Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Meanwhile, in the Antipodes...

Yes, it's true, Australia is a long way from Western Europe. For years, visitors have suffered through bad food, bad films, the threat of deep vein thrombosis and the sleepless, wakeless reality of jet lag just to to make it down to what one of our ex-Prime Minister's called (quite rightly) 'the arse end of the earth'.

And for what? Well, for most tourists, I guess it's about nice beaches and cute but often very dangerous animals. For DJs, historically, Australia was a way to make a few dollars during the northern hemisphere winter and spend some time at said beaches with said animals... I guess. They certainly weren't coming for the charlie...

Ten years or so ago, dance music Down Under was big business. Those of you with the wrinkles and shoddy short-term memories to prove it would remember (if you do remember anything) the time when Melbourne was Techno City: when flyers for international gigs – printed on thick, glossy paper stock – extolled the underground credentials of that week's must see innovator.

In hindsight, a lot of the techno boom was about middle class kids getting into ecstasy. When indie kids figured out you could just take pills at the pub (and when this notion slowly permeated out into the outer suburbs), it was game over for amphetamine-fuelled warehouse parties in Melbourne...The fact that this information has only just reached Frankston explains the demographics attending Summadayze these dayze... well, no doubt the reasons are much more complex than this, but... I think it's safe to say that the techno boom is over in Melbourne. These days, the only 'dance music' artist capable of filling stadiums is.... Tiesto....

Nonetheless, house and techno has continued in Melbourne, with mixed fortunes. A marginal proposition from the point of view of profit, techno artists now share the bills with ex proggers and breaks artists, as 'big box' comes to take on a meaning quite different from its bouncier early 90s version.

At this point, a caveat: I don't go out much any more, I am a jaded old so-and-so, and it is no doubt true that I, along with people even more entrenched in sighs for a Gen X yesteryear, recall 'the good old days' through rose-coloured glasses with very strong prescriptions - otherwise we'd barely see a thing.

So what's happened? Well, profits ain't what they used to be. And inner urban gentrification has done for most of the good middle-to-large venues, especially those focussed on music and the dancefloor. These days, most 'clubs' are either aesthetics-driven bars with a dance floor area and overbearing 'security' staff or they are niche venues financially protected from bankruptcy by sex (the Peel, the Market) or benders (Revolver). With exceptions, the clubs that have survived are either about needing a root or being on drugs and having nowhere else to go on Sunday at 11am to keep the good times rolling. 'The party', such as it is, has moved on to occasional gigs and festivals...

There's no need to rehearse at length what's happened to the profitability of recorded music. For the purposes of what I'm trying to get at here, what this means is that in the current environment, electronic artists who need to turn a dime from their creative work *have to* tour and do DJ gigs and/or live PAs.

So: so far we have a Melbourne that is still 20+ hours from Euro by plane, but that has fewer decent venues, slimmer margins, higher costs, more fickle audiences, and lower expectations and excitement... but DJs who will still tour, because, well, that's how they earn their living.

How else to explain this situation? Marcel Dettmann, first tour of Australia. Friday: Perth. Saturday: Sydney. Sunday: Melbourne... at Revolver... ...then take a sec to read through the promoter's response to this, here (or click the gif below to for a choice sample of how prospective audiences are supposed to feel about this):

My two cents: How to justify what seems to me, on balance, a big fat waste of time, energy, talent and avgas... ever heard of climate change? I mean, for Chrissake, if you're gonna fly one of the world's foremost techno DJs half way around the world, could you at least give 'em a decent rig, a decent party, and a few days between each appearance to cuddle up with all our wonderfully dangerous animals? But what... no... we should be grateful? I humbly submit: flying 15962.54km in one sitting, then another 6,500km over one weekend, just to bring you some very good techno - is absurd. And also totally normal. It's a topsy turvy world, oh indeed...



  1. Gotta disagree with this. I have no idea how the scene in Australia is like, but coming from an area that doesn't always see good techno DJ's, I am always grateful when a good non-commercial (read: non-Sasha, Axwell, etc.) DJ comes this way.

    The majority of techno fans get their fix off the internet, and it's cultured a strong following. Most of us don't get the opportunity to check out Labyrinth, Berghain, or London on a frequent basis, but still want the opportunity to see a good DJ when they're still fresh. Maybe the logistics aren't easy to figure out, but Marcel probably enjoys getting paid enough to go out of his way to justify a trip like this. And it's not like tourists don't fly from Australia to Europe to party it up.

  2. @PC - yup, welcome to my life in Australia; Though in Sydney, not Melbourne.
    We are tech starved here but then why wouldn't we be and for the reasons you state. It is a hugely long flight and really, and unless you are a big name like Tiesto, you won't get a big turn out at all. Hell, even Sasha played Syd a few months ago and to a much downsized venue from what he once would have.
    Ergo, how the hell will a promoter make any money at all, let alone profit. DJ's must be charging much less these days.

    There's thankfully one good venue (The Civic) that is putting some good gigs on through different promoters, often over multiple spaces. Problem is there is only one "proper room" small & intimate, (and with Sydney's best sound system I might add), so when they have big multi space gigs on, they set up temp sound in those spaces. I find this downright embarrassing for big name tech DJ's / producers but at least generally, the crowd is probably more in to their music and appreciative of it. Though I find it hard to make shapes in a bar or courtyard !

    We are better served on the more commercial end of the spectrum, but catch me at one of those gigs, with unappreciative, talk-over-the-DJ, if not aggressive, no dance floor etiquette, crowds - I don't think so. For the bulk of those peeps I think it's all about dropping a pill in a supposed cool club, and hanging with your mates and talking shit. This is a global trend I am sure.

    Hell we even have a space here - that is someone's warehouse home, that is used for gigs ! Big name DJ / producers will often play there, in place of a commercial venue. (I was there for Chris Liebing last year, with no more than probably 100 punters, a tenner a head I think - so how the hell they fund this is beyond me).

    So yeah, it is a topsy turvey world, and when a worthy (and everyone's opinion is different there of course) DJ makes the effort to fly such massive kilometres, for what must be bugger all recompense, all I can say, is thank you. At least however they do get to enjoy our koala's & 'roos & beaches ; )

  3. Quality Techno in Melbourne is (slowly but steadily) returning, and it is not to be found in these soulless 'club' environments.
    You have to look a little 'deeper' but it's out there.

  4. @ yokomode01 - it's almost like techno has gone full circle, and is becoming underground again. So much is called 'techno' these days that it's driving, dare I say, 'real' techno, back underground. Works for me.

  5. wow. this started as an interesting read, then it devolved into PC on the verge of joining the bitching and moaning that has infected that forum thread, as well as seemingly ignoring this: that according to one poster on that board (apparently the promoter?), dettman is booked for the rest of the year. i understand the unfortunate combination of good talent and bad venue, but i temper my thoughts with the fact that i'm not the one paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to bring that talent to town. you gotta take what you can get... OR you can help out and fund a better soundsystem, or a few more days in australia for dettman, or whatever. otherwise, don't go and preserve, in your mind, the sanctity of dettman at a 'proper' club.

    maybe the least thought-provoking thing i've read on this site, to be honest.

  6. agree with brian that i think you gota be grateful for what you got australia but think youre reading what PC says a bit wrong... and its interesting for us non aussies to hear about the scene anywhere. its just one persons opinion though. take it like that!!

    anyway, dettmann is sooooo difficult to book, trust me i have tried ... sure the guys organising the tour are just doing what they can. he sure aint cheap either!!! quit ya grumblin people on the forum and get our there and support!!!!

    think you have redshape on his way soon. lucky if you ask me!!

  7. @ Dave & Brian:

    Dettmann is busy, true. Perhaps too busy. Dettmann may also actually *want* to tour Aus. in three days - this wouldn't be the first time it was what the DJ wanted. This all may be true, but it's not the point...

    ...the point is that a number of structural factors tend to produce a certain kind of situation; a situation that certain actors take advantage of for personal gain... if I was a money-focussed promoter, I'd probably try to do these kinds of tours, too.

    But: there are winners and losers in this situation, and for me the losers are the time and space required for a passionate audience (or even an inquisitive audience who aren't turned on to the sound, this isn't just about geeks) to actually enjoy a memorable gig on a proper sound system in a decent venue....

    ...yet this is apparently something we should be grateful for? This is just a matter of business and profit...

    ...I refuse to feel grateful for supporting somebody's shitty business model, and I won't be made to feel guilty for 'not supporting the scene' and not going.

    I will wait until somebody puts on a good party (and there are good parties going on here, as yokomode points out), and in the meantime the promoters and artists involved in these kind of tours, well, they will get paid, which is what they want... I don't blame them for that, but I don't want to be a part of it.

  8. @ Srdic: seems like there are lots of good events going on in Sydney, from Mad Racket to Future Classic's stuff at the Civic to Ha Ha's parties...

    ...and Melbourne is doing really well in terms of other music... I can go see (and will go see) the Necks, Tim Hecker, Dirty Projectors, Shackleton - all at decent venues at decent times... this is not something weird or impossible...

  9. @ dave

    I don't think simply being "grateful for what we get" is a healthy thing as a punter. A bit of criticism is a good thing imo.

    Revolver is a multi-purpose venue that hosts some cool gigs, but their Sunday parties attract the shit pill and meth-fueled dregs of Saturday nights. A convenient place, but by no means the best for a Sunday gig.

    I guess I can understand the logic of putting on a Sunday gig at a venue that already has a base level of attendance, but it is a bit lazy. If Dettmann is as difficult to book as has been suggested, it would make sense to put a little more imagination into the booking of the venue. Its not as though Melbourne has a dearth of appropriate spaces...

  10. this article sums up all that is wrong with the constant moaning and rubbishing that has become the trade mark of this blog.. there is an inordinate amount of complete w#nk talked on here. thats the truth, in fact the only truth i have read on here. I come to listen to the music and I appreciate that I have been introduced to alot of good music. However you recently asked for a what new direction to lead the blog in, well shut up talking complete sh#te would be myone and only ... cheers

  11. ok, sorry to sound hostile or hyper-critical, the middle of that last paragraph struck me as being rather bitchy, and i read the article and didn't take 'business' into account. and i only read the first page of that thread before i got tired of the complaints.

    i'm trying to work together with some cool 'in it for the music, not for the money' type of dj's that i recently met, and help (particularly financially) bring more interesting electronic music to chicago. i know these guys are already planning on bringing kevin gorman soon, and they have a great space for it - a tiny little basement spot with a great soundsystem. should be lovely... but i doubt they'll be making much money, if any, off it.

    anyway, i don't know if this promoter is strictly business or truly in it for the music or whatever, but i can sympathize with your reasoning against the 'grateful' thing a bit more now.

    anyway, i will go enjoy the giorgio gigli mix for the 1000th time and hope for a prologue tour of the states. (cio d'or is playing new york city soon, i'd love to see her play chicago as well... doubt it will happen)

  12. ah i'd love to see/witness this place revolver you're all talking about! promoter comes across as lazy and his attitude is pretty poor.

  13. @BLog: That's just a fairly silly comment honestly. I didn't comment on the post about the direction of mnml ssgs, but I think the essays and the long-form pieces are some of the best and most thought-provoking stuff anywhere in the online music community (speaking of which, please do post the rest of that series you guys were doing with Sherburne). If you only want to listen to the mixes or download the Sunday Sounds it. It's not that hard to tell the difference.

    That being said, there is a very bitchy, complain-y vibe to this post. At first I was a little disappointed, but after reading the whole thread you linked to, I think I understand. It seems like you guys are desperate out there for good tours. And for a promoter to be so dickish and condescending to fans is truly remarkable. If Dettman is coming and his schedule is that tight there's really nothing that can be done about him playing on Sunday. But if I read the post right, he's not coming for eight months. That should be enough time to make a few changes if they need to be made.
    It seems like to me that it would be in the promoter's (long-term) interest to get the best sound system and vibe possible, so that Dettman wants to come back. If this place is as shit as you say (I've never been to Melbourne) then he may not. And that means nobody wins.

  14. Hi guys,
    Just wondering are there many of you posting on here from Melbourne? I'm moving out there in August and looking to make some contacts as far as what good nights etc to check out.

    I was speaking to someone recently and they were saying that the techno scene is getting better. Even if it's not perfect i'm sure it's still healthier than many cities in Europe. We might get Dettmann once, maybe twice a year so it's cool that he's making the effort to play in Oz and giving a lot of people the chance to hear him without having to make it over to Berlin.

  15. @ BLog: thanks for that constructive feedback. i can promise you that we will continue posting lots of wanky wordy pots. if you dont like it, just download the music and leave. shit, i dont care. if it doesnt interest you, dont engage. simple.

    i think the main issue here comes down to the attitude of the promoter. fair enough they need to put dettmann on sunday. fair enough they ideally want to make money off it. but it is fucking stupid putting in all this effort of bringing someone like dettmann over (a year or two after he was really picking too) and then put him on in a crappy with venue with subpar sound. you could easily do something really cool and different, and there is still plenty of time to organise it, but instead it is just same old.

    and at this stage we are not bothering we the rest of the reflective posts on 2009. we felt like we'd said enough for the time being, and there wasnt much discussion that came out of it anyway. we might try to do a similar round of discussions semi-regularly.

  16. Not rocket science:

    A Sunday gig from Prins Thomas in Melbourne, but at a decent venue (okay, sound system not amazing, but good enough) at a decent time... I will go.

  17. ...I should add that the context is analogous - ie, a third slot in three days in three Aus. cities... but one that is respectful of artists and audiences.

  18. My 2 cents....

    for those that read the thread i'm jazzyjimmyj....

    the thing that is the most frustrating is that there seems to be no way of discussing this with the promoter without him telling us to deal with it.

    its not the only time this promoter does this. they actually get a few interesting artists out (recently omar s + theo parish and soon seth troxler) but they through these guys in a side room at a gig with a bunch of tech-house producer/dj types whose music is rarely interesting...and then only for a little while and often on a sub-par sound system.

    so here they have one of the most"relevant" djs playing techno coming out with a hell of a lot of time to put some thought into the party...and instead its just put at revolver because that's what they're doing.

    its actually really sad that these guys have such a large market-share over here; because while they may end up getting good acts because of it they never tailor their parties for anyone other than the money man (so it seems).

    But...they gotta make money, so i'm just over the whole thing. its a little depressing that the biggest player in the game doesn't seem to care what people have to say.

  19. This kind of purist attitude just irritates me.

    I live in South Africa, which get's far fewer quality acts than Oz on much worse sound systems. Our low currency also doesn't provide me with many opportunities to travel to Europe to see the artists I love.

    So I take every opportunity given me when a great DJ comes along. Even if the sound system sucks, I seriously appreciate the opportunity.

    And how can no Dettmann ever be better than Dettmann in less favourable circumstances. That just grinds me up the wrong way.

    I'd be pretty damned excited to see Dettmann anywhere in SA, anytime; and thank whoever brought him here.

  20. @ Luke: I understand what you mean, but I don't think it's a matter of being a purist, a puritan, or whatever.

    Imagine apologising for a chef who served up inferior fare on dirty plates in a loud, dingy restaurant - but who not only presented what they were putting forward as an 'acceptable standard' but who yelled at the customers when they complained, telling them that it was all they deserved, because, hey, they're only South Africans/Australians, and he and his needed to make a profit...?

    How long would such a restaurant last?

    And yet, because night clubs are typically a business concern run by tough, business-minded entrepreneurs, being fed events by ruthless promoters who are in it for the money, this is what, in cases such as this one, music audiences are being asked to swallow...

    ~ extending the restaurant metaphor, you could also say, well, it doesn't have to be fancy and five star, but it should be done with passion and respect ~ could say in the case of South Africa that the distance factors interact with a lack of resources (compared to a wealthier country like Australia), but then, straight away, I remember that the home of sound system culture is Jamaica...

    fact is that both the 'night club' and the 'dance music promoter' are both business models/strategies that exist for complex socio-historical reasons...

    Chefs like the one above will keep dishing in swill as long as audiences keep lapping it up... ...I think it's high time we call bullshit on this.

    I'd hate to end up like the guy in Life of Brian who only just got hung up the right way the other day...

  21. @Luke (@PC)

    Ah well, don’t be irritated… Some people are just lucky and have a lot more exposure to good gigs, good venues, good sound systems, and good parties in general. Including me.

    Once I got used to a string of great parties with great DJs and great people, it stopped being worthwhile to go to events that come short by too much. Once I got used to great sound systems, I’ll still put up with kind of crappy sound systems if I have to, but in all honesty I feel they’re sometimes a bit of an insult to producers. I know it might come across as ridiculously snobby, but it’s just acclimatization.

    At the same time I’m aware that a lot of people are doing their best with their hearts in the right places and I still feel an amount of gratitude for the people who make all the good things happen—artists, event organizers, fellow listeners and party people, just the same—that I can’t even begin to express in words.

  22. PC:

    "Chefs like the one above will keep dishing in swill as long as audiences keep lapping it up... ...I think it's high time we call bullshit on this."

    See, it's pretty straightforward to improve the venue, and the sound quality, and the people watching the show. Just put the ticket prices up. If they charged $120 a ticket then you could guarantee that only purists would be there, no tourists.

    But how many purists are there? And how many of them can afford that money? As the setup gets better and better, ticket prices increase further and further, the crowd gets smaller and smaller.

    What I think we're seeing is that there just isn't sufficient demand in Melbourne for these shows. That's certainly seems to be what the promoters think, so they drop the prices to ensure that the tourists are there. Hence, Theo Parrish is $15.

    $15! That's a stupid ticket price for Parrish. At an 800 capacity venue like Revolver that means they're taking around $12k for the show. Parrish gets a few k, the venue gets a few k, supports get a thousand between them, the promoter takes the rest - which is still fuck-all, really!

    So I find it hard to blame the promoters - though I'm sure they're all wankers. The problem is that the crowds just aren't there.

  23. @ Dave: I think the thing w/ Revolver is what the venue 'means', and the stigma most people have.

    My understanding is that when the music-focussed people associated with said venue put on something adventurous and forward-thinking, they don't get the audience that 'should' be coming... ...a lot of people are put off by the venue... Revolver became more and more about Boogs and the Sunday bender set, it cleaned out the mid week crowds, just as it browned off the inner suburban demographics who used to like it. We have to also say that some of the bouncers in the past were really, really, really nasty as well.

    Then, on top of that, Revolver now has a mandated limit on the # of people they can let in, which is a quite drastic reduction on the steamy, atmospheric fire trap of old that used to make 'em so much money they could take a bath on some 'unknown' like Ricardo Villalobos or Suktekh ('99) to offset it...

    ...but now Sunday bender crowd is what's keeping it going...

    ...just as Dettmann's three day gig is what keeps him going, seeing how much he's going to make off album sales...

    but/and: on the demand factor, what I hear from a lot of people 28-35 years old is a yearning for a reasonable gig at a reasonable time in a good venue... off course, all these things are compromises that have to be made given the situation as it is with all the limitations that implies in terms of time, money, resources, etc...

    BUT: I would put it to you that there is also very little demand because people have been burnt and know all too well what they're going to get for their 15 bucks...

    As I've ranted about in the past, I'm not convinced that clubs are necessarily the optimal venue for a lot of electronic music - a new context has to be further developed... but I already see this happening with a lot of Sunday arvo gigs, good festivals, informal events in parks, and now, esp. in Sydney, good warehouse parties with interesting people... doesn't have to be mean and money grubbing, I don't think...

    'business model' is good for business - but is it the best model for music?

  24. Well it would help if people actually new what proper techno was. From my experience the majority of Aussies do not have a clue what it is. They seem to think that crookers and of the like to be the true techno lolz. I recently moved to London, in the last 6 months of being in Australia I could not stand going into any club because all you would hear was electro trash. And yes, the only party's is the festy's. Funny how since going to future music festival a few years ago, friends of mine were DIEING for any Sven Vath mix that I had, because he had knocked the crowd for 6. So to get better venues for quality dj's, you need volume. You aint gon get that if in 5 years time Aussies will still seem to think that Dizzee Rascals 'Bonkers' is the techno song to rule them all. All credit though to those who are actually attempting to give techno some decent exposure.


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