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Why your favourite band (probably) doesn’t tour to Canberra

By Hayden Fritzlaff 7 April 2018 23
Photograph of the four members of AJJ

Arizona’s AJJ (formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad) are one of the few mid-tier international bands that make regular stops in the nation’s capital. Photo: Supplied.

We all know the feeling – eagerly checking the tour announcement of that band you like, reading it all the way to the end only to discover that, oh… they’re skipping right over Canberra. They’re playing Bendigo, Bunbury and Old Bar on the central coast, but not your favourite living locale.

There must be a reason. Before we go diving into Australia-wide anti-CBR conspiracy theories, let’s break down the facts behind why your favourite band (probably) doesn’t tour to Canberra.

The misconceptions

The first, and biggest misconception, concerns ticket sales. Being a small, largely unknown market, it’s easy to equate Canberra with low turnout. As Joel Caban of Noise Floor Records put it, Canberra is the same as anywhere else – build it and they will come. Currently, Canberra is a haven for small bands that happily play in bars or pack out a living room show in the Inner North. It becomes harder for mid-tier bands though, with a distinct lack of medium-sized rooms to play.

We’re nearly there however, offering 100-200 capacity stepping stone venues like Transit and Phoenix, through to mid-sized rooms like The Basement and into the thousands as at UC Refectory. But if one of those venues isn’t free, or the personal relationship isn’t there, confusion can set in for out-of-towners trying to put on shows.

The truths

Photograph of Ball Park Music in a living room

Ball Park Music will be in Canberra for Groovin The Moo. Photo: Supplied.

A hard pill to swallow for a lot of local music lovers is that, currently, the ol’ CBR has some drawbacks as a touring destination. A big one is timely ticket sales. On the whole, we have a habit of leaving our ticket purchasing to the last minute. So next time you go for the at-the-door option, spare a thought for the promoter who took a chance on Canberra, who’s been pulling their hair out for weeks, anxiously watching the ticket sales tick over while the artist hounds them for stats.

Big festivals like Groovin the Moo and Spilt Milk have an impact as well. Visiting Canberra with a monster festival in tow is a far safer bet than going out on a limb with a headline Canberra show.

And the big one is our size. Our little Canby is just that – little. Despite our higher-than-average density of cultural accessibility, we’re still just a big country town. There’s a hungry concert-going community to be sure, but it’s not always big enough to stop big-ticket artists like Beck from going to Lasttix.

The intangibles

Tickets for Beck’s recent show at National Convention Centre Canberra ended up on last-minute ticket website Lasttix. Photo: Lauren Dukoff.

Like everything in life, touring and booking shows is all about balance. Things come and go in waves, just as venues and their personnel change over and establish and demolish relationships.

It’s also important to remember that a big part of the answer to this question is that touring in Australia is pretty hard going at the moment. Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste set the records straight earlier this year, claiming that the band was “losing money” despite playing to sold-out audiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply in love with Canberra’s musical peoples and the work that they do. I have all the belief in the world in them and in this city. But we’ve got our work cut out for us to redirect the conversation around Canberra’s less-than-good entertainment reputation. All that said, I have a feeling things is about to change.

What do you think needs to happen to bolster the number of bands adding a Canberra stop to their tour?


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23 Responses to
Why your favourite band (probably) doesn’t tour to Canberra
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madelini 2:29 pm 24 Apr 18

It’s interesting. I have noticed more acts selling out in Canberra and in some cases have missed out on tickets. Missy Higgins, for example, sold out very quickly, as did Jose Gonzalez (both at Canberra Theatre). Vera Blue and Boo Seeka sold out Academy, Kim Churchill sold out Smith’s.

Since ANU Bar closed, there haven’t been many mid-sized venues around. UC Refectory is not the best layout and Academy has now closed. Transport and drinks are expensive – not to mention ticket prices. There’s also little advertising beyond email newsletters that require you to be signed up to whichever company is hosting the gig. If you don’t work in the city, you have to go out of your way to find out what’s going on.

I love Canberra and I love live music, but I don’t think this is the kind of city where you put something on and expect the people to turn up. That’s probably to our detriment, but meanwhile there is a certain demographic that’s definitely buying tickets. If anyone has a spare for Missy Higgins, let me know.

Azuma 9:38 pm 09 Apr 18

Former- Promoter here.
Several things.
Canberran’s won’t commit, it’s near impossible to sell tickets for events to get an idea of how many people will turn up, people decide on the night which often ends with a night with a big international artist and 2 people in the venue.

Lack of Venues. The change from “Club” culture to Sitdown Bar culture along with constant noise complaints has led to basically most of Canberra’s music venues closing doors. Canberra nightlife honestly has never been so dead.

Urban planning. Canberra is simply too low density, this means people have to travel long distances to enjoy night life and if you’re drinking.. think how much a taxi from Civic to Tuggers, Gunners, Weston etc costs.

Transient population of young people. Young people are mostly Uni students who will leave back to Melbourne or Sydney over breaks. This ironically makes Summer one of the deadest times in Canberra in terms of gigs and lets be real, going out in Winter here.. isn’t nice. This leaves early Autumn and late Spring to be the only real booming nightlife periods.

And as I mentioned before. Culture has changed. Young people don’t go out and party like they used too. Nightlife now revolves around sitting around at bars listening to elevator music deep house in the background, there just isn’t a culture around going nuts at a rock gig or a big Trance act anymore. I mean a decade ago the worlds BIGGEST ARTISTS were touring Canberra clubs, Holy Grail had Tiesto in the mid 00s, this dude was selling out 30,000 stadium concerts at that time, now you can struggle to even get interstate acts. Canberra’s nightlife has been on a very visible downward trend since the mid-late 00s.

Clayton Hughes 10:15 pm 08 Apr 18

Wonder why most venues closed down

    Edonk Psyclair 9:51 pm 09 Apr 18

    Noise complaints and frankly just a change in culture among youth nightlife habits. Nightclubs are out, sitting around boring bars is in.

    Clayton Hughes 9:54 pm 09 Apr 18

    That included, especially with some dumbarse brought a bottle of beer to a all ages venue and they don't understand it

    Kerry Baylor 7:06 am 10 Apr 18

    Edonk Psyclair "boring bars" ? hardly boring. All the new ones in Canberra are great and they play really great music. Maybe the DJS are the problem,they are probably boring

Jay Scribble 5:42 pm 08 Apr 18

I remember watching van halen in the 90’s. Even with Gary Cherone they still packed out the AIS.

    James Ballard 9:36 pm 22 Apr 18

    I was at that concert. It wasn't totally packed as I remember a lot of room at the back on the floor.

Grimm 11:53 am 08 Apr 18

The answer is very simple. Venues.

I remember in the 90s and early 2000s, you were spoiled for choice on any Friday or Saturday night in civic as far as live music went. You had the Terrace Bar, Gypsy Bar, Circus, Zorros, ANU Bar etc etc. Huge bands came to Canberra because the venues were there, and the culture of going to see bands every weekend was there. Bands like Nirvana showed up at their biggest to play the ANU bar, and packed it out so badly it was gatecrashed.

Many of the good venues in Canberra were shut due to noise complaints, usually from places that came after the venue, which I have always thought was incredibly wrong to even entertain. Like buying cheap land under a flight path and complaining about the noise. Or units built in Sydney next to Luna Park then bitching the roller coaster is loud. Yeah, it is, and you knew that. It was there first. Terrace Bar and Gypsy bar are prime examples of that.

Now all we really have is the Transit (Not real big and restricted due to noise complaints), Basement, Pot Belly (Again, pretty small) and the UC refectory (Very expensive to book). Phoenix, while trying, just isn’t big enough to be a contender.

The good venues of mid to large size either disappeared or priced themselves out, and the live music culture of the time went with them, so the bands stopped coming because turnouts dwindled. Metal for the brain stopped because of huge costs for public liability insurance and the surrounding political crap. It’s a shame. I had a lot of fun playing and going to big and small gigs here during the time.

    Azuma 9:45 pm 09 Apr 18

    Yep, I remember going out in the early 00s and Canberra would have tonnes of venues and everywhere was absolutely pumping. Great live music venues, great DJ’s, international acts constantly touring. Then the noise complaints started coming and the venues started to drop like flies. I’m actually surprised Transit is still open, a certain apartment building has been hellbent on killing that venue with death by a thousand cuts. They were getting noise complaints for “being too noisy putting chairs and tables out”.

    As you said, with the music venues all being eradicated, the culture that came with them died as well. Now younger people don’t really seem to care about music venues at all. It’s not only a Canberra trend as well, Gentrification mashed with noise complaint nimbyism has seen this occur all over the world. Even England’s live music and clubbing mecca’s have shut their doors in recent years.

John Nunes 8:39 am 08 Apr 18

Its always hard when it seems 90% of Canberrans are so generic.

Adam McCavery 7:55 am 08 Apr 18

Simply, we don’t have the population to attract the big artists. Not even 500,000 people. Not to mention facilities of an appropriate standard.

    Andrea Kerr 8:28 am 08 Apr 18

    I agree the size and lack of facilities make it unattractive to venture here.

    Kerry Baylor 8:49 am 09 Apr 18

    those bands are missing out on great audiences. A lot of touring bands happily do smaller shows here between Melbourne and Sydney.Not sure they use a population algorithm though.

    Edonk Psyclair 9:50 pm 09 Apr 18

    Canberra used to attract huge international artists all the time almost every fortnight.

    What has changed is the Venues have all been shut down (Canberra had tonnes of venues when I started going out) and live music and club culture is dead.

    https://www.theguardian.com/global/commentisfree/2016/may/07/death-of-nightclubs-internet-dating-eva-wiseman

    https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/not-going-out-why-millennials-are-no-longer-going-to-night-clubs-10449036.html

Scott Welsh 5:44 am 08 Apr 18

Look out if it’s raining, cold, hot, anything other than the perfect weather and people don’t bother leaving their homes.

    Louise Ellery 10:41 pm 08 Apr 18

    So true! I find this happens exactly!

    Edonk Psyclair 9:52 pm 09 Apr 18

    I don't blame people, it's a long way to travel for most Canberrans to get into Civic to gamble if it's going to be a ghost town or not (which 80% of the time it is)

    Scott Welsh 9:56 pm 09 Apr 18

    Hmm, it doesn’t seem to stop people in other cities who have to travel further. No where in Canberra is a long way from anywhere.

Kerry Baylor 5:06 pm 07 Apr 18

Newcastle is about the same size as Canberra and most bands big and small play there. Canberra audiences won't commit in advance. The Canberra Theatre is attracting great acts but really need a dedicated dancefloor to get more people in

    Tim Floyd 11:49 pm 08 Apr 18

    Agreed - Canberra theatre being all-seating is, unfortunately, a terrible venue for many acts (for a recent example, Veruca Salt). I'm sure the loss of ANU Bar as a venue has not helped either.

    Kerry Baylor 8:40 am 09 Apr 18

    Tim Floyd i generally don't go to see rock bands at the Canberra Theatre ,sitting and watching a rock band is ridiculous. I made an exception for the Sunnyboys because I had front row tickets.I stood up the moment they hit the stage and was yelled at by people sitting behind me. WTH ! seeing live bands is not a spectator sport.

    Kerry Baylor 9:53 pm 09 Apr 18

    Edonk Psyclair the bars i go too are always packed.The local live music is alive and well.If Canberrans want live music they need to support it.

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