Over the next month or so, I am going to conduct a series of interviews looking at how the Brisbane music scene is fairing in the year 2011. A wide variety of topics are going to be covered, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how people interpret how our sleepy little town is doing.
For the first interview, I was lucky enough to chat with Sam Whiting from local band Nikko. Nikko have been gigging for 6 years now (or, as it’s known in Brisbane, forever), and have always been a very active part of the Brisbane music scene, for want of a better term. In fact, please forgive my usage of the term ‘scene’, I really wish I could think of a better way to put it.
Nikko have always played with a huge array of bands, and over the past 6 years have gone from strength to strength. Sam has organized shows, tours, and been a fantastic help to many other bands, as well as being a generally fantastic guy. Nikko are relocating to Melbourne in November, and we will be worse off without them, and Sam.
EFI: Nikko have been around for a long time now, I’m assuming you’ve seen a lot of things come and go, how do you think Brisbane is different musically now, then say, five years ago.
SW: I don’t know if that much has really changed. The people running things, and putting on shows, are all still doing it, and even the ‘higher ups’ in the music scene are all still there, your higher up managers and so on haven’t gone anywhere, and you’ve still got the same DIY dudes putting on shows. No-one that I can think of that had a big impact when we were starting out has left, but it’s hard to say really, we certainly have a different perspective as a band now than we did when we were starting out.
Brisbane’s definitely on the up though, and I think the music scene is better now than when we were starting out. There are more venues, and people will keep starting more venues. What’s popular has been the biggest change. When we were starting out, the whole angular post punk thing was popular, and now we see more surf rock kinda garage bands getting around. But on the whole, not a huge amount has changed.
EFI: So you’ve been around for years now, and always consistently pull a crowd…
SW: Well, pulling a crowd is only a recent anomaly for us, it’s only since we put out our first album last year that we’ve been able to get people to shows, up until that point we were just another band who didn’t put much effort into promoting ourselves. But after 4 years, it kinda came to a point where we had to put out a release and promote it properly; it was the logical thing to do if we were to continue on as a band.
EFI: I guess what I’m asking is, after 6 years of gigs, do you have any trouble getting gigs or convincing a venue to put it on, or is it easier now.
SW: Not anymore, but we’ve never really had too much trouble with gigs . It’s hard to think back to when we were an emerging band, but it was always easy to get gigs at Rics – we played at Rics a lot when we were first coming up, like every 2 weeks, but that kind of led to people knowing who we are, and it gets easier as it goes on. As for venues, we don’t have much trouble at all anymore. It just comes down to being organised – it helps to answer emails and not screw around the venue, or be lazy. I’ve been in that role, booking shows where bands have been lazy and flaky – I don’t wanna be that guy, and Nikko don’t wanna be that band. It’s simple.
EFI: So if you could change the Brisbane music scene, even in a few small ways, what would you like to do?
SW: I would like to break down the hierarchy. I feel like there are 2 types of bands in Brisbane – those who are happy doing what they’re doing, and aren’t concerned with fame or even recognition, and then those who want the fame and all that. I feel like, it’s quite obvious, what type of band you are, but there are some anomalies, like us and bands like No Anchor and Mr Maps who are in a sort-of grey area. There is something about the music industry in Australia, I don’t know what it is, but a lot of people have a specific idea of how you need to sound to be a successful band, or at least, the ‘higher ups’ do . Like, a band like No Anchor, who are fucking awesome and deserve success, has to go out on their own, and do things their own way. Same as us – we aren’t marketable. But – we’re dedicated, we’re hardworking, and we think we make pretty good music. So I feel a band like us, we don’t get as much of a look in from the higher ups, as other bands will, because we aren’t instantly marketable. It’s like being told, “Your music’s too out there, you’re just another weirdo hopeless-case underground band ”, which is wrong. I mean, look at The Drones. Look at the fucking Birthday Party. I mean, they certainly did things the hard way, but their concert footage was shown on prime time television in Britain in the 80’s, and I just feel like a lot of the Australian music industry aren’t open to giving forward-thinking music much of a chance these days, and that a lot of people, specifically those that have the power to make changes, are close-minded about music.
EFI: And it seems to be a mentality of ‘You’re wrong’ until someone similar breaks through. Garage rock was kind of ignored by the mainstream in Australia, stuff like JJJ etc, until Eddy Current Suppression Ring broke through, and then all of a sudden, outlets had time for bands like that.
SW: I think that also has to do with building a scene, which is something we (Nikko) have never really been a part of – we’re outsiders in the underground because we’ve never had a group of similar bands to play with – we’ve never had our own scene.
EFI: Well, one thing I noticed about Nikko is, that they can play with anyone. From Eleventh he Reaches London to The Boat People. Bands that have nothing in common, yet you seem to fit in with both.
SW: Well, there are so many awesome bands in Brisbane that aren’t going anywhere because they play with the same bands to the same people again and again. We’re just not that band. We aren’t trying to claim a scene, we just want to be as open minded and positive in the way we book shows as possible. Any exposure is good I guess, and it’s great to be able to play with bands of all colours of the musical rainbow.
EFI: So what are some positives and negatives to being a young band in Brisbane?
SW: Well, going back to what I said about 2 types of bands, I feel like if you’re in the underground you’re almost forced to stay there, which shouldn’t be the case. But, Brisbane is really social, and everyone knows each other, even across genres, everyone is pretty chummy. There are a lot of venues, which is good, but they’re all in Fortitude Valley, which sucks. If by centralising things more people go to shows because they know where they are that’s fine, but I would like to see West End get more venues.
But just the ‘higher ups’ I would like to change. There was a certain small-to-mid-sized venue who would never give us a gig, even for our album launch, which we ended up getting almost 300 people to at The Zoo, but we just couldn’t book a gig there for reasons unbeknownst other than that the booking agent didn’t like us or didn’t think we were appropriate, which is a pretty piss-poor reason if you ask me. I think that because there are less power players in Brisbane, the few that are around have more power, which isn’t a good thing. We need some new blood – which is happening. The Lofly/Hangar guys are fantastic, and very inclusive. The Bridge Club is fantastic, and will give lots of bands a go. It’s great that the underground people we’ve worked with for years are taking on a bigger organisational role, which is awesome, and is exactly what is needed in Brisbane. There needs to be less distance from the very bottom to the very top. But again, we’ve got new venues now, which are really important, and we have more venues with a really inclusive policy, which is perfect. But Rics has changed, and we wouldn’t be the band we are without Rics, but we do have X and Y now. But Rics was always the entry level for new bands, and it seems now you have to know the right people, and I hope bands aren’t missing out without that entry level. But, new bands are always coming through, so they must be getting first gigs one way or another.
Audiences in Brisbane are a lot more open minded then other major cities. Brisbane doesn’t get as much music as say, Sydney or Melbourne, and audiences here seem to be a lot more receptive, but it seems the rule is that the smaller the town the more receptive the audience. We might play to like, 10 people in Newcastle, but they will all come and say hi, and buy merch, but no one will do that in Sydney, even if there’s 100+ people at the gig. Brisbane has that nice small town vibe, but we have the best of both worlds. We still get people doing big shit here, like Dew Process, but we still have kind of a mentality of a small town, and we stick together.
I know that I’ve touched on it, but I would like to see more bands play with bands not in their scene, and not just play with the same bands. It might be easy for me to say that, as we’ve never been in that situation where you’ve got a close-knit group of similar bands to play with, and I can see how it would be easy to book shows when you know who you’d book. I guess we’ve never had that luxury.
EFI: So the move to Melbourne, what’s inspired that.
SW: Boredom really. We’ve all lived here all our lives, and we just want to try something new, it’s mostly personal. Melbourne’s a change of scenery. Eventually we would like a sustainable career as a band, we would like to be able to go on tour often without losing money. It seems as though the only way to do that whilst staying based in Brisbane is to get JJJ support, which we clearly aren’t getting. It just seems as though left-field underground-type bands have a better chance of a sustainable career in Melbourne. In Melbourne RRR is huge, bigger then JJJ, and they will play whoever they like. We basically decided that to move forward, we have to spend some time in another city. Summer is the busiest time for music in any city, so we just decided to spend the summer in Melbourne, and then it evolved into staying. Some members may come back, and if that happens we’ll have to do more tours and less one off shows, but I feel like it’s a step forward – but we’re not moving to Melbourne and forgetting this city – we will still be a Brisbane band, and will always be a Brisbane band.. No matter where we are, we will always be a Brisbane band.
On November 5 Nikko play a farewell show at Woodland, with Carsick Cars from China, and Keep on Dancins. This is a ridiculously great lineup, and is a show you would regret missing for years to come. Regrets suck, so I will see you there.