talkin' bout my generation: SLAM Rally, Melbourne, 2010

I've been thinking a bit about the whole rally yesterday, and after posting my initial elatedness to Facebook my friend mentioned his cynicism about the whole endeavour. I pressed him on why exactly he was a bit jaded, and he duly listed the reasons, which I'd like to use as a bit of a launching pad for my own thoughts on the whole event. Please bare in mind that I'm not targeting any of this at anyone in particular, and I understand that my arguments brush over many of the subtleties of the whole schamozzle, but I felt like I had to at least air my reservations.

Here's my friend's list of gripes:
1... The people loudly retching and complaining during the short free-jazz piece that was performed, EVEN THOUGH several of the speeches had just taken great care to praise the diversity of Melbourne's music scene.

2... Every part of every speech where people were prodded to BOOOO. I mean Christ ~ we're adults, legitimately protesting; not 6-year-olds at a skeezy pantomime....

3... The Socialist Alternative douchebags trying to co-opt the rally, sullying the power of the number in attendance and diluting the unity of the message.

4... The backward-focus of most of the speechmakers. There were definitely some exceptions (Pikelet, Tim Rogers), but it seemed like most of the speakers were more focused on talking about some amazing gig they saw in 1976 than talking about Melbourne music's *future* -- which is what is at stake.

5... The inflated estimates of how many people were there. It was a big fucken turnout, but there is *no* *way* that there were 20,000 people there. (And they're the more conservative guesses ~~ Amanda Palmer claimed upwards of 70,000.)

6... The low-sitting shame and disappointment that comes with knowing that this rally will almost certainly succeed ... (I'll be astonished if we don't see a direct effect of this in liquor license policy in the next 6 months) ... while the just-as-big rallies for climate justice have led to absolutely nothing. Why can this succeed where the far-more-crucial one was doomed to fail?


Maybe I'm just in a bad mood. I did like the rally, by and large, and I thoroughly support its cause.

Stuff just annoyed me, that's all.

Some great points in there, and I have to say I more or less thoroughly agree with his ambivalence, and especially with points 1 and 4. My major issue was how there was this sustained undercurrent about the 'authenticity' of live rock music as opposed to other forms of musical participation and creative expression in Mebourne. I find it kind of sad that it was the proponents of this bloated rock myth - the Boomers and the Xers collectively known as "Melbourne's rock royalty" (a phrase that couldn't be more apt) - that mostly held sway in the speeches, and who set the tone for the rally, as some kind of repairing of this great big rock establishment in Melbourne. If you don't believe me, look at the performers (the RockWiz orchestra of old dudes) and the speakers, all generally in the Xer or Boomer category (Rick Dempster, Paul Kelly, Irine Vela, Jon Von Goes, etc.), or better still the 'supporters' on the SLAM home page. And it's sad that most of the indie kids (i.e. young, Gen Yers) were mainly happy to go along with this narrative and fold their own cause into that of some nonexistent rock utopia that apparently existed in Melbourne in the 70s or some other ill-defined era. So whilst I agree with Crikey's Charles Richardson that the generation gap was overcome, his positive spin on the whole thing is as much depressing as it is a show of intergenerational solidarity:

"Yesterday's rally in Melbourne in defence of live music is as good an occasion as any to proclaim the death of the generation gap. The crowd ranged from teenagers through to the oldest of the boomers, now in their 60s; they may not listen to the same bands, but they share the same musical sensibility and a determination to defend it. Rock has won this battle."
Rock certainly has won this battle, and if it's not on the terrain of popular music that we can differentiate ourselves from our parents, then on what basis can we? The indistinction of our generation to that of our parents is fucking depressing sometimes.

That's why I think Evelyn Morris, AKA Pikelet, (though her speech was a little twee) had it most right out of them all - focusing on the current thriving music community that Melbourne is supporting right now. So I totally agree with my friend that the misty-eyed nostalgia that dominated most of the speeches was probably not the best place to air that kind of stuff. What is at stake is the future of Melbourne's music scene, right now, not whether a couple of old Boomers can play to their rich mates in Melbourne's inner suburbs each Thursday night.

Considering the first point regarding the show of unity, what annoyed me most about the whole rally probably, was the slamming of Melbourne's DJ and dance culture, especially from that guy that spent three or four minutes of his speech deriding the 'soulless' club scene and its 'faceless', drunken adherents. There is this really unhelpful binary being set up - and it's also potentially a class division, as Anwyn Crawford mentioned on Twitter - between pre-recorded music/dance/nightclubs/violence/drunkenness/problems and live music/rock/pubs/peace/community, which anyone from either side (if they are even willing to pick a side) will tell you just isn't true. All this talk about "notorious nightclub zones" and "the pilled-up douches at the King Street discos" is not only offensive to people that go to these places and actually enjoy themselves without glassing each on the street afterwards, but it also misrepresents the actual problem (not nightclubs but punitive liquor licensing laws).

There is both shittiness and awesomeness across all scenes in Melbourne's hugely diverse and quite massive music culture in general. That's why I think a show of solidarity could have been achieved much more fully if we embraced all forms of music making, listening and loving in this town instead of either: singling out nightclubs as 'beer barns' full of idiotic hoons, or jeering old Wilbur when he and his mates got up to rock some free-jazz. Because if there was anything that the speeches did at least drive home to me was that it isn't just the 'indie/rock' circle of venues and section of the music industry, but the 'contemporary music' industry in Melbourne as a whole that is at stake here. 'Contemporary' is the adoptive term I'm using, as I can't think of something better that doesn't necessarily discriminate against 'pre-recorded' music, which can still involve inherent performative elements by DJs, dancers and, of course, the fans and patrons dancing all night long.

Regarding my friend's points 2 (infantile crowd response), 3 (pseudo-Marxist wankers) and 5 (inflated estimates), though, I have to say these things probably just come with the territory, stuff like that is inevitable whenever you're assembling this many people for this kind of cause. The inflation of figures are because people want desperately to think that the march was the most earth-shattering, historical event ever to rock Melbourne's CBD, plus also because nobody really can accurately count exactly how many people rocked up. I bet every figure bandied about thus far emerged initially as a guesstimate by some journalist, organiser or random Facebook friend and then did its rounds, accruing ever more ludicrous numbers until we get to Amanda Palmer's ridiculous suggestion of 70,000 people.

As for the booing and jeering, well that's probably to be expected - mass crowds tend to act fairly stupidly, and the nature of that congregation means only very simple emotions of a limited range can be expressed en masse when prompted, really only either approval (claps, cheering) or dismissal (booing).

The Socialist Alternative rocking up is hilarious - not only are you always going to get those divisive, misguided people at anything like this, I find it quite amusing that - if they were there in support of the whole thing - they were basically rallying for the government (the state) to keep their hands the fuck out of business (or at least wind back their regulations) so a bunch of Melbourne pubs can continue (or attempt) to make shitloads of money from punters. Of course, that sort of thing is generally good for us - i.e. anyone who has a cultural or financial interest in the productivity of the scene and its places - but if you consider the fact that the rally was also yet another confirmation of the institutionalisation and mainstreaming of rock music then SA might be exploring more agitative and revolutionary pathways for social justice, or just staying the hell away.

And point 6, well I guess my only answer - though it's probably not enough - is that it's far easier to mobilise people for such a comparatively softer and less challenging cause (keeping pubs open) than something like global warming, which actually takes concerted, long-term, difficult effort on behalf of those who believe in it (not to say that this whole live music fight hasn't expended the energy of many tireless and brilliant individuals working in front and behind the scenes to push the cause).

So like my friend, I am left feeling majorly ambivalent about the whole SLAM Rally. Of course, I agree that Melbourne's music community should be provided with the conditions under which it can flourish, and I was bouyed by the turnout of quite a diverse group of people (in the crowd at least) that support this very same sentiment, but like my mate, I just don't know if the whole thing was framed and executed in exactly the right way.

I think, then, that the defining image of the day was probably the Coalition members, staffers and suits up above us all on the Parliament steps, because their placards ('Brumby's liqour fees killing live music'=positive response; 'Liberals love live music'=booing) and even their very appearance summed up the contradictions of the whole thing. The Libs were just doing what they do best - opportunistic vote-grabbing - or at least attempting that, until they were predictably lambasted by nearly everyone there. But in the end, it's probably the Liberals that come closest to what the organisers - and perhaps even the protestors - want. Following that, the sense of confusion about the whole thing is summed up by protestors slamming politicians just as the whole event is designed to get politicians onboard - institutionalisation in the false veil of counter-culture.

Part of me also wonders what Melbourne's music might be like under conditions more similar to that of Sydney or Perth - the amazing privilege and taken-for-grantedness of this privilege we have here all too often breeds complacement, uncreative bands and music, just as much as it of course has the potential to nurture super-creative ones. Nevertheless, might our art not flourish under more dire circumstances, or is there a way for oppositional, unique or even just interesting music to be made in such conditions of plentitude?