Last night (Dec. 27) I dragged myself from my cone of isolation and went to see a mate for his birthday. With only a few bucks in my pocket I didn't get even close to smashed as some people there ended up, but thanks to the charity of old buddies I managed to get a few into me and had a great time. Before things got too out of control, I chatted to a couple of blokes I've known for a long time about something that's passionate to all of us: Sydney's metal scene. Both guys have been around it for ages. One dude started playing in bands in the early 90s and one a few years later and both have been around the block a few times in this band or that. The last time I strapped on a guitar and walked on stage with any intention of being a musician was when I was in high school, and one of the main reasons I gave it away was because I just wasn't very good.
Some people out there now should do the same.
Now these two fellas don't see eye to eye about a lot, but in separate conversations with me last night both agreed about one thing. Sydney's metal scene is in bad shape. I've been active on the scene in varying capacities since at least the mid-90s and I've never seen it so bad. A few weeks back I walked into a free gig late in the piece to find a band on stage who wouldn't have been given the 7pm opening slot at Bexley's notorious Forest Inn fifteen years ago. The riffs were non-descript and boring and I'm sure the singer couldn't have hit a note properly if someone was holding a gun to her head. I have no idea what they were called and frankly I don't want to know. It's bad enough when you pay money to see bands and they suck. It's worse when you're at a gig that costs nothing and you still feel ripped off.
After an hour or so at this gathering, the birthday boy pulled out a compact digital camera. That's when it hit me. This guy is a shit-hot photographer and could probably take a gallery-worthy picture using a shoe box with a hole in one end and a piece of art paper, but when he took out the Lumix to get a few happy snaps, I realised something. Give a man a camera these days, and suddenly HE'S A PHOTOGRAPHER. You don't even need to spend $5 at the photomart to get your crappy shots developed these days. Just plug in the compact to your computer with a USB and the whole world can see your terrible "photography". I've never made much money from my writing but I've had people whom I respect, both writers and not, who have praised me for it. I've taken courses in it, I've had a few things appear in professional publications and I once had a book published. Like real photography, getting published as a writer is hard. You have to be good. But give a person a computer, an internet connection and a blog site and suddenly EVERYONE IS A WRITER. You don't even need an editor now, or even a decent grasp on language.
Now, I'm not talking about people who upload pictures of their kids or their holiday snaps to Facebook, or people who keep personal blogs for personal reasons that their friends and families might read. I'm talking about people who try to shop around their awful pictures as masterpieces or those who start up "legitimate" travel/cooking/music/culture/whatever websites full of their god damn meaningless drivel. Film making is the same deal. Shoot a clip of your cat falling off a roof and upload it to YouTube and suddenly you're a film maker.
The same thing is happening in music. But let me tell you, finding four or five other people who can kinda play, bashing out some half-arsed shit that your friends like and uploading it to MySpace for the world to suffer does not make you a band, or even a musician. Years ago, there were only two places in Sydney where metal bands could play regularly, and it was hard to get gigs there because the bookers expected you to be good. If you weren't good enough, you either went back to rehearsal or Tuesday night band comps and got good or you split up and put your guitar away forever. These days there's a few more venues around for metal bands to play at and it seems like metal is more popular than ever, but shows aren't getting anywhere near the crowds they used to. And why is that? Because there's maybe five or six metal bands on the Sydney scene at the moment that I would actually pay money to go see. There's four or five others that are decent, and dozens that are shit. Seriously, the scene regulars piss and moan about no one going to see bands, but how can you convince people to do that if the bands are terrible? Last year at the Stag I saw Dreadnaught, Switchblade, Darker Half and Be'lakor play and the place was packed. Why? Because all of those bands are good. Not just one of them, not just two of them. All of them.
I realise that what I'm about to say will put a few noses out of joint, but it also seems that, in their well-intentioned efforts to "support the scene" in any way they can, some people are allowing these crummy bands to play shows that no one is going to see. If you ask me (and who is?), instead of two or three gigs a week featuring one decent band and an undercard of crap ones, what the "scene" needs right now is a couple (or less!) of gigs a month featuring the best bands out there. Just about everyone on the scene here knows everyone else. Instead of trying to outpoint one another with who can support the scene the most and who can put on the most gigs, why not get together and put on one really good show every month featuring three arse-kicking, face-melting bands. Sure, let some newer band open or play late. I'm not suggesting they don't play at all, because how else can they get better? But filling the bill with under-developed talent every week isn't supporting the scene - it's killing it. I know from talking to others -- not just these guys last night but other fans and musos in recent times -- that I am not alone in thinking this.
-- Brian Fischer-Giffin