A completed PhD investigating the geography of live music in Sydney and Melbourne between the 1980s and 2000s.
Hello. By way of an introductory post for this blog, and to give an idea of the sorts of maps and discussions that will emerge from this PhD – and, as of late 2012, have started to tentatively emerge from concept into practice – I have presented some maps (and my own personalised waffle) related to a conference paper co-written by David Nicholls (University of Melbourne) and myself (Sarah Taylor). The paper was presented by David at the International Australian Studies Association Biennial Conference, held at Monash University on December 5th, 2012. In the same week the maps were also incorporated into my introductory presentation at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music Annual Conference, held at the University of Tasmania.
The Australian Studies paper drew on a particular band and time as a talking point for changes in the Melbourne music scene: namely, the Models gig shown in the short film Pop Movie, directed by Ray Argall (1980 – available for viewing at ACMI). This film is a short minute introduction to the 1980 happenings of popular Melbourne experimental New Wave band the Models, with whom you may now be consciously or unconsciously familiar from – amongst many possibilities – the album title Local And/Or General (still a RRR program name), the radio hits “Barbados”, “I Hear Motion”, and “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”, and, depending on your age, that guy from The Afternoon Show, James Valentine (though he joined later).
In preparing the paper we were helped immensely by Andrew Duffield, keyboardist for the Models in the early 1980s (and later a successful composer for television; for example the insanely catchy theme song to “Round The Twist”). Andrew provided some great insights into his experiences in the Models and also forwarded us the gig list for the Models during his tenure as keyboardist. Thanks again to Andrew for his help with all this.
I now refer to the highly valuable phenomenon of band’s holistic gig lists as the “gigography”, though that’s not a real word (yet). They are awesome and I hope to find more over the next year or two. The Models gigography slotted very well into my existing database structure and provided reassurance that the design and concept has legs for the upcoming data collection.
My first impression of Pop Movie was that everyone doesn’t look too 80s at all (a definite risk of the entire decade), but quite hipster. Although “trendy” was the favoured term at the time (as in: “piss off trendies!”, or “that is being trendified”). Overall, they (the movie, and the band) date notably well. But, of course, other elements in the everyday lives of musicians in Melbourne have changed markedly since 1980: for a start, the massive influence of booking agencies, and the sheer number of people going to live shows in the outer suburbs as well as the inner city, which are not familiar experiences nowadays. Likewise, it’s doubtful that the musicians in 1980 would be as aux fait with concepts such as planning regulations, gentrification, or liquor licensing, as they would be 30 years later at the S.L.A.M rally.
The Models gig shown in Pop Movie is at Bombay Rock in Brunswick on August, 29th, 1980. The venue is now a shopfront on the corner of Phoenix Street and Sydney Road. Later in the 80s it was the Beach nightclub, before being gutted by fire. It was quite famous in the late 70s and early 80s, featuring semi-fictionally in the movie Death In Brunswick, as well as in the “Bombay Rocks off” lyric in the Australian Crawl song, “Beautiful People”.
On the same night, the Models performed earlier at the Armadale Hotel (in the inner eastern suburbs) before driving across town again, to a flat in St Kilda, to watch Andrew Duffield being interviewed on local TV show Night Moves.
These “doubles” across town were quite common for bands at the time. As was living in St Kilda for musicians (but not all of them – see below). And this could be afforded on the dole!!
Some sample maps for youse
The story of the Models, and of New Wave music as a genre, is geographical as well as historical. It’s an era in Australian music that continues to exert influence and trigger (mostly) fond memories to this day – because it was original, experimental, and, by most accounts, funtastic to be a part of (watch Dogs In Space for a sample). It emerged in Australian during a particular era (late 70s), but its sites of creation and consumption were not evenly geographically distributed across Australia, nor even across Melbourne. This geographic element is reflected at the most obvious level in titles such as Clinton Walker’s collection of articles, Inner City Sound, or the Models’ 2001 retrospective compilation album, Melbourne. Distinctions between the places from which bands originated, and the places in which they played, carried meaning then (as they do now, albeit in changing ways) and rendered the world – Local and/or General – within which the Models operated.
The first two maps here show Models’ live performances grouped by venue location in 1980 and 1981 respectively: larger dots represent greater frequency of performances in each year. They show a move from the “inner city circuit” of key venues in 1980 at which the Models and other New Wave acts performed with great frequency – Armadale Hotel (Armadale), Macy’s Hotel (South Yarra), Bombay Rock (Brunswick), Hearts (North Carlton), Crystal Ballroom (St Kilda) – into more dispersed gigs in 1981 outside of the inner city circuit and including more interstate tours. It should be noted that the suburban “beer barn” venues such as the Pier Hotel (Frankston), the Village Green (Mulgrave) and Sandringham Commodore (Sandringham) were higher capacity venues, and the Models’ ability to play these shows represented an expansion from a scene into the mainstream. (Note: I will try to gather venue capacity information as an additional factor in dot size for future maps, though this of course requires extra time).
Note that the booking agencies – or, rather, the dominant Melbourne agency (Premier) – exerted a great influence in the spatial distribution of shows. The inner city circuit was vital for getting one’s gig chops, but a band with sights on the mainstream would aim to ultimately branch out into the suburbs, a process which was undertaken as part of the agency system (for all intents and purposes the same system as the recording contract system, as they were run by the same people). Suburban venues hosted lesser known acts during weeknights in order to host bigger bands on weekends, as part of package deals offered by agencies. Upcoming agency bands were expected to play both suburban and inner city shows, often in the same night (referred to as “doubles”). Bands who were not part of the agency system would stick to the inner city and independent bookers – some of which were very successful, at least for short periods, but more reliant on being part of a scene (e.g. the Champion Hotel and the Little Band scene, or the Ballroom manifestations at The George) rather than everyday entertainment practices for casual pub-goers.
The next map shows all gig listings in Melbourne for the week in which the Models were filmed at Bombay Rock for Pop Movie. The gig listings were sourced from The Age (Weekender section) and The Alternative Gig Guide (TAGG, a kind of early version of Beat or On The Street). The gig listings are grouped by venue for the week, again the dot size represents frequency at each venue, although in this case it’s not just for the Models but all Melbourne listings, and it’s for a week rather than a year. It’s a snapshot of where one might perform as a musician in Melbourne in 1980. The great majority of venues shown here with a high frequency in this week of 1980 no longer exist as live music venues in 2012. Some have been converted to new purposes – most often apartments and different types of shops, although one is a dialysis centre on Gertrude Street – while others continue as pubs but without live music (one became a noted male-only bear pub soon after, but mostly they have poker machines or emphasize fancier food and wine instead of music). Some of the exceptions are the ongoing Esplanade Hotel and Prince of Wales (both in St Kilda) and the Dan O’Connell (Carlton). Other live music venues, of course, have taken the place of some key 1980 venues figuratively, but not necessarily spatially. The presence of frequent live music in Armadale and Kew seen here in 1980 differs from 2012, in which it is a rarity indeed. Also notable is the absence in 1980 – with the exception of Croxton Park Hotel – of any gig listings whatsoever in Northcote or Thornbury, a focus of live shows (and places for musicians to live) in 2012.
Also of note, very few venues appear in the western suburbs – if these venues were hosting live music, they did not advertise them through the Age or TAGG channels. One research question of the PhD is to find the best sources of gig listings information, which may draw out more on this. If you have any suggestions or comments please let me know, or volunteer to be part of the first round of interviewees (to talk mostly about gig listings).
The next map shows the 1980 Melbourne gig listings for the week of Pop Movie again, but with an overlay of the Models venues in 1980. This visualisation can be interpreted as a measure of which of the generally popular Melbourne live venues in 1980 the Models did or did not frequent.
Whilst certainly not playing all over the available Melbourne suburbs, the Models map can contrast significantly with that of the next map, showing the venue frequency of another New Wave / punk Melbourne band, The Boys Next Door (precursor to The Birthday Party). The Boys Next Door performances in Melbourne are shown here for 1979, grouped by venue. The band played their final Melbourne show at Hearts Polaris Inn, on Nicholson Street in North Carlton (also popular with the Models at the same time), in 1980 before departing for the UK and various forms of famousness outside of Melbourne.
Note that Hearts Polaris Inn became Nicholson’s Hotel in the 1980s and 1990s, before being converted to apartments around 2000. It’s on the corner of Nicholson Street and Macpherson Street in North Carlton.
I remember Nick Cave in a 2010 interview with Elizabeth McCarthy and Dave Graney on Triple R (the building of which is now located further north of the old Hearts Polaris Inn on Nicholson Street, though in 1980 the RRR building was in Carlton), sounding disoriented to be in East Brunswick at all, and remembering how much had happened in St Kilda. I imagine that, having been away for decades, the Melbourne he had returned to was not quite the same as the mental map of memory. It wouldn’t have helped that Nicholson Street itself is marked by changes of venue – the Stockade Hotel (corner Kay Street) converted to townhouses in the 80s, Hearts converted in the 2000s, and the Empress converting from a working man pub to a music venue in 1985, a long time in music years, but a long time after the Boys Next Door left Melbourne. Remind me to track down that RRR interview!
As Andrew noted in his interview, the Boys Next Door (along with the Moodists) operated consciously outside of the agency system. Short term, it did not mean they played less frequently than the Models – they are in fact quite similar on a per-year comparison – but the spatial distribution differs, being more inner city. Longer term, this did not mean lesser success – at least not for the subsequent manifestation of the band – but this did involve uprooting from Melbourne and paying dues in the UK and Europe, rather than playing within the system in place locally. Such an overseas venture was, in turn, more feasible, or at least marginally less of a crap experience (this is a whole other subject: Australian bands in London), for bands with middle class backgrounds.
One would imagine that such a gigography map for the western suburbs-oriented Uncanny X Men or the Sharpies-esque La Femme would differ yet again. All these bands more or less fitted the general description“New Wave Melbourne”, and would appear as miscellaneous incorrigible trendies to the general population at the time, but the geographic and socioeconomic origins and destinations within them were not monolithic. I’d be very interested in tracking down gigographies for these latter bands (though they will come up by default though continuing the gig listings data entry…it just takes a lot longer).
A final note on north of the river / south of the river theme
The differentiation between musicians north and south of the Yarra River in Melbourne is an enduring one from the New Wave era to today, a fact which I found surprising as I had generally assumed this to be a recent result of house prices in St Kilda and “the” music scene departing there after the 1980s. Whilst 1978 seems to have been a great year of many music scenesters from different geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds being, momentarily, in the same place at the same time (most profoundly, in the same line for the David Bowie concert depicted at the start of Dogs In Space), ultimately the relationship between north and south of the river became as cordial as it is today, with flows across the river but one’s home side often correlating to socioeconomic background.
A prominent example of this is the contrast between the Boys Next Door (of which the majority of band members met at Caulfield Grammar) and the Primitive Calculators, originating from outer suburban Springvale. The Primitive Calculators spent time in St Kilda in 1977, part of the early buzz there at the time, but moved to Fitzroy in 1978, finding a longer term place among other arty types with outer suburban origins.
Richard Lowenstein quoted in We’re Livin’ On Dogfood (2011 documentary):
“The North Fitzroy bands used to fight with the St Kilda bands and now thirty years later they’re still waging these battles.”
Rowland S. Howard, also quoted in We’re Livin’ On Dogfood:
“The people in Boys Next Door weren’t welcome on the other side of town, we were seen as phonies and rich kids.”
While trying out interview questions with my band in 2012, the guitarist in my band, Andrew hastily drew a map of “Melbourne” in which the Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda, appears only as an arrow pointing south:
With all this in mind, I will make my next annual outing to St Kilda with new historical perspective!
Thanks for reading.