In the face of COVID-19, Perth's music community is holding strong
The community aspects of Perth's live music world thrives in isolation. Now, we're learning they thrive faced in crisis too.
Perth is a one-of-a-kind city. Many friends coming to visit from the east coast will comment on how slow everyone moves in Perth: How pedestrians will just walk across the street and stop cars because they can; where it’s almost a guarantee that when you go out, you will see someone you know. It’s a town where you know your local businesses owners and they know you. Sitting around 3,000 kilometres from the nearest capital city, you would think Perth is just one giant retirement village of cocktails at midday, beach swims and non-stop sun baking. In a way, this can be true, but Perth has quickly been developing into somewhat of a musical hub over the last few decades, becoming something quite magnificent and a defining factor of the city’s cultural output today.
We do feel a million miles away sometimes, but with this comes an enormous sense of love and support amongst our own homegrown artists. Our geographic isolation and comparatively small population creates a festering pot of crazy ideas and creative exchange - no idea is off-limits in Perth, and everyone’s willing to step up and help you create what you’re seeking.
The sense of camaraderie with fellow Perth artists crushing the game is also very prominent. Watching musicians like Tame Impala, John Butler, Methyl Ethel, Drapht and Psychedelic Porn Crumpets on big stages - from Coachella to Splendour - feels like a proud mum watching her son win his soccer grand final. We know that they could have been drinking at the fish & chip pub in Freo, sitting on those weird orange cubes in Northbridge or reflecting in the secluded dunes of City Beach, where local musicians even amongst the world’s biggest still move about in search of relaxation. The achievements of our WA musicians is exciting because Perth is a small town with local hideouts every musician goes to; it helps us relate to the stories of all these bands as they shout out our city to the world - the Norfolk Hotel in Fremantle for example, still plays host to small, developing bands much like they did for Tame Impala in years past (and recently too, with the Fremantle institution hosting the Kevin Parker-attended The Slow Rush launch).
I started out in the Perth music scene through my friends being in bands and working at a live music venue. I was very quickly initiated into the scene and immediately realised the interconnectedness of bands; as every week I would see the same members from different bands coming together in new projects. This sense of community and belonging began to show itself in every live music venue in Perth. I have worked around places like Mojos, Jack Rabbit Slims, Lucy’s Love Shack, The Bird, Badlands, Rosemount, Rock Rover, The Aardvark and more, and in every venue, there is this innate sense of ‘these are my people’. You will see the same crews at the same gigs constantly, and this has become such an important element in feeling comfortable to go out to any gig in Perth - knowing some familiar faces will be there.
A while later, I got involved with the electronic music scene and found huge similarities in the kinship of artists. DJing is very competitive in Perth because of the lack of gig opportunities, however, there is no bitterness or tension towards other DJs. If I have been on the same lineup, chatted or danced with DJs one night, the next time I have a gig they are all there in the audience, dancing, filming and giving you props on your set. It’s crazy. Of course, there are different genres that separate the DJ groups and producers slightly, but each group is so tight within their niche. Commercial DJs are always seen together at day festivals or nightclubs; all the drum ‘n’ bass crew - who are somewhat notorious in making Perth a go-to hotspot for the genre - stick together for late-night dance parties, and the disco/afro/house DJs will be down at Si Paradiso or The Bird on a Sunday, regardless of who is playing.
Chatting to some people familiar with the scene highlighted not only the love and support in the industry, but also the gratitude shared from all Perth artists. We often get missed on Australian tours or overlooked for national support slots. So, any time one of our own jumps on a big lineup or a huge show is booked in our city, there is such an enormous sense of thanks, excitement and motivation to make that gig the best stop of the tour.
Hayley Ayres, director of 360 Artist Logistics, a huge force within the Perth scene, managing some of the city’s stand-out names in Demon Days, Jacob Diamond, Jamilla, Your Girl Pho and more. She confirmed that her favourite thing about Perth is how helpful we are to outsiders. “Whether it’s borrowing an amp, crashing on someone’s couch, scoring a home-cooked meal or scabbing an airport pick up, all are things Perth artists and industry are happy to do to bring outsiders into the fold,” she says. “You get that kind of treatment in the smaller cities. I’ve found Adelaide and Hobart to offer the same wholesome experiences too.” She also explained that this hospitality may come from us knowing how expensive it is to fly across the country since our industry does it all the time. So, when acts have made the journey across the desert to hit our town, we are excited to see them and do everything we can to accommodate them and encourage them to return.
Mark Neal, WAM Fest director, multi-venue booker, artist manager, radio presenter and more, highlights some of the positives being in a small and isolated city has on the music scene. “Being a musician in an isolated city has led to bands spending the time trying to nail their live craft, often well before the broader Australian industry has seen them,” he says. “Another positive is that the bands trying to build their audiences nationally and internationally are forced to travel and budget properly earlier on, meaning they are sometimes in a better position to break internationally than east coast acts.” He also brought attention to the smaller music community/gig-goers means that bands have to be really good to connect and engage with those people. “The best thing about being a part of Perth music industry is the music. But a very close second is the people in the community here.”
WAMFest 2019. Image by Annie Harvey.
Like we found in Brisbane a few weeks back, there’s a sense of interconnectedness that unites the Perth live music sphere, and it’s something that really highlights how close-knit the community is here. For an example, let’s start with Fremantle-based jazz-hip-hop-fusion group Butter. The keyboardist for Butter is also in Girl from Mars and The Psychotic Reactions. The bassist from Butter is also in Izatang and The Psychotic Reactions. The trumpeter for Butter is also in Izatang and Demon Days. The bassist and keyboardist of Demon Days are in the band SupaThick. The other members of SupaThick are involved with bands Wooly Mammoth, Mal De Mer and Almond Soy.
Now, let’s look at Supernaked. The drummer for Supernaked also drums for Dumbleachers, and two members of Dumb Bleachers play with Stella Donnelly. Stella Donnelly’s bassist joined San Cisco for a quick stint, while the guitarist of the Supernaked is also a part of bands New Nausea, Cosy, Noah Dillon and Lucas Kole. The guitarist for Lucas Kole also plays in Fox Scully, and then Fox Scully’s cellist also plays in Sara Salt’s band, while the violinist also plays in Racoo, The Galloping Foxleys, Frank’s Fish Tank and Salary. The guitarist of Supernaked is also the lead singer of Cosy, whose drummer plays in Haircare, Priscilla and Niko Mo. Finally, to being it full circle, the finally the saxophonist of Niko Mo also plays sax in… you guessed it, Butter.
There’s more too. Almost every small, local lineup will feature bands that share at least one member somehow, and if that interconnectedness isn’t present that way, it is in mateship. More often than not, you’ll see bands help each other by sharing their new releases on social media, mentoring the next generation through programs such as WOMPP, Rock Scholars and Girls Rock!, or generally speaking, just supporting them however they can. In summary, Perth loves live music - and we love sharing it with anyone who wants to get involved and make beautiful music together.
By now, the community-esque nature of Perth’s live music world is probably apparent to you, but to really hone in on it, have a look at the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and how the West Australian music sphere has stepped up to support each other in these times. On live streams, acts like Demon Days and Jamilla - who both have played Isol-Aid, for example - are supported in large numbers in comment sections, with other Perth bands getting behind them and showering them with support. When Bandcamp gave 100% of purchase revenues to artists (something they’re doing again May 1st, FYI), artists began plugging other artist’s Bandcamp on their Facebook and Instagram, encouraging people to buy local merch and support acts while you do it.
It’s something that really shows how Perth’s music scene thrives in not just isolation, but in crisis too - we work together to survive. Earlier this year, while the eastern states grappled with the country’s most devastating fire season in recent memory, we were hosting more fundraisers than you could poke a stick at, from hip-hop to dance music to events that just highlighted… everyone. The isolation may distance us from other cities at times, but it will always undoubtedly bring those in the community closer.
To get super metaphorical, you can sometimes think of Perth (or any other isolated city) as a parallel to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Because we are isolated, we adapt and develop the ways in which we make art, a lot of the time irrespective of outsider influence. Whether it’s new instrument techniques, DIY interactive live sets or pop-up beach raves, Perth is weird - and we do weird stuff to keep ourselves entertained - but I sometimes that’s how some of the best shit is made. Every city in our amazing country is doing their own thing, and yet we are all united through times of triumph and times of difficulty. I honestly think myself lucky every day to be a part of this amazing community.