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September 7, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Melbourne sings to its own tune…


Published September 2011 at Farrago’s Batmania blog

What makes great Melbourne music? I’m usually contemplating this question while sitting in a bar somewhere, either on a stool or on a couch, listening to another band bang out their latest album for the groovesters on the dance floor. My 1950s lingo may have given me away; as you may have guessed, I’m usually the one in the corner clutching a wine glass and trying not to look too out of place.

There’s certainly something very distinct about the Melbourne music scene. It may have something to do with the general state of the venues available, which range wildly from the smallest pub in the world to deep-set performance spaces with a bar at the back and thirty bulky men in black T-shirts wearing earpieces.

Given the range and spread of venues, it’s not all that hard to get involved in the music scene, even as a voyeur. You could sit at home and watch re-runs of Popstar (if there is such a thing as a Popstar re-run), or you could watch X Factor or Australian Idol or The Voice or Australia’s Got Talent or… I’m out of breath. But these shows are just marketing factories where the sympathy vote tends to win, because in real life, Altiyan Childs would not have his own album. In fact, had he not been on Crap Factor, he could have crawled up onto that rock in Sydney and set up a home, and no one would have even noticed he was living there.

Real talent tends to be innocuous in person until the sound accosts you. Real bands who have done the dingy pub scene, who know what it’s like to sit on a platform serving as a stage and sing to twelve people, seem to be more disillusioned about fame than freshly minted music-scene newcomers, and that’s probably a good thing. Sound, more than anything, is what unites people in the field, and you’re likely to see it happen when you see someone quirky like Washington step out on stage and unexpectedly hypnotise you, or when a band like Birds of Tokyo manages to penetrate the deepest spaces in a cavernous room with a melodious sound that comes across somehow clearer live than on CD.

I’m not going to pretend I know anything about Australian music, or even international music. I’m usually the last person to discover I like a particular artist. For heaven’s sake, it took me a year to work out I even liked hip-hop music, but then it crept up and snuck into my playlists. Melbourne has the bohemian culture or roots, whatever it’s called, that is friendly to the odd artsy type who wants to plunge into the often-penniless world of live music. If you’re going to play music anywhere, why not do it in a place where you can find others of your ilk—in your home town?

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