This city always complains about itself. The coffee isn’t as good as Melbourne. The beaches aren’t as famous as Sydney. The nightlife isn’t as good as Melbourne. The drinks aren’t as cheap as Melbourne. Mostly we just want to be Melbourne.
The thing is, we aren’t Melbourne, but we may have to start looking to them for inspiration. Because, like Melbourne, our live music venues are closing their doors, a phenomenon that is set to have a huge impact on Perth’s incredible live music scene.
If you’re not aware, there have been an unprecedented number of local venue closures in the last few months. Blow after blow has rocked the industry, with long-term stalwarts the Bakery, Fly By Night Club, Devilles, Ya-Yas and Kulcha all disappearing within the last year. Let me be clear – these aren’t just pubs, they are institutions. Each of those venues filled a niche in the scene and provided something to local musicians and punters that nothing else did.
What is most alarming about this is that some of these closures have been government decisions. The Bakery was situated on land owned by Western Power, and the State Government approved the sale of the land without thinking about relocating the venue. Kulcha had its funding gutted by the State Government, and closed its doors with a whimper after 30 strong years. Premier Colin Barnett has publicly stated that he wants to remove Perth’s enduring ‘dullsville’ tag. Yet many of his government’s actions are incongruent with his words. Providing this city’s musicians with a place to play is asking very little of public funding.
Arts Minister John Day recently pointed to the $340,000 of recurrent funding given to West Australian Music (WAM) every year, and $468,000 in arts grants distributed by the Department of Culture and the Arts (DCA) as proof of his government’s commitment to local original music. I would contend that this is not enough, nor has it ever been. Don’t get me wrong – I was a recipient of one of those beautiful DCA grants last year, and am a member of WAM – I am more than thankful that arts funding exists. I think WAM and DCA punch well above their weight with the services they provide in comparison with the funding they receive. I think WAM and DCA punch well above their weight with the services they provide in comparison with the paltry funding they receive. However, live original music requires venues, and it’s becoming apparent that government financial support is required to keep specialist live music venues open.
Some of you might be asking why it is seemingly so important that these venues continue to exist. For those unfamiliar, here’s how the music industry works: no one tells you anything. There is no secret password, you just watch and learn and bluff and bullshit until people start taking notice. You try not to piss off too many people, but it’s hard to tell because everyone is overworked and underpaid, so they seem pissed off anyway. An alarming number of us battle mental illness in an uncertain and occasionally treacherous industry.
Original musicians work to get a show at the smallest, nearest venue. And then they must battle to play at increasingly larger ones, battle to make enough to pay for flights over east, and scratch together something to make a record. These bands aren’t asking for fame or even a living wage, just a decent stage to play on.
Drawing inspiration from a huge community-led effort to save live music venues in Melbourne, Life Is Noise director Dave Cutbush is spearheading efforts to reverse this trend. His social media activism led to a 300-strong crowd at an action meeting in late February, and this has already prompted Minister Day to ask his department to “look at options” for replacing the Bakery. Looking forward, Cutbush has formed a steering committee which will continue to lobby the government on behalf of Perth’s music industry.
In further good news, the Fly By Night has announced it will move into the nearby, unused Victoria Hall and festival promoters Sunset Events will be taking over the Fly’s former home. Although it’s heartbreaking to see the end of the Fly By Night’s 25 year stint in the Old Drill, overall it may be a good result for Fremantle. Hope seems like it may be lost for venues such as Kulcha and Devilles, but will have to wait and see if the Bakery will somehow rise like a phoenix and continue its 15-year legacy of top notch live music and strangely sticky floors.
Words by Maisie Glen