The City of Music: Why Australia should pay attention to Adelaide’s music scene

“All the king’s horses, all the king’s men. Wouldn’t drag me back again”

It’s not hard to decipher what Adelaide-born folk singer Paul Kelly means in his song Adelaide. Yet in 2018, he played the main stage at Groovin the Moo in a spectacular homecoming show to a crowd of thousands.

Adelaide has a healthy music scene and the industry is a key pillar of its cultural and creative identity.

In December 2015, Adelaide received formal recognition as a ‘City of Music’, as part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

But in the eyes of many more needs to be done to draw the attention South Australia’s music scene deserves.

So why is it no one seems to be listening?

On the ground, artists perform every night of the week and festivals are planned months in advance to bring Adelaide’s music to the forefront. But it remains that musicians struggle to make a living while businesses clamour to make ends meet.

“I’ll be working thirty to 35 hours a week in the café and then I probably spend on average like two to three hours a day, five days a week on music” says Neon Tetra lead singer and co-writer Josh Allen.

Allen plays with his band a couple of times a month, tours regularly along the East Coast, and his songs recently played on Triple J.

Venice Queens lead singer Sam Little echoes the balancing act faced by many Adelaide-born acts.

“It’s fairly tough…heaps of effort goes into it” he says. Along with his bandmates, Little admits it’s difficult to find time for the band as all members work full-time or part-time jobs to stay afloat.

Venice Queens began playing two gigs a month as support acts in local venues before building a national fanbase. The band now headlines shows and tours throughout the year but only six of these sets are scheduled in their hometown.

Being in a band is an expensive exercise. Many come and go without any hope of continuing.

“If it’s something I want to make a career out of I will push it to the end of the earth,” says Little.

These bands are no strangers to Adelaide’s live music circuit but they rarely feature on festival line-ups. As Allen points out.

Neon Tetra’s latest festival was at Handpicked in 2018 while Venice Queens most recently played Music SA’s Scouted Festival, which showcases the best emerging talent in the state.

Ross Osmon is one of the founders of Five Four Entertainment, Adelaide’s leading music management, bookings and events company.

The music company brought Spin Off Festival back to the city following a five-year hiatus.

The festival sold out in both years since its return but it’s been a long time coming for the organisation, which faced bankruptcy on multiple occasions and struggled to convince promoters to bring arts to Adelaide. .

Historically, the perception of Adelaide’s cultural offering has been restricted to food, wine and high-brow festivals.

Across the nation Adelaide’s live music scene goes unnoticed.

General Manager of Music SA Lisa Bishop believes this inference relates back to the 80s and 90s and notes, “since then we have really cemented music as an art form that is central to the city’s culture and economy”.

This attitude has changed drastically over the past five years, with some crediting this to the UNESCO title.

Some have credited the UNESCO title with the drastic attitude changes over the last five years. For others, the point is moot.

“Do we get money from UNESCO? No. Does it mean bands want to come here more? No,” says Osmon.

When it comes to why we should care about Adelaide’s live music scene, it’s not for the formal recognition.

“You could almost summarise it as, are they going to give a shit?” says Allen.

Adding, “but you never really do it for the money… it’s always fun”.

He also acknowledges that Adelaide is one of few cities considered to be a cultural safe haven for artists.

Little agrees what was once competition is now camaraderie in Adelaide’s music community, “we believe in what we’re doing, and we believe in what everyone is doing”.

As a new wave of festivals approaches, renowned national and international acts take to Adelaide stages, and tickets sell out faster than ever, it’s an exciting time for South Australia’s music scene and punters across the nation pay attention.

“If you’re a music fan then you should definitely care about [Adelaide’s] music because there’s a wide variety of talent and such a smorgasbord of live music, almost every night of the week now,” says Little.

Image by Emily Savage