Why Adelaide music can be saved

From the ashes of the much-loved Jade Monkey, comes a renewed sense of optimism for South Australia’s live music scene, writes RYAN WINTER.

Last week’s announcement of South Australia’s “Music Thinker In Residence” was the biggest industry news to come out of Adelaide in some time. The recent appointment of Martin Elbourne – chief Glastonbury booker, Great Escape founder and a man of industry calibre far beyond anyone presently residing in South Australia – drew national coverage, and deservedly so. It signifies the highpoint of a process just seven months old: To fast-track the redirection of the state’s music industry before the same issues that are presently affecting the rest of our country bury it alive. It’s a proactive move from their government and welcome acknowledgement of the cultural value of live music in South Australia.

Contrary to reports that Elbourne’s appointment is an 11th-hour effort to save a failing scene, the SA music industry has been in steady growth for the past five years. Start-up businesses in music licensing, record label and artist management, festival direction, music agency and online broadcasting have emerged against the closure of dated industry infrastructure. While smaller venues like the Crown & Sceptre, The Producers Bar and Urtext are no more, The Academy, The Metro, The Ed Castle, Glenelg Surf Life Saving Club, Arcade Lane, The Promethean and Format have staked their claims as quality venues of moderate capacity. At the top end of the venue chain, The Governor Hindmarsh has again been named the “Best Entertainment Venu” in the country by the Australian Hotels Association (sharing the honour with Sydney’s Ivy Hotel).

SA has also been blessed by the work of policy mediators, specifically Dr Ianto Ware and John Wardle, who have facilitated industry and state government conversations to affect positive reform to liquor licensing laws. As Dr Ware recently explained, these changes aim to “involve more room for venues to outline how they’re servicing alcohol responsibly, and remove some of the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach we’ve seen over the past decade”.

But among this positive backdrop, not everything is running smoothly, which is precisely why Elbourne is being brought in. Government funding for contemporary music in SA has remained fixed at $546,000 for some time now, and while there has been a further $185,000 of tax-payer money injected into the Music Thinker In Residence program, it’s unlikely that any of this will filter down to assist the development of key industry bodies. FL was present at the FUSE Industry Conference in Adelaide during February, where Music SA Industry Development Officer Gordon Andersen called for a banding together and conversation between players in our industry infrastructure to help address gaps in supporting the ever-increasing quality of live music in the state. Part of Elbourne’s brief will be to facilitate these conversations, and he should be ably assisted by Dan Crannitch, who has been employed as his offsider for the duration of his residency. Crannitch, the lead singer of rock band Leader Cheetah, is a well-respected industry member and should help contextualise each consultation as Elbourne comes to grips with the politics behind existing infrastructure and licensing issues.

An early indication of Elbourne’s vision looks to include the development of a hub, or a series of hubs in order to “establish a cluster where creative industries, such as music and the arts, can be located together”. This could help overcome the disjointed nature of internal industry communications as they stand, but beyond that, any future hub should also address the lack of a broader skill-set among industry professionals, with publicity, artist management, record producers and label managers severely lacking in SA.

The opportunity to create a test environment for a local music hub has been recently presented by Adam Daze, founder and director of online music broadcaster Soundpond. Late last month, Daze made public his vision to combine the online broadcast element of his business with live music studios, pod spaces for music entrepreneurs, a possible record shop and a bar, which he’s already positioned as a trial for small venue liquor licensing reforms presently on the table. From the outside, it looks the closest any local organisation has come to proposing a sustainable business model for such an endeavor, and Daze looks as if he’ll be going ahead with his plans regardless of government support. The fact that the government wouldn’t assume any of the overall financial risk of the venue should actually give them additional incentive to become involved. The Soundpond hub would present a great opportunity to learn how the local industry might interact with this sort of business, something that would need to occur after the Thinker’s residence term, anyway.

”[There’s] an optimism that things are going to get better for our industry as a whole.”

It’s hard to believe that we’re discussing all this in one article, considering that just seven months ago, Adelaide was little more than a live music scene frustrated by its status quo. The tipping point came in the form of a Facebook post from Jade Monkey owner Zac Colligan, which explained that after 10 years of service, his much-loved venue would be shutting its doors. “Our wonderful 131-year-old bluestone walled building at 29 & 29a Twin Street, Adelaide will be no more,” he wrote. “Because even though we aren’t on the exact spot, it seems that the owners don’t want a live music venue next to their shiny new hotel.”

From the ensuing reaction, and through the efforts of local musicians and industry folk in the days immediately following the announcement, SA saw the first seeds of government interest in live music in years. The media caught wind, and so did politicians who also noticed 4000 potential voters sign a petition asking them to “do something”. To their credit, the government has stepped up and the legacy of the Jade Monkey’s last hurrah which will be come in October is an optimism that things are going to get better for our industry as a whole.

But the lasting lesson to take from The Jade Monkey is this: Step up to the plate if you want things to change. SA’s Music Thinker In Residence may well leave a positive mark on music in this state, but whether it’s a turning point or a missed opportunity remains in our hands.


Ryan Winter is FL’s editorial coordinator for Adelaide.

Photo credit: marjorie rose