Friday, 28 September 2012

Comment - Impressions Of BigSound

Standing outside the Judith Wright Centre on bustling Brunswick Street, I’m drawn into conversation with a man who tells me he has hollow toes.  It’s an eerie thing to say and I shrink back behind my smudgy aviators a little, drawing a bit harder on my cigarette in an attempt to work out if he’s having a go.

The lanyard hanging around his neck tells me he’s a conference delegate though, not one of the countless indigent oddballs that regularly haunt Fortitude Valley, where Brisbane’s barrel-bottom meets its drunken elite.  Another quick glance at the lanyard tells me he’s a manager of some sort.  I let the toes comment go, and we talk about brands of tobacco instead – not music or anything, strangely enough – as I wait for Marty to emerge from the Performance Space where he’s just interviewed Clare Bowditch.

It’s conversations like these which define this three day industry event, odd snippets that later can’t be pieced together into any one conversation, a collection of talk that I’m not so sure I really contributed to.  Being talked at is the order of the day here – it is the music industry after all, an industry which is rapidly shrinking and so people say as much as they can in the seemingly short time they have left before their job evaporates and they find themselves freelancing or making coffee.

I only have one ‘proper’ meeting scheduled, and it’s over in six and a half minutes, before we’ve even gotten to the bar to buy a drink.  I deem it a success however, and get myself a drink regardless, which I sip in the sun in the RG’s beer garden with the drunken Irishmen and heavily tattooed construction workers.  I read The Australian and feel out of place but oddly comfortable.

I sit in on a panel discussion entitled Streams Of Consciousness, which is attempting to dissect the effect streaming services like Spotify and Rdio will have on the industry over the next five or ten years.  There’s no one from Spotify present on the panel, which is quite interesting given they’re the market leader at this point in time. However, the remaining panelists dig deep and sitting in the dark up the back of the room, I feel informed and like I know what’s going on.  It’s nice to have people talking around me, not to me.

Later on, I find myself in the same room listening to another panel entitled Getting Back To Our Roots, a discussion centered around roots music which quickly spirals into an hour long back and forth on what, exactly, roots music is.  No one can settle on any one explanation though, and so it seems like an hour wasted and I make a quick exit and jump on a train out to Wilston, where I’m staying, to get some work done.  We’re on deadline this week, after all.

Money For Rope
Electric Playground is a club of some sort, a dark and dingy place where the faint of heart should fear to tread, but this week it’s one of many venues around the Valley playing host to live music as part of the conference.  It’s odd standing down the front, wreathed in dry ice smoke, sipping Jack Daniels and bobbing your head to the twin-guitar attack of someone like Melbourne quintet Money For Rope, who are the complete antithesis of the neon lights, the disco balls, the giant mirrors and raised platforms of a place like this.  But they play like no one’s watching and score big, in my opinion.  You can’t judge a band by its surrounds.  That would be folly indeed.

I have never seen so many iPhones in one place at the one time.  The conference has it’s own app, which accounts for a lot of the techno-flurry – who to see and when to see them?  But then when you throw Twitter and Facebook and emails and text messages into the mix, it’s a backlit wasteland, no matter where you are.  In panel discussions, seeing bands, walking between venues, in one of the many cheap eateries around the place, during conversations – those little Jobs’ creations are flickering and fluttering and buzzing all over the place like a swarm of angry locusts heralding our ultimate demise.  I’m sick of mine as a result, I barely pull it out and as such I miss my train home on more than one occasion.  Perhaps I should buy a watch.

Free bacon and egg rolls, along with bloody Marys, get a fair number of delegates out and about come the Friday morning, faces swollen with drink, business card stocks running low, shoe leather worn thin, vocal chords mere stringy shadows of their former selves.  We sit in the sun, not really talking, consuming the free food, the fat and the salt soothing our savage breast and I throw a long black into the mix, roll a smoke, and all is well.

Clare Bowditch
Marty goes off to prepare for his chat with Clare and I find a seat in the air-conditioned auditorium, listen for an hour or so and relax, try to get it all together before the drive home.  I wait outside for him afterwards and end up talking to my man with the hollow toes, and to be honest, it’s a relief to have such a conversation, albeit a strange one, as it’s so far removed from what I’ve heard these three days just gone. 

Still, it was a happening man.  This industry of ours is shrinking at a rate of knots, but it’s still there and so are we, and so we get together to share information once a year, we get together to watch music, we get together to drink and talk and some of us listen.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, but a worthwhile one and I’ll be back next year, sans iPhone, steeling myself for a tsunami of talk, because it’s all about the music, that much we know for sure.

Samuel J. Fell

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