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.


EXCLUSIVE: Otis Bar announce details of new location

Only last week we brought you news about the closure of Wollongong’s favourite small venue, the Otis Bar. Fans and music lovers farewelled the Otis with a sold out show on Thursday night, with the bar finally closing their doors on Friday.

Never fear, however! Wipe away those tears and lift up that chin, because the team behind the Otis Bar have wasted no time in revealing details about their new location.

To be called ‘The Little Prince‘ – surely to be colloquially referred to as ‘the Prince.’ As in, “hey, I’ll see you at the Prince tonight,” or “hey, you going to the Prince tonight?” – it is to be located on the corner of Globe Lane and the Crown Street mall.

Details of the first gig at the new venue have also been announced. Aussie singer-songwriter Andy Bull will play The Little Prince on August 25th, as part of his ‘Phantom Pains’ national tour with Spring Skier (featuring members of Hungry Kids of Hungary). Local folk/acoustic songwriter Jack R Reilly will open the show, thereby taking the honour of being the very first person to play at the new venue (click here to buy your pre-sale tickets for the show).

Radar is very excited to see the Otis Bar’s newest re-incarnation, and to see the team behind the venue getting the ball rolling so quickly. Can’t wait for the big re-opening in August!

INTERVIEW: Kaleidoscope

Local psych/noise-rockers, Kaleidoscope, are launching their debut EP tonight at the Rydges CBD Bar with Dane Overton, Vanguard Party and Curious Temple. Band guitarist and lead vocalist, Sweeney, was kind enough to answer a few questions in the leadup to the big launch show.

Tell us a bit about Kaleidoscope’s sound
We get described as sort of stoner rock/psychedelic, but I guess different people hear different things. I’d say a bit grungy too, because we love noise and a bit of a mess.

How long has the band been together?
We’ve been gigging properly since about December last year. We didn’t really start a band, we just are three guys who liked making noise together. Eventually we actually had what you’d call “songs” so we decided it’d be funny to play a gig, so we entered a band comp [the Mercury Bluescope band competition], just as an excuse to play. We did well in the band comp, made it to the finals and ended up with another gig. We used this as a chance to get disqualified and become a “real” band.

You’ve just released your EP. Tell us a bit about the recording process
One of the judges from the band comp we entered is Al Wright, the producer at 313 Studios, who I knew previously. He gets us, as he’d seen us before so we were very happy to have him work with us. We recordedit in a few days, and pretty much recorded live. I’m really proud of that, because it’s just us playing. That’s what we sound like live. We over did some vocals, but we used the raw ones as well anyway, so I’m really proud. We only had like two days of band recording, so we just played what we’d normally play. The main thing we wanted to do was to get the vibe of “The Towers” right, and we did that. So the rest is a plus for us.

Are you happy with the final product?
Yes! We got cases printed onto cardboard, so it looks really cool. We were happy with the vibe of the CD, then we put it in cool cases, so we are really happy all up. I’d buy it if I saw it in a shop!

Any highlights for you, in terms of recording?
Working with Al was really cool. He gave us little tips that were really helpful, but one of my favourite things was getting to use a Space Echo tape echo. It’s an effect from the early 70s where they use a tape to record a sound and play it back. Also, Al never gets it serviced because he doesn’t want it to sound perfect, so it’s crackly and warped, and sounded really cool.

How can people get their hands on your EP?
At our show on the 4th June with Dane Overton, Vanguard Party and Curious Temple. You can also get it from Music Farmers, and hopefully some other local independent stores. Also on Facebook, just send us a message or post our wall and we’ll get back to you. The’yre only $5 too, so it’s cheap!

The EP launch show is with Dane Overton, who is also releasing his EP. How did it come about for you two to team up on the show?
Dane has been one of our best friends since before we learned our instruments, and now both of us play, so are like brother bands. It was just natural to do it together because we both love going to each others shows and hanging out, so it’ll be fun.

Also playing is Vanguard Party. With you, them and Dane, that’s a pretty diverse lineup. Why did you decide to book a show with such a wide range of bands?
Because Vanguard Party are the most fun band I’ve ever seen! Plus they are also good friends of ours; we wanted to get bands that weren’t wankers, so there will be a good vibe in the room.

You announced last week that Curious Temple would be the fourth band on the lineup. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Not really! We saw them a while ago, and after they played, we talked to them and they said the guitarist couldn’t play the gig; so instead of pulling out they just jammed on stage! Awesome! So if they were that good on the spot, they’ll be awesome with a full lineup. They also were cool, which fits the “No Wanker” policy.

What can we expect from a Kaleidoscope live show?
Loud chaos, smiles, journeys and low end. And dreadlocks. Heaps of dreads.

You’ve announced that the band will be going on a long hiatus, after you go travelling. Will the band be getting together in future?
Well we are only stopping because of the travel. We will definitely be back, even if we are 38 or something because we all genuinely enjoy it. So if you’re into it, keep an eye on our Facebook because it ain’t over yet. And I’ll probably put photos from the desert up to look at.

There’s been quite a few new venues popping up in Wollongong lately, with Otis Bar, Yours & Owls, The Patch and Rydges CBD Bar. What do you think about the new venues appearing in town?
It’s good to see new venues around, but they need to spread the music nights out. Every venue says “we are here supporting live music, come watch live band Thursday nights!” But, we can’t support live bands if they are on at the same time in different venues! Plus, from a business view, if your target market is musos, they are all busy playing in every other venue on a Thursday night! They need to work together so they all make money and support the scene, like Otis does Wednesday nights, Harp does Thursday, Patch does Friday, CBD does Saturday, Owls does Sunday

How do you see the state of music in Wollongong, generally? How is the scene going right now?
People think the scene died when the Oxford Tavern closed, but people just stopped looking. When a pub closes, bands don’t put down their instruments, they go somewhere else. But I think a bunch of them didn’t look real hard because they never had to before. I mean it’s sad, I loved that place but the universe didn’t end. Just drink beer and listen to music somewhere else – like tonight at CBD Bar!

What can be changed, or improved, to help support music in Wollongong?
Bands supporting each other instead of getting huge ego’s. Every gig should adopt the “No Wankers” policy, and everyone would be happy. Also, people should get off their arses and stop blogging about being bored and watch a band play. You can’t say they are shit if you haven’t seen them before.

Local Legends: THE HARP HOTEL

In terms of consistent pulling power, the Harp is probably the top venue in town.

The Corrimal St venue has arguably been the performance space that has ‘benefited’ most from the closure of other mid-sized venues in town, picking up acts that would have previously been hosted by the Oxford or Night Eats Day at Cooneys; the Harp has hosted the likes of Boy & Bear, The Jezabels, Ash Grunwald, Bodyjar, Parades, The Mission In Motion, Die! Die! Die!, and Howl in recent months, and the list of upcoming shows includes Oh Sleeper, The Chariot, Strange Talk, Pez and Maya Jupiter.

Largely dealing with tours from upcoming Australian talent – i.e. whatever you’re hearing on Triple J this week – its relationship with the team at Various Industries mean that the Harp is also usually a good place to check out local talent; Various seem to strive to put a local band or two on every gig that they can, helping local bands gain experience alongside more established acts.

A fairly classic representation of the ‘pub venue’ prevalent – but sadly in decline – in Sydney and Melbourne, it doesn’t try to be something it isn’t; a bar along one wall, a stage along the opposite wall, chairs and tables and a dancefloor between (and Buck Hunter and a pinball machine over in one corner). It’s a simple venue, but that is what makes it an effective venue. It’s a good venue for bands to play, it’s a good venue to see bands play. The sound system is great, you can see from wherever you are, you can sit down or stand up or dance, and – for some reason – it is never crowded.

Its proximity to the centre of town, to public transport and to essential amenities (i.e. McDonalds and Oporto) just helps to make the Harp one of the best venues in the area. A good lineup of bands, great facilities and an effective set-up; the Harp is a venue that you should become a little more acquainted with.

The Harp Hotel, Wollongong
124 Corrimal Street, Wollongong
See Various Industries website for info on upcoming gigs.


Still bummed at Night Eats Day, Midnight Kamikaze and Soundbreak Thursdays being cancelled? Having a hard time getting your weekly local music fix? Looking for some cost-effective activities on a Friday night?

Have we got some news for you!

Starting Friday April 29th, Dicey Rileys Hotel will host ‘Live and Local,’ a weekly, FREE band night! With a focus on local acts, ‘Live and Local’ has been set up to help fill the void left by the sudden closure of several popular music venues in the Wollongong area.

Each Friday night, three acts will take to the stage at Diceys. ‘Live and Local’ are currently focusing on local acts, but with future plans to gradually begin hosting larger touring acts, it could very well become a new hub for music in Wollongong.

The launch of ‘Live and Local’ will see Wollongong’s prodigal daughter, Pom Pom, play only her second show in the area since moving to Melbourne in 2010. Also helping kick off the new venue in style will be Vanguard Party and Tommy M & The Mastersounds.

In coming weeks, Diceys will also host performances from Arc Icarus, The Bungalows, Sydney Girls Choir, Yardvark, Young Braves and – after a period of absence – Lumiere!

Stay tuned to Radar for more news on this exciting new venture!


Local Legends: OTIS BAR

For the first of the ‘Local Legends’ posts, I thought I’d write about my favourite venue in Wollongong; the Otis Bar, on Crown Street.

Only a relatively new addition to the local nightlife and music scenes, the Otis has nonetheless quickly established itself as a classy, relaxed, upmarket venue in its own right. Whereas the vast majority of Wollongong venues fall into one of two stark categories – ‘nightclub’ or ‘pub’ – the Otis lies, in terms of aesthetic, somewhere in the middle of these two.

The small size of the Otis creates a sense of intimacy and warmth, with comfy couches lining the walls, and a large – and, it must be said, well-stocked – bar. It’s a spot to indulge in a quiet drink, but maintains a classy, sophisticated feel that’s hard to come by in Wollongong.

In terms of music, the acts hosted by Otis Bar largely reflect its image; acoustic, folk and jazz acts are the main fare of the Otis, the bar’s small size again creating an intimate atmosphere suited to these sorts of music. Otis also plays host to some of the smaller, ’boutique’ bands that pass through Wollongong; sell-out crowds have enjoyed performances from Matt Corby, Kyu, Grace Woodroofe and Guineafowl, acts that would have been passed over – or been horribly out of place in – most other local venues.  The bar is almost always packed out when there’s a band playing, and the sound quality is really excellent.

All in all, a wonderful and unique venue; classy and sophisticated, yet warm and welcoming, and a great place for live music.

Otis Bar, Wollongong
226 Crown Street (opposite Subway)
For gig information, see In Spite of the Weather’s website or Facebook

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