The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'melbourne'
Melbourne independent record shop PolyEster Records is closing down; after having been a fixture on Brunswick Street, the once epicenter of the bohemian/countercultural inner-north, since 1983, and outlived numerous other storied record shops including Gaslight and AuGoGo. The shift by consumers to streaming, independent bands to Bandcamp and major labels to limited CD releases backed by streaming and lossy downloads, and the upper limits on how much vinyl the market can absorb (especially as an increasing proportion of the market grew up with CDs and do not associate the characteristic distortions of vinyl with an inherently more authentic musical experience) undoubtedly didn't help. Though it may be argued that, as soon as the neon Dobbshead disappeared from the back wall, the shop's days were numbered.
All of which leaves little of the old Brunswick St.; for record buying, there's still Dixon's Recycled, with their racks of second-hand CDs; as far as live music goes, Bar Open has gigs of some sort. PolyEster's companion bookshop, notorious for its flouting of obscenity laws, closed several years ago (though its awning still decorates the fixture of the restaurant that took its place, as if protected by some unofficial heritage listing).
One could say that the closure of PolyEster Records is the culmination of a process which began 18 years earlier, when the Punters Club, a pub and venue that was a keystone of the Melbourne live music scene, closed down and was replaced by a Chapel St.-style pizza venue named Bimbo Deluxe, its PA system playing house music. That was the beachhead of the slick, trendy south of the Yarra's expansion to and annexation of the inner north. The closure of PolyEster is the demolition of the last nail house of the old indie-rock bohemian Fitzroy, and the confirmation that the virtual Yarra now runs somewhere between Alexandra Parade and Merri Creek.
I have just spent a little over two weeks in Melbourne; I arrived on occasion of a conference on iOS development, but stayed longer to give me time to catch up with friends. It was my first visit to my old hometown in almost five years.
Melbourne is, I am relieved to say, still here. Just about. Some things are new, some things are gone, and some things remain constant. Gentrification keeps pushing the virtual Yarra that divides bourgeois and grungy Melbourne northward; it'd now be somewhere around Merri Creek and Brunswick Road. Fitzroy feels a bit more like South Yarra, a bit brasher and less bohemian. Hip-hop, laptop R&B and house music have largely displaced skronky/jangly indie-rock as its soundtrack. Brunswick Street is now is also a destination for stag/hen-party buses. Some parts of it are gone (PolyEster Books has closed down, its shopfront a sad shell with a LEASED sign on it and the old roof sign awaiting its inevitable demolition, and the T-shirt shop Tomorrow Never Knows appears to have closed as well), while others remain (PolyEster Records, happily, is still going strong, though they've gotten rid of the neon Dobbshead that was on the wall, as is Dixon Recycled, and Bar Open is still hosting interesting gigs). Smith Street, once colloquially known as “Smack Street”, is reshaping itself as a playground for young people with disposable income, featuring, among other things, several video-game bars (including the arcade-machine bar Pixel Alley) and a burger joint housed inside the shell of an old Hitachi train on the roof of a building (the experience of being inside such a train and it being air-conditioned will be incongruous to those old enough to remember riding in them), not to mention some very nice-looking new flats nearby. There is a new generation of hipster/bro hybrids making Fitzroy their stomping ground. North Fitzroy is largely bourgeois and sterile; bands still play at the Pinnacle, but the Empress, once the crucible of the Fair Go 4 Live Music movement, is under new management and has replaced its bandroom with a beer garden; East Brunswick and Thornbury seem to be becoming more interesting, and Northcote is steadily gentrifying. There are blocks of luxury flats going up everywhere, though most of them have no more than three stories, either because of zoning requirements or perhaps to avoid scaring away buyers from Asia.
Melbourne feels increasingly connected to Asia. In particular, the CBD has become a destination for a combination of property buyers and students from Asia, from bubble-tea bars and a surfeit of Chinese and south-east Asian eateries aiming outside the westernised market to real-estate dealerships aiming at the Chinese market. While there are fewer Japanese migrants and students, the cultural and commercial influence of Japan has been increasing. Japanese food is everywhere; there are increasingly many establishments festooned with red lanterns and purporting to be izakayas, some of which are more authentic than others (Wabi Sabi on Smith St. was excellent), ramen restaurants are popping up, as are Japanese ice cream shops; and then, of course, is the several-decades-old Melburnian institution of takeaway sushi rolls, served in a paper bag with a piscule of soy sauce, as unpretentious fast food. Japanese retail is also making inroads; Uniqlo and Muji have opened shops in Melbourne and the T-shirt label Graniph have a small shop in the CBD. But perhaps most impressive is the Japanese take on the $2 shop, Daiso, a veritable Aladdin's cave of the useful and nifty, each item costing a flat $2.80. (European readers: imagine the Danish chain Tiger/TGR, only distinctly Japanese, with the scale and systemacity that implies.)
Some things remain the same. The trams keep trundling along, with minor route adjustments. The radio station 3RRR, now 40 years old, is going strong as an institution of the alternative Melbourne; an exhibition on its history just finished at the State Library of Victoria, and its stickers are ubiquitous, particularly in the inner north. The live music scene continues apace, in venues such as the Old Bar, Bar Open and the Northcote Social Club. (I saw three gigs in the latter: Lowtide, Pikelet and my favourite band from when I lived in Melbourne, Ninetynine, who are still going strong.) Street art remains an institution in Melbourne, a city where aerosol-art-festooned laneways swarm with tourists and wedding photo shoots and businesses hire “writers“ to decorate their walls with thematic pieces. And the arrival of H&M, in one oddly laid out shop occupying the former General Post Office, doesn't seem to have put Dangerfield out of business.
There are also signs of progress. Reconciliation with Australia's indigenous population seems to be making tentative symbolic advances, with signs acknowledging the Wurundjeri as traditional owners, and the Wurundjeri word for welcome (“wominjeka”) appearing on signage. Solar panels are on roofs everywhere. Cycling as transport seems to be increasingly popular, despite Victoria's mandatory helmet laws (which may have helped scuttle the city's Paris-style bike-rental scheme). And work is beginning on the state's first big public-transport project since the City Loop, the Metro Tunnel, a new underground rail route bringing Melbourne into the club of cities with a subway; currently, one side street near RMIT is largely boarded off to build a shaft for the tunnel boring machines, and both RMIT and Melbourne University are bracing for the hit to student numbers that three years of nearby disruptive works will pose.
On occasion of a Women In Rock mini-festival on Melbourne radio station 3CR, Mess+Noise got Ninetynine's Laura Macfarlane and the members of the all-female rock trio Dead River to interview each other:
Laura: Overall I think things with gender equality in music have improved slightly but it still needs more work. There could be more female presence in the technical side of music. For instance there aren’t many female masterers still. It also varies a lot between countries. Ninetynine has played in countries and cities where being a female musician is still a novelty. Those shows always stick out in my memory because usually one female person in the audience will come up and tell you that they really appreciate seeing female musicians. Maybe they were thinking of starting their own band, but hadn’t seen a live band with women in it. It is always special to feel like maybe you have helped encourage other women in some small way.
Laura: Although Ninetynine does not exclusively reference Get Smart, we do like a lot of things people relate to the name, including agent 99. She’s great. We also wanted to use a number as a band name because it can work well in countries where people don’t speak a lot of English. I think the The Shaggs would be my favourite ’60s girl group.
Dead River: Despite plenty of evidence that women are capable and creative masters of their instruments and gear (PJ Harvey, Savages, Kim Gordon, to name a few), there are prevailing paternalistic attitudes that continue to undermine women in music. I’m sure many female musicians can relate to the experience of a male mixer walking on stage and adjusting her amp or telling her how to set her levels. Or being asked if you’re the ”merch girl” or “where’s your acoustic guitar?” after you’ve just lugged an entire drum kit or Orange stack through the door.Meanwhile, the members of Ninetynine have recorded a song to raise funds for protests against the East-West road tunnel, under the name “Tunnel Vision Song Contest”. It sounds like Ninetynine at their most Sonic Youth-influenced, though is a bit light on the Casiotone and chromatic percussion.
The (Melbourne) Age has a piece looking at the history of the long-running rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney (which is sort of like Australia's equivalent of the rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow), and the layers of values attached to those two points on the map by generations of their advocates and detractors:
Some contend that it is based on the foundation stories of the capitals. Sydney was set up as an open-air jail in 1788, whereas Melbourne was founded in 1835 by independent settlers seeking new farmland.
By the 1880s, writer Marcus Clarke sought to share the spoils by pointing out that Sydney would probably evolve as “the fashionable and luxurious capital”, while Melbourne would become the intellectual and cultural capital.The article discusses the usual stereotypes (Sydney: glamorous if ditzy, with breathtaking harbour views; Melbourne: Europeanised, full of pretentious people who read a lot and watch art-house films), debunks a few others (Sydney apparently gets twice as much rain as Melbourne, though, of course, being Sydneysiders, they take theirs in spectacular thunderstorms) and states that the coffee is better in Melbourne. That may well be so (it's hard to go past Atomica or Jasper), though the last time I was in Sydney, they had excellent coffee there as well. (If I recall correctly, Campos in Newtown is pretty good.)
Since taking office, Victoria's conservative government has pursued a war on indecent language. First it instituted on-the-spot fines for swearing in public, and now, it has unveiled changes to the liquor licensing laws which allows venues' licences to be revoked for tolerating "profane, indecent or obscene language", or not promptly removing indecent graffiti.
“What this means is that if someone swears inside your venue Police can penalise your venue with Demerit Points. The concern … is that this gives Police unprecedented authority over an already over-regulated legitimate business sector that contributes strongly to the local economy. Vandalism is also mentioned. Does this mean that if someone has graffiti-ed in the bathrooms that police can issue Demerit points?”
The Australian federal government has published its phase 1 report (which may be found here) on possible routes for a high-speed rail line in the eastern states, connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. The report evaluates several possible corridors joining the cities, as well as the locations of stations, taking into account growth predictions, construction costs, challenging or environmentally sensitive terrain and proximity to facilities such as universities, hospitals and tourist areas and came up with a (somewhat broadly drafted) potential route, or rather a short-list of route segments.
The route will go up from Melbourne along a path similar to the existing Countrylink line and the Hume Highway, passing through Albury, Wagga Wagga, Canberra. From Canberra, it will either follow the Hume Highway or diverge via Wollongong and the coast, on its way to Sydney. From Sydney, the line will follow a fairly straight line to Newcastle, whence it will go either along the coast or slightly inland, with a recommended route taking in the Gold Coast on the way to Brisbane. The journey will take one hour between Sydney and Canberra, 1:50 between Canberra and Melbourne, and 3 hours between Sydney and Brisbane. Journeys are expected to cost between AUD99 and AUD197 for Melbourne-Sydney (in 2011 dollars) or slightly less for Sydney-Brisbane.
As far as stations go, some likely sites have been identified. In Sydney, the obvious one is Central, though pressure from wealthy NIMBYs in the northern suburbs may necessitate moving the terminus to Parramatta (which, despite being talked up as "Sydney's second CBD", would negate some of the advantage that high-speed rail has over air travel, i.e., directly connecting city centres). In Melbourne, the trains would either terminate at Southern Cross or at a new terminus in North Melbourne, with Southern Cross looking better. In Brisbane, the likely terminus is Roma St., whereas in Canberra, there is likely to be a through station, either in the centre or by the airport. For what it's worth, the report assumes that the system would be built to European specifications, and consist of trains running at 350km/h on lines capable of a theoretical maximum of 400km/h.
For what it's worth, there is a history of Australian high-speed rail proposals here. So far, no true high-speed services have been built in Australia, though systems linking the eastern capitals have been proposed in the past. The current proposal was commissioned by the Labor minority government, under pressure from their Green coalition partners, though now has nominally bipartisan support.
The Tote, Melbourne's iconic, recently resurrected music venue, makes it into this year's April Fool's Day stories twice, both in the context of gentrification and the changing character of the formerly bohemian inner city. Mess+Noise has it launching a new house-music night, complete with giveaways and Vodka Cruiser specials, to "cater for the area's changing demographic". Meanwhile, an article elsewhere has the Tote becoming a child care centre.
A spokesperson for the applicant, Exotic Rites Early Childhood Learning Pty Ltd, which also runs child care and early learning centres in Brunswick and Thornbury, said in an email to Tone Deaf yesterday ‘while we recognise that the venue has had an important role in Melbourne’s music community; with the number of young professionals with young children now living in the area, the land and location are far more appropriately used as an Early Learning Centre’.Which points at two models of gentrification: the cashed-up-bogan-driven Brunswick St. model (house music, pre-mixed vodka) and the more traditional yuppies-with-children model seen not just in Melbourne but everywhere.
Melbourne Restaurant Name Generator; uncannily accurate:
Mister Tango: A basement roastery with an abbatoir boning room atmosphere. Operates as a barber shop on weekends and public holidays.Melburnians reading this will probably pick out some of the actual eateries and laneway bars referred to.
The Hummingbirds, arguably the greatest Australian indiepop band of the 1990s, are reforming for a one-off set at Sydney's Big Day Out on the 27th of January. Well, so far it's a one-off set; perhaps they'll do some other Australian shows. I imagine that them playing Indie Tracks or the Gothenburg Popfest would be a bit of a stretch, though.
Meanwhile, Mess+Noise also has a two-part retrospective on the Punter's Club, the legendary Fitzroy music venue which closed its doors in 2002 (1, 2), interviewing many of the people involved, who went on to work in other Melbourne live music institutions.
The Punters Club closing was so final, though. We knew it was going to happen and that another business was going to move into the building, so it couldn’t be saved. It might have indirectly inspired the SLAM rally and all the outrage about The Tote, because it proved that people actually give a shit about music venues closing. I actually think The Punters Club was more loved than The Tote, but over the years, people came to realise that they didn’t want to lose another venue.
In hindsight it’s sad, and we miss that venue, but Brunswick Street really sucks these days anyway. I’m pleased that I don’t have to go and see gigs in that area anymore. Johnston Street and The Old Bar is about as close as I want to get. I don’t want to be with all the hipsters there. It’s like the gentrification of St Kilda. I remember when Brunswick Street only had three or four cafes: Bakers, Rhumbarella’s, Mario’s and The Fitz. That said, Melbourne has an extremely strong live music scene, so for every venue that closes, a new one opens somewhere.This weekend, for those in Melbourne, there is a series of Punter's Club reunion shows at the Corner Hotel in Richmond.
The spectre of closure, usually driven by gentrification and the increased rents coming from it, is seldom far away from live music venues; recently, Melbourne's favoured ex-neo-Nazi haunt turned band venue, Birmingham Hotel ceased putting on gigs, due to it losing money. Meanwhile, in London, increasing costs have forced the Luminaire to close at the end of the year. The Luminaire was one of London's better medium-sized venues; it will be fondly remembered, particularly the hand-painted signs on the walls informing punters in no uncertain terms that it is a music venue not a pub, and instructing those who wish to talk to their mates to leave.
Melbourne now has a bike sharing scheme. It consists of rental bikes (apparently the Canadian model used in London, not the French Vélib), which are rentable from docking stations scattered around the CBD and immediately surrounding areas. (Melbourne University and the Docklands are covered, but the programme stops short of, say, Fitzroy, Richmond and such.) In other words, it's much like the systems in Paris and London, albeit with one crucial difference: it's actually illegal to use unless you happen to be in possession of a bike helmet. These are not supplied at the docking stations, and the police aggressively target those flouting Victoria's mandatory helmet laws.
The helmet laws have had an effect on takeup of the scheme: apparently only 70 trips a day are being made on it, despite the 600 brand new bikes made available; i.e., the system is running at 0.5% capacity. The cycling lobby has been organising protests against the helmet laws; at one such protest, the police came out in force and fined everyone. The law is harsh, but it is the law.
It's not clear what the designers of the scheme were thinking; it's less than useful for tourists, who tend not to bring bike helmets with them or want to spend money on them. As for it being intended for long-term commuters, the fact that the bikes are all in the city centre makes that somewhat less than ideal. Anyway, unless the bike helmet laws are amended (and, with Australia being a car-centric society, this looks unlikely), it's likely that the scheme will be scrapped due to poor patronage. Meanwhile, those wishing to borrow a bike around the inner north may be well advised to go to the Little Creatures Dining Hall on Brunswick St. and borrow one of their fleet of Kronan fixies. They're free and come with helmets, though you'd want to get there early in the day as they tend to get snapped up quickly.
Data visualisation of the day: Locals and Tourists. Location data was harvested from geotagged photos on Flickr and plotted on maps; the points were colour-coded: blue if the poster was a local (i.e., had been in the city for more than a period of time), red if they were tourists (recent visitors with no prior history), and yellow if it was ambiguous. Here, for example, is London, with the Thames and the West End ablaze with red and the East End blue (which means that there are fewer tourists but still plenty of photographers, think Hackney art hipsters and/or kids with iPhones):Paris; tourists flock to the obvious parts (the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, the Seine and the Île-de-Cité), whereas the locals who tend to post photos gravitate to the east, around the Bastille and such; the affluent, conservative southern arrondisements are largely a wasteland, photographically at least. In Berlin, meanwhile, tourists fill the city's broad central boulevards, the Tiergarten and Alexanderplatz and Karl-Marx-Allee, and visit the East Side Gallery, but there's a lot of local photography happening around Kreuzberg/Neukolln.
In fact, one could use the frequency of non-tourist photography for an area as a predictor of cultural vibrancy. Areas where a lot of photos are taken by people who live in the same city and not by tourists could be the kinds of broad areas where local scenes form, and the kinds of people who engage in cultural activity beyond passive consumption (sometimes referred to as "hipsters") are more likely to be found. This is borne out by other maps: Melbourne (there are specks of blue around the inner north, while the sprawling suburbs are largely empty). In New York, meanwhile, Manhattan glows with tourist activity but Brooklyn is veined with blue.
Of course, the amount of blue space on these maps is considerably larger than any nexus of cultural activity would be; it'd cover the areas where events take place, where the participants live and work, and spaces in between. However, it does make one wonder whether one could data-mine the buzz of a city by correlating Flickr photo geodata or other indices of participation with other data; possibly transport routes?
The next miniaturised replica of a foreign city to be built in China could be based on Melbourne. Well, not an entire mini-Melbourne, but a residential development near Tianjin, about a square kilometre in size, whose centrepiece will be a "Melbourne-style shopping and cafés hub based on Acland, Brunswick and Lygon Street", with a tramway network running through it. So no live rock venues then; they could probably throw in a wan, censored replica of PolyEster Books for local colour. I wonder if they'll put in laneways full of authentically Melburnian (albeit, of course, apolitical) stencil art.
Melbourne City Council workers have painted over a Banksy rat stencil in Hosier Lane, after the council neglected to tell them that the graffiti in the laneway (famous for its aerosol and stencil art) contained a priceless artwork among the graffiti.
Alexander said the city council would rush through retrospective permits to protect other famous or significant artworks in Australia's second-largest city. "In hindsight, we should have acted sooner to formally approve and protect all known Banksy works," she said.I wonder what's happening there. Have anti-street-art factions seized control of the council and decided to whitewash all of Hosier Lane as a declaration of a Rudy Giuliani-style zero-tolerance policy? What would they have done had they known that the works of an internationally renowned (and valuable) artist were there? Would we have seen the bizarre spectacle of a white-painted laneway with a solitary Banksy rat in one corner? Of course, one of the quickest ways to condemn street art in Melbourne is to bless it with the imprimatur of official approval; Australian graffiti artists are, by and large, larrikins who have only contempt for the approval of officialdom:
Vandals created another outcry in 2008 when they poured paint over the artist's stencil of a diver in an old-fashioned helmet and wearing a trenchcoat. That work was afterwards protected by a sheet of clear perspex, although vandals struck again and poured silver paint behind the barrier, tagging it with the words "Banksy woz ere."
The latest frontier of Antipodean coffee culture: New York, where Melbourne-style cafés, and even a barista college, are opening:
''The New York coffee scene is similar to Melbourne in 1985. When I moved here about six years ago, there was virtually nowhere that served quality espresso coffee. I originally planned to pick up an idea here and then move back to Melbourne to cash in. But I realised there was a huge opportunity here because nothing in New York compared to our cafes,'' Mr Hall says.Though wasn't Melbourne's coffee scene at a fairly decent technical level, if not yet acclaimed around the world, in 1985? After all, Australia had mass Italian immigration in the 1950s, resulting in the establishment of Italian-style cafés catering to patrons who expected quality. (This is not to be confused with places where handfuls of immigrants trickled in and opened cafeterias or diners, making whatever the locals were already used to; this is the case in the UK, where there are plenty of cafeterias run by Italian immigrants, most of them serving the greasy fry-ups and mugs of builder's tea the locals feel comfortable with. It seems to me that a country only assimilates a culinary tradition if it takes in enough migrants from that tradition to not only act as producers but also as discerning consumers.)
Acclaimed Melbourne street artists/underground illustrators Miso and Ghostpatrol have released a downloadable, printable map of inner Melbourne (or, as some would argue, the parts of Melbourne White People like). The map consists of two sheets, covering the CBD and Fitzroy, and showing the locations of cafés, bars, art spaces and art supply shops; it may be downloaded from here.
The choice of the CBD and Fitzroy suggests that gentrification doesn't seem to have affected the north/south divide. North of the Yarra is hip and culturally rich, whereas south of the Yarra is merely trendy, a shallow, consumeristic imposter for actual cool; St. Kilda (once the crucible of punk—blah blah blah Nick Cave blah blah Seaview Ballroom— but now, as The Lucksmiths so appositely worded it, home of bright-eyed boys in business suits, tourists where once were prostitutes) and Prahran (which committed the cardinal sin of getting house music and T-shirt boutiques a decade before Fitzroy) don't rate a mention in the psychogeography of cool in Melbourne. And while Fitzroy real estate prices approach South Yarra levels, there is still enough of a cultural legacy (not to mention tram routes from more affordable areas) to maintain the area's claim to cultural vitality.
Veteran Australian pop satirist New Waver has a new album, Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody, out.
New Waver's usual stock-in-trade in the past has been a relentlessly bleak neo-Darwinian pessimism, extrapolating the principles of neo-Darwinist evolution into a viciously competitive world, seen from the loser's perspective, and resulting in records like The Defeated and Darwin Junior High. Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody veers from this theme into an examination of the modern post-industrial age, casting a jaundiced eye over Richard Florida's concept of the "Creative Class" from the unaffordably gentrified inner north of Melbourne.
In the thesis of Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody, several phenomena of the past few decades (the shifting of industrial production to China, the move to a post-industrial economy and the rise of DIY art/music and internet-based user-generated content lowering the barriers to artistic creativity) have created a glut of "artists", with exhibitions and indie bands and bedroom music projects all over the inner suburbs. Artists have, as many have observed, congregated in undesirable suburbs hollowed out by deindustrialisation (at least in Melbourne; in Berlin, the collapse of Communism had the same effect), attracting hipsters, trendies, yuppies and ultimately the wealthy, aesthetically conservative haute-bourgeoisie, by then the artists having been forced out by rising rents. (In the words of a famous graffito in 1990s San Francisco, "artists are the shock troops of gentrification"; though it may make more sense to think of them as a sort of baker's yeast, whose job is to make the bread rise and then perish.) Meanwhile, the ease of creating (and copying) art, and indeed any sort of intellectual products, in the digital age has led to a rise in supply exceeding demand; not only is it harder to survive making art, but it is harder to get people to devote time to looking at your creations.
As with many of his previous recordings, New Waver expresses this thesis through the medium of cover versions of popular songs, assembled using General MIDI files. The opening track, Lugging For Nothing turns Dire Straits' anthem of the rock'n'roll dream on its head; in New Waver's acerbically realistic reworking, the people to be envied are the tradesmen, high-school drop-outs and cashed-up bogans, doing lucratively uncopiable physical work and spending their money on material luxuries. Like neo-Rousseauvian ignoble savages, impervious to the siren song of cultural engagement, they're happy to take the money of those afflicted by it (by renting them rehearsal rooms and such), while aspiring musicians infected by the rock'n'roll dream pack into small rooms and toil doing shitwork to pay off records and tours. The idea of cultural enagement as a parasitic replicator reemerges behind Media, I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life, which recounts the lot of the culturally engaged, struggling to afford to rent enough space to store their record collections and spending their spare hours discussing music and arthouse films on social websites; it is not difficult to square this with author Greg Wadley's well-documented interest in evolutionary psychology and conclude that the culturally engaged are the victims of parasitic memes, deprived of the chance to live a comfortable existence in a McMansion in suburbia, watching junk TV on their plasma screen and listening to whatever's on the radio by the terrible compulsion to impoverish themselves playing in bands, exhibiting art or otherwise trading time, wealth and effort for arbitrary signifiers of status, all the while helping to reproduce these memes.
Other songs touch on different, but related, themes; Party Like It's 1979 (a Prince cover, of course) looks at the resurgence of retro-styled indie music genres, from White Stripes-like garage bands to post-punk ("Fleetwood Mac's probably the most influential band today", "I got some classic rock released six months ago, some psychedelic folk, some white guys playing disco"), and the fetishisation of the vinyl format, reframing it as a cargo-cult commodity fetish, a subconscious belief that imitating one's idols will bring one their fame, wealth and sexual success. Inner City Drug Use, one of New Waver's older songs, is Queen's You're My Best Friend rewritten about the dependence on coffee, and My Memory Stick Weighs A Ton (a cover of a song by Melburnian 1980s post-punk turned suave crooner Dave Graney) about the glut of media produced by those who can be loosely categorised as "white-collar", and the declining likelihood of any of those items finding a willing audience. The closing track, The Cars That Ate Melbourne returns to the uncultured bogan "other", and this time to their habit of cruising around the inner cities in souped-up cars with blaring stereos; it does this by combining a house/commercial-dance beat, car engine noise and a porn dialogue sample; it is somewhat reminiscent of New Waver's 1990s commercial-dance track, "We're Gonna Get You After School".
The standout track, in my opinion, is "Hey Dude"; here, New Waver has taken the famous Beatles song and turned it into a missive from property developers and landlords to artists, hipsters and the creative classes, urging them to take a sad suburb and make it better by putting on exhibitions, opening cafés, organising events and looking hip, and reminding them that they carry investments on their shoulders. As commentary on gentrification, it is perfect. For what it's worth, there is a video here.
Consistent with its thesis, Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody is not being manufactured on CD or offered in shops (though there are rumours of a limited-edition memory-stick release), but is available for free downloading from New Waver's website. Which is not at all a bad deal for what will undoubtedly be one of the most apposite pieces of social commentary committed to the format of music this year.
From a Momus blog post, in which he, on departing from Osaka, speculates on how he might possibly live there:
I've never seriously thought about living in Osaka before. I love Tokyo best of all. But increasingly, my outlook has Berlinified, by which I mean I regard expensive cities like New York, London and Tokyo as unsuited to subculture. They're essentially uncreative because creative people living there have to put too much of their time and effort into the meaningless hackwork which allows them to meet the city's high rents and prices. So disciplines like graphic design and television thrive, but more interesting types of art are throttled in the cradle.Momus raises an interesting observation, and one which may seem somewhat paradoxical at first. First-tier global cities, like London, New York, Paris and Tokyo are less creative than second-tier cities, largely due to the increased pressure of their dynamic economies making all but the most commercial creative endeavours unsustainable. I have noticed this myself, having lived both in Melbourne (Australia's "Second City" and home of the country's most vibrant art and music scenes; generally seen by almost everyone to be ahead of Sydney in this regard) and London (a city associated, in the public eye, with pop-cultural cool, from the Swingin' Sixties, through punk rock and Britpop, but now more concerned with marketing and repackaging than creating; it also serves as the headquarters of numerous media companies and advertising agencies). In London, it seems that people are too busy working for a living to make art in the way they do in Melbourne or Berlin, and the arts London leads in are the commercial ones Momus names Tokyo as leading in: graphic design, the media, and countless onslaughts of meticulously market-researched "indie" bands. Those who thrive in London (and presumably New York, Paris and Tokyo) tend to be not the free-wheeling bricoleurs but the repackagers and cool-hunters, one eye on the stock market of trends and another on the repository of past culture, looking for just the right thing to pick up and just the right way to market it. (Examples: various revivals (Mod, Punk, New Wave), each more cartoonish and superficial than the last.) "Moving to London" is an artistic cliché, shorthand for wanting to hit the commercial mainstream, to surf the big waves.
There are, of course, counter-examples, but they tend to be scattered. For one, the more vibrant a cultural marketplace a city is, the more money is floating around, the more rents and prices are driven up, and the more those who are not driven by a commercial killer instinct find themselves unable to keep up, without either channeling their energies into money-spinning hackwork or whoring themselves to the marketing ecosystem, subordinating their creative decisions to its meretricious logic.
Also, as Paul Graham pointed out, cities have their own emphases encoded in their cultures; a city is made up as much of cultural assumptions as buildings and roads, and there is only space for one main emphasis in a city. If it's about commerce or status, it's not going to be about creative bricolage. (This was earlier discussed in this blog, here.) The message of a city is subtle but pervasive, replicating through the attitudes and activities of its inhabitants, subtly encouraging or discouraging particular decisions (not through any system of coercion, but simply through the interest or disinterest of its inhabitants). As Graham writes, Renaissance Florence was full of artists, wherea Milan wasn't, despite both being of around the same size; Florence, it seems, had an established culture encouraging the arts and attracting artists, whereas Milan didn't.
When a city is said to be first-tier—in the same club of world cities as London and New York—the implication is that its focus is on status and success, and the city attracts those drawn to these values, starting the feedback loop. Second-tier cities (like Melbourne and Berlin and, according to Momus, Osaka) are largely shielded from this by their place in the shadows of first-tier cities and their relatively cooler economic temperature. (There's a reason why music scenes flourish disproportionately in places like Manchester and Portland, often eclipsing the Londons and New Yorks for a time.) Of course, as second-tier cities are recognised as "cool", they begin to heat up and aspire towards first-tier status. (One example is San Francisco; formerly the hub of the 1960s counterculture (which, of course, birthed the personal computing revolution), then the seat of the dot-com boom, and now promoting itself as the Manhattan of the West Coast.) Cities, however, fill niches; they can't all be New York, and the number of first-tier "world cities" is, by its nature, limited.
Another iconic Melbourne music value bites the dust; this time, it's the Tote, and the cause of death is not yuppification or rising property values but new licensing laws aimed at stopping the epidemic of violence (which, oddly enough, doesn't seem to have had anything to do with the Tote):
I can’t afford to keep fighting Liquor Licensing. The “high risk” conditions they have placed on the Tote’s license make it impossible to trade profitably. I can’t afford the new “high risk” fees they have imposed. I can’t afford to keep fighting them at VCAT. I can’t renegotiate a lease in this environment.
So, come into the Tote this weekend to say farewell to the sad staff and to feel the sticky carpet for the last time.
I don’t believe the Tote is a “high risk” venue, in the same category as the nightclubs that make the news for all the wrong reasons. Despite being on a rough little corner of Collingwood, the Tote has had very, very few incidents. As a local police officer once said, “The Tote’s the quietest pub in the area.”
Much has been said about the alleged epidemic of random alcohol-fuelled violence outside Melbourne's night spots and its possible causes. Now, The Age's Fiona Scott-Norman suggests that it might be due to the boom in venues playing house music, once confined to Chapel Street, but now part of every venue aiming for the cashed-up-bogan dollar; in particular, to house music being poorly suited for facilitating social interaction:
And then there's house music. It's pretty much the ultimate "anti-romance" music. It's played loud, it's repetitive, it's not fun, it's unremarkable and unmemorable — even if you can make yourself heard over the top, it gives you nothing to talk about, and appears to be the first music ever created by humankind that bypasses the emotions. Again, fine if your aim is to dance like a maniac until 6am, or whenever you start coming down, but truly terrible if you're not on chemicals.
So the clubs are chock-full of young folk who can't talk to each other, can't touch each other, have zero opportunity for intimacy, and can only dance in their own little world and hope someone's looking at their booty. The only tools in their seriously denuded seduction kit are alcohol and shouting. So yet another night ends, they're disconnected and frustrated, back on the streets, and totally hammered. Gee, I wonder why there's so much violence.
Playing almost any other kind of music would reduce street violence. Doesn't matter if it's disco, funk, yacht rock, indie pop, Mongolian throat-singing, gypsy punk, neo-lounge or Latin, so long as it's not joyless, thumping background music.
Australian post-punk guitarist Rowland S. Howard passed away today, after a battle with liver cancer. He was 50.
Half a decade ago, I lived in North Fitzroy. On weekends, I would spend my afternoons sitting in a local café, the Tin Pot, with my laptop. The Tin Pot was a groovy sort of place, taking up two Victorian shop units; its walls were plastered with gig flyers, the staff were young and hip, and the music (which, more often than not, the staff brought in) was an edgy and eclectic mix of what was cool, ranging from PJ Harvey to Prince to local indie and hip-hop. The Tin Pot soon became my Moon Under Water of cafés, the ur-café to define the experience of the café as an agreeable place to spend time, an ideal for one part of living.
This afternoon, being in Melbourne, I made my way back to North Fitzroy, laptop in my backpack, with a view of spending an hour or so in the old haunt. I had heard various rumours of it having been gentrified somewhat, but was still shocked at what I found.
It's still there, and still named the Tin Pot, but is a different place. Gone are the flyers, the 1950s laminate tables, the funky décor and cool music. The walls are now whitewashed, unsullied by the evidence of urban life, the rooms filled with wooden dining tables that underscore that this is a place for respectable grownups with busy lives to eat, not a place to hang out. The stereo plays, at a respectably sedate volume, a music which could be best described as "contemporary easy listening"; a combination of the most unthreateningly obvious end of 1960s soul, of the sort one might find on a K-Tel compilation, and imitations thereof (I counted two Bee Gees songs); it had a mildly anaesthetic quality to it, chosen to soothe and reassure, never stimulate. The staff are attired in uniform black, and what clientele there was was north of the mid-30s, with nobody anyone could accuse of being a "hipster" or "coolsie". It looked like a genteel tea room near Hampstead Heath, or perhaps in one of the faux-English parts of the Dandenongs.
In retrospect, the signs were there in February, when I last visited; while the tables and flyers were still there, the fruit-shaped lights were gone from the window, the music was a bit more generic, and the clientele were a bit older, often with babies in tow. I wasn't expecting such a complete metamorphosis, though.
Farewell, Tin Pot; it was nice knowing you.
In what appears to be a periodic ritual as formalised as a Japanese noh play, an academic has called for Melbourne to radically change its transport policies, scrapping freeway building programmes and instead divert billions of dollars to public transport:
''Please, we need a moratorium on all freeway building, until we have an adequate transport and land-use plan for Melbourne,'' Professor Low said yesterday.
Instead, the Government must commit to better managing the public transport system, via a metropolitan planning authority, Professor Low will tell the Melbourne @ 5 Million transport conference at Melbourne University today.Professor Nicholas Low, head of Melbourne University's transport research centre, called for Melbourne to have a cohesive citywide authority, much as London and Paris do, and also called for radical and distinctly un-Australian measures (albeit ones commonly found in Europe) such as restricting heavily cars from the CBD and suburban shopping strips (i.e., playing funny buggers with Aussie battlers' God-given right to drive; I'm sure there was a question about it on John Howard's citizenship test, right next to Don Bradman's batting average).
He compared Melbourne's expected population of 5 million people by 2026 to London's inner boroughs, which he said had a population of just over 7 million. ''Imagine London without the Underground,'' he said, ''because that is what Melbourne will be like at 5 million, unless we start building an efficient, integrated public transport system for this city.''Good Luck to Professor Low and his plans, though in all honesty, the chances of them ever seeing the light of day are, as they say, somewhere between Buckley's and none. Most Melburnians have long since given up on public transport or never used it, and having their right to drive restricted in favour of an unknown quantity they only see horror stories about in the Age will be hard to sell. The Melbourne railway system is a case in point. In the 1990s, an unsympathetic Tory government decided to privatise it, and so brought in the British Tory advisers responsible for butchering British Rail and challenged them to outdo their previous accomplishment, which they did. The result is a dysfunctional system unable to cope with the increases in patronage caused by rising oil prices, and those unable to afford the petrol to drive in comfort having to endure sardine-can commutes, when the system doesn't break down, that is. (Which is not to say the operators aren't doing anything about it; they've now started pulling the seats out of carriages, turning them into more efficient cattle cars.) And then there are the trams, with their helpful conductors replaced by thuggish "revenue officers". The whole system bespeaks a contempt for those sufficiently lowly to not be able to drive.
Of course, there are the pie-in-the-sky plans, often floated before an election, of gleaming new subway lines across the city, which, were they to actually be built, would soak up the public transport budget for a generation. (There simply isn't enough money coursing through the Australian economy to build a London-style Underground or Paris-style Metro.) Meanwhile, the "swinging voters" who decide elections live in outer suburbs, have one car per adult member of each household and want freeways to drive along. The quarter-acre suburban block is still the ideal, and any proposals to increase housing density are dismissed as absurd and somewhat distasteful. It will take severe increases in oil prices—ones severe enough to cause hardship, if not unrest—to bring about a change of policy. (And maybe not even that; I can imagine that it may be more politically plausible to see Melburnians driving cars fuelled by liquified coal, poisoning themselves with carcinogenic pollutants but keeping the sacred suburban lifestyle, than to see the expense and upheaval required for an effective public transport system.)
The Independent has an article about what Copenhagen can teach the world about sustainable urban planning, in particular the promotion of cycling:
Forty years ago, London and Copenhagen had similar ratios of car to bicycle use, and both faced an exodus of workers moving out of the centre and into the suburbs. But after ' the energy crises of the 1970s, the two cities diverged. Danes were restricted in how much they could use their cars and commuters began to campaign for a better infrastructure for cyclists. Today, there are almost 200 miles of bicycle lanes in the city, and 40 per cent of its 5.5 million inhabitants cycle to work. The city has evolved cyclist-friendly policies, such as the Green Wave – a sequence of favourable traffic signals for cyclists at rush hour.
Melbourne is one of Gehl's most significant successes. From 1994 to 2004, he studied the city and, working with Professor Rob Adams at the city government, introduced major changes to the city's public spaces. Gehl recommended promoting the city's café culture, improving the waterfront area, opening up the historic laneways to pedestrians and adding more urban plazas. After a decade of work, there were 275 per cent more cafés and 71 per cent more people-oriented spaces. Wider, lighter walkways, lined with 3,000 more trees, enticed 39 per cent more daytime pedestrian traffic and 98 per cent more at night. Of course, the city expanded during this time, but more people also returned to live in the inner city (to almost 10 times more apartments). Once a classic doughnut-shaped modern city, in which the centre empties at night as workers return to the suburbs, Melbourne is now regularly rated one of the most liveable cities in the world.One point that comes up is that, while in the Anglosphere, cycling is a purer-than-thou subculture with its own uniforms and ideological machismo, in Denmark, it is completely mainstream and without pretention:
In Britain we have been conditioned to believe that cycling is something that can be done only in special places while wearing specialist safety equipment and clothing. Yet here were men, women and children cycling to work or school, looking stylish and feeling safe. It was cycling as transport, not sport.
He's no fan of the culture of hardcore cyclists that has evolved in the UK. "Once you get past the cycle subculture and make it mainstream, when you have grandmothers picking up their grandchildren from school on bikes, the aggressive riders become less noticeable. You still get people running red lights here but you just don't notice them." And he believes Critical Mass-style activism is counter-productive: "Is this selling cycling to drivers? No."
Getting around Copenhagen has been simplified over the past 30 years, from insurance (stolen bikes are registered by the police and cheques are sent out within a week) to gear. "There are a lot of companies selling 'cycling clothes' in the UK. Is it overcomplicating it, as the sports industry has for 40 years? I think it might be. Open your closet, it's full of cycling clothes. Anything you can walk in, you can cycle in. Let's move on."Of course, the "your closet is full of cycling clothes" line only works when you have Copenhagen-style cycle paths separated from motor traffic. In Britain, where cyclists have to contend with cars, especially in the winter when it gets dark early, high-visibility clothing is a must.
Melbourne is set to host the biggest ever atheist convention next March, which will feature speakers including Richard Dawkins (referred to, somewhat facetiously, as the "High-priest of atheism" in the article's headline), Peter Singer and A.C. Grayling, as well as Australian commentators (mostly from the media) such as Robyn Williams and Phillip Adams.
Apparently, all is not well in Melbourne; the World's More-Or-Less Most Livable City is reportedly in the middle of an epidemic of brutal, random violence:
Neurosurgeon Professor Andrew Kaye says: "We have a really serious problem. The viciousness of these attacks is really frightening." He sees new assault victims admitted with significant brain injuries at least twice a week and patients with less serious damage daily. But he says even the so-called less serious assaults can leave the victims with long-term and often permanent disabilities
According to Professor Kaye, the assaults are not just alcohol-related. "We see people who have been attacked with clubs, knives and screwdrivers or repeatedly kicked until they are unconscious. This is a huge issue."The increase in violence seems to be manifesting itself in a number of disparate phenomena; violent street robberies, bashings for thrills, and gangs of teenagers targetting teenage parties to crash are some of them. Nobody's clear as to why there has been an increase in violence now, but some speculate that it could have to do with changing tastes in social pharmacology:
One suggests the trend has altered from young people popping party pills and drinking water to mixing amphetamine-based drugs, which heighten aggression, with large amounts of alcohol, which limit inhibitions.See also: this Mess+Noise discussion thread, which is full of anecdotes of encounters with violence. By the sheer volume of reports, Melbourne sounds like a more dangerous place than London these days.
It has been a long time coming (I was still living in Melbourne when it was announced, more than five years ago), but Melbourne post-punk cult film Dogs In Space is finally seeing a DVD release. The 2-disc edition, with extensive commentaries, videos and a fly-on-the-wall making-of documentary made at the same time, ships on 28 August. JB HiFi have a pre-order page here.
Various Australian states are selling their wares in London, with the New South Wales government constructing a somewhat ridiculous simulacrum of Bondi Beach on the south bank of the Thames, and South Australia sticking to a more sensible wine tasting. It's not clear what Victoria's entry, showcasing the "sights and sounds of Melbourne" will be like; perhaps they built a laneway somewhere, covered it with stencil art, set up a street café (staffed by authentic Melburnian baristas flown in from Carlton or Fitzroy) and set up a tram line running back and forth outside it?
The Economist Intelligence Unit has published its annual list of the world's most liveable cities (presumably behind a billgate somewhere); the top 3 are Vancouver (again), Vienna and Melbourne. London failed to make the top 50, appearing at #51, having been beaten by Manchester at #46. Australia, New Zealand and Canada all did well; Toronto was #4, and Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane are all in the top 20; the US's most liveable city is apparently Pittsburgh, at #29.
The least livable city this year is Harare, in Zimbabwe, though it's not clear whether other candidates (such as, say, Mogadishu or Pyongyang) managed to beat it, or didn't even make the chart.
The BBC has an article about a French dance craze named Tecktonik, which appears to break new boundaries in the commercialisation, monetisation and wholesale stripmining of subcultural fashions. Tecktonik appears to be a local evolution of the electro/new-rave/fluoro meme complex, born among predominantly white middle-class Parisian kids and hard-partying, style-conscious young professionals. Much like the French language (and unlike Anglo-Saxon equivalents), it has an official, codified repertoire of moves. Oh, and Tecktonik's creators (who include a Merrill Lynch investment banker) had the foresight to trademark their creation, and the arguable judgment to milk the licensing for all it's worth:
Switch on the television and you'll see kids dancing Tecktonik in adverts for mobile phones. Go to the supermarket and you'll find Tecktonik playstation games and Tecktonik school bags. And the Tecktonik company opened its first boutique and hair salon in Paris in November.Of course, not everyone's happy with their subculture becoming a mass-market commodity. After all, coolness is what economists call a positional good (i.e., its value depends on its scarcity; if everyone's into something, it loses its value as a signifier of coolness; which is OK if you're talking about something with other, more practical, measures of utility, but trendy dance styles don't generally fall into this category).
"When you're young, you dance to tell your parents 'I'm a free man! I've got my sexuality, my desires and they aren't yours!' You dance to express your freedom! But, here, it's not this kind of dance. Because it's a commercial dance. It's a safe dance. No sex, no drugs, no alcohol… It's anti-rock 'n' roll! It's a Sarkozy dance!"Curiously, the article closes with this paragraph:
Down at that Tecktonik Killer night, one of the star Tecktonik dancers, Lili Azian, tells me the movement has got so commercial she just never buys anything with the Tecktonik label. And now, in any case, she prefers a new dance - the Melbourne Shuffle.The Melbourne Shuffle? I'm guessing they're not talking about the Melbourne in Florida or Derbyshire here, but rather of the Stockholm of the southern hemisphere. Which brings to mind the question of what the Melbourne shuffle is, and whom they got the idea from. (Architecture In Helsinki? Midnight Juggernauts? Corey Worthington? Some random bunch of coolsie electro kids on YouTube?)
Melbourne's community radio station 3RRR now has a new website. The new site appears to look somewhat more polished than the previous one, both visually and in terms of the design. (The URLs, for one, are clean, rather than being PHP scripts with CGI arguments tacked onto the end.)
The playlists linked from the program guide now go all the way back to the dawn of time (or 2004, in any case). (They had those playlists online in the old site, but the only way to get at them was to manually try different numbers in the aforementioned CGI arguments; here, they're indexed in nicely paginated indices going as far back as necessary.) Here is the first International Pop Underground playlist they posted online; it's interesting to note that Carew played My Favorite's Homeless Club Kids and various Stephin Merritt-related projects that week.
Also, RRR's website will have a subscribers-only section, which will apparently include expanded audio archives. Not sure what exactly this will entail, or indeed what Australian copyright law will allow.
In the wake of Starbucks' Napoleonically epic retreat from Australia, The (Melbourne) Age has a piece on Melbourne's indomitable coffee culture, which apparently goes back long before mass Italian immigration in the 1950s and the resulting espresso boom:
In his entries on coffee and coffee palaces in the Encyclopedia of Melbourne, [historian Andrew Brown-May] retells the beginnings of Melbourne's coffee culture, traced back to the street stalls of the 1850s that offered caffeine hits to rushed city workers, then re-emerging as continental coffee houses in the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s.
By the 1950s, the influx of Italian migrants had helped redefine coffee for Melbourne once again, serving it up in espresso cups instead of percolators. Yet two of the key proponents of the espresso bar were father and son team Harry and Peter Bancroft, Anglo-Australians who in 1953 secured the rights to manufacture Gaggia coffee machines and set up a cafe in St Kilda.I didn't know that they actually made Gaggia machines in Australia. You learn something new every day.
The article then points out that narratives framing the vanquishment of Starbucks in simple plucky-Aussies-vs.-Yankee-imperialists terms aren't entirely accurate; rather, it's a case of Starbucks sowing the seeds of their own defeat by not acknowledging that the café-culture experience they were trading on is essentially one of differentiation from the mainstream, and that a Starbucks in every suburban shopping mall destroyed a lot of the cachet behind the brand; it's the "nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded" phenomenon that poisons cultural trends (from musical genres to fashions—think the trucker hat, the "Hoxton fin" haircut, or anything labelled "indie" in the UK) as soon as they become successful.
Writing in The Christian Science Monitor, Temple University historian Bryant Smith argues that when Starbucks began, it offered Americans an entree into a status-filled world with is own language of ventis, grandes, Tazo teas and special-blend coffees, all stamped with the company's distinctive green logo.
But by becoming too common — Starbucks first opened in Australia in 2000 and expanded to 84 stores in eight years — the company "violated the economic principles of cultural scarcity", Smith says.One cause, of course, doesn't exclude the others. Starbucks never became the all-conquering juggernaut in Australia it became elsewhere, due to the sophisticated local coffee culture, and while its recent misfortune has been global, it would have hit particularly hard in a relatively inhospitable market such as Australia.
Pitchfork has a new interview with Jens Lekman, in which he talks about listening to the Sly Hats, plans to move to Melbourne (where he has more friends than in Gothenburg), the Arthur Russell covers EP he has put together, and incurring the wrath of the South Swedish Elvis Society:
There's one song with Frida [Hyvönen] that is a song that we wrote together in Finnish that I think is coming out sometime. I played it for a lot of people. It almost made it onto the album, actually. I think it would have actually fit pretty good on the album. But we just took the four phrases that we knew in Finnish-- she knew two phrases, I knew two phrases-- and we just wrote them down and realized, "Oh, this would actually make a really great song." And it starts off, like, I sing, "I love you," and she sings, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." And I repeat, "I love you," and she says, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." And then the chorus goes, "Wonderful, cutie-pie, wonderful." And that's the whole song, but it's a really beautiful song. Yeah, you will love it. I think you will really like it.
So I was thinking of just trying to settle down. I think I need a new home and a new place and to see how that place and home and how the people who live there will influence my music. I guess that will be Melbourne, if I don't find something else before that. It's going to be interesting.
No, I don't have a girlfriend. No, I don't. I haven't had a relationship in years, actually. But yeah, I'm still looking. It's kind of nice to be looking for a home at the same time. And I really think I need to find a home. I don't know if that includes a girlfriend or not, but first I need to find a home, definitely. Because I felt pretty homeless in the last couple of years, and I never felt at home here in Kortedala. So it's time to find someplace where I feel like it's home.
There is more support for an underground railway line in Melbourne, with public transport operators Metlink and Connex throwing their weight behind such a proposal. (Though, in the latter case, I wonder whether this isn't merely to serve as a distraction from the appalling state of the system as managed by them:)
The call comes after a drop in the number of cars travelling to the CBD. City of Melbourne figures show public transport is the preferred means of travel, accounting for 67 per cent of all journeys in 2006, compared with 36 per cent in 1999.
Professor Currie said he was amazed the Government was still examining new road tunnels to the city. "Public transport dominates access to the city and the biggest single problem we've got is that there's not enough capacity on our railways," he said.The proposed link would run from Footscray, through Parkville and under Melbourne University, and under the CBD to South Yarra, and look something like this:
If they took this route, they could have it cross existing lines, with interchanges with the Broadmeadows and Upfield lines and the City Loop.
Though I'm wondering if they didn't miss a trick by not having it go east from Melbourne University, under Fitzroy and Collingwood, interchanging with the Epping and Hurstbridge lines at Victoria Park, and emerging on the median of the Eastern Freeway, where it becomes the long-promised Doncaster line (immediately taking more cars off the road):
It seems to be the season for blue-sky speculation about new railway lines in Melbourne again; The Age has published vague details of a leaked state government report listing possible new and reopened railway lines:
Under the blueprint, tracks might connect Chadstone shopping centre to the Dandenong and Glen Waverley lines and trains could run to Rowville and Monash University.
Options also include a north-south rail tunnel from Melbourne University to Windsor and the Melbourne Airport rail link.Ah yes, the Melbourne Underground/Subway. Though why have it terminate at Melbourne University? Wouldn't it make more sense to have it veer eastward, under the latte-land of Fitzroy and Alexandra Parade, before emerging in the middle of the Eastern Freeway and becoming the mythical Doncaster railway line (which, incidentally, isn't mentioned in the article)?
There's more in it, though; the authors speculate on the possibility of reopening lines including the Outer Circle line (from Fairfield to Oakleigh via Kew, Camberwell and Malvern East; this could perhaps end up being the Chadstone rail link mentioned), a railway line going to Monash University in Clayton, and reopening the truncated ends of existing lines, such as Lilydale to Healesville and Frankston to Mornington.
Mind you, the report doesn't discuss funding, and appears to be nothing more than a catalogue of rights-of-way along which it would be possible, should a need arise, to lay tracks and run rail services. Whether we'll ever see trains running cheerfully through the ruins of the VicRoads headquarters in Kew, or, for that matter, to Doncaster or Monash University, is an entirely different question.
The NSW president of the Australian Hotels Association has some choice words to say about the differences between Melbourne and Sydney:
"Melbourne is Melbourne. Sydney has a different outlook," said Mr Thorpe, a fierce critic of the City of Sydney's plans to make it easier for hole-in-the-wall bars to gain permission for extended trading. "We aren't barbarians, but we don't want to sit in a hole and drink chardonnay and read a book."
"People can sit down, talk about history, chew the fat and gaze into each others eyes and all this sort of baloney but it's pie in the sky stuff," he said. "That's not what Sydney wants."
Sydneysiders - fit, outdoorsy types who enjoy the fresh air - are more likely to want alfresco drinking, dining and dancing, he says.
"There's a lot more entertainment than sitting there chatting. I think our culture is a little different than Melbourne because they haven't got this magnificent harbour and the Opera House. No wonder they want to sit in a hole in the wall," he said.
She's from Melbourne, she's 24, she sometimes works in a bar. Her name is Evelyn Morris and she calls herself Pikelet, and although she hits the drums for two experimental hardcore bands, her debut solo record is the stuff of charmingly arcane and cryptically beautiful pop.
She sings her own harmonies; she loops and layers her songs into stunningly melodic vignettes; she writes songs about eating bugs in her sleep.
"When I was little, my older brother would tell me stories that would scare me," she says, pauses, laughs a little. "He was like, 'Over a person's life they swallow thousands of spiders' and I was like, 'What!' just freaking out.You can hear some samples of Pikelet's work on her MySpace page. Her self-titled album is out now in Australia, and should be in all decent record shops; those outside of Australia who want to order it can get a copy from the likes of Red Eye. Pikelet will be playing a gig in London on the 15th of July, at the Enterprise in Chalk Farm.
The Age has an article about how, thanks to some two decades of thoughtful urban planning, Melbourne has advanced ahead of Sydney in terms of creative culture:
Melburnians had gained more public open space and access to waterfront lost for decades and, since 1991, thousands had been to encouraged to live in the "central activities district", creating demand for bars, restaurants and footpath cafes. Melbourne's laneways had been protected through height regulations and, between 1983 and 2004, active arcade frontage had increased from 300 metres to 3 kilometres, Adams said. And only bluestone paving is now allowed in the city.
The City of Melbourne had also invested in public art to improve the public domain, determined by an independent artists' panel.
The Sydney envy at hearing of Melbourne's leadership in city planning, architecture and art spilled into newsprint. Sydney University adjunct associate professor of architecture Elizabeth Farrelly lamented Sydney's developers had erased a plethora of laneways and back streets with skyscrapers, while much of Sydney's character had been "Botoxed away".
Farrelly declared that the biggest difference between the two cities is Sydney's "sheer cultural timidity - from fashion to cafes and from public art to architecture - compared with Melbourne's cultural courage".A big part of the difference is in affordability, with Sydney's property prices, cost of living (Sydney is the fifth most "severely unaffordable" city in the affluent English-speaking countries, while Melbourne is the 23rd) and hypercompetitive, status-obsessed culture choking local creativity, putting pressure on artists to get a real job to keep up or otherwise leave for somewhere less sharky.
Of course, affluenza is hitting Melbourne as well; property prices are skyrocketing, and the young creative people who filled up the inner cities are being displaced further and further out, making room for moneyed yuppies with a taste for boutique lifestyles. Perhaps one of these days we will find that Springvale or Sunshine has become Melbourne's Neukölln, sufficiently populated with thrifty creatives and bohemians to have a vibrant local culture but insufficiently "funkified" (in the words of estate agents) to have attracted the yuppies?
A blog calling itself Psychotic Leisure Music has posted MP3 copies of the ultra-rare Japanese CD release of the Dogs In Space soundtrack. The Japanese version is equivalent to the "PG-rated" vinyl release, in that the songs aren't overdubbed with snippets of film dialogue.
Aleks And The Ramps' first full-length, Pisces Vs. Aquarius, does have its share of eccentric moments. "No Se Si Es Amor" is a cover of Roxette's 1990 chart hit "It Must Have Been Love", sung in Spanish and backed by primitive electronic blips and beeps and Aleks' banjo. Other song titles include "Aminals" and "Diary Of A Lizard Man". But there are also threads of a much darker lyrical obsession woven throughout. Often, they appear as dialogues, either between two people or a conflicted memory, which travel along the entanglements of violence and sexual politics in neatly rhyming couplets.
In the story told by one track, "Brain", two cripples hobble aboard a bus and share a flashback to a car accident. The lyrics are written as two individual memories which spool together into a kind of disjointed conversation. "If you were in pain, I couldn't tell," laments Aleks in deadpan character. "I was dealing with a punctured lung." The voice which replies is so playful and effortlessly gorgeous that it's difficult not to become entranced by the contrast. "Your gasping reminded me of the first time we made love," sings Janita, member of The Ramps and Aleks's real-life lover.I have Pisces Vs. Aquarius, and can vouch for it being as good as the article suggests. With a mordant wit and a deadpan voice, Aleks touches on themes such as prison escapes ("123456 (pardon us)"), the state of being a corpse ("Rigor Mortis"), and paranoid schizophrenia ("They're Recording Everything We Say"), whilst jumping between genres, combining banjos, electronic beats and crunchy metal riffs, and yet somehow manages to remain highly listenable. And the Roxette cover is genius.
According to the article, though, not all is well in the Melbourne live music scene, with commercial pressures pushing out the sort of experimental leftfield music in favour of a more commercially viable aggressive normality:
Since then, the band has recorded an album, performed a live-to-air on Melbourne radio station PBS and accrued a reasonable amount of interest. But when Aleks tried to book a venue for the launch of "They're Recording Everything We Say", the first single from Pisces Vs. Aquarius, he found it a difficult task. Many of the smaller inner-city venues he had frequented had closed -- including Good Morning Captain, where the first incarnation of the band had played its first and only gig -- and those that were left were either too small to fit five animated musicians, or wanted to play hard-ball on the door figures.
No doubt it is difficult for larger, well-maintained rooms like the East Brunswick to risk booking young or experimental bands in a headline slot, while venues in their shadow - bleeding door numbers - have become more fastidious about ensuring each night's profitability. The result can be a closed door for bands that are untested or outside the current status quo. Whether due to fatigue or necessity, the problem is reflected in the habits of venues' music directors.
Aleks: "A lot of bookers don't actually watch the bands. It's really weird that the type of people who are put in these positions are the type of people that don't bother watching music. I think they just sit in their office in this weird little bubble browsing MySpace, judging who are the best and biggest bands based on how many friends they've got."
Mess+Noise has a short piece on local band Ninetynine, which mentions their future plans and their surprising popularity in Finland:
Having been back in Melbourne for three months now, waiting for the album to be reissued, Ninetynine have been rehearsing, writing new material (some of which will be heard on their upcoming dates) and commissioning a series of low-budget videos for album tracks with the simple proviso that the band don't have to appear in them.It's good to hear that they're working on new material.
I just watched Sticky Carpet, a recent (2006) documentary on the Melbourne music scene. It was quite interesting, interviewing musicians and scene figures about various aspects of it, such as the interplay between the mainstream and the alternative (most of them were very anti-mainstream), art and commercialism (the consensus was that when money becomes a consideration, the range of allowable creative decisions narrows severely), Melbourne's profusion of band venues and community radio stations, and even the theory that Melbourne's preeminence in the Australian music scene has to do with the cold winter days encouraging musicians to go indoors and rehearse.
Sticky Carpet's main flaw was its fairly heavy
I was surprised to find that the frontman of Eddy Current Suppression Ring wasn't wearing a blue singlet or sporting a rat's tail mullet. I sort of placed them as part of a Bodgie revival.
Another interesting thing that was said in the documentary: Tony Biggs (who presents the talk-radio segment on 3RRR) made the claim that the fact that 99% of commercial music consists of love songs might contribute to depression and mental illness, as such songs instill unreasonably optimistic expectations in listeners.
Sticky Carpet, a recent documentary on Melbourne's independent music scene, is coming out on DVD on 8 March 2007, and will feature over an hour of bonus material, including live footage and film clips:
This raw and vital film collects interviews from musicians currently leading the charge in Melbourne's underground. Not restricted to any one genre the film brings together everyone from sound explorers Robin Fox and Rod Cooper to and Melbourne scene stalwarts like Ross Knight (Cosmic Psychos), Bruce Milne (founder of Au-Go-Go Records, In-Fidelity Records) and Roland S. Howard (Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party).
Bands included on the documentary: The Stabs, HTRK, My Disco, Colditz Glider, The Birthday Party, Baseball, Group Seizure, True Radical Miracle, Cockfight Shootout, Nation Blue, The Sinking Citizenship, Agents of Abhorrence, Civil Dissent, ABC Weapons, Pisschrist, The Dacios, The Sailors, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Depression, Trash 'n' Chaos, Batrider, Ninetynine, The Stabs, The Assassination Collective, Digger and the Pussycats, The Losers, Bored!It looks like a DVD well worth getting.
The river has a right side and a wrong side... Apparently Apple's flagship store in Melbourne is going to be in South Yarra, in the Paris (Hilton) end of Melbourne. More precisely, the glass cube will be part of a shopping complex on the former Fun Factory site at the corner of Chapel Street and Toorak Road, where the Beautiful People play.
I wonder whether Apple will attempt to fit in with local community values by selling MacBooks encrusted with Swarovski crystals.
Some commuters in Melbourne, frustrated with Connex' mismanagement of the railway network and the resulting decline in service quality and reliability, have called a one-day fare strike on the first of March. Commuters are being urged not to buy or validate tickets on this day.
Secret plans by the Victorian government to build a 15-kilometre underground railway line under Melbourne. The line would link North Melbourne and Caulfield, and take two of the sets of lines that currently go through the loop. It looks like the loop would be left servicing the Burnley and Clifton Hill lines, and possibly the Sandringham line, and Richmond and South Yarra stations would become a lot less busy, losing a few now redundant platforms.
Internal emails show the option favoured by the Department of Infrastructure was for a 15-kilometre underground rail line linking North Melbourne and Caulfield stations, which would include new subway stations at Royal Parade (intersection of Royal Parade and Flemington Road, servicing the University Of Melbourne), Melbourne Central (upgrade of existing station), Flinders Street (underground extension to the train station), and Domain (intersection of Domain and St Kilda roads).The whole exercise is said to cost only AUD2bn, which sounds implausibly cheap for 15 kilometres of tunnel. Public transport advocates are not impressed, though, and assert that the money could be better spent extending the railway network to car-dependent areas like Doncaster, and finally running a railway line down that invitingly wide median strip along the Eastern Freeway.
If this scheme goes ahead, though, it looks quite plausible to extend it to the Doncaster line. Given that it goes from North Melbourne station to the corner of Royal Parade and Flemington Road and then down Swanston Street, it would execute a pretty tight S-shaped turn under North Melbourne, and be heading east at Royal Parade. Thence, it would be fairly simple to have a branch line going straight east, under Carlton (possibly with a station on Lygon Street), Fitzroy (with a possible station near Brunswick or Smith Street) and Collingwood, before emerging right in the middle of the freeway. Whether any government would stump up the money (especially when car-dependent swinging electorates want more freeways and cheaper petrol) is another question.
Meanwhile, British transport consultant Sir Rod Eddington, who has been contracted to do a study on Melbourne's transport needs, has said that Melbourne's transport system is still "a work in progress". Then again, couldn't the same thing be said about London's (at least by Ken Livingstone)?
During my visit to Melbourne, I videotaped a few gigs. Now (time and computer facilities permitting), I'm going through the tapes and will be putting a few choice fragments on YouTube (with permission of the performers, of course).
The first fragment: Light Music Club, "Music for the Tiny Hours", live at Spoon, Brunswick:
Apologies for the shaky camerawork/less than ideal video quality.
I am writing this entry in Melbourne, having returned for a visit, my first in one and a half years.
A few days ago, I caught a flight from London. This time, I eschewed the usual Qantas/British Airways and flew with Emirates, going via Dubai and (briefly) Singapore. I'll probably fly with them again; the experience was, for the most part, very good. The food and service were of quite high standards, but most impressive was the ICE entertainment system on the London-Dubai leg of the flight. It had over 500 channels, including on-demand movies (all of them pausable/rewindable; something which makes a big difference when the staff come around to serve drinks), a pretty large library of music, and a selection of video games, some of which are playable against other passengers. (The trivia game is particularly suited to this, even if the questions are a bit US-centric.) The selection of music is worthy of note; the channels included the usual pop, alternative, classical, jazz and chill-out, along with an extensive selection of world music (J-Pop and K-Pop, European chart hits, classical and contemporary Arabic music and Bollywood-style music), a selection of "classic albums", and a repository of every UK number one hit since the 1950s. As well as this, there were two video channels displaying the view from two external cameras at the front of the plane, one looking forward and the other looking down. This was quite interesting (especially when landing), even though the cameras didn't perform very well after dark.
The entire system seemed to be implemented on the same operating system as the entertainment systems used on Qantas and BA flights; for example, the real-time flight map seemed to be identical, except for the languages being English and Arabic, and Emirates having the somewhat annoying habit of interspersing promotional slides between map slides. This system appears to consist, from what I can determine, of a central computer connected to one or another type of video source (a rack of old-fashioned videotape players on older aircraft or a hard-disk-based system on newer ones) and a few hundred terminals consisting of NTSC monitors and controls. Unfortunately, the ICE entertainment system has not been rolled out across all aircraft, and so 2/3 of the trip (i.e., everything from Dubai onward) only had the old system, consisting of several non-interactive video and audio channels.
I managed to see a few films on the flight: I caught Thank You For Smoking (a cynical US indie film about a tobacco lobbyist; somewhat similar in tone to Wag The Dog), and The Illusionist (a thriller about an illusionist involved with the rather nasty Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince's fiancee; it was a nice mood piece, though the details of his art were treated as an opaque plot device and not elaborated upon). Towards the end of the journey, I also saw and episide of Derren Brown's show and most of Disney/Pixar animation Finding Nemo, confirming that Andrew Bolt was on crack when he wrote about it being leftist propaganda.
The only downside to the flight was the fact that, from Dubai onward, I was seated next to a large woman who was in the habit of surreptitiously lifting the armrests and spilling over into her neighbours' seats. Such, I suppose, are the travails of not being fabulously wealthy and able to afford to fly business class.
As for Melbourne, it seems to be still here, largely unchanged. For one, I am relieved to see that the Giuliani-style sanitisation of the CBD seems to be largely a myth, at least judging by the abundance of stencil art in various laneways. Either that or they dropped the policy after the Commonwealth Games were out of the way.
Last Friday was the 30th anniversary of Melbourne community radio station RRR's first broadcast. In those 30 years, it has escaped death several times, locked horns with critics and censors, and (along with other community station PBS) nurtured Melbourne's unique music scene. (If you're wondering what Melbourne would have been like without community radio, look at Sydney in the decade or so after 2JJ was ripped out of its community and made into a deracinated national "yoof" broadcaster, cutting off the city's live music scene from its fan base.) The Age has an article about the history of RRR:
The station's evolution into an example beloved of politicians boasting about Melbourne as Australia's cultural capital is ironic, given that for many years it had to fight for survival in an environment unsympathetic to its more outre tendencies.
In an attempt to reduce "accidental" broadcast of unsound material, white nail polish was used to paint over questionable tracks in the station record library, but use of the word "f--k" proved difficult to eradicate when popular culture had embraced it.
Some details are lost to history - such as whether the station went off air for a few hours each afternoon in its early days to let the ancient transmitter cool down or to let the RMIT electrical engineering students have a go. One thing that won't be forgotten is the massive public support that enabled Triple R to narrowly escape one of several death sentences when in 1981 the board voted to close it down, before agreeing to give staff and volunteers five weeks to raise $50,000.Nowadays, RRR's desperate struggles for survival are largely in the past; the station now owns its new premises, and, the article says, has attained "the veneer of middle-aged stability". The programmes still have the same feel of passionate amateurism they have had for as long as I've been listening (since the 1990s). As for political controversy, I suspect that, as Australia's commercial media become increasingly concentrated and dumbed-down and government-funded media become more timid and/or propagandistic, more attention (both sympathetic and hostile) will focus on stations like RRR, and there may be more battles ahead.
There is now a book on the history of RRR, titled Radio City, by Mark Phillips. It is available from the station.
I heard this morning on 3RRR (to which I listen via web streaming) that the Westgarth Cinema, the lush art-deco cinema in Northcote, has now passed into the hands of the Palace cinema group (who also run a similarly opulent arthouse cinema in St Kilda), who have refurbished and reopened it.
This sounds like good news. I remember when the Westgarth was the Valhalla (or "the Val" in the local parlance). It played a lot of quirky arthouse and cult movies, and the stairwell was adorned by a model Viking longboat. Then the landlords who owned the site decided that they wanted a piece of the action, forced the tenants out and took over, replacing most of the quirky content with insipid American family movies and disnannies (where, presumably, the money was; after all, freaks and geeks will only bring in so much). They kept a few things (the occasional scifi/horror marathon and the Blues Brothers events), though this was more of an exception than a rule.
Anyway, it's good to hear that it's now run by someone with a good reputation for putting on interesting films. Let's hope that it lives up to its promise.
The house in Richmond in which cult Australian post-punk film Dogs In Space was filmed is up for auction this weekend. I wonder how much it will fetch, and whether its fame will put the final price up.
The Age has a profile of Boing Boing and Cory Doctorow, who, incidentally, is speaking in Melbourne on Tuesday:
It was Boing Boing that first noticed that "black people loot, white people find" groceries in the now-infamous captions of news photographs taken after hurricane Katrina.
"The greatest threat to an artist is obscurity, not piracy," says Doctorow, who has released three other novels on the internet. "All the people out there who didn't buy my books mainly did so because they hadn't heard of me, not because they could get it for free.
Apparently they're upgrading the Melbourne-Sydney XPT passenger rail service. I hadn't heard much about it for a while; I heard a rumour that it was to be scrapped because everybody was choosing, instead, to fly for half the price and 1/5 or so of the time. The last time I caught it (in December 2003), I recall that there were quite a few empty seats, and most of the patrons were elderly people, rural commuters and one rather drunk bikie.
The Victorian and NSW governments are investing A$35M into the XPT, which apparently buys a new lick of paint, new furnishing for all carriages, and better refreshment and toilet facilities. (And, given that there's nothing in the news report about it shaving a minute off the 11 or so hours that a one-way journey takes, that's probably a good thing.) I suspect that the upgrade won't include power points in seats/tables (as, say, Virgin Trains in the UK have), as pensioners and bikies in rural Australia generally don't carry laptops.
Anyway, it's good to hear that the XPT is not only still kicking around but actively being invested in. When the oil crunch comes and the cheap flights dry up, it'll undoubtedly come in handy.
In response to the Melbourne City Council's vandalism policy (interpret that how you will), a coalition of troublemakers has convened the Melbourne Graffiti Games:
In response to this, and the Victorian Governments decision to waste $1 million dollars of tax-payers money in setting up an anti-graffiti taskforce, GGOC have announced the commencement of the 2006 Graffiti Games. During the Graffiti Games, which begin next week and end in April 2006, the entire Central Business District has been declared a maximum tolerance zone open to street art of all forms.Unlike the elitist Commonwealth Games the Graffiti Games will be open to anyone with a spray-can and a good or bad idea. The entire population of Victoria, as well as interstate and international visitors, are encouraged to compete. Although all who take part, and the public at large, will be winners in this tournament the Graffiti Games Organising Committee will also be awarding Gold, Silver and Bronze medals to the most popular entrants in various categories.
These will include -This is a classically Australian response to heavy-handed authority, and anyone who says otherwise needs to read a copy of How To Make Trouble And Influence People.
- Most Elaborate Stencil Piece
- Funniest Slogan
- Largest Graffiti Piece
- Most Daring Placement
- Best Caricature of the Mayor or other City Of Melbourne Councillor
- Most Seditious Piece
(via "mike p")
In today's Grauniad, Banksy writes about the war on street art in Melbourne:
"The Melbourne scene is incredibly diverse," says Alison Young, head of the department of criminology at Melbourne University. "The range of artists includes people in their 40s, in their teens and a relatively large number of women." Young was commissioned by the city council to draw up a draft graffiti strategy last March in which she recommended tolerance zones be set up where street art and graffiti be allowed a small space within the city, where writers and artists would be at a lower risk of being arrested. "This was rejected by the city council, despite it generating lots of public support and despite evidence being presented that zero tolerance, for lots of reasons, wouldn't work."
Instead, the council doubled its anti-graffiti budget. "The clean-up is an imposition of a supposedly mainstream, or dominant, cultural view," says Young, "in denial of the diversity of cultural styles that actually exist within a city space."Evidence of Melbourne's stencil-art scene survives online in photographs on websites:
The street art destroyed in Melbourne will survive on graffiti's new best friend - the internet. The web has done wonders for graffiti; it perfectly reflects its transient nature, and graffiti is ludicrously overrepresented on its pages. The ability to photograph a street piece that may last for only a few days and bounce it round the world to an audience of millions has dramatically improved its currency. On the other hand, the internet is turning graffiti into an increasingly virtual pastime. It is now possible to achieve notoriety by painting elaborate pieces in secluded locations, without the associated risk of arrest that is usually attached. By posting photographs online you can become a significant graffiti writer from a town where none of your work is actually visible.Though, given that the Australian government has just banned a video game simulating the writing of graffiti, and is planning a national internet censorship firewall, how much would you want to bet that graffiti-related websites would be viewable unfiltered from within Australia?
And as Melbourne has been Giulianified into inoffensive blandness and approved commercial messages, due largely to the Commonwealth Marketing Exercise, er, Games, London (with a far bigger commercial extravaganza coming to its artist-infested East End in 2012) is likely to be next:
The precedent set by Melbourne does not bode well for London in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics. The games will be set in east London, where Hackney is one of the few remaining parts of the city where affordable studio space for artists still exists. After the warehouses have been flattened by compulsory purchase orders, the pots of grey paint will be opened and an area rich in street culture and frontier spirit will disappear. Factory doors whose flaked layers of Hammerite reveal history like the rings in a tree stump will be thrown on the fire. Disused cranes perched on top of foundries like skeletal crows will be torn down. Everything will be replaced by a cardboard-partitioned village perched on a pile of cheap laminate flooring. And if you think the graffiti will be removed so it can be replaced by vistas of clean urban space, think again. Every meaningful spot will be clogged with giant billboards by the likes of McDonald's encouraging you to get fit by staying at home and watching the games on TV.
The makers of the "Tube" map viewer for Palm handhelds* have released an updated map of Melbourne, partly in time for that big sporting event they've got there:
Melbourne, home to the 2006 Commonwealth Games, is a city of world-class events, including: a non-stop program of film and food festivals, renowned dining, major art exhibitions and musical extravaganzas.They've now padded it out a bit more, adding trams, and making it a bit more useful. (Before it used to be just Melbourne's rather minimalistic railway network, limiting its utility to tourists who are entirely unfamiliar with the city.) Still, without actual street maps (which their packages for some other cities, like London, Amsterdam and New York, have), it's not quite as indispensable as the editions for those cities.
Those wanting street maps of Melbourne on their handheld can make do with a JPEG viewer and scans of the 1966 Melway, which should be mostly accurate for the inner suburbs, give or take a few drive-in theatres and the odd freeway.
* that's "the map viewer named Tube", not "the program for viewing London Underground maps"
Melbourne/Brisbane twee-krautpop outfit Minimum Chips have released a video to their song Goodbye, from their most recent album, Kitchen Tea Thankyou. Filmed in oversaturated Super 8, it involves the band members packing into an old turquoise Toyota and going for a picnic in the park, and goes quite well with their music. There's a streaming Flash version on YouTube here, and Spiked Candy has put up a downloadable version here.
Apparently Minimum Chips are going on indefinite hiatus, as frontwoman Nicole is having a baby; which could mean no more Minimum Chips, or just a longer than usual wait for the next EP. However, they're not leaving fans empty-handed; they have posted (128kbps) MP3s of their entire back-catalogue, including their recent album Kitchen Tea Thankyou, on their discography page.
The Victorian state government is set to announce plans to expand Melbourne's struggling public transport service, including extending the Epping line to
Ongar South Morang and extending suburban bus services to run in the evenings and on Sundays. A more cynical soul than Your Humble Narrator would speculate that there's an election coming up, and that, after having served their electoral purpose, much of the plans are going to disappear to the same graveyard of abandoned public transport policies as the Doncaster railway line, the Monash University/Rowville rail link, and real crackpot pie-in-the-sky ideas such as the underground line linking St Kilda to Brunswick St. or wherever that was.
What's that? There is an election coming up? You don't say...
If, by some miracle, it does actually happen. it'll be a decent start, though no substitute for sustained investment in public transport. Bringing Melbourne's system (outside of the very centre) up to scratch would require Ken Livingstone-esque levels of spending.
The Melbourne City Council is planning to discourage the use of cars in the CBD. It's not quite a London-style congestion charge, but will involve lowering speed limits, reclaiming street space for pedestrians and cyclists, giving cheaper public transport fares to residents who give up parking permits and, umm, resisting moves to ease the flow of traffic into the city centre. It also will only cover the 2 square kilometres that comprise the central business district, and depends on the state government increasing public transport funding, which it has shown no signs of doing.
So, if this plan goes ahead, two things could happen:
- People abandon driving into the city centre in favour of public transport; as pressure on the city's trams and City Loop increase, the government increases funding and expands the system to cope
- People abandon driving into the city centre. Overcrowded trams and trains struggle to cope. Public transport operators rip out seats, creating a standing-only transport system to accommodate the crowds. The government hems and haws over the question of increasing funding, eventually doing little or nothing. After mass public dissatisfaction, the city council reverses the plan, removes bike/bus lanes, restores parking spaces and the car resumes its place as Melbourne's rightful king, and motorists can once more sit down in their oversized Toorak tractors as they nip down to David Jones.
A burglar was caught in the suburbs of Melbourne after it turned out that the house he had just fled from belonged to a well-known cartoonist. Bill "Weg" Green had seen the burglar and was able to draw an accurate, if perhaps unflattering, caricature of him which proved to the police that they had the right man:
"After we had a look at this gentleman in the back of the divvy van, we just couldn't believe how much of a likeness it was to the picture that Weg had drawn," Senior Constable Roche said. "If anyone ever says 'can I draw the offender', I'll be handing them a pencil pretty quickly."
Mr Green said he did not expect police to catch the thief so quickly but that his ability to remember faces in detail helped. "I have an affinity for faces and I can remember faces even hours after," he said.
The Melbourne City Council has declared war on the city's status as a stencil-art capital with their new zero-tolerance graffiti plan. Under the plan, building owners will be legally obliged to either remove graffiti (which includes aerosol art or stencil art) or put in applications for each individual piece to remain. And so, the city becomes a little more like Singapore or Giuliani's New York.
More wacky goings on on Melbourne's trains, as an unidentified woman broke into train public-address systems, and proceeded to describe her sexual fantasies about the drivers in explicit detail; this happened during peak hour, with hundreds of commuters hearing it, though no witnesses seem to have seen her. Police are at a loss to how she did it, though it is believed she actually got into a vacant train cabin. (I wonder whether this sort of thing is now covered under anti-terrorism legislation.)
(via bOING bOING)
Things I didn't know until today: apparently, David McClymont, the bass player from the seminal early-1980s Scottish indie band Orange Juice, wrote the Lonely Planet book on Melbourne. (Or so someone claims on last.fm)
The Age has an article on the difference between the Melbourne and Sydney live music scenes, and, in particular, on why Sydney lags behind Melbourne:
For Sydney, still, is a big international city which can host an extravagant Olympic Games and have massive designs on itself but can't yet sustain its own rock'n'roll culture. It's a scene strangled by bureaucratic red tape; rules and regulations have suffocated what once stood for rebellion. In the ultimate of ironies, a building which was once a classic old Sydney venue called the Stage Door Tavern, in the heart of the CBD, which hosted riotous gigs by the likes of Midnight Oil, is now the NSW Licensing Court - the very body which administers the deathly red tape.
The Camels have had airplay on Triple J, and on local station FBI (Free Broadcast Inc), which now has a permanent licence but is still only emerging. However, this doesn't add up to a skerrick of the favours they would have found at Melbourne's Triple R and 3PBS. In fact, Holt says the fact they've had four Triple J hits means nothing when they get to Melbourne because Melbourne doesn't need to listen to Triple J. And, in Melbourne, they would have played many, many more gigs here in their six years, to people more used to - and therefore more in tune with - live music.A lot of Sydney's live music malaise dates back to when their local radio station, 2JJ, was ripped out of the local community and remade into a deracinated national "yoof" station, depriving the local scene of one of its means of promoting gigs and venues. Though the influx of poker machines (the cane toads of live music) in the early 1990s and fact that local licensing laws are weighted heavily in favour of moneyed residents don't help either.
"Obviously Melbourne is the music capital," says Jamie Holt, "the music capital of Australia, one of the capitals of the world. The strength lies in size, as in the number of venues and all the different types of music that get played down there.
Tim Holt agrees: "Yeah," he says. "Positives and negatives. Like, Melbourne seems to breed genre-based bands just because there's so many of them. There's so many little cliques and genres, whereas up here in Sydney the bands tend to be cross-genre, I guess because we have to appeal to a wider crowd. Plus there's this real small section of the Melbourne scene that is really vocal about why Melbourne is better. You don't see that here. It's quite funny."
Midnight comes. Where to from here? There's one place nearby, Spectrum on Oxford Street, an open-late bar with good music. But that's about it round these parts, except for dance music clubs, which is not a viable option in rock.Though, in this age of fashion-punk, hasn't garage rock become the new house music for the beautiful people? Surely the Oxford St. clubs would let rock bands play, assuming, of course, they had a good stylist.
A newly released book has dubbed Melbourne the stencil art capital of the world:
London's street art guru Tristan Manco, whose books include Stencil Graffiti and Street Logos, vouches for the vigour of Melbourne's stencil art scene — with one qualification. "To take on the title of 'best stencil graffiti scene in the world', Melbourne would have to have a showdown with Buenos Aires in Argentina — the scene there has reached critical mass right now, with a fiery political and creative passion."This title could be short-lived, though, with the Melbourne City Council and Victorian government adopting a Giuliani-esque zero-tolerance policy towards graffiti, in order to sanitise Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games, as well as the new sedition laws allowing more severe penalties for some political statements (the one of Philip Ruddock's head with "Insert Bullet Here", for example). Though, as some say, the hard-line zero-tolerance approach could backfire, by replacing Melbourne's characteristic stencil art with ugly, mindless tagging
But the State Government and Melbourne City Council's hardline approach to graffiti will backfire, according to Smallman and the stencil artists and result in a proliferation of one of the most detested forms of graffiti — tagging, which can be done in five to 10 seconds.
To help alleviate Melbourne's transport woes, an academic specialist in public transport has called for a Melbourne "tube" line. The line would bypass the already congested above-ground transport infrastructure and would cut under the centre of Melbourne, from South Yarra in the south to Melbourne University in the inner north.
So, in short, what we currently have looks like:
Were Professor Currie's proposal to be implemented, it'd look something like:
Though why not stop there? There was, a while ago, a proposal to build an underground line from North Melbourne, across the inner north (including Melbourne University), through to the Eastern Freeway and along the centre of that to Doncaster and the suburbs. Were that to be resurrected and combined with this plan, it would start to look like:
Of course, the chances of seeing anything of this sort happen are not good.
A new report shows that Melbourne's public transport system is close to catastrophic collapse, due to underfunding and neglect in favour of cars. With the greatest length of roads per capita in Australia, the third lowest public transport patronage of fourteen cities surveyed, the lowest relative cost of driving to catching public transport, and the Bracks government's record spending on freeway building, Melbourne is changing from the most livable city to the most drivable city, a venerable Houston-under-the-Southern-Cross.
The man behind the new report and one of the world's top transport academics, Professor Peter Newman, warns the Government it will lose next year's election if it does not commit to a wide-ranging series of public transport projects.I thought the problem was precisely the opposite: that winning a state election depended on marginal outer-suburban electorates, where voters don't use public transport, have already invested in cars (one per household member of driving age, typically) and want good roads to take them where they need to go, rather than seeing their taxes squandered on trains and trams for a tiny elite of latte-sipping inner-city types.
Of course, from my experience, a big part of it is the fact that public transport in Melbourne is run to a beggars-can't-be-choosers philosophy. It is assumed that those who want a comfortable ride, rather than standing all the way nose-to-armpit with other strangers, have invested in cars and parking space, and so public transport is organised as the cheapest possible way of getting the poor wretches who can't afford cars from their housing commission flats to the dole office or call centre. Which is the only way that pulling the seats out of trams to make more standing room could make sense. And why those who can afford to avoid public transport do so, further exacerbating the vicious circle.
The privatisation programmes are also a problem, with a big chunk of public transport money being paid to the new owners of the system to keep them from packing up and leaving. Of course, being publicly-traded corporations, they have a duty to their shareholders to squeeze the most profit from the least investment.
There is more detail here about the present state of affairs; and here is a map of what Melbourne's train network could (and should) look like to meet demand. It includes all the old favourites (lines to Rowville via Monash University and to Doncaster down the Eastern Freeway), as well as two new branches from the Epping line. Mind you, adding all those branches to the various lines would probably necessitate either adding another layer to the City Loop or having trains stop frustratingly short of the loop. The idea floated in a previous report, of having a second line encircling the inner north, going from North Melbourne, via Fitzroy, to the Eastern Freeway and Doncaster, could be better.
Barry Humphries recently gave a speech about the Melbourne he grew up in, the bourgeois middle-class culture of the suburbs of the 1940s and 1950s, and the changing landmarks of the city:
Going into the city was always a ritual I enjoyed with my mother, for it meant hats, gloves, crumbed whiting at the Wattle Tea Rooms or creamed sweet corn (undoubtedly out of a tin) at Russell Collins. We would only shop in Collins Street. Bourke Street was mostly out of bounds except for Myers and Buckleys. The upper reaches of Bourke Street were thought common and there were second hand bookshops around the eastern market -- a paradise for germs.
The boat, an Italian one, sailed from Port Melbourne to Venice, but I already had a taste for things Italian. After all, I had been to university in Carlton where the first espresso machine had frothed up my cappuccino and I had already mingled with the sophisticated crowd who hung out at the Florentino Bistro eating Spaghetti ala Bolognese and drinking Chianti. I left when Harry Ballefonte was singing his famous Calypso island in the sun and only returned in the Beatles era.
It is a sign of progress that I have been asked to address you at all on the subject of my home town. I was long dismissed as a traitor, or worse, an expatriate merely because I recognised the intrinsic bittersweet comedy of suburban life.
Melbourne's Astor Theatre, the splendid, anachronistically grand art deco cinema in St. Kilda, is being sold. The Astor is famous for its decor, 70mm projector and combination of recent films, vintage classics and arthouse/cult movies, and its calendars are a fixture on the toilet doors of inner Melbourne. The owner hopes that the new owner will keep him on as a consultant to run it; though it may well go the way of the Valhalla in Westgarth, a former cult/arthouse cinema which now runs populist schmaltz like disnannies and romcoms, or else be turned into boutique lifestyle apartments or a designer shopping complex. If so, it will be a great loss for Melbourne.
A videotape believed to be from a known American al-Qaeda operative singles out Melbourne and Los Angeles for the next wave of mass-casualty attacks.
Melbourne's love affair with the car is on the rocks; as the price of petrol continues to rise, more and more Melburnians are taking to public transport. Unfortunately for them, the underdeveloped public transport system is having problems coping:
"Trains are overloaded, trams overloaded and stuck in traffic," said Graham Currie, chairman of public transport at Monash University. "We have a skeleton bus service with no service at all in some areas and times of day. How can people use public transport when there isn't any available?"
By the time the train pulled into Caulfield station there was barely room to squeeze another person on board. "People are practically sitting on each other some days," said one traveller.Experts have weighed in on what would be needed to get Melbourne's public transport up to scratch; suggestions range from the relatively mundane (i.e., ensuring that buses run until late and on weekends) to things like extending railway lines to car-dependent outer suburbs, extending trams (and adjusting the system so that they spend most of their time moving, rather than waiting picturesquely in traffic), a moratorium on freeways (which, if the age of cheap, abundant oil is coming to an end, makes sense) and even a London-style congestion charge (which I can't see happening any time soon; given the present lack of alternatives to cars, there'd be a massive electoral backlash).
Meanwhile, the state government's A$10bn super-tunnel project has been scrapped over criticism of the road tunnel/tollway portion of it. Hopefully the rail extension part will be resurrected in some form.
Having lived in London for a little over a year, and having access to the ubiquitous British broadband internet, Your Humble Narrator has recently been experimenting with tuning into 3RRR (an independent radio station in Melbourne), by means of its internet streaming facilities. I now have the means to more or less automatically spool various programmes to hard disk to listen to at a later time; technical details will be published here once the bugs are known to have been ironed out.
This evening, I listened to the most recent Local And/Or General, a weekly 2-hour showcase of new independent/unsigned/live music from Melbourne, for the first time since leaving Melbourne. It's good to hear some good Melbourne bands again. And there were some good things there.
In particular, they played two songs and an interview by a new project named Holidays On Ice, which sounded really good. Holidays On Ice are a project involving numerous Australian musicians, including Angie Hart of Frente!/Splendid and members of a few other bands. They have a new album titled Playing Boyfriends and Girlfriends, which sounds somewhere between Yo La Tengo and Saint Etienne, with bits of Stereolab and Architecture In Helsinki in the mixture as well. I'm probably going to order a copy.
And the first cracks appear in the Melbourne road-and-rail tunnel, with its creator saying that a tunnel would be a bad idea, and he only put it in because a town hall officer demanded it. It also emerges that such a tunnel would have to be funded by private investors, who would recoup funding through tolls, and, as such, would be unlikely to include public transport. So, if it goes ahead, it looks like being an expensive road-only tunnel to appease key outer-suburban voters until cheap oil runs out and we're all screwed.
It looks like Melbourne may finally get a public transport overhaul; a new A$10bn plan will put a road and rail tunnel between Doncaster and Deer Park, provide a road link between the Eastern Freeway and Western Ring Road, and build the long-awaited Doncaster train line, running from North Melbourne, via Melbourne University, and down the under-utilised middle of the Eastern Freeway.
Taken at face value, it's a good start; the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne are a public-transport vacuum, and the railway line is overdue; a rail link between North Melbourne, Carlton, Fitzroy and Abbotsford could also be handy. Hopefully, they'd provide an interchange between this and the Clifton Hill-bound lines. Then, perhaps, they can build over long-overdue urban rail lines, such as the one going to Rowville, with the link to Monash University that was promised in the 1960s when the site was selected.
I bet you, though, that when push comes to shove, the rail parts will be scrapped as "impractical", possibly to be replaced with half a dozen bus routes and a mobile-phone-based car-pooling registry or something, and only the road parts will get built. After all, the crucial swinging voters in the outer-suburban two-car households don't actually use public transport and don't want their tax money being wasted on such when it could be used to make their drive quicker and smoother.
The book is closed on another chapter of Melbourne music history, as Gaslight Records closes its doors. Gaslight has once been one of the places to get obscure imports, and was famed for its selection of local releases, its quirky calendars (which were second only to Astor Theatre calendars on the toilet doors of Melburnian hipsters) and its annual nude shopping days (a fine celebration of the Australian larrikin spirit); mind you, this is not entirely unexpected; Gaslight had been in decline since ChaosMusic (sort of an Australian cdnow.com) bought the shop in the late 1990s and its selection began to deteriorate somewhat; and the advent of internet commerce hadn't helped its import business either.
I remember Gaslight well; the last time I was there was in May, on my visit to Melbourne. Walking along Bourke St., I heard some particularly lovely post-rock ambience emanating from the shop; I stepped in, and ended up leaving with the new Laura album.
Google Maps now has satellite imagery (of varying resolution) and coastlines/borders for the entire world. While Australia is probably far from getting anything like street maps (in terms of potential AdWords revenue per square kilometre, for example, it'd probably trail some way behind Europe and Asia, making it a low priority, unless they just do the major cities or something), it does have maximum-resolution satellite maps. Here, for example, is a view of Brunswick St. and the Fitzroy Pool. And here is Merri Creek and the last house I lived. (Searches on "fitzroy north" draw a blank right now, though; apparently there are no places by this name in the UK or North America. There are quite a few Brunswick Streets in Britain, though.)
Interestingly enough, much of Carlton/Parkville is shrouded in cloud, and the resolution drops off sharply just east of the State Library (it appears that they only have high-res photos for a chunk of Melbourne from Hobsons Bay to Geelong and some adjoining chunks). This, however, is a lot better than Sydney appears to have fared; I believe that this is the coathanger at the highest resolution they've currently got it; though things get much clearer below that for some reason. Meanwhile, Brisbane gets some nice photos, as do Perth and Adelaide. Darwin and Hobart, however, are blurred. It also manages to find Ballarat, Wollongong, Cairns and Albury (though be sure to put in "australia", otherwise it'll ask whether you want the one in Hertfordshire or Surrey), but draws a blank at suburbs and smaller places.
The blanding of St Kilda, once the sleazy, dangerous and vital epicentre of Melbourne underground culture and now safely homogeneous chrome-plated playground of the affluent, continues apace; now local independent record shop Raoul Records is closing down at the end of the month. Which means one fewer reason to venture south of the Yarra. I guess the Porsche-owners of the new St Kilda don't care much for weird little post-punk/garage-rock/psychobilly/country-and-Preston bands.
I'm back in London, having spent the last week in Melbourne. I had little time to access the net, spending most of my visit catching up with people and attending to various matters, hence the lack of blogging.
Melbourne was still where it had always been. A few things had changed (there's a JB Hi-Fi in Bourke St. where a discount clothing shop had been, 3RRR have moved out to Brunswick, and new trains had replaced most, but not all, of the old Hitachi trains), but generally, it felt as if I hadn't been away. People I knew were still there, and many of the familiar landmarks were as I remembered them. Oh, and EMI are still releasing corrupt CDs there.
My flight to Melbourne was a Qantas flight, whereas my flight back was with British Airways. Which are roughly similar, except that Qantas has better entertainment systems in cattle-class (you can actually play Tetris-like games on the screen in front of you), whereas BA has better in-flight duty-free shopping. The BA seats also had regular headphone sockets, thus allowing one to use something better than the craptacular headsets provided by airlines. (I had my Sennheiser PX200s with me, and they worked remarkably well; I'd say that actual noise-cancelling headphones are probably overkill.)
I briefly considered buying a PSP in Singapore (where they are out, unlike in Europe), though thought better of it, partly because of a lack of compelling titles (I've heard good things about Katamari Damacy, though that's not out on the PSP), and partly because no-one has figured out how to run user code on a current one yet.
Anyway, during my visit, I took some photos documenting Melbourne's café culture (the like of which I haven't seen in London); these photos may be found here.
In Melbourne, a 15-year-old boy with an obsession with trams stole a tram from a depot and took it for a ride, picking up passengers along the way. He got all the way from Southbank depot to Kew. Somewhat reminiscent of Malcolm, except for the SWAT-team tactics the police used to take him down. Of course, things have changed a lot since 1986, and for all they know, he could have been an al-Qaeda terrorist planning to load the tram up with sarin and dirty bombs and blow it up at a football match or something.
This, of course, isn't the first time an obsessive anorak borrowed a public transport vehicle and took it for a spin; not that long ago, a man in New York was jailed for impersonating subway drivers.
For those reading this in Melbourne: the mighty FourPlay String Quartet are playing at the Espy on the 7th of April, and Brunswick Street's Bar Open on the 9th (with not one but two sets). If you've seen them, you'll know that they rock; if not, go and see them. You won't regret having done so.
Melbourne new-wave revivalists Snap! Crakk! have announced that they are breaking up. They were like a more electrocoolsie Vivian Girls or something.
A parcel of redirected mail from Australia just arrived, among it the December PTUA newsletter. I see that public transport in Melbourne is still being neglected, with the state government abandoning plans to upgrade bus timetables in the suburbs (i.e., to run buses after 7pm on weekdays or at all on weekends). Meanwhile, the usual new-year's fare increase includes making periodical tickets relatively more expensive (i.e., a weekly now costs as much as five dailies), thus encouraging people to avoid using public transport when not necessary. After all, why shell out $2.50 or so for a 2-hour Metcard to go down to the supermarket when you can hop in the Land Rover instead?
Living in London, I've come to appreciate just how good Londoners have it with relation to public transport. Yes, grumbling about the Tube is a local pastime in London (much in the way that complaining about the decline of Britain has been a British national pastime for the past two centuries at least), but at least the system works. You can rock up to a Tube station and expect a train in the direction you want to go in within 10 minutes at worst. Meanwhile, buses run in every possible direction, with a good number of routes running 24 hours a day (usually at 15-minute frequencies). In London, you can just about get anywhere from anywhere by public transport; there's even a pretty impressive website which, for any two points, will give you a list of options. In Melbourne, your options are limited; the railway network has a star topology, buses (other than the ones formerly run by the tramway authority) run limited hours, and after midnight, the whole system stops. (Except for Night Rider buses, which run only on Friday and Saturday nights, require special, premium-rate tickets, and run hourly on half a dozen routes.)At the turn of the year, London's public transport fares (which, already, aren't the world's cheapest) increased by about 10%; however, that money is going into expanding and improving the system. And there's a vast number of projects going on or being planned. In the next few years, at least one Tube line (the East London line) is being extended in both directions, a mainline rail link (Crossrail) running east-west under London will be built, and a new Docklands Light Railway branch line is being built; not to mention several tramways in various parts of the metropolis. Melbourne's rises, however, get swallowed up by the costs of bailing out private investors panicked by fare evasion and putting out fires, leaving nothing left for anything resembling vision. The government officially has a goal of having 20% of journeys made by public transport by 2020 (or such), but actually achieving that is going to take supernatural intervention. When patronage increased, capacity could not keep up, so the operators' solution was to remove seats from trams, creating standing-room-only vehicles with a few seats reserved for the elderly and infirm.
Smith Street, Fitzroy's most character-rich street, has a
posse blog. (via cnwb)
As yuppification and noise complaints force venues in Melbourne's traditional live music heartland (Fitzroy and environs) to close, go all-acoustic or become wine bars or boutique apartments, the scene is moving further out, and is apparently about to cross the barrier into Northcote; the people who run the Corner Hotel in Richmond are opening a new venue there next year, and looking for a name for it. Which could be a good sign for Northcote, which has mostly been a folk/roots/blues/feral-techno sort of place until now, though should have the demographics to support a live rock scene. I wonder whether it'll be the seed of a new local scene, or just an isolated venue like the ones which opened up in other "one-further-out" areas (Preston, Footscray, Sydney Rd. and such).
It looks like the Rob Roy is ceasing putting on live bands, allegedly due to an Australian Tax Office crackdown on venues not paying GST on door charges (on the grounds that the musicians are hobbyists and not professionals). If this is true, Brunswick St. will now no longer have any live rock venues, unless one counts the trendy Chapel St.-style First Floor bar, who occasionally have bands.
Your Humble Narrator has recently arrived in North London, and has made the following observations:
- Holloway Road's closest Melbourne equivalent would be Sydney Rd., Brunswick. Grungy, downmarket, and running north-south through various working-class areas. (I think it's the street the record shop in High Fidelity is meant to be on, which basically is a way of saying that it'd be a small, obscure and struggling sort of place). There are no fashionable shops (except perhaps one near the Highbury end, which sells Ben Sherman gear rather cheaply), lots of bargain shops, discount phone-card vendors, internet cafés (the going rate seems to be £1/hour), halal fried chicken shops (the confluence of Islamic food-preparation doctrines and American-style fried chicken, often named after randomly-selected US states, is one of those puzzling artefacts of contemporary Britain, but I digress), and the odd McDonalds (though no Prets; that would be too posh). And most, but not all, of the shops have shutters (probably suggesting that the area used to be a no-go zone blacklisted by insurance companies, though has improved somewhat recently), usually covered with aerosol art. There are plenty of beggars, gnarled-looking trolls, working the streets; every cash machine seems to have an "attendant" sitting down beside it, ready to claim his perceived share of the privileged users' largesse.
- I've heard it claimed that Upper Street, Islington, is roughly equivalent to Chapel Street. Or possibly Brunswick Street, though probably not: Brunswick Street would probably be Camden High Street without the market; William Gibson called it the "Children's Crusade".
- North London seems like a rougher environment than inner Melbourne. There's a faint vibe of aggression in the streets, evident in groups of hard-looking youths. And then there are the local community newspapers: where the inner-Melbourne papers go on about insufficient community health-care funding and insensitive high-rise apartment developments, the papers here talk about gay-bashing youth gangs and muggings in broad daylight, and you know you're in a grittier, more hard-edged reality. Keep moving, don't make eye contact, and try not to look like a soft target.
- Highbury (which is east of Holloway Road) is a pleasant, village-like place; small shops and restaurants, leafy streets and a quiet atmosphere. The area around Highbury Grove/Blackstock Road (or A1201; given how often British roads' names change, most major ones are known by a number instead) and near Arsenal football stadium in particular seems rather pleasant.
And now, The Null Device's list of up-and-coming Melbourne bands and musical artists you may not have heard of but should check out:
- BAM BAM. They're somewhere between Transvision Vamp and 1960s garage rock, played really tightly with lots of charisma and stage presence. And they look hot too. They should make it big.
- City City City - About as close as you're going to get to seeing Neu! playing live. A juggernaut of non-stop krautrock-meets-postrock groove, with not one but two drummers. They sound better live than on CD.
- Light Music Club - An all-girl duo doing pop songs, with piano and vocals. Whimsically sensitive songwriting, classy arrangements (in places reminiscent of Coward or Bacharach), and Zoë has a lovely voice.
- The Rumours - Classic indie pop done well, with tight, jangly guitars, sensitive indie-boy lyrics and a groove you can dance to. The frontman is like Morrissey and Johnny Marr rolled into one.
- Season - Post-rock soundscapes you can immerse yourself with, with electric piano and guitars with the whole range of effects (from metal crunch to wah) used judiciously; like Mogwai scoring a David Lynch film.
- Talkshow Boy - A guy with a CD player full of homemade computerised glitch-pop beats, which he then sings stream-of-consciousness lyrics over, about polar bears, eskimos, his LiveJournal friends and the undead. Though he puts on a really entertaining show of it. Also see Service Station Youth, which is him and three other people doing a similar thing.
As this is a list of new bands people may not have heard of, I've omitted from this list many bands worth checking out which people probably know about.
Giant mutant ant colony found under Melbourne. Thankfully, though, it's a 100km-across colony of regular-sized ants, not a colony of giant mutant ants. Still, the unusually cooperative Argentine ants are killing off native species and threatening the ecosystem, which is not a good thing. (via mporter)
Manchester-based expatriate Australian electropop duo Cartwheel now have a new website, that's not hosted on Geocities or wherever. No MP3s there yet, though they have just recorded a new EP, which will be coming out in the UK soon.
And now, a selection of images I found while cleaning out the memory on my cameraphone:
Up until recently, I didn't know that they made AAAA batteries. They're like AAAs, only smaller. Not necessarily surprising, given that gadgets are getting smaller and less energy-consuming, and a single standard of smaller batteries makes more sense than a dozen weird, expensive proprietary types. Whether they'll catch on, however, is another question.
You know you're living in the Interweb Age when trucks have the words "Search Engine" painted on them.
A modified street sign, Northcote
I'm not entirely sure what political statement this poster is making; or maybe the futile quest for a connection between submarines (or perhaps Beatles lyrics) and the Howard government and/or a political grievance is meant to be the Zen koan-like message in itself?
Radioactive materials stolen from university in suburban Melbourne. Is there any reason someone would want to steal radioactive materials other than to make a dirty bomb (or sell to someone who does)?
London mayor Ken Livingstone (who brought in the successful congestion charge on traffic in the city) has ambitions to radically extend the London rail/tube/tram network by 2016, to cope with the city's growing population (and, if you've ever used the Tube at rush hour, you'll know it needs it; either that or Japanese-style attendants at each station to physically push people into carriages). Here (PDF) is a map of what he proposes to do with it. It's somewhat of an ambit claim, and most of it probably won't happen, though some proposals have already been funded. Good to see more Tube lines going in south of the Thames, where people are at the mercy of National Rail and buses (and buses in outer London tend to be worse than the ones in Melbourne for punctuality). (Though what are those "Cross River/West London/East London Transit" lines, though; Tube lines, driverless DLR-style trains, or trams?) (via Owen)
One thing's for sure: this will make Mornington Games rather interesting.
Meanwhile, here in Melbourne, no such expansions of public transport are likely; with enough money being spent on bribing the private operators of the shambolically-run system not to pack up and leave, there's none left over for such pipe dreams. The Public Transport Users' Association agitate from time to time for a much-overdue railway line to Monash University (which was built on a paddock in the middle of nowhere in the 1960s on the proviso that a railway line would be extended to it; it never eventuated, and most of the students either cope with the woefully limited outer-suburban bus services or give up and buy decrepit old Kingswoods and Mazda 323s), or to Rowville (outer suburban sprawl where people grow up having no experience of public transport other than the next-to-useless bus services which stop at 7pm on weekdays), or the tram line to Knox City (which, IMHO, is next to useless; who'd sit on a tram for 3 hours to get to the city? Local tram routes linking outer suburban railway stations and interchanges (sort of like the Tramlink system in London's southern suburbs) would make more sense.) and their crackpot cousins in the Transport Victoria Association occasionally push for vital improvements, such as elevating the Melbourne to Geelong railway line 1km above the ground to attract more passengers with better views of the bay. Meanwhile, the government, aware that most of the swinging votes belong to people with 2.3 cars per household who want to be able to drive from A to B quickly, spend billions on freeways and occasionally throw a bone to public transport, such as extending six bus routes to 7:30pm on weekdays.
The meetup.com database of venues is getting progressively more bizarre. One of the three choices for the Melbourne bOING bOING Meetup* was "Putters Adventure Golf, 10 Main Rd, Hobart". Compared to this, the network deathmatch centre in Lilydale or wherever that kept cropping up is almost sensible.
* Not that it matters; it's unlikely that there'll be a quorum for this one any time soon.
I went to the Make Mixtapes Not War benefit at the corner this evening, which was quite good.
I walked in halfway through the Jihad Against America set. They were loud; they're basically hardcore punk/metal played by people some 10 or so years older than the usual hardcore punk/metal band (hi Ben!), and with a sense of irony. They were rather loud, and played fairly tightly, though some of their material (especially the bits with the growly metal vocals) is a bit too close to Filthy Maggoty Cunt territory for my taste. Still, to each his own; the kids in the studded bracelets seemed to like them.
Keith's Yard were fairly good; they were very much in a post-punk vein (think the Melbourne little-band scene), with droning guitars (two or three in each song), bass and drums, and the odd repetitive vocals delivered with a sneer; I imagine that that's the sort of thing one could have seen at the Seaview Ballroom in 1978 or so. (Ben Butler compared them to the Happy Mondays, in their combination of strong rhythm and nonsensical lyric fragments and getting the crowd dancing; though the key difference would be that the Mondays combined indie rock and house/dance music, whereas Keith's Yard are pure post-punk classicism. Still, in the age of punk-flavoured house music, is there really so much of a distinction?)
The Bird Blobs couldn't make it, on account of Ian Wadley being overseas with another project, and so were replaced by an outfit named SNAP! CRAKK!. They were also in a new-wave/post-punk vein, only this time with drum machines and synth keyboards (as well as chaotic guitarwork and random lyrics). The vintage Korg keyboard they used was, amusingly enough, plastered with Burzum stickers.
Love of Diagrams played their classics from The Target Is You, as well as some new songs, some of which have vocals. Other than that, they're doing much the same sort of thing; guitar/bass/drums and lots of energy.
The Bites were OK, and had some good songs. Sinking Citizenship, however, didn't grab me; they sounded like fairly rote post-grunge rock.
The Ninetynine set was interesting; Amy is still in Berlin, so they made do without her (and without her songs, of course; there was no Great Escapes or Highway Delights in the set); however, they had three guest musicians, including a bloke in a pinstripe suit playing cello and an accordionist. They played two new songs, both by Laura; one (called something like Bridge) was in a similar vein to Mesopotamia or Kinetic Factory, with a vibraphone and vocals, gradually building up, and the other (Red Card Yellow Card) being a bit more upbeat. They finished with a rocking rendition of Wöekenender, one of their classic crowd-pleasers. Oh, and Iain had since cut his hair really short, with a slight quiff at the front, which, with his glasses and anorak, gave him a slightly Morrisseyish air. This was the first Ninetynine gig in something like seven months, and (from what I heard) may well be the last one for equally long.
Sunday photo feature #4: stencil art:
(Every Sunday, I put up a selection of photographs from my archive, taken between 2002 and now, with a specific theme or motif.)
Sunday Photo Feature #03: decoration on traffic-light control boxes in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, 2003:
Snopes looks at what the word "Moomba" really means:
The parade was to be held on the Labour Day holiday, thereby undermining the Trade Unions march and the historic significance of the day.
Bill & Eric ran an Aboriginal artifacts stall in the Dandenongs, but were staunch unionists in their younger days.
Bill had a dry sense of humour. He agreed to provide a suitable name for the parade. Friends were surprised at this, knowing how Bill felt about the City Fathers and their business promotion parade.
When he offered the name Moomba, and the organisers accepted it, Bill gave the Aboriginal community a great gift. It has been the trigger for spontaneous laughter for many years since.
While the Moomba organisers, in blissful ignorance, give the translation as "let's get together and have fun," every Koori knows that "Moom" means backside, and "ba" means . . . well, um, hole . . .
Local live-music-scenester site mono.net is shutting down its forums permanently, after an infestation of trolls (or "coolsie chats" as they call them, for some odd reason).
Also on Rocknerd: a good review of Apple's Garageband music-making tool for OSX. It comes off looking quite decent; apparently it can use arbitrary AudioUnits (and presumably VST plugins with the AudioUnit wrapper). However, it appears very CPU-intensive, and requires a DVD drive to install. (I wonder if it'd install off an IDE DVD-ROM in a FireWire enclosure.)
Via this Age article (which says that "Wi-Fi" stands for "Wireless Fidelity"), this list of Wi-Fi hotspots in Australia. All the ones in Melbourne seem to be concentrated in the CBD or south of the Yarra (with the exception of a lone one in Glen Waverley), in the sorts of places that won't look amiss on corporate expense accounts. Of course, in Australia, it's a safe assumption that 99% of wireless internet users are executives working on spreadsheets on the road or something (as opposed to, say, San Francisco or New York, where the big market seems to be hipsters with iBooks that match their trucker caps using them for collaborative Photoshop jams or whatever).
The other day, though, I saw signs in the food court on Lygon St. (outside the Cinema Nova) advertising that they have wireless internet access there.
The New Year's Eve public transport débâcle in pictures, courtesy of the troublemakers at Indymedia. Pictures of small trams packed to a crush whilst larger ones stood idle, the police directing people to find other ways to get home, and lawbreakers riding between carriages. All makes you wonder whether it's pure incompetence or, perhaps, whether a smoothly-running public transport system would not have been in the interests of someone in a position of influence. (via Alex)
Public transport on New Year's Eve in Melbourne was, once again, a cock-up; they did, generously, run extra "late" services, but only as late as 1:30am, and the crowds waiting for trains were so large that police had to keep people from boarding the already packed trains. Taxis were also hard to come by, even with an additional $5 surcharge to encourage drivers to work, so a lot of people ended up walking home (which isn't so bad if you live in North Fitzroy or somewhere, but you wouldn't want to do it back to Nunawading or Deer Park), or else staggering around drunkenly, killing time until the morning's trams and trains kicked in (and so did the record 11% fare hikes).
Are the government and the public transport operators trying to deliberately encourage people to abandon public transport and get in their cars? Perhaps there's a property developer with shares in Connex or Yarra Trams and plans for all that land currently lost to railway lines or something.
3RRR finds a new home, in East Brunswick too (right at the end of the #96 tram line). Good to see that they won't have to move out to an industrial estate in Lalor or Thomastown or somewhere. (via Cos)
Saboteurs derail Melbourne-Ballarat train with parked car on track; meanwhile, the latest extreme sport among Melbourne's mooks is throwing rocks at trams.
Apparently FourPlay are finally able to make it down to Melbourne to do a gig; they will be playing at Bar Open on Sunday the 30th of November. They're very impressive live and well worth seeing.
According to the PTUA, the developers who own Melbourne Central shopping centre have seized on a novel way of spurring sales: closing off the entrance to Melbourne Central station, instead forcing commuters who wish to get to the station through a labyrinth of shops, where, hopefully, many of them will buy things along the way.
Welcome back, loyal readers, and thanks for returning. If you can read this, then the routing woes have finally abated and The Null Device is back for good.
Anyway: some photos taken last Thursday afternoon on a stroll through the streets of Carlton:
Veteran indie record shop Au Go Go is to close, another victim of MP3 piracy/recording-industry chicanery/the ease of ordering stuff over the internet. And the fact that it has been located up a flight of stairs in an alley for the past few years couldn't have helped either. (Which makes one wonder how Synæsthesia are doing.)
St Kilda Pier Kiosk destroyed by fire. Is Osama to blame?
As a public service to the lovelorn, a demographer has found the areas of inner Melbourne with the most single men and women. Southbank has the highest concentration of single men (and most of them drive Porsches), whereas Princes Hill has the highest concentration of single women (and most of them cut their hair short).
Ever wonder about those "THIS IS A HEAVY PRODUCT" stickers that were up everywhere? An outfit calling themselves Knee Length Press (who are apparently not connected with the Cave Clan, but have the same PO box nonetheless) have just published a photocopied zine by that title, consisting mostly of photographs of sticker sightings in Australia and Europe (there are lots in Austria for some reason), and mentioning some of the people not connected to the sticker campaign. The zine comes with a free life-sized Heavy Product sticker, and there's a competition for photographs of such a sticker in the most "imaginative, humorous and/or interesting location"; the winner gets a Heavy Product T-shirt. I found a copy of the zine at Westgarth Books (High St., Northcote; look for the Dobbshead on the wall inside).
Some kind soul has scanned and put online the first edition of the Melway street directory, from 1966. It's interesting to see how Melbourne in the mid-1960s differed from the Melbourne of today (the City Loop didn't exist, but there was a railway line going from North Fitzroy to Royal Park; Monash University was mostly an empty space, and the complex of factories and squalid student houses to the north of it didn't exist; however, right to the east of it was one of Melbourne's many drive-in cinemas).
Notonova is a site in Germany which has a lot of pictures of recent Melbourne indie band gigs; including a few of which I've been at. (I see someone else has followed Ninetynine halfway around the world with a camera.)
Apparently he'll have videos up soon too; hopefully they'll be longer than the 30-second clips my Canon Powershot makes. (What the world needs is a good Ninetynine live DVD or three.) (via Rocknerd)
Melbourne's the centre of yet another underground subculture, it seems: first we had the Cave Clan and the underground hax0r scene, and now it seems that we're Australia's capital of swinging (as in fat, balding people having group-sex parties). The epicentres of this scene are the "more adventurous suburbs" such as Ringwood. (Make your own joke here.)
I've just heard that the ABC is showing In the Realm of the Hackers, a local documentary about two hackers/crackers from late-1980s Melbourne, their exploits and the law's pursuit of them, tomorrow (Thursday) night at 10PM. I saw this in the cinema earlier this year, and can recommend it.
A few scenes of autumn in Melbourne. (Click thumbnails to see complete images)
As usual, if you want to use any of these images anywhere, ask me (blog at dev.null.org).
Not that long after Melbourne community radio station PBS-FM was forced out of yuppified St Kilda, it's 3RRR's turn to move. 3RRR's lease on its Fitzroy premises (right off the trendy Brunswick St. latte strip) is coming to an end, and the landlord has told them to move on. They're hoping to find a place in "Fitzroy, Collingwood or Carlton", though with the yuppification of inner-city areas, that sounds a bit optimistic. An industrial park in Lalor or Thomastown or somewhere sounds more likely. Or they could always look around Footscray; it's becoming trendy, but still grimy enough to be cheap.
It emerges that Melbourne's tram operators have come up with an innovative way of dealing with overcrowding: removing seats from trams to create more standing room; this will be no surprise to anybody who has had the misfortune of having to ride on one of the slick, much-hyped new Citadis trams at any remotely busy time. Of course, there are sheds of mothballed trams waiting to be pressed into service to alleviate the load, but that would cost more and cut into profits. Besides which, beggars can't be choosers, and if you want a seat, you can bloody well buy a car or catch a taxi.
Of course, if public transport is run as a safety-net service for the carless poor, anyone who has a choice will avoid it, and the system will decline. Which makes one wonder whether Yarra Trams have been bought by a car company with the intention of dismantling Melbourne's tram system.
Ah yes; I will be DJing this Friday night at the Dandelion Wine benefit gig, at the Cue Bar on Brunswick St. What to expect: indie, shoegazer, post-punk, a bit of electronica and a few weird things thrown in for good measure. Anyway, it's for a good cause (Dandelion Wine's airfare to some music festival or other in Romania).
Some bad news for live music in Melbourne. The Empress Hotel has been forced by Victoria's noise-complaint laws and the encroachment of yuppie apartments to cancel performances by bands who "cannot meet the stringent requirements demanded by the current liquor laws". Which presumably means they'll still have folkies with acoustic guitars (which is just what we need more of, isn't it?) but no actual bands with amplifiers and stuff. At least until they go out of business and get bought up by a pokie franchise or a real-estate developer.
I hope the people who moved to North Fitzroy for the vibrant culture, got sick of it and decided to turn the inner city into Nunawading or somewhere are pleased with what they've done. Cunts.
Tonight I went to a screening of In the Realm of the Hackers, a documentary about various hackers/crackers from Melbourne in the late 1980s (apparently not just another BBS/h4x0d-d00d scene, but one of the major hacker nexuses in the world); in particular, about a young man calling himself Electron and his friends, who apparently broke into machines like nobody else. It was pretty interesting; the details, connecting the mundanity of suburban Melbourne with the international computer networks of the time, were fascinating, and the reconstructed Commodore 64/Apple II screens (rebuilt from police phone intercept transcripts) were apparently the most authentic in the genre. (I half-remember various of the names seen on the hacker BBS message boards, from print-outs I saw many years ago. Of course, I never was k3wl enough to actually do any of that hacking shit myself.) Anyway, it does one proud to see that Australia can lead the world in something other than cricket.
The film was based on the book Underground, by Suelette Dreyfus, which is now online in freely downloadable form. It sounds like it's well worth a read.
Everyone was joining in, including the guy who goes around with the "psychatric laws are absurd and serve organised crime" sign. His view on war is that religion is to blame, it seems. Of course, he must be an utter crackpot as nobody in their right mind would blame religion for war, would they?
Transport roundup: Who would have thought that the RACV, best known for lobbying for cheaper petrol and more freeways, would be calling for tolls on traffic in inner Melbourne? A similar scheme is in place in Singapore, and one is also being introduced in London by Loony Left Red Ken. In other news, National Express abandons its Melbourne train operations, after failing to get more money from the government. Within a week, half of Melbourne's trains will be operated by the government (though will be likely to be flogged to the cheapest tender as soon as they can be).
Speaking of privatisation woes, over in Britain, the government plans to slash railway funding, which is likely to result in services being cut and fares put up to discourage use and keep a lid on overcrowding. Which will be a colossal shame; in Britain you can travel almost anywhere by train, and for all its troubles, the system is remarkably effective. If this happens, it will spiral into decline and ultimately be reduced into a boutique tourist experience for train buffs, sort of like the Ghan or that train in the Canadian Rockies.
The election is nigh upon us, and it looks like Labor is going to get back in easily. No great surprise, as the Liberals have been doing their best headless-chicken impression for some time. The other party to watch is the Greens. If they poll well, they could capture one or two formerly safe Labor heartland seats; if this happens, Labor will have to stop taking the inner cities for granted, giving outer suburbanites (in marginal seats, or so the theory goes) their Los Angeles-style freeways whilst not spending 1/10 of that on public transport.
Victoria has appalling public transport compared to other places. Unless you live in the inner city or on a railway line, it is virtually unusable, leading to US-style car dependency, with all the problems that causes (from obesity to pollution to dependency on oil). And given that the marginal seats (which decided who governed) were in the outer suburbs where public transport is a pipe dream at best, the answer is always Build More Freeways.
Well, with any luck this will change this election; if the government would pony up a fraction of the billions earmarked for freeways (many of dubious economic value) on reducing car dependency (and not by just sitting back and saying that they expect that public transport use will grow; building railway line extensions and expanding bus services to run outside of peak times would be a good start), we wouldn't be on course to becoming the Los Angeles of the southern hemisphere as we are now.
How am I voting? Most probably Public Transport First, with preferences to the Greens. PTFirst don't stand a chance of winning a seat, but if they make a strong showing, it will send a message to policymakers; the Greens do stand a chance, and hopefully will do well. It may be optimistic to expect them to win lower-house seats, but who knows?
Some observations from my recent trip to the UK:
Britishisms absent in Australia:
- Pantomimes starring celebrity has-beens (a fine British tradition, or so I hear)
- Bathroom sinks with built-in stoppers operated by a lever. Pretty much every bathroom I saw in England had those; presumably the rubber/plastic stoppers you see in Australian bathroom sinks are quaint antiques over there. (Perhaps it 's some EU standard?)
- The ear-splitting beeping sound made by pedestrian crossings
- Teletext as a widely used information medium
- A comprehensive railway network
- Those Cadbury Boost bars, i.e., chocolate bars with caramel, guarana and biscuit. Here we have something similar, only it's called Viking, doesn't contain any biscuit and isn't quite as nice.
- Poker machines everywhere. Not just in pubs and sporting clubs; they're in shopping centres, railway station cafés and other public places. Mind you, there are always signs nearby telling children that they are not to play with them. Perhaps evidence that the Poms have more respect for authority than the larrikinous sons of convicts in Orstraya?
- Those sub-miniature two-seater "Smart" cars. There may be one or two in Melbourne, but they're everywhere in London.
- The deep amber glow of street lamps. In Australia, they are a leprous salmon pink.
Australianisms absent in Britain:
- Half-pint pot glasses in pubs. There, beer is drunk by the pint. If you ask for half a pint, you'll get one of those wimpy cylindrical glasses whose very shape mocks your prowess as a drinker.
- Wastebaskets in public places. Then again, with the way things are going, how long until those disappear from Australia as well?
Advantages London has over Melbourne:
- Decent public transport. You can rock up at a Tube station and get a train in the direction you want within 5 minutes. And the London council are actually implementing a congestion charge on traffic going to the city, using it to pay for public transport improvements. Fat chance of seeing anything like that happening in Melbourne, where billion-dollar freeways are the go and railway line extensions costing 1/10 of that are cancelled.
- Portobello Market, Camden Market, &c.
- The fine UK indie tradition that isn't an artificially packaged "UK-indie" product, i.e., lumping Oasis, Fatboy Slim, Radiohead and a few old Smiths tunes together under the union jack for the amusement of poseurish pseudo-Mods from South Yarra and the like.
- The temperature never reaches 40 degrees. (Except perhaps on the Tube.)
- Any pub you go to you can be assured will have Guinness on tap.
Disadvantages London has to Melbourne:
- It's horribly crowded.
- Everything's so expensive.
- Tap water has a vaguely detergenty taste/consistency about it.
- Pubs close at 11. (Still, that usually means you can catch the Tube home.)
- Not as much of a unified live music scene. Once you get beneath the level of major-label touring acts, you have to dig deeply to find the many little sub-scenes.
This evening I went to Good Morning Captain to see some bands; first up was a woman named Dimitra, who picked an electric guitar (and later electronic keyboard) and sang. She sounded uncannily like Merida Sussex, both in her voice and languid, breathy mode of delivery, and should be an artist to keep an eye on. Next up was Simpático, aka Jason Sweeney's vocal/guitar project. He played all new songs (well, newer than The Difference Between Alone And Lonely, anyway), strumming a guitar and singing in a half-falsetto. The Field Mice/C86 influence was quite noticeable.
A few local news items: a new study claims that public transport use will only decline in Melbourne; the government's plans to double public transport use won't happen without massive intervention in the form of massive upgrades and restrictions/charges on automobile use; in other words, not at all, as the marginal seats which decide elections are in the Los Angelised outer suburbs where public transport is nonexistent and not missed. (Hey, maybe we can import some of those American golf carts for teenagers.)
In good news, however, something will soon be done about the public liability insurance crisis, which has crippled things from street parties to children's pony rides. (All the more reason to stay in your nice, safe sports-utility vehicle, insulated from the dangerous world outside.)
And finally, the government is set to ban the eating of dogs and cats, after a lost puppy was rescued from a man who intended to eat it. (I'll leave the moral difference between a dog or cat and a pig or chicken as an exercise to the reader.
Soup, Cos' new community blog storytelling project, has an entry on overpasses as community noticeboards; i.e., the tendency for people to write birthday wishes, declarations of love, &c., on bridges and overpasses.
Many years ago, there was a graffito over Burwood Highway (I think it was on one of the Alamein line railway bridges), reading "I'LL ALWAYS MISS YOU EILEEN &heart; SD". I saw it many times when being driven to school, and imagined a tearful SD writing that before jumping to his death below. It occurred to me later that the bridge was nowhere near high enough to reliably commit suicide from, by when my mental image of SD was revised to lying with a broken leg in the middle of Burwood Highway at 3am, a bucket of paint spilled beside him, the pain distracting him from his broken heart, and the alcohol taking some of the edge off the pain.
One day I saw a piece in a community paper (I think it was out Ferntree Gully way), by a journalist who tracked down the real SD, who wrote his famous message one drunken night after Eileen left him, a decade or so earlier. Since then he had married another girl, bought a house in Boronia or Upwey or some place, and become a father. Every day he would commute to work down Burwood Highway and see his younger self's testament of undying love; sometimes, he said, he wanted to climb the bridge and paint over the silly thing once and for all.
I went to see Season tonight at the Empress; they were pretty good, in a cinematic, soundscapey sort of way. The processed guitar/bass alternated between indie post-rock, shoegazer and even went metal for a few bars. They brought in a cellist (a woman named Kaz) towards the end for their song Russia, which added a lot to it; it ended up somewhere in the vicinity of New Order meets Black Tape For A Blue Girl; not a bad thing at all.
Anyway, they won't be doing any gigs for a while, but hopefully will have another CD out by the end of the year.
Public Transport First!, a new group pushing for a less freeway-centric transport policy for Melbourne. They plan to run candidates in marginal seats, directing preferences to the Greens and against the most public transport-hostile party. Sounds good to me.
And then there's the PTUA. Of course, if these groups are too sane for you, you could always join the Transport Victoria Association, who are something like the SPK of public transport advocacy, and appear to be comprised entirely of the deranged people you see on buses.
Yesterday, I bought a monthly Met ticket (as I usually do every month). Today, when the old one had run out, I boarded a tram and validated it. All very well, except for one minor detail: the validator machine was out of ink, and thus didn't print the date on the ticket. This has two implications:
- There is no way to tell that the ticket is validated without putting it into a machine; which means that if I'm on a train with it and the Ticket Nazis show up, I get an on-the-spot fine for fare evasion, and
- If the magnetic strip is corrupted (as happens from time to time, due to malfunctioning validators), the ticket is irrecoverably worthless.
I spoke to the tram driver about this, and it turns out that the drivers have no authority to certify tickets as validated or do anything about it. She gave me the phone number of the Yarra Trams customer feedback line. I called them, and they directed me to a number at the ticketing company, which is only staffed during the week.
I am not impressed with the efficiency of Jeff Kennett's automated ticketing system.
Yes! Mogwai are playing in Melbourne on the 17th of October. It's at the Prince of Wales, though; I just hope that the PA there isn't as abysmal as it was when FourPlay last played (I was right in front of the stage and the chatter of the people in the room drowned out the band).
Stencil bombing isn't just for south-of-the-Yarra commercialists. The following piece of political commentary was found in a car park in Fitzroy:
Frustrated with CityLink toll evaders speeding through their residential streets every day, some Melbourne suburbanites are fighting back, by staking out the streets with hairdryers, pretending they're radar guns. Wonder how long until the two-wheels-good-four-wheels-bad crowd take this up as a form of direct action.
Today I saw a guy named Gary Wiseman (who has interesting CD packaging), the always lovely Jen Turrell, local guitar/double-bass act Sodastream and Amy Linton of the Aislers Set play, in a backyard in inner Melbourne. Which was fun, if a bit chilly at times.
Every band venue should have a Hills hoist in the middle... And every backyard should have a PA setup and a combination mixing console/compost bin.
And that was probably the last time I will see Stewart and Jen (two genuinely lovely people and very talented musicians) for some time, as they leave Australia this week, not to return for some years. The next time will probably require me to visit the US or something like that.
This is pretty cool; the London Bloggers Tube Map, mapping bloggers in London to their nearest Tube stops. (Oddly enough, it looks more complex than the Tube maps I've seen. Either they've carried out a massive Underground expansion programme since the London Underground mousepad I have was printed, or those white lines are some other (non-underground) railway system.)
Anyway, someone should do a Melbourne blogger tram map. Here's a start:
to grudnuk.com via Hume Hwy ^ : |(B)| Legend: | | | | A = The Null Device | | 112 + | B = Leviathan (on hiatus) 19| 1| /(A) | C = The Monkey Puzzle | | / |86 | | | +-----+ : ++ : | -+-+---+--+ -+-+---+ ======== YARRA RIVER ====== | | \------- \------ +-----------------67 C
Ph3ar my l33t ASCII-art kung fu!
I had a fairly busy evening tonight (in a good way). Readers of my blog may remember my dilemma from a few days ago. To whit; two shows worth seeing, both unlikely to be repeated, on the same night. Firstly, American indie singer/songwriter Jen Turrell was playing at the Empress, in her last tour of Australia before she and Stewart have to stay in the USA for two years (it's a permanent residency requirement, I believe); secondly, the ever-rocking Ninetynine were set to play at the Tote, in possibly their last gig before their world tour. If I missed them, my next chance to see them would probably be in Reykjavík in November.
And then I realised that (a) Jen was playing a support set, while Ninetynine were headlining, and so if I went to see Jen, and then rushed down to the Tote, I had a good chance of catching them. Which is exactly what I did.
I got to the Empress shortly after 9. Jen was the first act on, and went on stage at 9:30, playing about a dozen short, sweet jangly-pop songs, accompanied by Stewart on bass and their TR-808 on Minidisc. It was a very nice set, with a lot of lovely harmonies and classic chord progressions, and a bit more than a touch of fey sensitivity.
Then I made my way to the Tote. I got there halfway through the second band's set. The band room was quite full, and I recognised a number of the people there (Jesse from Sir, Sarah-Jane from I Want a Hovercraft, a girl who followed Ninetynine all the way from Sweden, and a guy who collects Casio keyboards were some of the people I ran into.)
Anyway, Ninetynine came on, and they rocked hard. They had a lot of kit with them (vibraphone, glockenspiel and three Casios), swapped instruments a lot, played with great energy, doing a lot of new songs and finishing with an intense version of Polar Angle. Their new material is very strong; sophisticated and layered, and yet with a spiky edge and punk energy, and their next album (due in 3 or 4 months) should be something to look forward to.
It was a good night.
If you think public transport in Melbourne is poor, it's apparently much worse in Adelaide. They're still using diesel trains on their (poorly patronised) suburban rail network, it seems. (via The Fix)
That's more like it: Melbourne's public transport system to be unified, with a common name and signage moving to reverse the fragmentation imposed when it was cut up and privatised. Which should go some way to dispel the "beggars can't be choosers" image of public transport as a shabby, inadequate welfare scheme for the carless poor. Now if they actually put some money into it and built some much-needed rail lines in the car-dependent outer suburbs...
Good news for public transport activism: Transport Victoria Association, which is sort of the Melbourne public-transport-advocacy equivalent of the Sozialistiches Patienten Kollectiv of the late 1960s, finally has a web page. Unfortunately, they've only put their relatively sane policies up, leaving out the charmingly psychoceramic flights of fancy such as elevating the Geelong railway line to give passengers better views.
Stephen Cummings on the passing of the Punters, and a history of the Melbourne live music scene. And if you have RealPlayer, the Age has a video report on the last night at the Punters. (Funny how they call it a night even if part of it was during the day.)
Last drinks, everyone: Today was the end of a Melbourne institution, the Punters Club; the last day of the venerable pub/band venue's operation, and they chose to go out with a bang. The doors were open for free, and they had bands all day, from 3PM until late in the night. And many people rocked up to pay their respects to the Punters, to have one last pot (or several), tread the sticky carpet for the very last time and reminisce about all the great bands they have seen there, among them your humble narrator. As it was the last ever day at the Punters, and entry was free, the venue was packed soon after 3PM; after that, a long queue formed outside the door, with people being allowed in only when others left. Inside it was pretty tight.
I have seen many good shows at the Punters; I remember when I lived out in Ferntree Gully, driving down to Brunswick St. in my mum's car (I must have known the back streets of Fitzroy quite well then, or at least in terms of parking spots) to see The Paradise Motel there, and a number of bands after that. And now that era has come to an end. It's somewhat sad to have walked out that door for the last time, knowing that it's not a doorway I will pass through again in this lifetime.
To paraphrase one graffito in the Punters, Brunswick Street looks likely to die now that its heart has been ripped out. The street's cultural authenticity is in decline, and Brunswick St. is looking more like Chapel St. with each day that passes. (Even in the queue I noticed a difference between the people lining up to enter the Punters and the people walking down the street; the latter were wearing more designer-logo T-shirts, of the sort that sell for $70 in Prahran.) Oh well, now there's one fewer reason to get off the 112 tram on Brunswick St.
Oh yes, the bands. The first one I saw was some country outfit; then came Ruckrover (some of whose members worked at the Punters), who were very tight and energetic, with perhaps a slight Northern Soul feel to some of their numbers. Then came Disaster Plan, who played (as promised) quietly enough to be drowned out by the crowd, and ended with some rants about the inferiority of the other pubs (the Evelyn, for example), and then was Gaslight Radio, who were also quite good.
The Welsh city of Cardiff is experimenting with what could be the future of public transport. The ULTra system is somewhere between tranways and taxis, and consists of autonomous cars (large enough to carry several passengers and a bicycle) travelling on a dedicated track and taking their passengers to a destination of their choice. Meanwhile, Melbourne's airport rail link has been scrapped, because a study revealed insufficient patronage to justify the expense.
An archæological dig is underway in the CBD of Melbourne, on the site of a notorious 19th-century brothel. Some believe that the dig may finally solve the mystery of the lost parliamentary mace, believed to have been lost in a brothel during an orgy/mock parliament attended by the state's politicians. (via Reenhead)
Trainspotting: Melbourne's Spencer Street railway station, the city's main hub for rural and interstate trains, will be renamed to Southern Cross Station. Not quite as craven as renaming Museum to Melbourne Central (which is misleading, as it is not a central rail interchange, but was renamed as such because the owners of the Melbourne Central shopping centre bribed the government to do so), but still with a whiff of branding. Oh well; at least it's not "SouthernCross" or "Southcross(tm)" or some made-up word ending in "-nt".
Though I believe that when the station was originally built, in the 19th century, it was simply known as Melbourne. Perhaps reverting to its original name would have been more appropriate.
Some memes just keep going:
Seen on a mX dispenser (that's the free murdoch full of celebrity stories,
consensus-reality-reinforcing propaganda and other pinkness and horror) in
Museum Melbourne Central station:
A man has committed suicide by detonating explosives strapped to his body near Lara railway station (on the Melbourne-Geelong railway line).
Sentenced: Republican guerilla Gregory Anastasiou, aka Lucifer, was gaoled for five years for a campaign of arson attacks against those symbols of British colonialism and upper-class hegemony, the hedges of Melbourne's leafy inner eastern suburbs. Anastasiou previously served time for a similar series of hedge burning attacks in the 1980s, and was a cult hero of sorts, giving rise to the Hedge Burner Fan Club.
Scare meme of the day: One of Melbourne's tram operators, British-owned National Express, has designated several of its tram routes as no-go zones, too dangerous to send ticket inspectors into.
Its report reveals that inspectors are at risk of abuse, racist and sexist comments, being spat on, punched, kicked and scratched, of being threatened with knives, guns and syringes - including the threat of HIV transmission, death threats and stalking by passengers.
The routes in question are the West Maribyrnong and Footscray routes.
A piece on public radio station PBS, which has been forced out of St Kilda by rising rents and yuppie pinks who don't like that noisy weird shit taking over, and is moving to Collingwood. (Collingwood? They'll probably have to move on from there within 10 years once yuppification takes hold. And anyone want to bet on how long 3RRR will stay in Fitzroy (just off Brunswick Street latté-land, where the Punters Club won't be for much longer), before being moved on to an industrial park in Lalor or someplace?)
The local street press has just confirmed the impending closure of the Punters Club (sometime after January), The proprietor is looking to open another venue somewhere less gentrified (possibly Northcote). Because of rising rents, whatever takes the Punters' place in Brunswick Street will probably be much more upmarket. In related news, a new venue has reopened on the site of the legendary Continental, another band venue which closed a while ago. It is probably enough to note that this venue is called the Boutique Dance Lounge, and recently played host to a single launch by manufactured Top 40 star and former Hollywood trophy wife Tina Arena. Ah yes, there's nothing like shiny machine-extruded crap for conspicuous consumption...
On the future site of the Brunswick Street Starbucks? A piece in the age about the closure of the Punters Club in Brunswick Street. No hard facts about its impending closure, but somewhat depressing nonetheless.
(I went to the Punters Club tonight, actually. It was a fairly quiet Sunday night, with three bands playing (Grand Salvo, Sir and Wagons), and a fairly small crowd, with a genuine spirit of bonhomie. The Punters will be a great loss (as, indeed, will Brunswick Street as a cultural phenomenon). Oh well; let's hope the Empress Hotel, in North Fitzroy, stays around for a while yet.
This Sunday before dawn, 4,300 Melburnians gathered on the banks of the Yarra and got their gear off, in icy rain, for a mass nude photograph by celebrated US photographer Spencer Tunick. The turnout was a record, with the previous highest turnout being 2,500 in Montréal, Canada.
Inevitably, not everyone came to strip. A lone, placard-bearing protester dressed in a suit knelt in the middle of the St Kilda Road tram tracks, praying loudly. Tunick personally tore up his placards. "He tried to disturb my shot," Tunick said later, stressing it was not an attack on the man's religion. "I would have tore it up if it said 'Coke' or 'I like carrots'."
(No, I wasn't there (too early, for one), but I know two people who were.)
They're now talking about electrifying the Melbourne-Geelong railway, with a view to integrating Geelong into the Melbourne suburban railway network. Sounds like a good idea (something like what they have in NSW, with electric commuter trains running all the way to Newcastle and Wollongong, would be good.)
An interestingly geeky piece from USENET about those video screens at Melbourne railway stations, and how they were designed back in the late 70s/early 80s. Turns out that they displays are driven by custom 8080-based microcomputers, and that the font rendering was all put together by hand:
The characters were not scanned, they were made by choosing the largest available Letraset, sticking each character on a piece of graph paper, tracing the outline, ruling lines every eight columns, getting a secretary to type the resulting 0's and 1's into the source file as data statements. Then an architect... flew up from Melbourne and told GEC to add or remove bits until the letters looked just right to him. Perhaps it really was worth all the fuss if people still think that they look good.
They just don't do things that way anymore...
A few years after privatisation, the Melbourne railway system is going British, with a rather nasty train crash happening near Footscray. Fortunately nobody died; probably because electric trains don't generally burst into flames.
The Victorian government is talking with private contractors about procuring 160kph trains for high-speed rail links to regional centres. On the surface, this looks like a good thing; though the PTUA (that bunch of ratbags) did warn that high-speed trains could mean the closure of smaller railway stations between urban centres, and ultimately could lead to the degeneration of passenger rail to a US-style commuter rail system, running only at peak hours to shuttle workers between dormitory cities and their workplaces.
Lengthy public transport diatribe: The Victorian government is looking at public transport options for Outer Eastern Melbourne, to supplement the $1bn freeway to be built. The possibilities look moderately promising (new railway lines, a tram extension, &c), though I suspect they'll settle for half a dozen new bus services, running six days a week to 7pm, or some token "solution" like an automated phone-based car-pooling registry, chosen because it is inexpensive and innovative, even if thoroughly useless. (This is, after all, the government which banned public transport advocacy groups from the consultative process.)
I think that more should be done to improve public transport in the outer suburbs. (I lived in Ferntree Gully for 15 years, and hence know how poor it is. I was one of the luckier ones, though, living within 10 minutes of a railway station.) Expecially now that gentrification is forcing low-income earners into the outer suburbs, where surviving without access to a car is difficult, a public transport system would be much needed.
<SPECULATION TYPE="CRACKPOT"> For one, Melbourne's commuter rail system has the fatal disadvantage of running only radially; i.e., in and out of the city. There are no lines circling the city, and to travel from one outer suburb to another, one has to go into the city centre and back out. The spur line from Huntingdale to Rowville could be a step in the right direction, being not far from the Belgrave line. Additionally, it could service Monash University, which has the distinction of being (a) Melbourne's largest university, and (b) in the middle of suburbia, half an hour's walk from the nearest railway station and wholly dependent on cars and bus services.
Secondly, extending the tram line to Knox City is an OK idea, though it is, once again, radial; a journey into the city by tram would take 2 hours or so. It could be extended into an outer-eastern tram network, with a tram going from Knox City to, say, Bayswater (and to the Rowville rail terminus in the other direction, if need be), linking two railway lines. And more lines could be added, running along the wide roads, and making the outer east more hospitable to the carless. </SPECULATION>
The Victorian state government unveils plans for a "green" suburb. Situated north of Epping (on the Northern fringe of Melbourne), it will feature water recycling, energy efficiency and reduced dependence on automobiles. Mind you, they have not promised to extend the Epping railway line (which should be easy to do, as there is a dismantled railway line running north for quite a bit that they could rebuild), and so if they decide to do the typical thing and cut costs by having a 6-days-a-week bus service which stops at 7pm, everyone will just drive everywhere like they do in all the other outer dormitory suburbs. (This is also the government which recently banned the PTUA from a forum on plans to extend a freeway through the inner city, for what it's worth.)
Another mystery solved: If you've ever wondered what that "GUMPY IS BACK AND HE'S NOT HAPPY" billboard in Richmond meant (it was around too long to be a teaser for an ad campaign), the latest issue of 3RRR's subscriber magazine has the answer. Gumpy, it turns out, was one of the members of 1980s Beastieesque rap act Mighty Big Crime (best known for their single 16 Tons), and then went on to form teeny-bopper hippie-retro-kitsch band the Freaked Out Flower Children (best known for having professional scantily-clad blonde Sophie Lee in its lineup). Not quite Bill Drummond, but...
Trainspotting: They're electrifying the railway line to Sydenham, out beyond St Albans; apparently some locals at St Albans are threatening to block trains if the proposed alterations go ahead and a lot more trains pass through the crossing, unless the whole thing is put underground. Hmmm... according to this map, there is also a "proposed" extension of the Epping line (which once ran all the way to Whittlesea) to South Morang. (Wonder if the diesel locomotives which pass outside where I live every Thursday night have anything to do with this...)
In St Kilda, street prostitution is a major problem for the BMW-driving latte-sipping ad-exec residents, with kerb-crawling johns cruising their streets at night searching for bootywhang, consummating the transactions in their yards and dumping used condoms in their designer letterboxes. Professor Marcia Neave, architect of brothel legalisation in the 1980s, suggests that the answer may lie in legal street prostitution precincts, safely away from residential areas. Though given the rapid gentrification of St Kilda, a more practical answer may be to drive the prostitutes out to Brunswick or Coburg, as was done with artists, students, ferals and other non-yuppies formerly indigenous to the ritzy bayside area.
On the railway underpass just north of Clifton Hill station in Melbourne, there are some (black and white) posters that look suspiciously like Giant propaganda. Does Andre the Giant have a posse Down Under as well?
The Los Angelesization of Melbourne (an ongoing series): The Federal Government is set to throw hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' funds on a freeway in outer Melbourne, which just happens to run through several marginal seats Howard's mob need to stay in power. The benefits of the freeway are doubtful, and public transport in the outer suburbs is woeful (buses typically don't run after 7pm or on Sundays), and doesn't look likely to get any better.
Bad things are happening in Melbourne, with the Labor government having done a back-flip and having put all the former Kennett government's freeway projects back on the agenda, whilst continuing to neglect public transport. The local inner-city rag Metro News says that this is largely due to the voter demographics shifting to the outer suburbs; the ALP needs the votes of SUV-driving outer suburbanites who don't use public transport and for whom the inner city is just some place to get through as quickly as possible, and thus the more of it is paved over, the better. And what are the vegetarian bicyclists of the inner city going to do about it: vote Liberal? (Anyway, among non-dreadlocked circles, the prevailing wisdom is that public transport is a discredited ideology, much like Marxism-Leninism.)
Slouching towards Los Angeles: Much to the chagrin of public-transport advocates, vegetarian bicyclists and miscellaneous dreadlocked people who don't bathe, the Victorian government has brought back the Scoresby Freeway, which it scrapped after winning office. It doesn't look like there'll be any major public transport enhancements for the sprawling, car-dependent outer east of Melbourne; a few extra bus routes perhaps, but nothing of the scope of the railway line extension called for by public transport groups. Then again, everyone in the outer east has a car and drives everywhere anyway, and there is more demand for freeways than for public transport, which is mostly an inner-city thing, like fancy cafés and voting Democrat. The only people who use public transport there are kids too young to drive who can't get Mum to give them a lift in the minivan.
Of course, such a reinforcing of the Los Angelisation of Melbourne's transport infrastructure will take its toll on pollution and health problems, and will make fixing the problem much more expensive in future.
Trainspotting: Half of Melbourne's privatised railway lines are about to get new trains, with video surveillance devices. Judging by the unusual carriage count (eight) and the colour scheme, this suggests that they may be based on the old blue and yellow trains that were scrapped a decade or so ago. (And I thought all those were junked...)
A lot of Melbourne's Art Deco buildings are in danger of demolition, not being considered old enough to be worthy of protection: (The Age)
What the buildings have in common, however, is their place in the new conservation battleground, according to the president of the Society Art Deco, Robin Grow. Many people recognise the value of Victorian and Edwardian buildings, he says, but anything built after the First World War has not seemed quite old enough to be worth saving.
Houses in the style were built in "desirable" suburbs and the people likely to buy them have the financial resources to demolish and rebuild. Many simply don't like, or appreciate, old.
Unlike Victorian and Federation buildings, there is as yet not much business in producing the hardware of the Moderne period. "I was quite surprised at what we could not find - even down to furnishings. There's a lot of Art Deco couches and yet trying to find Art Deco upholstery fabrics ... it's just no show. Yet there was some beautiful stuff produced in that era and it was only 50 years ago."