Sound check: Adelaide live music venues speak up for gig economy

Seven Adelaide live music venues have formed a grassroots alliance amid the cost of living crisis they say is hurting the local industry, from pubs and clubs to punters and bands.

Sep 22, 2023, updated Sep 22, 2023
The Independent Live Venues Alliance. Photo: Evie Wonder.

The Independent Live Venues Alliance. Photo: Evie Wonder.

The Independent Live Venues Alliance (ILVA) is a “harmonious collective” of venues from around South Australia that have teamed up to back one another ahead of what they believe will be some “very challenging years ahead”.

The Alliance includes Adelaide CBD venues Jive, Grace Emily Hotel and Broadcast Bar, with inner-metro venues The Governor Hindmarsh and the Wheatsheaf Hotel represented alongside Semaphore Workers Club and Goolwa’s Murray Delta Juke Joint.

The venues claim the Alliance is an Australian-first, with the model based off a similar initiative in the United Kingdom called the Music Venue Trust which “acts to protect, secure and improve UK grassroots music venues”.

The ILVA has unveiled a four-day music event featuring 14 gigs across the seven venues in mid-October to celebrate the “everyday” for live music venues it said were “the home, heart and soul of South Australia’s live music ecosystem”.

Speaking to InDaily, ILVA member and Jive founder Tam Baokes said the Alliance was an instrument by which venues in SA could be heard.

“We feel like our voices are not being heard. There’s a lot of really great focus at the moment on festivals and really big events – which are awesome – but those things leave us by the wayside,” said Boakes, who this year celebrates 20 years of operating Jive.

“They’re too big for us to compete with, and when everyone is also struggling with cost of living right now and going out a lot less, and if they can only go out once a month or once every three months, they’re choosing that lovely shiny festival.

“The little locals are not getting enough business at the moment to sustain them.”

Boakes said ticket sales were down across the board at small-medium sized venues in SA, and that “most of us would say it’s some of the worst times we’ve ever experienced”.

“Unless you’re a really big artist,” she said.

“Those big gigs still seem to do okay, but we’ve lost that more emerging level. It’s hard for bands right now to enter the scene and to travel and that’s what most of these venues focus on.”

The ILVA’s attention is on members supporting other members and to promote live music at local spaces where the big bands of tomorrow find their feet.

“I love the festivals, but every weekend there’s something and we just don’t have the population to compete with all of that,” Boakes said.

“It’s hard because festivals wouldn’t exist without grassroots venues – people have to learn how to play in bands and sound techs have to learn their craft. You wouldn’t have a festival without us because you’ve got to get all the way up that tree before you can get to that big, big gig.

“We need to find a way where both things can exist together without hurting each other.”

The Alliance has the financial support of the Music Development Office for the four-day, inaugural Everyday Festival.

“The Malinauskas Government is proud to support our state’s latest festival – Everyday Festival – which celebrates our state’s iconic live music venues,” Arts Minister Andrea Michaels said.

“We are Australia’s only UNESCO City of Music and our state’s live music venues do an incredible job allowing us to experience grassroots music.”

Everyday Festival highlights include US punk rock band Strung Out supported by Adelaide’s St Jude’s at The Gov on 19 October, as well as EP and single launches for local talent Colourblind, MANE, Kings & Associates and Stormy Lou at Jive, The Wheaty and The Grace Emily across the weekend.

The ILVA has also brewed its own beer for the occasion, with ‘Czech One, Two’ Bohemian Pilsener in collaboration Wheaty Brewing Corps made specially for Everyday Festival.

The full Everyday Festival program can be viewed here.

Ultimately, the ILVA hopes SA venues won’t go down the same path as similar sized spaces interstate like Frankie’s and HiWay Enmore in NSW which permanently closed. Others, like Melbourne’s Yah Yah’s and Cherry Bar, and Badlands in WA, have expressed the threat of closure recently too. While Dark Mofo in Tasmania has been “put on hold” next year.

“As independent grassroots venues we’re facing the toughest period in our collective memory,” ILVA member and The Wehaty owner Jade Flavell said.

“The stakes are high – if one of us fails, it hurts us all.

“I am proud to be part of this nation-leading alliance and work with some of the best in the business to build a stronger and more equitable music scene.”

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