“They are so vulnerable”: The Badloves’ Michael Spiby feels for Melbourne’s ailing live music venues

“They are so vulnerable”: The Badloves’ Michael Spiby feels for Melbourne’s ailing live music venues

Words by Scott Hudson

We caught up with The Badloves frontman before he performs as part of The Temperance Hotel’s ‘Thursday Up-Close’ gig series.

Music Victoria’s 2017 Melbourne Live Music Census found that Melbourne had the most live music venues per capita than any other city in the world; however, the past 12 or so months have seen venues having to close their doors at alarming rates due to COVID restrictions.

After thirty years of fronting The Badloves, Michael Spiby is feeling for the local live music scene.

“I get quite sentimental. It’s quite emotional about the small gigs, especially in Melbourne, because now they are so vulnerable and they’re dropping. We were lucky, we grew up in Melbourne pubs and so many of those just can’t survive [in the current climate],” Spiby says.

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The Badloves rose while the internet was in its infancy, signing to Mushroom Records in 1992 and releasing their debut album the next year. In the pre-streaming, pre-social media era the releasing process was a different beast.

“You’d spend several months just hardcore on the road, to ignite some interest in the press. And now that’s not so relevant, in terms of live performance.”

Navigating releases in the streaming era, Spiby credits his team. “The only thing I’m sure of is my process. And beyond that, I’m very confused, because it is changing. And I find that really challenging. Luckily, I’ve got a fabulous team of people around me who are sort of specialised and they know their areas.”

Spiby talks about how predictable the “early days” were and how new artists have to work within an industry that is in a “permanent state of change”.

“I don’t know how young dudes, they just seem to be able to do the whole thing by themselves. I’m just in awe of that. I’ve watched my children, and they’re just phenomenal. With navigating and getting around the marketplace, as to what’s available to them.”

During 2020, The Badloves jumped on the livestream wagon, performing a number of shows including one at Festival Hall via Zoom. But it was clear the experience wasn’t the same.

“Half the excitement [of performing] is the energy you feel. Even if there’s only ten or twenty people, there is a different alchemy that takes place in your perception of the event. The feeling, it’s visceral.”

Since then, The Badloves went back on the road in December of last year and have already played shows across Australia.

“It’s quite easy just to pause something on a computer, you know, and go and make a coffee. But you can’t do that at a [gig], it’s an event happening. It’s got to finish,” Spiby says of playing live.

“It’s an event that comes and goes, and so you’re aware of that, and you stay with it. You’re there for the journey of that event. That’s just a critical thing that would go missing if it’s not supported. If it doesn’t remain culturally relevant.”

Often underplayed is the live music venue itself. Such businesses have taken a battering over the last 12 months or so as they try and navigate the twisting and turning post-COVID world.

“We think of them as permanent, but they’re not. They’re very volatile, very subject to whatever’s happening out in the real world, and things fault. So it’s really, really critical to get out and keep those things [venues] alive while we’ve got them. Otherwise, we’re in strife.”

Spiby’s passion for live music comes so easily. He reminisces coming out of a psychology exam at Monash university in the ‘80s to hear Cold Chisel sound checking. The experience of participating in music as both a musician and audience member is something dear to him.

The Badloves will be performing at The Temperance Hotel as part of the ‘Thursdays Up-Close’ – a series dedicated to intimate lo-fi performances. After thirty years and a few ARIAs, this isn’t a common set up for The Badloves.

“We’re not getting to do that very often at all but I do love the rawness of it,” Spiby says of the upcoming show. “At The Temperance, it’s Ollie Rolfe, a fabulous Melbourne keyboard player, and myself just doing it together.”

Largely an analogue band, The Badloves have relied on guitars, keys and their signature Hammond organ to fill out songs and create soundscapes.

“[At the Temperance] we’re just kind of winging it. He [Rolfe] is such a great player. I love that rawness. That you just turn up somewhere and you just play — it’s quite electric,” Spiby concludes.

“Because it’s unprepared. And there’s so little in terms of safety net when you’re doing solo or just duo. It’s wonderful. I love it. It’s a whole different chemistry.”

The Badloves perform as a duo at The Temperance Hotel on Thursday July 1 as part of their ‘Thursdays Up-Close’ series. More info here.