1 April 2018

The state of all-ages music in Canberra

| Hayden Fritzlaff
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Photograph of six members of a band in front of a wall holding guitars

Girls Rock empowers girls, trans and non-binary young people through week-long mentorship programs. Photo: Mia Mala McDonald, from GR!C 2016.

Deep in the Facebook algorithm, there’s a not-so-secret chatroom for DIY music lovers. It’s a positive online space populated by journalists, musicians and promoters, and based on the explosive response to a post on the subject, it seems that many (if not most) owe their passion to the live music experiences of their teenage years.

That’s perhaps not the most scientific analysis (unlike the much more scientific study that found going to gigs is probably the secret to immortality), but it speaks volumes of the importance of live music to under-18 fans.

Music for all ages

Photograph of Condifence Man with black-clad figures in the background

Confidence Man will be in Canberra on April 29 for Groovin the Moo, one of Australia’s foremost all-ages festivals. Photo: Supplied.

All-ages (AA) is the term for events that drop age restrictions on entry. More broadly, it’s any show that allows access for people under the age of 18, including shows that are strictly for under-18s.

Arguments for the value of these events are numerous and varied, and warrant an article in themselves. The benefits range from kicking off a young person’s interest in the music industry to fostering positive gig culture.

The caveats

Sometimes, running an AA show happens almost by accident. Events in youth centres and theatres, as well as house shows and community events, are generally always AA-friendly. The problems arise on premises usually reserved for 18+.

Pubs, bars, bandrooms and music festivals can face undue risk and red tape that puts off or precludes them from running AA events. Add to this the financial difficulty of a gig where the punters can’t buy alcohol, and the capacity for established venues to run AA shows on the regular can quickly diminish.

How does Canberra hold up?

Black and white photograph of Sarach Blasko

Most shows at Canberra Theatre Centre are open to all ages. They are hosting Sarah Blasko on May 23. Photo: Kylie Coutts.

Autumn is an important time of the year for AA music in Canberra, with Groovin the Moo taking over a ‘paddock’ at UC. The annual festival has always been open to AA punters, giving under-18s access to world-class live music.

Canberra also has a network of venues that regularly offer AA shows, including Ainslie + Gorman Arts Centres and Canberra Theatre Centre. Demographically-speaking, UC Life and ANU Pop-Up have a vested interest in offering AA events, and UC Refectory notably hosted an AA Hands Like Houses show in 2017. Mulgara and Lacklustre offer space for AA punters by way of house shows and the Polish Club and The Front in the inner north have the institutional knowledge and infrastructure to offer them as well.

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers and Lucy Sugarman are two of the most prominent artists in the city full-stop, never mind the fact that they’re still in high-school. So too, Girls Rock, the Street University, and Woden Youth Centre all offer seriously cool opportunities for young people to engage with the music world.

Where to from here

The sad truth is that economic and promotional difficulties are often magnified with AA shows. The fact that so few high-profile touring artists stop by Canberra, coupled with venues’ economic risk means that AA has become less and less of a priority for local promoters in recent years. We can look down the road to Sydney for guidance though, with programs like Xray Spex offering mentorship alongside damn-cool events.

It makes sense that promoters and punters both take the lead in Canberra. The opportunity is there; to become a haven for AA music and foster a culture of gig-going that will help the city grow into a genuine music destination.

What’s your take on the state of all-ages music in Canberra?

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Hey tou forgot the Tuggeranong Theatre & Hunting Lodge..??

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