Q&A With David Caffery: MusicACT President Talks About Canberra’s Current Live Music Scene
David Caffery – MusicACT President
Canberra’s live music scene over the past few years has had a major shakeup. With the music industry in Canberra facing economical and geographical challenges, the nightlife in Civic and surrounding areas has dramatically changed. This testing period has previously spelled the closures of Academy and Kyte nightclubs in Civic, as well as venues such as The Phoenix struggling financially. With these live music venue’s constantly fighting the everlasting battle of survival, it is clear to see that the industry is a hard business to sustain in Canberra. I went to find out why this is and what can be done to promote live music venues in Canberra to prevent them too from closing.
The closure of these venues has been put down to the size and cost of leasing space in the City centre, as well as new residential developments, which are all hurting live music venues. However, a new recently opened nightclub, Fiction, has just replaced the pre-existing Academy nightclub in its old location. What will be the future of this nightclub and how can it survive in the ruthless business that is live music venues in Canberra? Only time will tell.
I sat down with MusicACT President, David Caffery, to get his thoughts on Canberra’s current live music scene, focusing on the challenges and positives in the local industry.
Q: What is your role at MusicACT as president?
A: We’re mostly focussed on lobbying for better policy around the music industry at the moment. We also represent the ACT through the Australian music industry network – which is a voice for the music industry nationally, so I sit on that board. We travel the country looking at best practices and we try to bring them to our own cities. We also have really good internal dialogue about what issues Victoria or South Australia or Darwin are going through at the moment and we can learn from that and help to instil better processes in Canberra. Another organisation that MusicACT work with is the ‘Live Music Office’ and they are an excellent resource for policy change through the country on live music, they’ve been working with us on the ‘Cool Little Capital’ report to get best practice from around the country and suggesting it to the ACT government.
Q: What’s your opinion on Canberra’s current live music scene right now?
A: It’s changing and evolving quickly. The industry has definitely had a few blows with some of the music venues closing down, but there are also some really great bands and DJ’s coming out at the moment. We’ve got some really famous internationals touring now as well which is a sign of a growing music industry.
Q: What needs improving/changing to help improve Canberra’s nightlife?
A: We need better sound laws right now. At the moment we have a really good one stop shop for event approvals through the ACT government called ‘Access Canberra’, which is really good, but we definitely need some more venues or at least some more spaces that can become event spaces. There’s been some events that have a lot of sound issues because they’re trying to use new spaces because there’s no current spaces that are good enough for it at the moment. There’s also a lot of bands that are not coming to Canberra because there’s not the appropriate venues. We also need to have a few changes to the way that the ACT government approach planning and buildings because it’s illegal to have events in carparks, warehouses and retail spaces. We’re desperate for venues but we can’t actually use these areas just yet.
Q: Why has there been closures to nightclubs and live music venues in Canberra?
A: Each one of those venues has their own story to them. Academy was a very big club and that takes a different style of approach as opposed to say Kyte, which shut down mostly because there was a hotel being stacked above it. So we do need order of occupancy or some sort of policy that protects music venues from being closed by residential developments – that’s a major issue and it’s been an issue in Braddon for a while as well. But we also need to see new venues being able to open, it’s natural that you will have the attrition venues and some of them will close, that happens in every city, but what we’re not seeing is new venues open, that’s the real concern that I’ve got. We should be having fresh spaces coming online when places close. That’s one of the promising and refreshing parts about Fiction nightclub recently replacing Academy in its former venue. We should also be trying to protect the places that are currently operating, for example, easier liquor licensing for primarily live music venues. It’s something we’ve been suggesting for a while, and also the sounds laws need to consider the context of the music venues, but largely that comes into protecting them from residential developments.
Q: Is there a decrease in national/international touring artists coming to Canberra?
A: It depends on the level of the artist, Smith’s [Alternative] are bringing in a lot of artists at the moment, probably an unprecedented number for any venue in Canberra. They are a small music venue so the main issue for touring acts is having the right sized venue for them in Canberra. There’s no mid-sized music venues in Canberra other than the Basement and we do need one in the city. The Basement is packed already which is awesome, but we do need more diverse venues and more venues of different sizes and different sub-cultures, punk bands don’t probably want to play at the same venue as techno artists.
Q: Does the lack of 200-400 patron venues hurt the ACT’s live music industry?
A: Definitely, we’ve needed one for a long time. A report in 2011 said that we have a lack of mid-sized live music venues and that problem still hasn’t been filled.
Q: Is promotion and advertising lacking for venues in the ACT?
A: There’s always an opportunity for more promotion, that’s true in any city. We do have a really strong social media audience in Canberra so that helps, but it is fragmented and the problem is that we have such a diverse audience just like any city, and none of them are really reading the same thing. Not everyone is even reading the Canberra Times anymore, at least it used to be the paper that everyone would read, but it’s not even the case anymore. Like in every other city we’re trying to work out what that means and where should the music industry be promoting. The answers got to be lots of different places.