‘If ever I would stop thinking about music and politics,’ sang the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, ‘I would tell you that music is the expression of emotion and that politics is merely the decoy of perception.’ I can’t claim to completely understand that second bit. But I do love the song, having devoted most of my life including this past week to thinking almost without distraction about music and politics.
As coverage and commentary rolls on celebrating Gotye’s domination of the Grammys, I’m reminded what a world-class export our rock and roll is. Inner Sydney’s Leichardt Mayor Darcy Byrne calls on Sunday to talk about the continuing troubles of our music venues and his determination to stop people from closing them down with noise complaints. Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore also steps up, convening a task force to determine how to support live music in the city. I dare not hope but there are good signs we are in one of those phases of the cycle where politicians rediscover the youth vote. This being the social media moment that it is, we don’t chat but re-tweet each other’s mutual support of live music.
To mull this over I stop in for a drink at FBi Social, the local music venue my friends and I run at FBi Radio, Sydney’s Australian music broadcaster, started two years ago. We wanted to open a small venue to give Australian musicians a first shot at a live show to complement the first shot at radio play we have been giving new music for 10 years. This week our venue and the whole station are buzzing because we are getting ready to launch our Northern Lights EP which showcases two particularly gifted artists who won our annual competition to travel to Reykjavik, Iceland, home of Sigur Rós and Björk, with FBi’s General Manager of Music, Dan Zilber. The winners Moon Holiday and Lanterns attended Iceland’s Airwaves festival, played live and met the movers and shakers of one of the world most off-beat music capitals.
The recent political interest in music venues is welcome. Already this year we’ve lost Notes, which shut its doors in January. A few months ago Tone, the Basement and the Gaelic were lost to live music fans. Mayor Byrne’s local pub the Annandale Hotel is at time of writing facing some big challenges. Newtown’s legendary Sando was sold by its bankers to some nice people from Melbourne who we all hope will revive it after its current closure. Brisbane lost its Troubadour and Melbourne lost the Public Bar, which had been rocking since 1993, and longstanding venue the Palace Theatre, which appears from reports attributed to its receivers to be about to become high-density flats.
It’s not for lack of entrepreneurial will or skill that music struggles in Australia. Rather it’s because of the same ailment that is infecting politics across the country: capture of public decision-making by delicate souls who don’t like booze, noise or mess. Laws against alcopops, no shots and no shouts rules, early closing times and constant demonising of music venues as progenitors of street violence and neighbourhood decay have made it harder to keep the music alive. Every time a wowser campaign gears up, we are required to hire more staff than we need and serve fewer drinks than are necessary to pay for them. I walk home through Kings Cross wondering why nobody ever suggests closing the strip clubs or tattoo parlours instead of turning off the music.
As the week rolls on, WA continues to gear up for its election, with Hannah Beazley following in her father’s rather large footsteps and nominating for Riverton. WA’s electoral commission announces a campaign to enrol young people saying, ‘Many young Australians equated enrolment and voting as a “law,” rather than a privilege and obligation.’ Maybe if the various governments around this country didn’t keep banning their favourite drinks, shutting their favourite pubs and sending them home to bed before midnight, young people wouldn’t feel so ripped off by politics.
On Tuesday, instead of soaking up glory in LA, Gotye ambles in to independent Sydney radio station 2SER to join 100 local fans for a chat. Legend. It occurs to me out of idle curiosity to see whether he made it on to Prime Minister Gillard’s gift to President Obama of an Aussie-playlisted iPod. No luck, but I’m delighted to see Tame Impala and Eddy Current Suppression Ring made it, along with some great goldies like the Go-Betweens and Nick Cave.
Say what you will about Rudd and Gillard, I think as the polls sink for the umpteenth time she’s all Go-Betweens while he’s all Air Supply. She won’t be popular or well understood in her moment but over time it will have mattered that she was here. First woman PM. Go It Done. Kevin is the fleeting sweetness of easy rhymes and good hooks that make for great morning TV. But nobody will play that record in 20 years and know that it meant something more.
On Wednesday I head back to the Social for one of our lunchtime gigs, Glass Towers. A schooner seems appropriate in the circumstances but I know it’s technically two standard drinks. In the government’s telling, if I drink it I have an alcohol problem, even if I’m working diligently on my diary for The Spectator Australia. I consider for a moment that perhaps, like the great country singer Kinky Friedman, I am not a writer with a drinking problem so much as a drinker with a writing problem. At least I’m a music lover with a great venue to drink in. For now, the wowsers are held at bay and perhaps with luck we will find that beer and rock and roll are, like the Go-Betweens, stronger over the long haul than the forces of sober conformity
Cassandra Wilkinson is a columnist with the Australian.