So this is it. “Australia’s answer to SXSW”, goes the catch-cry; but even that doesn’t quite sum up the scope density of what is fast becoming Australia’s most important industry event.
Managers, publicists, media – all the people that make the industry tick all part, parcel and pacing with the writers, the freelancers, the mavericks. The fresh-faced hopers who aren’t yet the movers and shakers – but those who are just as likely to shape the world of music as those that matter most to it – the musicians (more on them later).
So where does a humble Managing Editor attending BIGSOUND for the first time fit in?
Well, if the newly-rostered lady who hands me my delegate pass – the skeleton key to three days’ worth of conferences, presentations, meetings and oh so many gigs – tells me, it’s right here at the Judith Wright Centre For Contemporary Arts.
The Judy, as it’s affectionately known, is the thrumming hive for the three or four days that QMusic declares a state of BIGSOUND on Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. Even as you approach the foyer, squeezed beside a hole-in-the-wall coffe joint and half of Australia’s music industry, you can feel the lifeblood pumping.
Even if it’s not strictly the heart of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, it most certainly will seem like it for the next 80 hours or so while it beats to the rhythm of industry.
So where to begin?
Having digested what was essentially a transcript of the juicy bits of American singer-songwriter Steve Earle’s opening Q&A via twitter, the rest of the healthy program was on offer to be plucked.
‘Streams Of Consciousness’ found representatives from Rdio and Last.fm discussing the impact of streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer. An interesting and informative talk, but as soon as question time rolled around – with the inevitable topic of artist royalties – the panel got tellingly shy. Instead of facing the music (so to speak), the streaming representatives passed the buck, saying in so many words, “we pay the labels… it’s not up to us how it gets distributed.”
Moving back to the lobby of The Judy, you can already see that the corridors of power is an actual fact the foyer of power. As people converse over drinks, laptops and the passing of CDS, USBs and contact details. It’s hard to ignore the fact that everyone looks less like a business entity and more like a snappily-decked fan – particularly in the amazingly sunny weather that’s spilling in from outside.
There’s more of that casual vibe to be had over the free lunch that’s spread through the adjoining pub/meeting hall at The Tempo. Here the hobknobbing is continued over sandwiches and sushi. With the Press Record/AU Review’s Beer Pong Tournament already in full swing in one corner by the bar, the other filled with the sounds of a music channel playing 80s hits.
As many make their way back to panels on mobile technology (‘The Most Powerful Marketing Tool’) or the future of heavy music (featuring Shihad’s Tom Larkin and Triple J/Shock Records guru Stu Harvey), many more can be seen dotting the bars and cafes up and down Brunswick Street to broker whatever needs sorting (Tone Deaf included).
A ‘case study on GROUPLOVE’ has to be unfortunately skipped for an interview with two/fifths of The Trouble With Templeton. The once-solo project of Thomas Calder, the TTWT are at the emerging scale of over 100 acts here at BIGSOUND, and Calder – along with bandmate Sam Pankhurst – are only to happy to chew the fat over the cinematic influences and metaphors in their music.
They too are just excited to be a small part of something much larger than themselves, also lamenting that there’s “just too much to see” band-wise. ‘Too many bands – not enough time’ will soon become a mantra for the conference as many begin to look over the bursting schedule of live bands playing across 21 venues to thousands of delegates.
Before that, there’s room to squeeze in an enlightening talk about self-regulation in order to help reign in the cowboys of the music industry’s wild west. Where Splendour In The Grass co-founder Jessica Ducrou reasons there should be guidelines to work in management and agencies to help self-regulate, oztix’s Brain Chladil asks if its necessary in order to prevent the Government stepping in to do the job; or is more about training.
It may not be as entertaining as The Tea Party’s Jeff Martin and Australian icon Ed Kuepper waxing about ‘Making Records That Matter’ a few streets over, but the topic of self-regulation in an ever-growing industry is just as important and illuminating.
As the beating Brisbane sun eased off, BIGSOUND’s buzzing swarm relayed back to nearby hotel rooms to prepare for the happy onslaught of gigs ahead.
First the question of which label party to attend. The newly formed Permanent/Halfcut Records’ late late-night jamboree? Featuring rock upstarts Strangers and pop-punk anthemists Heroes For Hire. Or the New Zealand showcase of Auckland’s genre-beding Sola Rosa, South Island three-piece Transistors and digi-core attack of Cairo Knife Fight?
The popular answer is EMI’s music party, if only to catch an exclusive set from Melbourne stalwarts Something For Kate along with rummaging up King Cannons, Ball Park Music and Oh Mercy for the music-lovers.
That’s before even contemplating the daunting proposal of pinballing between twelve venues within a four by four city block grid to catch an amazing list of bands. Up for some rock, you’ll be racing between Money For Rope, Kingswood and a killer set from I Oh You’s newest singing, Violent Soho. Or maybe you’d like to dance, in which case you’ll be flinging yourself between sets from Sydney duo Fishing, Ex-Melodics frontman Jeremedy’s new outfit Grey Ghost before crashing at Fantine’s feet at the Black Bear Lodge.
Oh, and there’s pen circles on your map for Flum, YesYou, Emperors, The Preatures and Velociraptor as well. It’s enough to make a virgin BIGSOUND attendee weep with equal tears of regret and joy. Best to squeeze in that fast-tracked meal of dumplings with your inner circle of gig-goers if you’re going to have the energy to catch even half of what you’d like.
As that newly-minted mantra goes, ‘too many bands – not enough time.’