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Interview (Part 2): Joel Edmondson, QMusic Executive Officer

Joel Edmondson QMusic

Joel Edmondson, Executive Officer of QMusic, is probably Queensland music’s greatest advocate. He oversees Australia’s biggest music industry event BIGSOUND, the annual Queensland Music Awards, and the multitude of services QMusic offers to Queensland musicians and industry professionals. In the second of two interviews, we spoke to Joel about legalising illicit drug testing at music festivals, BIGSOUND, and the importance of the annual Queensland Music Awards.

Stereosonic organisers are publically supporting illicit drug testing at their festival. Considering the recent deaths at that festival, even with the increased police presence, are the NSW Premier’s comments of “just don’t take drugs” naïve, and should drug testing at music festivals in Australia be legal?

Yes to all of the above. I mean it just comes back to this issue of looking at historical information and statistics. Since human beings could pick mushrooms out of the ground, we’ve been manipulating our own biochemistry for entertainment or enlightenment. This kind of personal experimentation isn’t for everyone, but the idea that you can prohibit primal aspects of human behavior …well it’s been proven to not work – the history of prohibition and the war on drugs shows that. I don’t endorse the idea that everyone should have access to illicit substances, but that doesn’t mean I should have the right to tell other people how to live.

Governments can keep moralising [recreational drug use] all they want, but people are still going to do it. So the compassionate view, if you actually care more about whether people live or die than your own righteousness, is to make drug abuse a public health issue and support interventions like drug testing at festivals that might save lives. It’s ironic that prohibitionists claim they’re saving lives, when in fact they’re creating the conditions under which people are dying.

How should Australia combat the overall dangers of illicit drug use?

It’s sad that even asking that question is still pretty taboo, even though everyone knows that the whole war on drugs has just made things worse. Most experts argue that it’s all about information and education, and then taking a nuanced approach. If Australia’s serious about both getting rid of the criminal element of society, as well as reducing drug abuse harm, the solution might be to strictly regulate and tax drugs with proven therapeutic applications, like cannabis or psylocibin or MDMA for example, while at the same time massively increasing the penalties for trafficking or manufacturing synthetic drugs like methamphetamine that don’t seem to do much for people but make them addicted and sick.

Before any of that could happen, there would have to be a lifting on the restrictions on research into the effects of illicit drugs. The fact that scientific evidence is sparse makes it easy for politicians to carry on with moral arguments that have no grounding in fact. Although even when there are facts available, fear still seems to win out. A few years ago, Professor David Nutt, who was the chief scientific drugs advisor to the British Government, came out and said that the evidence shows that MDMA is less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol…and was immediately dismissed from his role.

We have a political climate where, as with the political response to climate change, there’s an anti-science/anti-intellectual mentality, perhaps because the facts undermine the political agendas at play. This makes it impossible to have a reasonable conversation about the difference between the legitimate therapeutic uses of some currently illegal drugs, those that are relatively benign in a recreational context, and those that are plain evil and should be wiped from the face of the earth. Perhaps if we made the ones that are potentially good for us accessible under appropriate conditions, the truly bad drugs might lose their appeal? New thinking is required.

Moving on from that topic, a few weeks ago you said that due to the lockout laws BIGSOUND might have to move interstate. Is that still on the table and if so where would it move?

Ah, well that was a comment on the possibility of if we lost as many live music venues as they’ve done in Kings Cross we wouldn’t have the infrastructure to run BIGSOUND in Brisbane. It’s a Queensland event and we would do everything in our power to keep it in Queensland because it’s so important to arts, culture, and the economy. It’s not like we have an intention to move BIGSOUND, it’s more just there’s potential implications of the new legislation [regarding lockout laws] that might take that decision out of our hands, as we’d rather it move than die…

Do you think Brisbane venues will have to change the way they operate in terms of putting on live music? 

The venues are going to be forced to innovate, but ultimately given that midnight to 3am is when venues are making most of their money, it would make no sense for them to close earlier. The challenge will actually be if venues can keep people in their bars during the lockout period so it doesn’t affect their turnover. The problem is that in an entertainment precinct like [Fortitude] Valley, the whole point of the layout is so people can be mobile and go from venue to venue. So [the lockout laws] are possibly going to damage the culture of a night out in an entertainment precinct, but there might still be some ways to work around that.

Moving on to the Queensland Music Awards, how important are they to our state’s music industry?

We’ve made a few changes this year to expand the reach of the awards. So the awards have always been great at unearthing new artists, like Emma Louise was discovered through the awards and she’ gone on to have a huge career, so as a discovery outlet it’s great. But now we’ve introduced a few awards that are about commercial success this year as we feel that will showcase a broader range of what’s going on in the Queensland music industry. The most important thing is that it’s an opportunity for everyone to get together and celebrate! We’re a community and that’s what’s important to celebrate at the awards.

What are some of the awards that weren’t on offer last year?

Bank of Queensland are sponsoring Most Promising Female, Male, and Songwriting team, and those awards are cash prizes, which is helpful for those who are trying to start recording! Then there’s Highest Selling Single and Highest Selling Album, and they can be artists who were originally residents of Queensland, but are now based anywhere in the world. We’re also bringing back an award this year called the Export Achievement Award, which celebrates an act that’s done great things overseas in the last year.

Do you think Queensland produces the best musicians and music?

Ah I think those arguments are furphies. I think Australian musicians all over make amazing music. I think Queensland has always had something special though because historically it’s been perceived as a cultural backwater, and people who are from here know that’s not true and therefore go really hard at what they do to prove the haters wrong. Persistence is so much more important in Queensland, and I think that breeds a particular kind of artist. Queensland has a very nurturing environment, but with enough small-town competitiveness to keep people on their toes.

I think it was Powderfinger who said, “Sydney’s only a 10 hour drive down the highway”, do you think Brisbane musicians still need to head south to make a real go at a career in music?

It’s very important for Brisbane’s future for creative people to grow up here, do great things, go away and have amazing experiences, and then come back to Brisbane and contribute to the culture. Its naïve to think Brisbane’s the centre of the world and the best thing you can do is to stay here for all eternity, but when people do leave and do great things it’s a wonderful advertisement for Queensland and Brisbane. When they bring back what they’ve learnt from their experiences abroad, that’s what enriches Brisbane and our state.

Read Part 1 of our interview with Joel HERE

The 2016 Queensland Music Awards will be held this coming Monday at the Brisbane Powerhouse, lineup and info below!

2016 Queensland Music Awards

Powerhouse, Brisbane

Featuring performances by

The Belligerents
Astro Travellers
Amy Shark
Standby Empire
Balloons Kill Babies
Luke Daniel Peacock

Get Tickets HERE