an interview with Joel Stern
Coming from Melbourne, why did you decide to come to Brisbane?
I followed a girl up here [laughs]. That was Sally (Golding), who I started Otherfilm with, and we were together for a number of years and she’s from here, and I’m from Melbourne, so we lived in Melbourne for a bit and she always said “Oh fuck, Melbourne is really pretentious, like everyone thinks their work is amazing but it’s actually really boring and you need to come to Brisbane and see what’s going on up there”. I was kind of sceptical but I came up here, went to some gigs in 610 … that was 2003-2004. [I] saw stuff like Faber Castell, Perfect Lovers, Lost Domain … I just thought, “Shit this is amazing” – you know? This is a place where like – in Melbourne everyone was looking at, like, London, New York, Tokyo and sort of saying “are we as good as them?” or “are we as cool as them?” or whatever. In Brisbane people [were] just doing amazing stuff and didn’t even give a fuck what was going on anywhere else. And it just felt better to me. So then I came up here and started Otherfilm with Sally and Danni (Zuvela). I also found that the art scene here – you have institutions like the Institute of Modern Art and that’s a big, important institution and yet the Director of that institution would come to Audiopollen – so the distance between the underground scene and the institutional art scene is also smaller, and there’s more crossover.
There’s a really interesting relationship happening here – I wouldn’t even call it a relationship, but most of the people I know who are making music are also making visual art. There’s a kind of pooling of the resources and ideas from those two worlds. So that crossover between music and art is where I think the most exciting things are happening in Brisbane. I really feel like within that community there is a dynamic that is just like … things rubbing against each other and creating fragments and splinters and all of that. I don’t know how to explain it except that every time you go to one of the shows that is sort of like an art/music crossover show, things happen that make you look forward to the next show. And each show seems to build on the last one in terms of the ideas – so it’s not just repeating the same shit over and over – it’s like an evolving situation.
Great rock music is a liberating force – it liberates people from their inhibitions – and that’s amazing and important, but rock music can also be really conservative and reactionary in terms of the rules of the game. That frustrates me. Art-music can be pretentious and wanky – so it has its own problems, but I think the difference is that the rules and conventions are less established. They are kind of elastic. You can be more surprised and shocked by what you experience. Whereas I kind of feel like with a rock show you more or less know what you’re getting. I think one scene is more about a certain kind of pleasure and entertainment like with hedonism – just from having a good time. And another one is maybe a bit more of a provocation or a stimulation. Not that rock isn’t an art form and a really important one. If I just went to bars and pubs every night I would start to feel like a zombie.
I’m kind of positive about what’s happening here. I think things could always be better, and I guess I’ve been doing sort of grass-roots, D.I.Y. Stuff for about 6 years in Brisbane now, and then on the other hand I’ve been doing more kind of larger-scale more institutional sort-of projects too and working at QUT (Queensland University of Technology) – teaching in the music department there.
How long have you been working at QUT for?
Four years. I’m a lecturer in the Music and Sound program there. My main focus has always been trying to provide opportunities for artists who are working in really strange, outsider, unusual, individualistic sort of [art]. There are two reasons. One – that I’m really drawn to that personally, because I’m more interested in, as I said, people who have unconventional approaches to creativity than people who are connecting with what is our own zeitgeist.
The other thing is, those people tend to be ignored because they don’t fit-in easily, and that’s my place – to actually give them a show.
So with Disembraining Machine we pretty early on, me and Marly (Luske) who’d been running that at Alchemix, I said to him, “I’ll never book the same band twice”. So we’ve done 18 of them now and with four groups every month – and we’ve never had the same group play. That puts on the pressure on me every month to find four new groups – and that’s a challenge. But the interesting thing is that the audience has gotten bigger and bigger, despite the fact that the so-called more popular sort of groups were all booked in the first few … I have to keep finding new things which are quite obscure.
Through that series I’ve been able to give plenty of people their first ever shows and lots of those people have then gone off to play regularly. And just exposed lots of different artists to one another and to different audiences.
Why did you decide to become a lecturer?
It’s probably the only place I can really survive properly. I’m not going to be a bricklayer … Or work in hospitality … So having an academic position is a way to survive. I’m kind of an analytical person, so, I like research and I like the whole process of thinking about and examining and interrogating culture and art, so that’s something I do for pleasure. And to be in a position for that to be a career is pretty ideal.
I guess the other thing is I really like having the sort of mentoring relationship with 18, 19, 20 year old artists because it’s such a formative period. That period for me between say 18, 20, 21, my views changed so much. About music and art and everything. And that was kind of the result of getting to meet a few key people who were encouraging but also exposed me to lots of ideas. That’s a privilege, in a way, for me – to be able to have that kind of dialogue with [young people]. It’s two ways too, it’s not just me passing on some knowledge, it’s also me getting the perspective of where they’re at and where a really smart, creative and interesting 18/19 year old person – what their views are now, which I can learn a lot from too. So that’s probably why I keep doing it.