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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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13 Responses to In Numbers: BIGSOUND Live 2011 – Part 1

  1. Darragh August 29, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I always find these pivot tables really fascinating 🙂

    I’m not going to conference (though might check out some of the showcase), but I would if Alan McGee and Everett True were on a panel together. Why are Big Sound not organising that live spectacle?!

  2. crackerjack August 29, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    yaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn – dude wow you’re pretty on it. ” Where bands are from? A critical essay by Justin Edwards”. Have you ever heard of Brooklyn? Its in America. Lots of bands live there and yet none of them are really from there. Also, last time I checked bigsound has actually been going since 2001. Some of us have been going to it for that long as well and have seen it grow and become something that no other city in australia has despite trying. you see the thing is, having bands come from other cities usually means that people from other cities who work with those bands also come. and then people from other countries also come to our city and then other people from other countries also come and tell their friends from other parts of the industry to come and then sheeeeiit they start bringing their bands and its a great big industry aural love in.

    also, what? sxsw? has nothing to do with it. brisbane wouldn’t cope with an event of that magnitude. i don’t think sydney or melbourne would either personally and that’s fine. they have 300 million we have 22 million.
    the live program is great and i reckon does pretty well to balance the known with the unknown indie and major label support. you see the thing is, yes people do want to see something they know – that happens when the public also get involved and come along for the ride but you also get these great opportunities to share new bands with the punters who opt in. Some of these folks might have some previous history (you mention Adalita) but not everyone has had the chance to see Adalita perform solo – least not the venerable international guests who might not have heard much at all from Australia. They might even want to do some business with her ….and the Bleeding Knees Club? or perhaps one of the other 61 bands you didn’t mention who haven’t showcased before. There’s still plenty there to choose from who remain not just relatively unknown but almost completely unheard of to anyone who lives outside of the music industry bubble. You, Justin, might be familiar with everyone and everything but more than 99% of the population have no idea who these acts are. It is important to provide balance. Sure perhaps some of these guys should be could be rested BUT in some cases, there could be completely valid reasons to include them again.

    I’ll be there enjoying the spectacle from as many angles as possilbe.

  3. Mark August 30, 2011 at 8:51 am

    I think the first BIGSOUND was actually 2002. There was a live element back then called ROCKET, that I think was also part of the Valley Fiesta?

    You can find the old site on the internet archive – http://web.archive.org/web/20020820053449/http://www.qmusic.com.au/bigsound/forums.html

    The prediction of the future is interesting – “CD’s no longer exist; internet radio is everywhere – including your car.”

  4. Matt O'Neill August 30, 2011 at 10:24 am

    I always find it weird that people get so impassioned about these things. It’s basically fact reporting. Why shoot the messenger?

  5. Everett True August 30, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I always find it weird that people get so impassioned about these things. It’s basically fact reporting. Why shoot the messenger?

    I agree. I think it’s part of some weird shit of existing in a small town that I simply don’t get. Everyone feels the need to protect their bit of turf, whatever that turf is, even when the turf isn’t being trespassed upon. A big ol’ cat-pissing contest. Every time BIGSOUND is mentioned on Collapse Board we receive this sort of response, mostly along the lines of: Why do you even bother questioning it?

    It confuses the hell out of me. I thought discussion was good?

  6. Everett True August 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Also Matt, it’s nice to see folk don’t feel SO impassioned that they still can’t hide behind anonymous avatars. Fucking cowards.

  7. Bianca August 30, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Thank you for compiling this Justin. I love that these posts just lay everything out in black & white. Looking forward to the next part! 🙂

  8. Neil August 31, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    I doubt the fact that there are reasonably established bands there is so much to do with “bums on seats” as it is to do with the fact Big Sound is (or would like to be) largely about introducing bands to overseas labels, managers, promoters etc. It’s success or failure won’t be judged on how many people go to see the Vasco Era. It’ll be upon whether they can show they’ve assisted any Australian acts in “exporting” their “product”.
    Bands with records and a little bit of infrastructure are deemed “export ready”, and that’s why they feature so heavily.

  9. Collapse bored August 31, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    “Everett True says:
    August 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm Also Matt, it’s nice to see folk don’t feel SO impassioned that they still can’t hide behind anonymous avatars. Fucking cowards.”

    Yeah, you tell ’em Jerry. Sorry, Everett…

  10. Everett True August 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Yeah, you tell ‘em Jerry. Sorry, Everett…

    “Everett True (born Jerry Thackray in 1961) is a British music journalist, who grew up in Chelmsford, Essex…” (Opening line on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everett_True)

    Moron. You might be able to criticise ‘Everett True’ for many things but being an ‘anonymous avatar’ – as opposed to being a well-known pseudonym – is hardly one of them. I’m guessing you’re not a university student here in Brisbane. If you are, I’d recommend leaving your course right now. You won’t pass.

    P.S. ‘Collapse bored’ knows a lot about anonymous avatars – or (s)he should, anyway. So far s(he)’s posted comments under five different ones, here on Collapse Board. Where do you reckon (s)he is based, Justin?

  11. Paul September 5, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Where is part two?

  12. V September 11, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    The artist lineup for the BigSound showcases can be predicted simply by having insight into which band managers are attending and are actively engaged with the event.. BigSound; Brisbane’s big incestuous love-in. Who is the event supposed to be showcasing too anyway, who isn’t already aware of these acts?

  13. Paul September 22, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Interesting and enjoyable read. Obviously people who work/are involved in BigSound and it’s afflilates have had a go at you, but i guess that was the purpose of the article as well as letting people get some understanding of how this how this whole fucking works. I appreciate your effort.

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