an interesting article written and featured on inthemix.com.au
In an interview with our sister site FasterLouder this week, Big Day Out founder Ken West gave a frank assessment of the Australian festival scene: “This is the reality at the moment: everyone’s suffering from overspending or lack of attendance.” It’s a diagnosis that comes after Big Day Out – with a Boiler Room line-up of Royksopp, Nero,Bassnectar and Girl Talk – was forced to make some major changes to its 2012 plans.
While the claim that “everyone’s suffering” in the festival market doesn’t look so watertight from where we’re sitting, the bubble has burst. From the glut of festivals that have elbowed their way onto the scene in the last five years, only the robust remain. In our in-depth Clubs Special feature series from 2010, all the promoters we interviewed were unanimous in the opinion that festivals had taken their toll on clubs.
“You can’t take tens of thousands of people out of the club scene over summer and expect nothing to change,” said Daniel Michael from Adelaide’s biggest club, HQ. “If people spend $200-$400 at a festival then for most people that means no clubbing for a week or two – or even the whole month.” Scott Walker from Brisbane’s underground-leaning Drop had this to say: “There’s no doubt in my mind that festivals have killed or seriously maimed the club scene. It’s a shame, because in a perfect world festivals should feed the club scene by exciting the punters’ appetite and opening their ears to new sounds and artists – but in reality it only causes people to become narrow-minded and not go out in between festivals.”
They’re both points that were echoed right around the country. In the near-two-years since that feature went online, there have been numerous festival casualties. So has that spelled good news for the club scene? With fewer festivals in the picture, are we seeing more of our favourite acts on darkened dancefloors late at night? The answer, of course, will be different from city to city – especially given the trend for some key DJ tours to visit Sydney and Melbourne only.
Adelaide’s Sugar is one club that consistently takes a punt on visiting house and disco talent that may otherwise only do the Sydney-Melbourne double, and we spoke to Sugar’s managing director Driller ‘Jet’ Armstrong in 2010 about how that can be a gamble. “Joakim played on a Sunday night in Adelaide two years ago and remarked to me, ‘There is nothing like this in Paris on a Sunday night, Driller’. The club was very busy and he was shown great appreciation on the dancefloor. We had him back on a Sunday night last month and he played to 15 people!”
Trawling through the inthemix local news archive for the last couple of years, there’s certainly a trend of renowned acts here for festivals doing club shows on the side, often announced near the last-minute. However, it’s not as if standalone club tours aren’t happening. A small sample of recent (and forthcoming) visitors unattached to any festival juggernaut include Laidback Luke, John Digweed, Hernan Cattaneo, Plump DJs, Above & Beyond (to be fair, in some cities they were more concert hall than club),Hardwell, Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock, Sinden, SBTRKT, AN21 & Max Vangeli,Danger, Henry Saiz, Giuseppe Ottaviani, Ferry Corsten, John 00 Fleming, Proxy, Paul Kalkbrenner, Jamie Jones & Lee Foss, Guy J, Joris Voorn and James Zabiela.
While listing club tours from big-ticket acts is one thing, what’s happening at the level of week in, week out clubbing in 2012? Is any weekend a sure-thing for club promoters? One clear difference between right now and, let’s say, even five years ago, is how ‘occasional’ parties are. Once every four to six weeks seems to be the pattern, which could have something to do with how many appropriate club spaces are available to promoters. As a result, we’re seeing less weekly club nights – which isn’t to say there aren’t thriving ones. On the whole, however, it seems like something of a luxury in the current club scene for a promoter to have their own space every Friday or Saturday night.
There’s plenty to love about weekly nights: the sense of community, the resident DJs, the story-line that runs through the whole thing. But has all that become a kind of quaint ideal? Do we really want to be in the same room with the regular crowd each week? For Nick Braban, Director of Brisbane’s open-all-week barsoma, it’s a difficult balancing act.
“I think a large issue for us at the moment is the fact people are tending to party only one night a week,” he says. “Saturdays are always busy in Fortitude Valley, but the rest of the week can be very hit and miss. Especially for us, the genres we are pushing have a lot of crossover, so if we have a big party on a Friday or a Saturday, it can be hard to expect people to turn up the alternate night. Even though one night might be for example bass music, and the next night techno, I am finding a lot of people are crossing into both areas so are picking and choosing their parties more carefully. The crossover in these strands of music is really exciting, but it is making things logistically hard.”
So, do we want more weekly nights or have clubbing/spending habits drifted too far in the opposite direction? In April 2010, leading label Future Classic went weekly at Sydney’s Civic Underground with Adult Disco (after over a year of Saturdays, the party is now an occasional thing). When Adult Disco began in April 2010, there weren’t exactly a glut of weekly parties to choose from. “It originally started as a winter party,” Future Classic’s James McInnes told us on the party’s one-year anniversary. “We thought there was a void in Sydney when things started getting cold, all the festivals had packed up and there wasn’t anything new or interesting on the club horizon. Another reason was all the moaning in the inthemix forums that there were no decent weeklies and how boring Sydney is!” Fellow Adult Disco ringleader Chad Gillard added: “Keeping the night interesting is a big challenge. Sydney often feels like people are most interested in something shiny and new rather than the music and the quality of the night.”
Staying with Sydney for the moment, one weekly brand that’s still in rude health is Fake Club, whose Saturday night guestlist in January alone includes Calvin Harris, Dem Slackers, Zeds Dead, Bart B More and Tom Deluxx. “The entire industry has changed,” say Diego Trash and Nikolas Alavanja from Trashbags/Fake Club. “It’s definitely not as easy as the glory days of ‘07/’08. Times are hard. We have seen so many promoters fizzle out due to this fickle industry. With so many festivals, it has definitely affected the club market – but in saying that, I’m sure the festival holders are having all sorts of problems with ‘festival overload’. At the end of it all, we see it as weekly club nights will never die, but we will see less festivals. Just look at We Love Sounds and now Good Vibrations.”
Of course, it’s not just the festival boom that has posed a threat to weekly clubbing habits. “There are always factors,” says Paul Azzopardi from Sydney stalwart Chinese Laundry. “Holidays, weather, public holidays, sporting events, Council, residents who move into the inner city then complain about noise…”
Nick from barsoma adds another factor to the mix: “In south east Queensland I think the urban sprawl is a major barrier for people’s clubbing habits. For some it can be a very large commute to come into the CBD for a night out. There are venues in the surrounds of Brisbane and beyond putting on big dance parties, but these are invariably very commercial, so for those into the underground music, they really can only see gigs and parties in the CBD area.” You hear these kinds of concerns echoed from Perth to Adelaide to Melbourne to the Gold Coast.
With less international tours coming through than the rest of the country and a smaller selection of venues, Canberra’s a city where weekly habits are distinct. “People seem to be quite loyal to their night spots based on the type of people they expect to be sharing their drinking and dancing space with,” says Canberra promoter and man-about-town Duncan Jake. “But it’s not always music that they’re after. The average punters simply wants to be part of a social experience, so quite often they will just gravitate to where they think the most people will be.
“The music scene in Canberra is extremely concentrated with a small number of promoters that are in a position to put up their money to keep our scene current, as well as forward-thinking, original and diverse. However, music venues have to compete with non-music venues for patronage. Ideally the question should be: ‘Where do I want to go to hear the music I want to hear?’ but for many, the question is: ‘Where will all my friends be?’. Unfortunately, when this is a typical punter attitude, it’s only natural that good music often has to make way for something a little more dumbed-down.”
An argument that comes up often to explain the shifting fortunes of weekly club nights is that punters have become fickle. There’s less allegiance to the idea of a consistent party. Of course, there’s a flipside to that: why can’t we spread ourselves around? Isn’t that the sign of a thriving scene? Or maybe there really is something a weekly night can offer that you can’t find anywhere else. “With the rate that festivals are dropping off at the moment, I think the people that want greater musical experiences and longer sets from artists are holding out for club shows anyway,” says Paul Azzopardi. Could 2012 be the year that weeklies thrive, or are we clubbing commitment-phobes?