I was reading a recent communiqué by Dennis Val, guitar player with one of Sydney’s better rock bands, Love Child, in which he was talking about the lack of Australian artists on radio, and how hard it is to get original Australian guitar rock heard on the airwaves nowadays. It got me thinking not just about that issue, but about the state of the music industry in general – and I’ve come to the conclusion that there needs to be a significant shift, otherwise there exists the very real possibility that there could be no ‘next’ generation of rock fans in this country, and ours could be the last. There was an article in the Daily Review last year that identified the decline of live music in Australia as an art form, and its also a valid read.
For today’s younger generation – music has no intrinsic value. It’s a file that you download, its not tangible. You download it, (sometimes having even paid for it), you listen to it, you share it, you delete it. Disposable. You can buy a new T-shirt from one of the subsidiaries of the Coles/Woolworths duopoly for $2. Tools, toys, shoes – all cheaply made in 3rd world countries by exploited peoples, and of a quality equitable to its price tag. When it breaks (before the use by date), its cheap enough – so buy another. The days of repairing an item are long gone. This ethos applies equally to music, a commodity that a lot of younger people do not value in the way that generations before them did. Zero consideration for the artist who created the work.
Before I go further though, let me exalt the praises of a couple of artists who exist in a challenging climate for live bands – like a climate like we’ve never seen before. Love Child are a Sydney guitar band who play original rock, heavy on the melody, catchy with pop overtones and a ton of hooks. These guys craft great songs, use multi layered harmonies and in a just world – SHOULD be on commercial radio AND playing to sold out venues. As a comparison – in the 1970’s, a band like Stars were not too dissimilar. Difference is – Stars were playing ‘the circuit’, and would have had Premier or Harbour or some other agency behind them who assured them paid bookings and regular crowds. Fast forward 40 years. Where are the rock crowds in the pubs to support original Australian rock bands ? Where are the young rock fans ? Where are the pubs for these bands to play in ? Where are the radio stations playing original Oz rock music ? I go see and see a lot of bands and the venues are more often than not, never full.
A band like Black Label are another good example of a band who should have hit the heights with their distinctive brand of heavy rock. As I wrote elsewhere, their ‘Blood Money’ CD should have been massive, and seen them on countless festivals across Europe. Love Child have a contemporary, AOR sound that is super radio friendly, and would do significantly better and be more appreciated in the US, in Nashville, in Vegas. Owen Campbell is another, as are Leadfinger, as too is Gwyn Ashton, one of Australia’s greatest ever blues/rock players. Of course there’s many examples I could name, these are just a few that come to mind. A guy like Mitch Grainger (who spent years with The Bondi Cigars) exhausted the same traps around Australia and now bases himself in Nashville to work the West Coast. I’m not saying Australian rock audiences are passé – you be your own judge of that.
Since I was a kid, seeing live music is and always has been one of my favourite activities. Its a hobby that has taken me around the world. I loved the big concert experience of the stadiums and arenas, yet I preferred to see bands in pubs. I couldn’t wait till I was old enough to get in the pubs. With older siblings into rock n roll, (in the mid 70s they saw Cooper and Quatro and Sweet and Abba to name but a few) I hung on their words about the bands they saw and what venues they went to. I rifled through their records and stared at the album covers – and it was a natural progression that the generational influence continued. Yet objectively, I’m not so sure if the younger generation share the same ethos. Sure, there’s kids into rock, but I mean EN MASSE. Yes, there are younger people into rock n roll, but in many ways, they are an anomaly amongst their peers.
When I was growing up, in Sydney in the 1970s, (a time before digital technology was around, and aeons before it became the dominant distraction and enter/infotainment that it has become), there were fewer entertainment options for kids/teens. We were into two things largely – rugby league and rock n roll, (and cricket/the beach in the Summer). Except for going to the movies, rock n roll was it. You’d hear an AUSTRALIAN band on an AUSTRALIAN radio station, or you’d see them on Countdown or similar, or you’d read about them in RAM or Juke, you’d go buy the record, you’d go see them in some pub. The clout of Countdown or these other media forms meant that the band may have generated enough interest to see them then play regional and rural towns. Agents /promoters would also be checking the sales figures generated from airplay on the local /regional radio stations. EVERYONE followed the same mediums – rock shows on TV, music newspapers, rock radio – it was all pretty straight forward. As is commonly known – the advent of technology has seen that there are way more entertainment choices for people. I know some young people in their early 20’s who can’t even name for me all the Rolling Stones. It’s not important to them – the way it was for me and generations before me. Young people head along to Festivals like Groovin The Moo, but the bands/DJs are largely incidental to their experiencing of the event. 10 000 people watching some DJ I just simply do not get. The drugs must make it bearable I guess.
Yet you don’t have to have 20/20 vision to see that the halcyon days of Oz rock are now in the history books. That’s a fact. Nostalgia and youth-reliving ensures that the current generation of middle aged people get along to see the bands they grew up with – The Angels, Midnight Oil, Mental As Anything, Dragon, Richard Clapton etc. Yet the next generation ? Having an ease of home entertainment options (digital technology again), not to mention the rise and dominance of sports (all football codes in particular) coupled with a sedentary lifestyle/flexible work options means that more often than not, in the main, people can’t be shifted from their living rooms and sofas – and certainly not to venture out to a pub to see a band playing original music.
The hypocrisies and double standards that exist in the mainstream media are never more obvious. They couldn’t care less about certain Australian bands, (ie: Gwyn Ashton), but they never fail to sing the virtues of others (Paul Kelly for example). Why the distinction ? BOTH Kelly and Ashton have made a significant contribution, cultural or otherwise, and are deserving of equal media time. Ashton is revered in Europe, (by fans and peers alike) and has been an ambassador for Australian blues/rock for more than 35 years. Yet every success he has had – has been of his own doing. No major label support, no record company advance, no mainstream media pushing his wagon. He gets in his van and takes his music to the people – winning new fans over in the tried and true way. Ashton is damn good – better than most – and has been slogging it out for years. He is due a break – and I mean a big break to open his music to audiences en masse.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that there are few legitimate music journalists anymore in the mainstream press who have any concept of, or place significance on Australia’s rock past – their memories extend as far back as Killing Heidi, The Living End and Grinspoon. Incidentally, it was much easier in the days when there was ONE music newspaper/gig guide for each city. The absence of those said publications has made it increasingly difficult for people to know when gigs are on – particularly for those who don’t use the internet. How many web sites does one need to subscribe to in order to stay aware of upcoming gigs nowadays? Yes – I know there’s also a shortage of venues prepared to give original music a go and that is also a well-known issue best left for another time.
Rockbrat and The Australian Rock Show are the two main platforms that my brother and I use to write about, interview and promote Australian rock n roll – past and present. For over 30 years we have more than embraced the entire DIY ethos in support of the bands and rock n roll we love – with the fundamental goal of getting people to hear rock n roll they haven’t before. Thousands of hours and thousands of dollars thrown in to any number of projects – from our own record label to fanzines, to management and all points in between. It’s a labour of love that is a constant in our lives – yet some context here. We were FANS, we are not journalists. It’s always a struggle to get your stuff heard – It’s always a slog. Yet what’s the alternative? Australia needs more media dedicated to guitar based rock n roll. I ask you, where are the journalists coming through writing about Australian rock ‘n’ roll? Why does the mainstream media not get behind rock artists on the rise anymore, or give due press to guitar rock bands in general? Recent example: Dan Baird and Homemade Sin tour Australia. A guy who had a top ten hit in America. NOT ONE write up in any mainstream media publication to support the tour. Why ? Are the music journalists too young to remember ? Guitar based rock not hip anymore? You tell me cos’ then we will both know. I guess Lady GaGa and the dubiously talented Jay-Z are more worthy of the attention. More online readers, more people to the advertisers – and so it goes.
YouTube is in many ways a double edged sword. Same goes for Facebook. These platforms provide a presence for artists – yet just cos someone gives an artist a ‘like’ or ‘thumbs up’ does not equate to people through the turnstiles and the ching of the cash register. I’m wholly aware that a rock scene exists on the internet without people actually leaving their houses. You can be a rock fan and even a ‘friend’ of an artist – without ever purchasing their music or venturing out to see them live.
Last year I saw a show by Four By Fate – a high profiled American band with the collective band members possessing a pedigree as long as your arm. The bass player spent several years with Peter Frampton, Billy Idol and Ace Frehley (amongst others), the drummer was with Skid Row when they were at their peak, the singer, Todd Howarth – spent years with Ace Frehley and as a sideman with Cheap Trick. Howarth has that rock star edge – a great front man with a fine rock voice who in many ways could have been as big as Robin Zander had destiny played a different hand. These guys are a slick, professional outfit, who have a new album out of all original material. 25-30 years ago – these guys would have been playing stadiums, arenas or to thousands of people. Yet wait – after their set, Bruce Kulick (a guy who spent years with Meatloaf, KISS, Grand Funk Railroad etc), comes out and does a set of KISS tunes. Staggeringly, there are approximately 40 people in attendance to witness this even. I feel for the promoter who has invested to bring artists of this calibre to Australia – to an audience whose size is nothing short of pathetic.
It disheartens me to see artists on Facebook drumming up their upcoming events – to have only 20 or 30 people turn up. And please don’t tell me that all this has more to do with the type of rock ‘n’ roll that I dig as not being popular anymore – as I won’t buy it. Dinosaur rock, fossil rock, Dad rock – whatever. Guns N Roses still sell out right? As do AC/DC, Metallica etc. Yet others are destined to play the clubs.
In summary – there are more questions than answers. I sincerely hope that my generation is not the last rock generation – yet over my shoulder, I do not see the next wave of rock fans coming up behind me. What I do know is that doing small things make a difference. Here’s three things that everyone can do to help.
1) BUY music from artists, be they Australian or not, be it digital, CD or whatever. Buy it – don’t take it, just because you can.
2) Get off your sofas, put the damn phone down, and go and see original live music in a pub. Support venue operators, promoters etc by turning up to gigs. Tell your friends about it- spread the word. Your positivity can influence them to also attend a gig.
3) The band selling merchandise at their gig ? Buy it too. The money goes directly into the pockets of the artist.
Share this article wide and far as a starting point! It might resonate with some and raise the consciousness of others.