A look at Australian punk’s struggle for recognition in our own backyard

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A look at Australian punk’s struggle for recognition in our own backyard

Attending the first Download festival, much like the years of Soundwave festivals and the like, I saw many fantastic, mostly international bands playing punk-rock and other alternative music all day to crowds of thousands.

While numerous locals, namely High Tension and Clowns, played great sets to receptive crowds, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the crowd numbers and simple popularity of punk-rock in Australia is still dominated by international artists.

Traditionally, the model of promoting and releasing music was mostly dominated by non-Australian large record labels seemingly pushing US bands almost exclusively, however in recent years that model has completely shifted. With the advent of Bandcamp and Spotify etc, the accessibility of music from everywhere has increased astronomically. Geography is no longer an issue. However, I believe the fact that thousands of people who rarely, if ever, attend a local show make a point of spending $150 to see a band from another country do the same thing on a bigger stage is an attitude still stuck in the past.

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The independent music scene in Melbourne is arguably one of the best in the world, and we have no meaningful struggles with closing venues, lockout laws, lack of creativity or anything that places a restriction on a fertile scene and culture. Unfortunately, other cities aren’t so lucky. Although Sydney has enough venues and plenty of great bands, the overall music scene up there has been showing cracks for years now. While lockout laws and astronomical real estate prices are significant hindrances for accessibility and prosperity, I believe the main attributing factor to a strong scene comes from not just the people who create the music and run the venues but the people who go to the shows. There are shows on every night in Sydney, yet attendance, on the whole, is far lower than it could and should be. Melbourne fares a lot better, but I don’t believe we are immune either to the effects of cultural attitudes and popularity shifts.

Fortunately, I believe that the participants that make the punk-rock/independent scene (not to mention all kinds of live music) so strong in Melbourne is the amount of pride and the strong (often militant) approach to defending what we all know can easily be lost to corporate interests. Bringing this back to Download, I think it’s important to keep an eye on what large corporate interests like large festivals are dictating as to how the public should understand and by extension, consume culture. Music is always going to be commercialised and in essence, commoditised, but I think it’s incredibly short-sighted for the public to see punk-rock bands from around the world playing on a big stage in front of thousands of people and think that’s all that it’s supposed to be.

I always have a great time at internationally focused festivals and I encourage them to continue, but I feel it’s very important to be mindful of the cultural effects and influence. I don’t feel there is competition between Australian independent music and corporate festival culture – they primarily exist on different planes – but if it can be clearly seen that thousands of people are willing to see punk-rock and heavy bands and pay good money for it, then that’s an entire market that could be making the independent scene that much stronger.

If you’re reading this and feel it might apply to you, go and see a bunch of local punk bands and I promise you’ll get all the cool punk points when one of them gets big and ends up playing at your favourite festival.