As with many other industries, live music in Australia has undergone a form of restructuring. Much of this occurred during the 1990s, though it wasn’t so obvious at the time and there were plenty of other interesting things happening, often within stumbling distance of one’s affordable inner-city rental accommodation. As an introduction to this story of change felt in place, over time, this article discusses changes to live music in Australian cities between the 1980s and the 2000s, transitioning from an industry heyday of sorts, towards a more familiar landscape of organised activism focused on saving inner-city music venues (see, for example: Faulkner 2013; Homan 2011; Levin 2014). The starting point for discussion is a set of maps and figures derived from gig listings in Melbourne and Sydney in three respective sample years, forming a necessarily brief but novel ‘forest through the trees’ perspective on long-range change.
Among the map data are some venue names from the past which may be familiar or surprising to readers, depending on the time frame in which they went out the most. But beyond the bricks and mortar of the venues – and one can, in several cases, ‘buy a brick’ to save a particular venue – the data also speak to the human geography of music, and, to borrow a useful phrase, its ‘lost geographies of power’ (Allen 2003). Over the years there has been no decline in the number of performers, or even music venues, in Sydney or Melbourne. The changes are more spatial. They trend towards the diminishing role of organisational oligarchs but also the spatial agglomeration of gigs and musicians, a map writ large by the collective web of ‘spatial leashes’ which accompany DIY creative work.
The maps presented in this article derive from a wider research project in progress by the author. They are based on gig listings (published listings for forthcoming live music events) from the same week in three separate years (1983, 1994, 2006), in both Melbourne and Sydney. The gig listings have been compiled into an historical Geographic Information System (historical GIS). The structure of the historical GIS allows maps to be generated on live music distribution in different cities and timeframes, as well as enabling summaries of the number of different bands, or calculation of the distance between venues and gigs.