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In Numbers: BIGSOUND Live 2011 – Part 1

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One thing that is disappointing looking at the full list of this year’s 80 showcase acts is just how many are repeat performances; BIGSOUND Live looks like it’s turning into the conference showcase version of Splendour In The Grass. The acts playing 2011 showcase who have previously played are shown in the following table. The data only includes the public showcase appearances and excludes acts playing the private parties in the hours before the event opens itself up to non-delegates.

Act 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
 The Vasco Era Y  Y 
 Big Scary Y  Y 
 Eagle & The Worm Y  Y 
 Emma Louise Y  Y 
 Ball Park Music Y  Y 
 The Medics  Y   Y 
 Jinja Safari  Y   Y 
 Dubmarine Y  Y 
 Last Dinosaurs Y  Y   Y 
 DZ Deathrays Y  Y 
 The Cairos  Y   Y   Y 
 The Chemist  Y   Y 
 Belles Will Ring Y Y
 Guineafowl Y  Y 
 Little Scout Y Y
 Intercooler Y Y
 Ruby Frost (NZ) Y Y
 Loon Lake  Y   Y 
 City Riots  Y   Y 
 Total 19 13 7 0 1

A total of 13 bands who were awarded showcases at last year’s event are making a quick return to BIGSOUND this year and seven of this year’s line-up also played in 2009. Given that a total of 60 bands played the public showcases in 2010, it means that 21.67% of last year’s event have been recycled to produce 16.25% of this year’s acts. Looking back across the full five years of data, 19 of 2011’s showcase artists have played before, meaning that of the 80 acts playing this year, 23.75% are being given their second or even their third opportunity.

Looking at the acts who have played before, 2011 is the third year in a row that both Last Dinosaurs and The Cairos have been awarded showcase gigs at the conference. Given that in addition to playing BIGSOUND for the last three years in a row, Last Dinosaurs are signed to Dew Process, have played Splendour In The Grass, Laneway, Parklife, Falls Festival and Southbound, about half of the country’s main music festivals, you wonder just how many opportunities they need. Similarly, The Cairos have signed with Island Records and supported Powderfinger on a number of dates on their farewell tour, played Parklife and the Adelaide Fringe festival and “shared the stage with some big Australian acts including Julian Casablancas [I don’t think he’s Australian by the way], The Temper Trap, You Am I, Custard, Philadelphia Grand Jury, The Mess Hall, Wolf and Cub, Bertie Blackman, Paul Dempsey, Red Riders, Mercy Arms, Jet, The Scare, and The Middle East“. They also recently supported Birds Of Tokyo. Considering BIGSOUND’s own summary of the live showcases makes reference to “emerging acts”, at what point in a band’s career do they finish “emerging”?

Looking at some of the other acts on the line-up, a band like The Vasco Era (who I’ve seen play a few times and enjoy) are up their third album, the first two of those were released by Universal and they’ve played far and wide in the five or six years they’ve been around, so quite why they’re being afforded the opportunity over a newer act that might benefit from the attention is not clear. Similar questions could be asked of The Getaway Plan’s awarding of a showcase (“In the past they have shared the stage with My Chemical Romance, Kisschasy, Taking Back Sunday and The Used“) or Calling All Cars (“handpicked to open for AC/DC on their Black Ice tour“), Redcoats (recently signed with Island Records, recently completed a national tour supporting Stone Temple Pilots). Similarly, although Adalita and even Brisbane’s own Evil Eddie and Ben Salter have released debut solo albums in the last 12 months, they’re all fairly well-established musicians with years of work behind them. The achievements of the acts is definitely is something that the organisers are pushing though, with the acts’ biographies on the BIGSOUND website highlighting opportunities that most true emerging acts would be envious of and could only dream of happening to them, and these are obviously being used in the final push to sell tickets to the event via the event’s Facebook status updates.

All of this is without making mention that when the applications process for this year’s event was first announced, the press release stated that “BIGSOUND Live turns the spotlight on the heavier side of the scene, specifically encouraging applications from punk and hardcore performers“. There’s very little, if any, evidence that that initial encouragement persuaded any punk or hardcore performers to apply.

Instead of repeating a large chunk of the last couple year’s BIGSOUND bill, why aren’t the organisers looking harder for bands who were where all the repeating bands were two or three years ago? Although, obviously, they may have little to no say on the pool of acts that apply and that they get to choose from, the answer is largely likely to be once of finances and two-fold; BIGSOUND is a big money spinner for Q Music but the organisation lost the specific grant they previously received to put on the event. Therefore, it all reverts back to ‘bums on seats’ and instead of taking more risks with emerging bands with potential, they’ve fallen back to a tried and tested approach and a series of acts that are already fairly well-established (but not too well), have played major festivals, had major support slots, are all well-connected to the right people in the industry and received plenty of radio play from triple j, one of the events major promoters in the last couple of years, with some of the acts having had Featured Albums and songs in last year’s Hottest 100 countdown. It’s a theory that would appear to be reinforced by the growth in major label acts in the last couple of years, with Warner, Universal and EMI being well represented at this year’s showcases.

One question that always seems to gets pondered at BIGSOUND is whether the event will grow to become the Australian SxSW. The geographic remoteness of Brisbane to the rest of the world probably makes it unlikely but much as SxSW has become less about new ‘buzz’ bands and more about the likes of The Strokes and Foo Fighters playing ‘secret’ club shows, the danger is that the future of BIGSOUND Live may be based on bigger name acts to sell it rather than promoting the next generation of new and emerging acts, especially those from Queensland.

More BIGSOUND Live analysis is on its way in Part 2 and we also talk about the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

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