The Great Debate

Last Updated: 26 May 2015
Sophie Raynor

Devilles is gone, The Bakery is done, and Fly By Night was receiving last rites when it was saved at the last minute. Perth music punters are getting fed up, but is that anger well-founded? Is the state of Perth’s live music venues really as dire as it seems?


Renee Pole, Development Manager – Music, at RTRFM.

'Dire' is an alarmist word and I feel it's inappropriate to pit two opinions against each other on this issue. It was raised as a call to action and, in my experience, the independent art and music scenes in Perth are, by necessity and desire, collaborative and supportive. I can't see a shortage of venues changing that operating principle of the arts community; rather it may serve to further galvanise it.

There is no shortage of passion, talent and commitment to developing music and arts culture in this city. The concern is that it is becoming more and more difficult
for venue owners, promoters and artists to prosper or, in reality, break even.

For venues, commercial success – or even just to achieve viability – requires ingenuity and a 'for the greater good' attitude. Internal subsidisation is common – things like extending beer gardens to allow more covers so that a band room at a third of its capacity doesn't cripple a venue, or serving cheap cocktails to clubbers after 11pm in order to be able to continue to have live, original music played in a venue at all.

If the state government were to offer a live-music subsidy to all venues that host live original music, those venues that already make it work without being subsidised would, I suspect, use the funds to further develop opportunities for artists, like advertising their venues' live music line-ups.

Another piece of the puzzle is audience building. You talk about punters, I think of punters as being comparatively expensive to reach, and as being the mass market. I hate to think of the number of times I've sat on the floor in front of
a mind-blowingly talented local act, in a sea of 20 familiar faces.

Larger scale arts and music programs have huge marketing budgets that reach from Darch to Rockingham and beyond, which is fabulous and makes our city great. But every night, in a handful of central suburbs, Perth people are making great noise and beautiful moments, and they're young, old and in every way diverse and independent voices.

If support isn't forthcoming for our grassroots music and arts communities, we will be in a position where diversity is a privilege, the impetus to create will be diluted and without an avenue of expression, and we may just find ourselves driving into a cultural cul-de-sac.


Josh Cutler, musician and booker.

I'd say the live-music venue situation in Perth could best be described as "grim".

The losses of The Bakery, Devilles and the Fly By Night club have been a significant blow to an already limp music landscape. Granted, the Fly By has found a new home, but the others? The Bakery's absence will be felt all over Perth, as it generated and facilitated a world of culture in this city, and Devilles was perfect and weird! I can testify to many good nights and many eye-opening experiences at these places. There is nothing in the works to replace these spaces, and the outlook is pretty bleak.

Each of these closed (or soon-to-be closed) venues has met its fate by a different cause, so it's hard to point the finger at just one catalyst. However, there
are common threats and hindrances, and these have come to the fore now everyone's in a state of panic about the future. It's exposed a massive hole in the next generation of venues.

The barriers to entry into opening up a live-music venue are massive, with endless red tape and a significant amount of capital required. There's also little in place to support the ones that are fighting to remain open, noise complaints being an obvious threat. As a booker of a stalwart Fremantle live-music venue, we're facing the prospect of an 11:30pm curfew for our bands, as the neighbours (not even close ones, mind you) don't seem to like the noise. Now, we're known for being a highly accessible, family-orientated venue, not to mention we've had bands playing for 30 years! It's really shameful that there are no protections on venues, especially ones that are fostering positive and healthy cultural development.

If Perth wants to be considered a sophisticated city it needs to be willing to make noise after 11:30pm, and it needs to provide outlets for its artists. Conversely, with nowhere for people to properly display their art, or express themselves artistically, you'll be seeing a lot more illegal activity, such as graffiti and excessive house parties.


Inspired to action about the state of our live music scene? Andrew Ryan from Cool Perth Nights shares what you can do about Perth's venue closures.

1.Write to your MP
"We have an opportunity for the public sector to invest in developing a sustainable industry whose prime resource – young musicians – has a near-infinite supply," says Andrew. He thinks government incentives for venues that host three or more live gigs would benefit punters, musicians and bookers, and encourage more private investment in the industry. Write to your MP and ask for more government support of live music.

2. See a show
If they're putting on all these shows, they're going to need people through the door. And don't be shy about taking a punt on an unknown artist – Andrew says that because Perth has always had more bands than band rooms, you're guaranteed a quality show. "You have to be good to get a gig," he says. Start planning with our music listings (p42).

3. Develop young audiences
"Audience development is a necessary step if we are to expand the frontiers of contemporary music," says Andrew. "This can start as simply having more live performances in high schools, as well as creating more spaces for bands to play to all audience ages." Know a young budding muso? Teach them a few guitar chords or loan out a Jimi Hendrix CD – they'll be the ones fighting this battle after you.

4. Keep talking about it
This issue can't just be a flash in the pan, says Andrew – we've got to keep talking about it beyond The Bakery closure. "I'm keen to do what I can to make support for the live-music sector a hotbed issue at the next state election," he says. That's in 2017 –until then, you can join the advocacy group Perth Venue Action, of which Andrew is a committee member, and keep up to date with news on the issue.

Photography by Anthony Tran.


Visit these great gig spots and support our quality live-music scene.

The Astor Theatre Touring musicians and comedians stop at this historic art deco building, which has a huge 1000 person capacity main room, and a new, smaller space for more intimate gigs. 659 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley.
The Bird You rarely pay more than $10 for a gig at this cosy bar. The newly expanded beer garden provides welcome room to move, and alfresco good vibes flow with barbecue snacks on select nights. 181 William Street, Northbridge.
Belvoir Amphitheatre It's easy to see why this has been voted Australia's best outdoor venue – the stunning natural amphitheatre holds a huge crowd, but retains that magical atmosphere. Perfect for artists like The National, Regina Spektor and Sigur Rós. 1177 Great Northern Highway, Upper Swan.
The Ellington Jazz Club Hands-down Perth's best jazz venue, this club supports local musicians, hosts international ones, and always makes us feel damn fancy with those dimmed lights and huge wine glasses. 191 Beaufort Street, Perth.
Flyrite WAM's Aarom Wilson called this Northbridge joint a "playground", and it's easy to see why – there's T-Rex graffiti on the wall, a late-night licence and, perhaps most importantly, plenty of room to boogie. 110 Aberdeen Street, Northbridge.
Fremantle Arts Centre This iconic building has three different-sized spaces, so you can enjoy an intimate courtyard gig or a mini festival – but really, it still feels like you're relaxing at a backyard picnic. 1 Finnerty Street, Fremantle.
Jimmy's Den It's only been open a few months, but this bar (housed in a former gambling den) is a promising and welcome addition to the scene. Its 200-person capacity makes it slightly larger than the Bird. 69 James Street, Northbridge.
Mojos Bar The North Freo institution has survived decades of music in different guises – now, it's a guaranteed go-to for touring musicians and high-quality local acts. 237 Queen Victoria Street, North Fremantle.
The Odd Fellow The former Norfolk Basement still has the same underground vibe (ah, it's literally underground, but there's an indie pall, too) and some seriously good drinking. 9 Norfolk Street, Fremantle.
The Rosemount Hotel The North Perth institution has evolved from its grungy roots to be a versatile performance space, with teeny front bar Four5Nine and an expanded beer garden hosting gigs, in addition to the main space. One thing that's stayed the same? It still churns out some of Perth's best live music every week. 459 Fitzgerald Street, North Perth.

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