By David Salvaire
Perth is losing live music venues at an alarming rate. With the recent closure of Deville’s Pad, Ya Ya’s Bar and the impending loss of The Bakery, fans of live music are running out of places to go.
These venue closures not only affect fans of live music; the City of Perth stands to lose activated spaces that are keeping the Dullsville tag at bay. Unfortunately there’s no core reason why Perth is losing venues which is why there‘s no silver bullet to fix this complicated issue.
Recently a group of frustrated music promoters formed a committee called Perth Venue Action and they’ve been meeting regularly to find a way to keep local music venues alive. Dave Cutbush, who formed the group, said the closure of The Bakery was the main drive to start PVA.
“The Bakery over the last decade has been really important for all kinds of artists,” he said. “It’s been really handy for promoters and local acts and after it closes in May it’s going to be difficult to replace.”
Mr Cutbush blames the state government for the closure of The Bakery because there is a lack of funding to support small venues.
“The state government told Western Power, which owns the building, to sell off the land and it’s going to be turned into apartments,” he said. “The Bakery closing is a direct result of the state government and their actions.”
Government funding for the arts is a contentious issue in Western Australia. Last year the Department of Culture and Arts awarded $156,000 in various grants to WA artists. Mr Cutbush believes more of this money is needed to support music venues.
“In regards to music the government pours money into grants and nothing else. No money is spent on small-scale arts and culture. There’s plenty of money in the highbrow stuff like Ballet. We’re in a pretty dire situation in regards to space where local musicians can show their art,” Mr Cutbush said.
“The problem is small venues, we have plenty of great large venues. Perth Arena and the theatres are good spaces. What’s happening in and around Perth, the capital of the state, is pretty dire in terms of spaces where musicians and artists can perform.”
“I don’t see private enterprise opening up a venue of the same size and style of The Bakery. That’s why a state government-funded or subsidised venue of that size would be fantastic for a multi-arts space and would cure a lot of ills in terms of what we’re talking about.”
Mr Cutbush believes funding isn’t the only reason behind the closure of music venues.
“Some venues have not been run well, that’s important. If you run venues and you know what you’re doing then you’ll do well,” he said.
“Look at places like The Bird in Northbridge, it’s a great location and they have a good niche and they’re succeeding. When someone goes in without thinking about the logistics of running a music venue that’s where problems arise and venues fail.”
Melbourne has experienced a big loss of bars and clubs dedicated to live music in the last five years. One of the ways they have slowed the rate of closures is to use their space more often. Jason Cleary, Director of radio station RTRfm, believes this helps grow audiences as well.
“In Melbourne bands play at different times throughout the day and night. That way people are more exposed to and used to seeing live bands,” he said.
While Melbourne has lost music venues mainly due to noise complaints, Dave Cutbush says the price of land in the centre of Perth has also contributed to the recent high rate of closures. This is a challenge because venues rely on foot traffic and need to be easily accessible.
“Centralised locations are the way forward, we’ve gone away from the regional bigger barn venues of the 70’s and 80’s,” he said.
“People want to gather in energised spaces. The problem with the centre of Perth is the land is so bloody expensive that sometimes it takes someone to give you cheap rent or someone to be philanthropic for a venue to succeed financially.”
Perth-based musician Abbe May believes despite the serious issues facing venues, some responsibility lies with the performers.
“Artists need to be more active and get involved with their audience, it’s all about self-promotion,” she said. “Performers need to play a lot more to get audiences involved. I know it’s not easy but we need to work harder to make live gigs more attractive and get people out of their houses.”
The loss of smaller music venues in Perth is also making it hard for up and coming bands to get their music out. Melanie Anastas is a member of Perth’s Underground Music Appreciation Club. Mrs. Anastas believes the closure of venues has made it hard for her band to book gigs.
“The problem with these places closing is where do new and upcoming bands go to play,”
“There’s no opportunity for exposure for new bands and it’s really disheartening. Bands like Eskimo Joe and Birds of Tokyo all got their start in these small venues that we’re losing,”
“Without these venues artists won’t be able to develop. We’re considered the best state in Australia for putting out decent music and if we keep losing venues we’ll lose that title. What happens when we lose live music? I reckon Perth is an amazing city but I can see why people would call it dullsville.”
John Day, Minister for the Department of Culture and the Arts, was unavailable for comment.