Icons: Lucas Abela/Justice Yeldham
Lucas Abela has literally carved out one of the most unique careers in Australian noise. He talks about his transition from Gold Coast goth to glazier and compares scars with SHAUN PRESCOTT.
Lucas Abela is best known for shredding his face to pieces with contact-miked glass under the name of Justice Yeldham, a project named after Justice David Yeldham, who in 1996 committed suicide in the midst of a well-documented sex scandal. Abela has been performing as Justice Yeldham for eight years now with only the occasional hospital visit, and despite all the bloodletting he's looking pretty good.
His show, however, is a horrible spectacle for the uninitiated: Abela's cheeks are flattened by the glass, the foot of his tongue presses against his instrument like some over-satiated worm, blood eventually cloaks the glass in a pink fluoroscent haze, and then ... he bites the glass into pieces until it's nothing but a bloodied mound of shrapnel at his feet. The noise his instrument emits ranges from a subterranean death rattle through to a squalling motorised melee, with plenty of sonic variations in between. After his shows he bows, flicks his pedals off, packs up and exits. On the odd occasion when you're lucky enough to see Justice Yeldham in a room of first-time witnesses, an eerie quiet pervades the room.
Abela is also a tireless advocate for unusual music, and has been a key figure in Sydney's underground music scene since the early ’00s. He's probably the only artist in Sydney who can claim to have collaborated live with Dave Grohl, The Flaming Lips and members of the Boredoms, and also with local luminaries such as Curse Ov Dialect and The Necks' Chris Abrahams. He founded the Dual Plover label in 1996, which has hosted material for the likes of Naked on the Vague, former Severed Heads member Gary Bradbury and Deerhoof. He co-ran the Consolodor De Dos Caras night in Sydney in 2008 and ’09, and has most recently curated a monthly night at Carriageworks called Auraltered States, which has showcased artists as diverse as former Sadistik Exekution guitarist Rev Kriss Hades, through to legendary noise-pop group The Garbage and The Flowers and Oren Ambarchi's Menstruation Sisters. He's also released a record consisting entirely of Kombi van noise.
Our chat took place at a warehouse in St Peters, where Abela is setting up the third presentation of his DJ Smallcock's Vinyl Arcade installation. The work consists of a race track of old vinyl records and two remote control cars equipped with styluses at their base. Two old arcade-racing consoles allow viewers to “race” the remote control cars, with the resulting scree amplified throughout the room. Abela is taking his Vinyl Arcade to Austria for the Donau festival later this month, where he will also tour as Justice Yeldham.
How is the new Vinyl Arcade going to pan out?
The one I’m doing here is small compared to the one in Erskineville [exhibited in 2010], but it kinda gives me a test run for Europe where I’m getting a huge space. I’m glad to have the chance to do a tech run even though it’s not going to be as impressive. In Austria I’ve got a 17x17 metre room to build it in so I can have lots more fun, and have more interesting aspects to the race course. Here they’ll just be circling the consoles. I think it’ll be OK, but there’s not really any room for the audience: we've got an opening on the 15th [of this month] and the room is going to be [taken up by] the work. It’s kinda silly how small this place is.
Just a couple of people at a time then?
Yeah, just two people at a time to race it and everyone else out here [in the adjacent room] drinking.
What are the logistics of taking the Vinyl Arcade to Austria?
Fortunately I’ve played at the Donau Festival before, in 2005 or ’06. They invited me to do Justice Yeldham. I mentioned the idea to the director years ago, because I’ve had the idea in my mind for a while, and he was interested in it. Then I went back to Donau as part of Kevin Blechdom’s Slaughtering Slobbersville Ensemble, so I ran into him again. I’d just done it in Newcastle (as part of the This Is Not Art festival) and I’d just got the funding for the bigger one in Erskineville. I told him it’d happened and he said to send him some documentation: so I sent him the video and he booked it. The logistics though - I have to ship it in an aeroplane.
So you’re shipping the arcade consoles and everything?
Yep, once we finish up here the freight company is picking them up and sending them to Vienna.
‘A Gold Coast goth’
You grew up on the Gold Coast.
I actually grew up in Melbourne until I was 12, and then we moved to Cabarita Beach which is Northern NSW for a year. I went to high school on the Gold Coast and eventually [the whole family] moved there. I lived on the Gold Coast until early 1992 I think, which is when I came here [to Sydney] after high school.
I moved out of home and moved to Brisbane when I was in year 11 because I wanted to do film and television at Indooroopilly High, but I got caught up in drugs and excess for a while. I completely failed school halfway through year 12, so I dropped out, moved back to the Gold Coast and tried again in 1991.
Did you enjoy the Gold Coast?
Yeah I did in a way. As much as it was the polar opposite to the things I was into. I was a Gold Coast goth, leather jackets on the beach [laughs]. It was a bit ridiculous: someone is organising a Miami High 20th Anniversary for this year and they’ve posted some shots [on Facebook] of my class: and I’m there with my Foetus t-shirt. Going through the picture I couldn’t remember a single name in my form class. When I was at high school I didn’t socialise with my high school friends, I socialised with the alternative groups on the Gold Coast, and there was a pocket of each of us in the high schools and some adults who weren’t at school. We were a small number so we all clustered together – the punks, the skins, the goths, the rockabillies. The club we used to go to was a rockabilly club, it was the only alternative club on the Gold Coast. There were spouts of goth clubs but the rockabilly club was the mainstay. Also the gay clubs used to let us in. When you think about it, the age we were getting into these places, you just wouldn’t get away with today. I don’t know how it happened, we were clubbing at 14 and 15.
Why did you move to Sydney?
I was on my way to Melbourne. Out of three brothers I was the only one who wanted to leave Melbourne initially. Even back then I felt like an outsider and didn’t have many friends, so I thought a fresh start would be great. But my brothers had lots of friends and wanted to stay, they were being uprooted, they were older than me, blah blah. I was 12. When we got to Queensland I felt alienated again, they became popular and had heaps of mates, but at the same time I was getting into alternative music and culture, and thinking back and wishing I’d never left Melbourne. I would have been amongst interesting things if I was a teenager in Melbourne in the late ’80s rather than the Gold Coast. But that’s how the cookie crumbles. So as soon as high school finished I wanted to move to Melbourne and decided to stop into Sydney on the way, which I’d only visited once before. I wanted to check it out and then kinda got caught here.
It was a bigger city and it looked like more of a jungle to me than Melbourne, which I wasn’t really expecting. And it also had the beaches, which I’d become accustomed to. I also had some friends in Sydney. The only friend I had here was [Ashley] Rothchild from Caligula, because he’d come up to the Gold Coast with Ratcat and my best friend Troy befriended him. He was my one connection to Sydney. We started going to Cybernaut – the cyber/goth club that was in Kings Cross in the early 90s. I didn’t really get to know anyone in the experimental crowd straight off because I got caught up in that scene. The guy I was housesharing with did a radio show called Morning Sickness [on Radio SkidRow], and we started doing it together. When he left I got the radio show to myself and that’s when I started experimenting with turntables. I had this graveyard shift where I’d started chopping records up and building my own modified decks.
One night [noise artists] Oren Ambarchi and Robbie Avenaim tuned into the show somehow and said, “Who the fuck is this”, found out who I was, and called me at home. They asked me to play this thing called Noisefest at the Vulcan Hotel [in Ultimo]. At that point I already had my Kombi van, which made noise, so I had that play the live set that night by pulling it up to the pub doors and putting a mike through the front of the van. I became friends with them and started going to Phlegm shows and started meeting the more experimental community. There were some tangents [into that scene] through Skid Row as well, but that was the first time I was invited to play live and the first time I’d gotten into the loop for shows.
Was there much noise happening in Sydney then using unconventional instruments, such as you did using a Kombi van?
Not that I can remember. The Kombi was a van I’d bought off a Japanese backpacker on the Gold Coast. I had it for a couple of years when I was in high school. I rolled it down hill behind a group of friends once. It was moving faster than the Valiant in front, so (to avoid a collision) I went around this corner and the Kombi rolled over and landed back on it’s wheels. I wanted to tell my friends what happened so I just kept driving and took it all the way home. The body was a wreck so I couldn’t drive it without attracting too much attention from the police. I bought a new body and transferred a stereo from another car into it, and I must have done something dramatically wrong because I built my first contact microphone by mistake. I amplified the entire van without even thinking about it, which is sort of ironic as everything I’ve done since involves contact mics.
When you turned the windscreen wipers on it’d make a [makes loud high pitched noise]. You’d stay still and [makes clicking noise], and you’d move around in the car and it’d make a [makes explosion sounds]. I’d already been making noise with it, and even when I was on the Gold Coast I used to pull up at bus stops, open the Kombi’s doors and make as much noise as I could for a couple of minutes and drive off again. They were drive-by recitals. [Laughs]
I wasn’t really influenced by people making music with odd things though, this music making instrument just fell into my lap and became the first music I made – or more the first music my van made that I took ownership of. I still wanted to be a filmmaker at this point. I hadn’t really gotten into making music. In the late ’80s when I first read the Industrial Culture Handbook I read about Boyd Rice and him chopping up records and drilling holes in records. Because I couldn’t buy a NON record [Boyd Rice’s group] I repeated the experiments that I read about: chopping records in half, flipping them around, and drilling holes so they’d play off-axis. That’s the first turntable stuff that I did but it was just to emulate Boyd Rice.
Like assembling your own NON records.
Yeah [laughs], and then it wasn’t until I started at Skid Row and started to get bored doing the graveshift that I remembered these experiments and decided to start them up again. Then when I got the phone-call from Oren and Robbie I stepped into the idea that you could do this stuff live: that it wasn’t just something you do in your bedroom out of boredom. At that point I knew about industrial noise but nothing about Japanese noise. I never thought this stuff happened. It was good to play live, and that’s when I started getting serious about making music.
“I guess I’ve never been on the thinking side of experimental music. I don’t think I need to justify what I do.”
Did it surprise you then that people not only made this music, but got into it?
Yeah it was surprising. The reaction to that album [A Kombi – Music To Drive By] was surprising. I didn’t get it out until 1996 when I got Dual Plover off the ground. I recorded it in 1994 and spent two years trying to get any label in Australia to take notice but nobody really cared, and then Damien put out his Hiss record [better known these days as The Warm Feelings] on his own and that inspired me, I thought, “If this stoner can do it maybe I can put out my own record.” So I saved up some dole cheques, maybe got a dole advance cheque, and got the Kombi CD pressed up and sent it around the world. I sent it to Yamantaka Eye [The Boredoms], Merzbow responded, Kramer responded [Shimmy Disc, Bongwater, Butthole Surfers]. Gregg Turkington from Neil Hamburger passed a copy onto Seymour Glass from Bananafish Magazine who wrote to me wanting to do an interview. The response was quite ridiculous.
Back then when someone asked you about the Kombi project, how did you justify it?
I don’t think I talked about it in terms of justification, it’s just something that happened and I did until the van died. At my first “official” gig, even though it was a DJ gig at some Skid Row fundraiser, Hellen Rose (musician, squat/warehouse venue operator) was there and I was outside the venue jamming the Kombi and she was like, “What the fuck!”, and she jumped in the car and said “drive”! So we drove around Sydney all night jamming the Kombi. But I never thought about it in terms of justification, it’s just this thing that’s fun and made fun noises. It always changed its noises a lot: the album isn’t an accurate representation of what the damned thing could do. The car finally died near Newcastle, and the only thing I did when I abandoned it was rip the stereo out, so that in case I get another Kombi one day I can put it back in. I guess I’ve never been on the thinking side of experimental music. I don’t think I need to justify what I do.
‘A pretty boy’
When I first saw you the guy I was with was freaked out, and I convinced him that you had a lot of make-up on and the blood was fake. Obviously this isn’t true. You don’t look too weathered and scarred, so how do you maintain your body, keep the stamina?
I heal really quickly. One of my longest runs of shows was 18 in a row, every night smashing glass against my face. One night I looked at my face in the mirror somewhere in Austria and there were all these nicks and cuts on my face and I thought the same thing to myself: what the fuck do you do? But a couple of weeks later they’ve moved [laughs], they just heal and change. Not all of them scar, though if you look closely there are a lot of scars, but I’m a pretty boy and I can take it. [Laughs]
You’ve had some pretty serious injuries by now, I imagine?
I think the worst I ever did was my arm across here [points to deep scar on right wrist] where I did 100 percent of a nerve, 75 percent of one tendon and 50 percent of another tendon. But that was before the glass. That was from a drum cymbal attached to a high speed motor. One of the early turntable experiments I did, once I’d gotten rid of the decks, was attaching them to high power motors and having skewers and knives as styluses, more like a scrape percussion kind of thing. I also had amplified springs. Early in this set I’d been playing it with a bowie knife and some of the edges [of the cymbal] became jagged, so when I used the spring it got caught and brought my arm down with it and cut my wrist. [Points to deep scar on left wrist] this is from a piece of glass falling on my wrist in Tenerife, it’s still really sensitive there because part of the nerve is close to the surface and there’s only a very thin layer of skin there. That was a nasty deep bastard, it was a really heavy sheet of glass and it kinda broke while I was playing and a corner chunk fell onto the arm.
But when I play I’m in an ecstatic high. I don’t feel any pain and don’t notice when I cut myself. The first thing I notice usually is the glass starts to go red, that’s when I know something has happened. Or sometimes I can feel it dribbling down my body. But I never feel the initial cuts, unless it’s really early in the show and I haven’t warmed up, which is kind of rare. And after the high has gone down I can feel it, even packing up after the show.
But the [deep left wrist cut] didn’t really hurt, what hurt was the next day at a show in London. It was late night in Tenerife and they wanted to send me to hospital but I couldn’t because I had an early morning flight to London, so I wrapped a bandage around it as hard as I could, flew to London, got backstage and realised my whole arm was aching. I unwrapped the bandage and the final layer was stuck to the layer, and every time I tugged it it was an unbearable pain, so I ended up doing the band-aid method and yanked it off. It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever had in my life. I put a circular saw through my leg once and that was nothing compared to this. And this was early on in the tour so I had to really look after it.
“I do get cut and I do bleed, but when you consider what I do and how unharmed I am at the end of it, it’s on a shamanistic level.”
Is self-harm fairly integral to what you do as an artist?
It’s not self-harm, it’s more that danger is part of the aesthetic. Self-harm would be being a GG Allin or Germs kind of guy where I’d get glass and carve it across my chest with “anarchy” or some bullshit Sid Vicious thing. The fact of the matter is that a lot of the time when I play nothing happens to me. Sometimes when I play I don’t even break the glass. I rev myself up and the more revved up I get the more dangerous it may become. It’s not “when” will he cut himself, but “will” he cut himself. It’s not like the cutting is the whole show, or I like to think there’s more to it than that. At the same time I see it as important because I think it does raise the show into another level in a psychological way for the audience, which other musical shows maybe couldn’t.
I’ve always had that danger aspect in what I do, whether it’s bouncing around on a trampoline with a drum kit and not spearing myself, or playing motorised turntables and not cutting my arm off. It’s an aesthetic choice. I like to get lost when I play, and I think part of getting lost, part of the ritual, getting into enough of a frenzy to take a bite of glass and spit it out: I’m not human anymore at that point. I’m somewhere else. If I were to grab a piece of glass now and start biting it I would tear my mouth apart. I do get cut and I do bleed, but when you consider what I do and how unharmed I am at the end of it, it’s on a shamanistic level. Not that I’m a spiritual person, but mentally I’m going on the same tangents. I think the performing of the music is part of the ritual for me to get to that state where I can go fucking nuts, I guess.
How did the idea of playing contact-miked glass occur to you?
Well I’d been using various metal objects, and one night at Lan Franchi’s [defunct Sydney warehouse venue], I think it was the opening night in 2003, I was playing a garden hoe tool which I’d press against my mouth and play in a similar way as I do the glass now. But we were doing some building and we smashed a piece of glass as we were trying to install it. And I thought to myself that people could see my vocal technique if I used glass instead, which was something I always kinda lamented when I was using the metals because people couldn’t see the nuances. I think when you see the nuances of my mouth you realise that more of the noise is coming from me and less from my pedals. I like to use pedals like a guitarist does, for tone and a bit of variance. Unlike most noise players I don’t really have a ghost in the machine thing going on: I don’t just turn them [the pedals] on and shake a coin box and it just goes fucking nuts. When I play, if I take the glass away from my head, it usually stops to silence, or there’s a bit of feedback. I’m quite proud of the fact that when I make noise it’s from my vocal techniques, and not a bunch of pedals.
‘Into an ecstatic state’
You’ve been doing it for eight years now. Was the glass always going to be long term? Do you continue to discover new nuances and dynamic range in the instrument since you started playing it?
Technically I’ve become more proficient at it over the years. I’ve always thought I would stop eventually, but I always get caught up in getting better. I thought to myself that I wouldn’t stop until I couldn’t get better at it but I keep getting better at it: I keep finding new things, different ways to do it. I guess before the glass I would always try an idea two or three times and move on to the next thing and never really perfect anything. I guess I’ve got attention deficit disorder to some degree so I always go from one thing to the next. There was also the problem [with glass] that it was harder to top, I always thought my ideas progressively got better but I didn’t want to start working on another instrument if it didn’t sound as good and didn’t connect with an audience as well. So why not stick to this idea and get better at it and improve it?
I had a stylus glove with needles on the end of each finger that I would play records with back in the ’90s. It’s one of the things I built for Skid Row and I performed live and then it got destroyed, without being documented or anything. I often think of it as an instrument that could have been utilised in many unusual and different ways. But I kind of kicked it to the wayside and kept moving on. Back in the ’90s documentation was the last thing on my mind, I didn’t really give a shit, I just wanted to make noise. I never recorded, never rehearsed. I’m still partly like that - I want to get into routines of recording but I just don’t enjoy it. But with the stylus glove I regret not having recorded that.
For you personally, is there a cathartic quality to playing glass? Are you able to express different emotions sufficiently – say anger, sadness for example – with the glass, as far as you’re concerned?
It definitely relieves my tension. I have tension, I have stress like most people, and the glass relaxes me. It's also a drug, I'm high afterwards. I like to perform for that reason. It's better than any chemical drug I've ever taken. Especially after a good show, I can't say that every time I play I get into an ecstatic state, but when I'm lucky enough it's the biggest high I could have. Whether that's cathartic or not I'm not sure. But it relaxes me and makes me happy. I play to my mood on any given night, and my mood is obviously going to carry the performance in different directions. But I never think about it, I improvise. I don't move from one technique [that I've prepared] to another. Quite often I make up techniques on the spot and I don't know how I did them, or how I could do them again. I like an organic approach, and one of my pet hates in improvisation is that most improvisers have a series of techniques that they put together in improvisation, which I don't think is proper improvisation. I'm sure not all improvisers do that but most of them do. I can't say that's not true of myself either, I have techniques I know, but I like it best when I go on tangents and make up stuff on the spot. I'm more satisfied with moments like that. But after eight years of playing I'd be lying if I said I don't sometimes do something that I know will work.
It is harder improvising with other musicians, such as you do in Rice Corpse?
It's easier actually, depending on the musicians and how they carry themselves. It depends though; you have alpha musicians and subordinate musicians. I like to get together with alpha musicians who like to lead. There's nothing worse than improvising bands where there's nothing alpha in it, where they all tinker and wait for someone to do something. I'm quite happy to lead but I prefer to play with other people who like to lead so you're dragging each other in other directions, you have to compromise with them and they have to compromise with you. It's like a battle in a way. I find it a little easier because I don't have to fill the entire audio spectrum: if I'm playing with Rice Corpse and I want a breather I'll reduce to a slight sound and let the piano take over, rather than having to be “on” the entire set.
Improvising has made me play the glass in different ways too: when I play solo it's very abstract and all over the place, a start-stop aesthetic. But when I play in the band I play in riffs and rhythms and I'm happy to be repetitive because there's more behind it. When a band links together it's a beautiful thing. But doing that solo, I'd get bored.
On his experimental Melbourne blog Clinton Green recently posted about the complacency of noise [drone in particular], how there's an over-abundance of single tone drone and fiddling. Given your approach, what do you make of the more sober bulk of noise music that seems to prevail nowadays?
I'm a big fan of physicality in sound making. If you watch a double bass player his fingers are plucking, he's moving, there's correlation between movement and sound. There's no reason why an electronic musician can't have that, even a tablecore artist can be hitting buttons and turning knobs and stuff and there's reaction. But with a drone artist there's no correlation between what the artist is doing and the resulting sound. Not that there's anything wrong with that but personally it's not something I'm after in a performance. With some laptop artists – like Pita from Vienna, who I've seen do some blistering sets on his laptop: boring to watch but incredible to listen to – it can be done well.
It's an old argument really. These so called drone artists have been around since I started and will be around until I die. But it's a bedroom musician thing. In my opinion it's a mediocre field, full of mediocre players doing mediocre things and as with most people they want to play the music of the people they admire: if they're a Campbell Kneale fan they're going to play Campbell Kneale music. It's all good and well as long as they're happy with that, just like if you're in a rock band playing Led Zeppelin covers. The only time it really becomes a problem is when they become Wolfmother. That I don't get: emulating copycat musicians shouldn't headline the Big Day Out.
‘The experiment is over’
It's funny because there's always this conceit that noise, or drone is automatically “experimental”, even though it's a well explored field. Considering what you do, do you consider yourself an authentically “experimental” musician?
It's a genre. I shy away from the term. It's a ghetto, it's a very deep ghetto. You travel the world and play with these bands over and over again in every town, and that's very cynical of me I suppose but none of them are experimental. I guess in a way I'm doing something more experimental than what's considered experimental, but the idea of experimenting is actually working towards something. So in that way I stopped experimenting a long time ago. The day I experimented was that day in 2003 when I tried that glass out, but ever since then it's just my instrument of choice. And as much as I practice and get better at it and experiment with new techniques I still don't sit comfortable with the term because it encompasses such a wide plethora of music, so that it's actually meaningless and has become a parody of itself. When the word “experimental” is a genre, there's no experimental left.
I enjoy listening to Justice Yeldham recordings, separate from the performance, for the visual associations they conjure. Do you have any visual associations attached with the sound of your instrument?
I don't have synaesthesia, though I wish I did. I enjoy playing my music more than I do listening to it. The reason I don't record much is because I don't enjoy the process, I find it tiring. I put out some releases because people kept asking me. There's a 7” and a couple of 12”s and a CD. I regret that to some degree, because I'd prefer to be remembered for the moment people are with me rather than these weak representations of that. Even down to the mode it was recorded, the perspective they were recorded – they sound flat to me. Psycho-acoustics are a big factor, especially as you're playing, so I'll never have a 100 percent comprehensive idea of what I'm playing, because I'll never be able to leave my body, which pains me. I enjoy the sounds I'm making on the spot when I'm playing it more than when I'm playing it back [on CD]. I don't know whether it's the colour that I'm giving it while I'm playing or if I actually sound like I do on the recordings, or if it's the moment.
But I rarely listen to noise music or experimental music. My favourite band is the Danielson Familie, which is Christian music from Jersey. I also listen to a lot of electronic music. I don't listen to anything remotely like what I do and to be honest it's been a long time since I've been impressed by a noise artist. When I was a teenager I was listening to Masonna records and listening to them at home. He's the best noise artist you can be: sonically fucking incredible, incredible performance. A lot of those Japanese bands had that: the Incapacitants as well. But I guess when you're young everything sounds fresh.
How has Sydney changed since you moved here back in 1992?
It has its ups and downs. I got here just after the city was gutted: Double J changed to Triple J and went national; Drum Media and In The Press had their war and the street press turned to advertorial, and the gambling laws changed and the pubs became gambling dens. And that was 1989 through to 1991. In the paper the other day Cate Blanchett was like “remember the Trade Union Club”. I remember the Trade Union Club, not because I ever went there but because when I got here everyone was lamenting that everything had just finished. I've got this hugely romantic notion of a city I just missed out on in the late ’90s. I saw the last Lubricated Goat show at The Annandale before they relocated to New York. Things like Thug. I got to see the Mu-Mesons a couple of times fortunately. It was all closing as I got here though. Sydney, or Australia, in the late ’80s had an explosive and interesting underground and it was a shame to get here a bit too late.
I liked the fact that in Sydney - in the ’90s and throughout the ’00s - the scene dug underground. In the ’00s it went towards warehouses, and I liked that moment in the mid-’00s when gigs were never at pubs: you'd get some takeouts, go somewhere and have a good time for nearly nothing. Whereas in Melbourne you have to go to a pub. I'm glad for Sydney for that reason. That's mostly gone as well though. There's still Dirty Shirlows, and the Red Rattler has a license now.
Why not move to Melbourne?
I dunno. The Grey Daturas were interviewed in a zine recently, and I did an interview in the issue after. When they were asked about Sydney they said something like, “Sydney is a culturally devoid commercial hub where nothing ever happens”, and the zine asked me to respond to that. And I basically said that Melbourne is the place where musicians get paid, play regularly, get large audiences, so if anywhere is the commercial heart of music in Australia it's Melbourne. If you want a career in music you'd be stupid not to move to Melbourne. So don't tell me that musicians here are commercial, money-hungry people, because they've all moved to Melbourne already, because that's where they're getting the gigs, that's where they're getting paid and that's where they're getting an audience to pander to.
But you can't pander to audiences here, it's not that fucking easy. I think Sydney produces more interesting acts because of it, as it has in the past and as it will continue to. But maybe PBS and RRR will be turned to national stations, and their licensing will change and all their small bars and pub will close or turn into gambling dens, and their street press will turn as advertorial as ours has. Then they can fucking complain.