This week on AAA Backstage we have a very special guest interview with the man behind the Brisbane Sounds phenomena- Blair Hughes.
The Brisbane Sounds project was established in 2006 to promote Brisbane bands and the Brisbane music scene to the UK and Europe.
AAA’s Mat Lewis spoke to Blair to get more of an insight into what Brisbane Sounds is all about and Blair’s personal view of the Brisbane music scene.
Tell us about Blair Hughes before Brisbane Sounds and what motivated you to start Brisbane Sounds?
I was born in Brisbane in 1984 and have lived here all my life apart from a few years travelling and working overseas. I bitch and moan about Brisbane being slow and behind the times as much as the next person, but I love the place and will always call it home.
Sadly my first introduction to music was around 1989, dancing to the old Jive Bunny vinyl releases, high on red cordial at one of those typical Queensland family Christmas parties.
I think the first CD I ever bought was by Kiwi rap group Kulcha! Luckily, in the 90’s a mate of my dad’s gave me his LP collection featuring artists like Johnny Cash, Creedence, Sam & Dave, The Stones, Nick Cave and some Brisbane artists like The Go Betweens and The Saints and that was a turning point.
I have always enjoyed music and going to gigs in Brisbane was something I’ve been doing since 1997. I thought about working in the music industry when I left high school, but chose to do a dual degree in Behavioural Studies and Education at University.
During the final year of that course in 2006 I suggested to a few bands to help me put together a compilation to take to the United Kingdom where I was going over to start teaching.
I’m a passionate person and wanted to do some promotion for the Brisbane music scene and show the world how good Brisbane music was. In 2006 I had absolutely no knowledge or skills in the music industry. I made a mixtape of Brisbane songs- all of which weren’t mastered – did the artwork using a collage on Microsoft Word and went about getting them out to radio and bands when I was in England.
I ended up meeting with band managers, radio stations, tour managers and promoters and some of my favourite bands like BRMC and Tegan & Sara.
In 2008 I got a job at the Zoo Nightclub, put on a gig and released a more polished effort in Brisbane Sounds 2008 which has then subsequently grown into Brisbane Sounds 2009 and Brisbane Sounds 2010 where we have so far showcased 71 artists.
What it all boils down to is that I’m passionate about Brisbane music and on a mission to get people around the world to hear the quality of music that we have to offer in this great city.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in the set up and development of Brisbane Sounds?
The entire process has been very time consuming and financially challenging at times and in no way do I make the sort of coin that Gudinski or Chugg make – not yet anyway!
There have been two main challenges that I have found to be the most difficult and these have been trying to get through to people around the world that Brisbane music is like no other as well as learning that there is lots of bullshit that exists in the music industry.
Unfortunately, I believe that most people in Brisbane think that Brisbane music is about garage bands bludging on the dole and playing the same pub rock guitar sound as every other band in Australia.
Brisbane Sounds has a stall at West End Markets (soon to be Valley and South Bank as well) and we get comments from time to time about how people don’t give a shit about Brisbane music, but the fact is, this is your hometown, this is your city, you should give a shit and you should be supporting the great talent in your backyard!
It’s important to note that without the talented artists that we have in Brisbane I would not even have a job in the music industry so I owe them a great deal for supporting Brisbane Sounds as well as producing outstanding top shelf music.
The second challenge which I think everyone faces when entering the music industry is figuring out how it all works and trying to decipher the genuine people from the bullshit and fakes. To an extent it’s an unregulated industry where anything goes and I certainly don’t profess to be some type of major expert on the subject but I have seen how all the cogs work in the industry in Australia, the US and the UK.
There are so many hard working genuine people in the industry who are great to work with, however there are also many who are unprofessional and dodgy and screw everything up for everyone else. One of the best things to do in the industry is network, but I found when I started out that some people will meet you and be thinking to themselves ‘What can I get out of this person for my band, label, radio station etc.
If I can’t get anything from them, then why am I talking to them?’ Even as I have grown and continue to make progress in the music industry, I’ve thought the very same thing as well, but I’m happy to talk to anyone and hear what they do in the industry because you never know where that person could be in one, three or ten year’s time or how they could help you down the track and visa versa.
It really does work both ways. It’s a pretty interesting industry with plenty of highs and lows and lots of risk taking so for me it was certainly a huge departure from the education sector.
What is it you like most about the Brisbane Music Scene and how do you compare it to other Australian City’s music scenes?
Everyone mentions the community spirit and comradeship between Brisbane bands, but for me it’s the punters that go to the gigs. I believe that there’s a solid core group of about 1000 people that regularly support local Brisbane music artists and it’s these people that keep coming back that continue to keep the local scene thriving.
That, and the fact that the majority of Brisbane gigs are around $10-15 – which makes it a cheap night out to see a great mix of bands like Giants of Science, Montpelier, The Rational Academy or Texas Tea.
During Uni holidays I used to travel to Sydney and Melbourne to see bands and check out venues but have not seen what the scenes are like in other Australian cities apart from Brisbane of course.
I have travelled around the world and seen Berlin and Hamburg’s Mitte and Reeperbahn entertainment districts. I recently travelled to the US and visited a few music cities such as 6th street in Austin, Texas, Beale St in Memphis and the live music strip in Nashville and I couldn’t help but notice that Brisbane has a similar entertainment precinct to Austin and Memphis in the sense that all of the music venues are located in the one area, albeit on a much smaller scale.
However, this is being eroded away by the dance clubs who have taken a lot of the underground heart and soul out of the Valley over the past five years. Someone even said to me last week that they don’t even know what ‘live music’ means anymore.
I’m determined to help make Brisbane a leading music city, but there are so many issues affecting the state of play before we can truly claim that we are a world class music city. For instance, many people in the industry believe that West End, The Gabba or Stones Corner will become the new hot spots for music, but having said that, certain things need to be implemented.
One such issue is public transport, because as someone who used to live in London and regularly caught the 24 hour night buses home from gigs, I read a report last year that said that Woolloongabba would have a night bus route by 2029! Brisbane has to shake off this ‘country town’ stigma and move forward.
There is no doubt that Brisbane is dramatically increasing in size every day but I just don’t feel that people in Brisbane truly value the arts or creative industries as highly as they do in Melbourne, London or New York. There are lots of positives about the music scene in Brisbane but there are also some strong issues affecting it as well.
Probably the most pressing issue right now is the controversial lockout plan by the government. While most people would not know it, but the government does do a lot to promote QLD artists overseas through Trade QLD, my personal viewpoint is that this current lockout issue signifies another kneejerk reaction by the Queensland Government.
I feel that they act on behalf of themselves and not the general public and that they don’t represent me and most of the young people out there going to gigs. I would be very keen to sit down with Anna Bligh and talk to her about how we can work together to improve the entertainment precinct. (I voted for Labor at the previous election.)
The problem is when the Brisbane music scene gets more recognition from international press and industry peers for producing so many great artists in recent years (think An Horse, Kate Miller- Heidke, Violent Soho, The Grates in the previous five years), the violence and lockout issue will also be mentioned in those headlines.
Brisbane and the music scene doesn’t need that to happen as it will only push us further backwards as a burgeoning music city. What is clear is that there is a serious problem in the Valley with violence and public order.
Because I work in the Valley I see so much of the violence and public nuisance issues when I’m outside coming and going home. I often cycle to and from work and when I cycle home at 3am it’s like a war zone trying to navigate around jaywalking and aggressive drunks just to get out of the Valley.
I’m certainly no teetotaler but I regularly see violence, property damage, public urination, projectile vomiting and other types of juvenile behaviour which is harming the Valley’s reputation. People coming into the Valley need to take more responsibility for their actions and realise that they are damaging the reputation of the Valley and the music scene at the same time.
There needs to be a little more love and respect going on. Along with this, the council and the government need to be forward thinking and see what other cities around the world have done with things like environmental design. I could not believe that it took until July last year to finally put toilets in place on the Ann St cab rank.
I think excessive noise is also a concern in the Valley and maybe we can adopt a solution that Melbourne had to noise complaints which was to hand out lollypops which at least shut the punters up for a couple of blocks away from the venue.
How do you personally go about choosing bands to be on the Brisbane Sounds record?
While at the beginning of Brisbane Sounds in 2006 I personally selected the bands that featured on the first compilation, I quickly realised the importance of input from different representatives from the local music scene and have built a selection committee and selection criteria to oversee the selection process.
Brisbane Sounds looks at whether an artist has what it’s got to be a professional outfit and who abides by the Brisbane Sounds ethos. For instance do they have management, do they have professional recordings, do they have original music, is their live show going to make you want to come back next time, do they have something that people want a piece of?
At Brisbane Sounds, we try to create a record which serves three purposes. The first is that it can be used as a marketing tool for Brisbane, the second is that it is distributed to radio, press and A&R reps and the third is that we create an audio artefact that can be played start to finish by music fans in Brisbane and around the world.
What can we expect from Brisbane Sounds in 2010 and beyond?
There are a few things that are still top secret at the moment. However I can reveal that Brisbane Sounds will be developing some radio documentaries on the Brisbane music scene as well as making a film about the Brisbane music scene.
I’m looking at turning the Brisbane Sounds 2011 event into an all ages and free event so I will be looking at getting more grant funding and sponsors involved for that throughout 2010.
There will be more and more Brisbane Sounds Presents gigs this year which will focus on the different genres of music represented on Brisbane Sounds 2010. The first one, Blues and Roots showcase blew all expectations and the rest can only get better.
Further to that, I have also developed a Brisbane Sounds street team specifically targeting young people looking to get more experience in the music industry. More information can be found at www.brisbanesounds.com