Friday, July 17, 2015

why i quit live music

Why i cant play live anymore by matthew middleton

I quit playing live music. Not that i really do it anyway, I havent been able to nimbly perform any instrument in public for about 5 years. Portentiously, the juno-60 synth died at my last gig, a show i had even practised for. It was like the nail in the coffin. 20 years ago performing live was a gut wrenching cathartic process that served a purpose - allbeit bombast. Attracting a mate for instance. Preen and bang a drum. A prurient public display of pure mange-encrusted ego. It was a display of the fire element - that loin fuelled plasma those under 40 store in surplus - something magical and something young people take for granted. Back then, as an unmarried mass of quantum potential , performing live rock music had meaning,  motive,  societal relevance,  cultural relevance, context and a built in cosmology - heroes living it out and ostensibly deriving great satisfaction from it all. It was the 90s. It was Dunedin. It was truly a time of great ambition and great possibility - guitar noise truly was ticket out of there - I mean oh my god - the Dead C were close friends with Sonic Youth, King Loser were arcane and dangerous,the propagation of feedback was naught less than spellcasting, the 3ds were noise pop royalty, Snapper was snarling, ravenous and extra-terrestrial, Bailter Space were extra-extra terrestrial. SPUD were from Auckland.  In amongst it there seemed to be some sort of coherent theme, a context which seemed to point towards greatness - importance - this heavy guitar music was something New Zealanders did as good as if not better than Nth America and europe/UK.
I left Invercargill and moved to Christchurch in 1994, and embarked on a lo tech bedroom recording career (wholly made possible by the grace of the new zealand governments unmployment pension- then less stringently policed as now), obsessively inspired by the indie-rock goings on about me, especially so those of King Loser, who, to me, seemed like the absolute penultimate of cool.  Chris and Celia were a nasty musical team and their Super Sonic Free Hi-Fi album was gold. That year i sent a copy of my maiden tape to an adress on the back of a King Loser tape. (And also sent a tape to Forced Exposure magazine in the states.) Amazingly i got replies from both . Very positive replies. The American one was an offer of a record deal , the other was praise from someone associated with King Loser, Duane Zarakov. I set up a jam with DZ and soon joined his band Space Dust on clarinet. I met King Loser in person. This was like a dream for a fanboy like myself, a bushy tailed small town boy, in amongst the coolest of the cool in Christchurch. And so, I met many truly bizarre personages, and i had no idea that this was also a irish music playing assemblage, i managed to keep irish music  at bay for a few years until curiosity got the better of me and i came home so to speak, finding the banjo a perfectly familiar feeling, psycho-socially useful and that vomiting over them was just too damn bad really. My flirtation with the Hare Krishna movement was over, but a spark of interest in Vedism and its variants remained dormant for years to come.
I moved to Dunedin in 95 and continued recording songs and sounds to a four track, and I found meeting King Loser had some fringe benefits, my drumming skill were utilized by Shayne Carter for a stint (because Chris from King Loser knew him), and Chris even recommended me to Flying Nun as a new signee. It happened, and out came 'Inner City Guitar Perspectives'. From 95-2005 I recorded 50 or so albums on my own label, formed a rock band called the Aesthetics, met Thurston from sonic youth and had further music released by him on his label, explored experimental and electronic music realms, got arrested several times for public drunkeness, went quite mad, 'mellowed out', kept playing,  found my life partner, got much older, got married then made the musical mistake of going to Melbourne. There were jobs in Melbourne, not music jobs but jobs jobs. I had to get a job job. There will never be another time like the 90s. I was truly ONLY able to record the corpus i did and build the 'career' i did because i was able to draw down a unemployment / sickness benefit. Never again will this opportunity to create and focus 100% on creating be afforded to me. Well, maybe at retirement age?
Melbourne had jobs jobs. But it was here that the reality of todays music scene kicked in. Overloaded, confusing, lacking a narrative, the anticlimax of the turn of the century dawning on the cultural subconscious and birthing a middling swathe of chillwave pop - there's 85 more chillwave drenched years left to go this century...do we need another shake up? Another war? To be fair - the music scene today is nodal, connectivist, relativist, vast, universally accessible, customizable and interactive, organic and fluid - which is a good thing?? I read that economo-cultural conditions have made it harder for some cash challenged artists to perform and thrive, while its easier and easier for wealthy young artists to buy time and space and gear and air-time and influence and venues and promotion and yoga mats and car batteries. Melbourne is awash with bands, and venues which house bands, but nothing stands out. Nothing sticks. Acts come and go. Bands form and then go. Thousands of little island like scenes. Bands seem to thrive if they are connected to the music school, a certain scene revolves around that here. But no-one, except the trust-fund kids, can really commit to a life-long exploration of themselves and their musico-creative potential . Maybe I'm wrong. (Yes) Primitive Calculators sticks. The Dirty Three sticks.
Why come to Melbourne? Not for music. For work. National came to power in NZ 2010 and made living on the dole near to impossible. I got married too, and we could not afford it.  I had to get work. I tried to start as a business. But my kind of music dosent sell too well. So, I was forced to act as both business man and artist and secretary and accountant and promoter and booking agent and manager and publicist and distributer and graphic deigner and sound person and recording engineer and logistician and all dat. It failed. We left New Zealand. I got a job in a organics factory, as an all round production assistant.
I found soon after commiting my body to this that performing the job full time made creative life extremely difficult. On weekends, when you work in my line, I don't really feel like working on music. I just don't have that spark anymore. I don't , at 40. You want to just relax. On top of that, Melbournes music scene is like a very dry, cliquey, competitive factory farm,
run by the venues. Venues rule all as far as musical performance is concerned. Then theres the booking mafia. Then there's the media and promotion mafia. Bands are the last thing to earn any money, first the venue is payed by way of public who buy drinks, then theres their staff, then its the sound person, then its the booker, then its the promoter, then its the cleaner, the door person, the electricity bill, the hush money, the pet food bill, the security guards, then, if anything's left, maybe your bandmate will get a dirty look.
I'm supposed to do it all for love, and pay to play. Pay to drag my gear across town, fall asleep on stage, have a few rich kids bark at me and ask what happened to The Aesthetics and then somehow take it all home. A little kiwi performing seal. And to be honest -  I dont even enjoy music anymore. Im 40. I have discovered Vedanta (like Salinger). All musical performance is an exercise in ego stroking, and public ego stroking-stoking-choking inflames my already delicate mental equilibrium.  Performing in Melbourne has all the value of performing in Twizel - sure, youll get a few people to your gig but you still have to go to work tomorrow.
For the past 10 years playing live music has become less and less enjoyable. You're supposed to be loyal to the love of music or something, you're supposed to be some sort of soldier, playing your crap sound for ever, like a sinewy purist , pretending to be 'passionate' and falling flat, every gig is at a bar or some form of drink hole which means Im drunk on stage again, my 'legend' of being a 'genius' questionable at best as i pathetically honk out 2 notes from my shawm and stop because i couldnt afford the reed before the gig and its broken, tired from a baleful week at work and just wishing i could go home and read the paper, knowing im supposed to be grateful for being given this oppurtunity to expose my wretched ass to the discerning australian public, and that this is my 10 minutes of fame right here and so go on boy sweat it out on stage and bare your bum because theres a thousand kids who cant play and you can and you take it for granted and how dare you motherfucker etc etc. You're sort supposed to be full of energy and 'up-for it' all the time and be ready for rock and roll action at the drop of a hat but no-one's gonna lend you the 10 bucks you need to actually take the tram to the venue. You're supposed to be in love with music and live music is a total joy because its live! music which is what you want to do because live music is a chance for you to entertain your mates and sing for your supper and come on man play that reggae version of 'killing me softly' and booo fuck off white motherfucker.
And so what - this is MY story - perhaps you're a successful Melbourne muso and you probably disagree strongly and have copius evidence that proves why I am wrong about live music and the 'scene' these days. I am not asking for anything. This is my blog, as subjective as i gets. Its just more digital toilet jammer. Whether these pages are snuffed out after Trump wins I have no idea. But for now, it sits here forever.

8 comments:

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    1. ah well. glad to see you're performing chris! and I hope yr melbourne show was fun. guess i've been blown out by recent deaths - famous ones and not so famous - a strange string of them. thx for yr work man i mean it. matt

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  3. So welcome to my world Matt. Not sure we've ever met but we know a lot of the same people. I stopped playing live 13 years ago, but before that managed to have a job job and a music job. I still create, not as often as before, and I still like to play, but not as often as before. Still it can add up over time, a bit here a bit there,I release some online occassionally, and I still want record my back catalog of unrecorded songs, I was living it full on while everyone else was recording so I missed a lot of that step. Maybe you've finished your catalog is all, and maybe one day when you're not so job job you might get inspired, but live meh, you are right, most venues are shitholes. Hope you keep on creating though.

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