Top 10 things I learnt at BIGSOUND this year
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Celebrating its tenth birthday, Brisbane’s Bigsound conference certainly lived up to its name this year, with an event that was touted by many as its best yet. With 110 speakers, 680 delegates and 2500+ punters a night joining the celebrations, the three-day event was a blur of panels, partying, personalities, controversy, business cards, bands and unexplained stops at New York Slice.
And yet handshakes and hangovers aside, perhaps Bigsound’s biggest coup was the sense of community and collaboration that permeated the event. It was a refreshing feeling. Here’s the ten best things TheVine took home from Bigsound 2011.
1. Brisbane can really turn it on
“Well, at least for one week in the year,” one native wryly observed early on. Over two days and nights, Bigsound turned Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley into a pulsing live music mecca with over 80 bands playing showcases across eight venues in a five block radius.
The atmosphere was electric, the venues packed and for a short moment in time, it felt like a gig-goer’s utopia; one where live music had conquered all — even the dance clubs (Electric Playground) transformed into rock dens and swanky bars charging top price for a beer (The Aviary) became live venues charging top price for a beer.
With its Americana tavern feel, Woodland proved an early favourite - once actually found (don’t take the first alleyway, it’s just full of bins). The alfresco alleyway stage in Bakery Lane was another hotspot, hosting many of Bigsound’s biggest drawcards (Stonefield, Big Scary, DZ Deathrays, Papa Vs Pretty). Black Bear Lodge’s cozy room (ex-Troubadour) offered a more intimate alternative, while the front room of Ric’s Bar across the mall proved way too small for just about every act that played there.
2. Music doesn’t make Alan McGee happy, arson does
“I don’t really like music…I lost interest,” aren’t exactly the words you expect to open a music conference. Unless of course, you’ve invited Creation Records /Poptones founder Alan McGee to get the party started.
The former industry maverick’s comments about the Sony PIAS warehouse burning down in the London riots (“It's a result, not a crime - to get rid of all that shit music”) may have ignited a subsequent shitstorm online, but it was his musings on music – or lack thereof - that left most people cold at the time.
Over a gloomy hour and a half, McGee, who’s sold 50 millions records and launched seminal bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis, seemingly shat on every aspect of his career from his ambitions (“I just saw music as a way to not being a taxi driver”), music taste (“it was probably just the drugs”) and musicians (“I think musicians are the most boring people in the world”). When host/music writer for The Australian Iain Shedden asked him for some advice for aspiring audience members, he merely offered, “If you love music, whatever I say is not going to stop you.”
It started off as amusing, but ended up just feeling sad and deflated. McGee did share some great stories, recalling signing Oasis and missing out on Stone Roses (“they were such a Manc secret”) and regretting insulting the royal family (“There goes the OB!”), but overall, his glum speech felt more like a bum-note than a keynote, with many left wondering why he’d even bothered to show. (During his panel two days later, Michael Chugg would retort, “If you don't wanna come out here and give, fuck off.”)
Still, with fiery headlines in NME, Pitchfork and Contactmusic, no doubt his appearance did wonders for Bigsound’s international profile – and his own future fees as a (de)motivational speaker.
3. ie:music’s David Enthoven and Tim Clark are legends
In terms of something to “give”, visiting Brits David Enthoven and Tim Clark of ie:music Management (Robbie Williams, Jimmy Page, Ladyhawke) gave plenty during Thursday’s keynote speech. Having worked together since the ‘60s (where they worked with Bob Marley, T-Rex, Roxy Music just to name a few), the pair act like an old married couple, sharing hilarious old stories about drunken dares to swim the Thames and doing cocaine before “calling the American office just to shout at them” back in the day. By comparison, their one-two combo made McGee look miserable.
At the same time, the pair had plenty to say about the modern music landscape. Led by host, Inertia MD Colin Daniels, they drilled into piracy (“You can’t keep calling consumers ‘thieves’”), the need for a new model (“you can’t have artists earning nothing”) and the catalogue owners stopping it (“there’s too many 60 year old execs protecting their retirement funds”).
They also spoke at length about their biggest artist on their books, Robbie Williams, talking candidly about his transformation from Take That drop-out to a solo artist, nursing him through his drug-addled breakdown and his triumphant performance at Glastonbury 1998. “Glastonbury was quite extraordinary,” said Tim. “David and I got quite moist.”
4. The future of music is blurry
Tellingly at ‘The Future Is Now’ panel, there was a lot more discussion about the ‘now’ than the ‘future’. Probably because ‘now’ is such a legal and technological minefield, that any ‘future’ visions would be cloudy at best. With its mix of old money, lawlessness and frontier pioneers, it really is the Wild West out there right now.
The panel agreed the internet had renewed music discovery and “opened label catalogues up to anyone with a net connection” as Simon Wheeler of Beggars Group put it. They also highlighted that 97% of music going through that connection right now is illegal. Refreshingly, there was little talk of clamping down on piracy, just the need to finetune digital products that offer a superior alternative. For that to happen…
5. Music must shift from a product to a service
In line with most current beliefs, the Future Is Now panel agreed that the expansion of music streaming subscription services like Spotify, MOG, Pandora and Rdio (none of which are available here), in which users “access music, but don’t own it”, will be the way forward.
As panel member Jai Al-Attas of One creative agency succinctly put it, “You need to have everything you want everywhere you go,” which is a problem in Australia because “technology is crap.”
Spotify, a two-tier service currently operating in the UK and Europe and as of a month ago the US, proved the buzz word of the session, spoken about as if a shining white knight in the digital darkness.
Dick Huey, whose company Tooshed licences indie catalogue to Spotify in the US, pointed to encouraging signs of growth in digital subscription, with €45 million paid in royalties to labels last year. But as Wheeler pointed out, for it to work as a viable model, “it has to scale massively for it to work” and “roll out worldwide”.
That’s difficult due to an ongoing battle between the old guard of music copyright owners, who are digging in over licensing rights in different territories, and the new guard of global music innovators, who need those licences in order to expand. Right now, it’s a crippling stalemate of rights and red tape.
Panel member Stephen Phillips, founder of Hunted Media (wearehunted.com), admitted he’d be trying to launch a service similar to Pandora’s recommendation radio model here for the last year, but to no avail. Given the present’s so exhausting, it’s no surprise no one’s got time to consider the future.
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