienced than others. This was a precursor to the Illawarra Mercury Youth Band Comp.
Bands you may recognise now who perhaps got a start by playing in the comp included Blackbird (featuring Pom Pom), The Erics (with members now in the Bungalows), Cyndustry, Ohana, Ben Kunkler, Agent Pecan (which became Tetanus Rig) and others.
First time performers got a lot out of the experience. The most interesting thing to come out of it was the networks bands were able to form across the region. For instance, all of a sudden a young band from Gerringong could get a gig in Dapto, and vice-versa, and swap shows could be arranged between them.
In the second year the organisers mixed up the heats so that many bands were slotted in to venues they hadn’t been able to play at before. Those who got through their heats went on to support more established guest headliners from Wollongong and Sydney in the final, which further encouraged steps towards getting shows down the track at licensed venues. The band comp was successful too in terms of developing awareness about the Wollongong music scene and a sense of community between musos.
Saying all that, local band comps have not all run smoothly over the last decade. Enter MusicOz, where thousands of musicians from across the country paid entry fees to have their demos listened to by music industry professionals, but were instead critiqued by volunteer Work for the Dole staffers (though I’m not being critical of those staffers of course). MusicOz founder Pat Maloney had said, while speaking in the Council chambers about Porcelain landing a $2 million record deal, that it was a band comp which would bring a Seattle type musical explosion to Wollongong. Criticism at the time emerged because the competition appeared to favour market-friendly pop music over groundbreaking creative bands, despite being supported by public funding.
Band comps have their place, and can have good outcomes especially for young bands. With many venues struggling to survive maybe band comps are a short-term solution to getting gigs up and running. Band comps can also promote a community ethos among local businesses, too, which we musos need to keep the scene afloat. The music scene has been supported by local music businesses year after year – by Redback, Wollongong Music Centre, Haworths, Main Street, Music Farmers, and so on. New equipment, recording and playing opportunities are offered by these businesses, often at a loss. Those businesses deserve credit where it is due, as does Radar Illawarra, for continuing to promote the scene as a whole and the bands we all love to see.
Got an opinion? Want to submit your own opinion piece to Radar? Comment below, or email radar.illawarra@gmail.com

OPINION: Band comps

Following on from this week’s post on venues who get into live music for the wrong reasons; do we REALLY need more band comps?

First off, let me say that I have absolutely nothing against band competitions, per say. They are a great opportunity for new bands to get their first gig or to get live playing experience; they allow bands to play in front of judges, usually influential people in the music community, thereby making important contacts for the future; they allow bands to be critiqued on their performance, and to receive feedback from judges; and the prizes on offer are usually pretty good, with prizes like video clips or recording packages giving local bands a much-needed leg up.

But really, haven’t we got ENOUGH already? Let’s count them off: off the top of my head, there’s the Mercury Bluescope band comp, the UOW band comp, the Brewery band comp, the i98 Summer Search parties, and a new one starting up at Dicey Riley’s.

Why do venues hold band comps? It’s not to support live music. Here comes the truthbomb; it’s to get people through the door. The reason the band comps are held on an otherwise slow night (Tuesdays or Wednesdays, usually) with free entry, is to simply get people in the venue, buying food/drinks/whatever. Bands are encouraged (usually through the “public vote” concept) to bring as many family and friends along to the event, and with free entry, its easy for venues to bring in many people on a night where they would have struggled to break even financially; patrons buy food or drinks, and all the venue has to do is provide a PA and lighting (usually provided free of charge by a sponsoring business).

Besides the largely negligible benefits mentioned above, band comps do not support a live music scene. They do not really lead to a stronger music community. Evidence? Look around at the next band comp heat you attend; depending on the venue, there will probably be around 10-20 fans for each band. Go see a local band at Yours & Owls, or the Patch, a week later. Odds are that there will be less than a handful of fans infor each band, and you will struggle to see a face from the band comp heat (if you don’t believe me, try it – I have, and it’s true).

If organised properly, band comps do not cost a venue much at all; or, at least, the profits they make will far outstrip any outlays. As mentioned, a smart venue will secure a lighting/sound company as a name sponsor for the event, in exchange for them providing the PA system. Prizes, again, will come from name sponsors. The venue will usually not put on any extra staff for the event. Therefore, they have more people through the door, the people are buying more things, the venue isn’t spending much more money than they usually do, and the only people who are paying anything are the sponsors and the punters.

We don’t need more band comps. What we need, are these venues to support live music throughout the WHOLE year, EVERY week, rather than just one night a week for six weeks of the year. Dicey Riley’s and the Unibar obviously are hubs for live music in Wollongong; but City Diggers (hosts of the Mercury comp) and the Brewery can surely do more for live music, rather than just exploiting it for higher drink sales. Give up one night a week for a love music evening; they both obviously have the facilities and resources to do so.

What we need are more venues willing to take a risk on live music, rather than simply using it as a cash-cow through the popularity contest of band comps which largely exist to exploit bands and their fans. We need more venues like Yours & Owls, like the Patch, like Music Farmers; venues that support live music all year round, not just whenever their bank accounts need a tidy boost.

So instead of waiting to see your friend’s band at the band comp, go and see them when they play a dodgy club in front of fifteen people. Don’t wait for their Mercury heat to roll around; check them out when they play the local pub. You’ll probably find that you like it.

OPINION: Venues in Wollongong

I thought I’d try out something new; a totally biased, subjective, personal piece. It’s not meant to be objective, or balanced. This is 100% my own opinion. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Putting together the first gig guide of 2012, I found something encouraging; the Glasshouse Tavern was hosting a gig on Thursday night. Typically a hotbed of ear-splitting Bruno Mars/Lady Gaga remixes (or, if you’re lucky, mashups!), vomit, and questionable lifechoices, the venue would host Curious Temple, the Vicious Dickens, The Walking Who and others. It was the second time the Glasshouse had hosted a music night in recent weeks, with A Cat Named Kesey, Gravity Takes Over among those playing a week or two previously.

Normally, the Glasshouse isn’t somewhere this writer would frequent; but you’d be a fool to say that it’s not a well-equipped and stylish venue. It has a large dancefloor, a large bar, a spacious outdoor area, and obviously good acoustics and a decent sound system. While not having a reputation for local music, I was happy to see that the venue was at least trying out a live performance evening; no matter what, more venues supporting live music is a good thing in my books.

Then, basically just as the gig guide went live, the event was cancelled.

“We won’t be able to get enough money to hire gear, a sound guy, promotion and pay the bands,” went a post on the Facebook event page for the gig. The Vicious Dickens were a little more forthcoming with information: “the glasshouse didnt want to fork out any dollars for sound/lighting, but were happy to charge $10 entry. Weird that.”

Sadly, it’s not a story uncommon to Wollongong. Many similar band nights have popped up in recent times – Midnight Kamikaze at Hostage X, Face/Off at Fever – only to be immediately cancelled after poor showings (i.e. door and bar takings) in the opening week or two. This is the absolute biggest problem in Wollongong music; that the overwhelming percentage of venues see live music as merely a commodity to be exploited, a resource to be picked up and sucked dry. We hear the usual PR spin bullshit; “we support live music,” “XYZ club loves local music,” but as soon as the venue doesn’t make the profits they want, as soon as the cash dries up, so too does the venue’s “passion for live music” dry up.

Like the place or not, the Glasshouse would be a decent venue for live music. It’s large, has many different areas, a bar, and is central to town. Maybe the owners saw the success of Yours & Owls,  or the Patch, or Dicey Riley’s ‘Live & Local’ nights, and saw another opportunity to squeeze some money out of punters. Yet – after zero promo, zero exposure, and booking what was honestly a lineup of lesser-known local bands for its first night – management decided to more or less force the night to shut down by making bands pay for their own lighting and sound; a pretty piss-poor attitude from the venue. The moment a band night fails to turn a profit, it shuts down (see Midnight Kamikaze, Face/Off etc). The venue say “we didn’t get people through the door, we didn’t sell drinks – live music isn’t profitable.”

But what they fail to see, is that starting a new music night is never going to be instantly profitable. It’s not meant to be, and any venue that initiates such a night for this reason is surely doomed to fail. Such ventures succeed only after convincing music fans that it is a worthwhile project, after encouraging people to respond to and support the night. If a venue is ever to pull a crowd aside from the friends and family of the bands playing, it takes time (see Yours & Owls, Music Farmers, the Patch). Live music in Wollongong is never going to be instantly profitable. It takes time. Which is something that these greedy venues should begin to understand and appreciate, before raising the hopes of local music fans and bands, then dashing those hopes away as soon as the weekly bar sales spreadsheet comes back.

What do you think? Got an opinion? Leave a comment below.

%d bloggers like this: