Lifestyle & Culture

No ‘gang of youths’ in Newy: What happened to All-Ages music?

Nikola Jokanovic traces the slow decline and hopeful rebirth of the all-ages live music scene in Newcastle.

It’s important that young people do things. Hobbies and communities build character and connection. Whether it’s sporting, surfing, dancing, painting or whatever else, it’s agreed that high schoolers should have a place to meet, make friends and just plain old do stuff.

But what if the Council didn’t fund any pitches or fields? What if all the surf breaks and beaches you knew were cordoned off, one by one, due to vague ‘safety concerns’? It’s a strange comparison to make, but with the past and current state of live music for all-age audiences in Newcastle, it’s just about a fair one.

There are only so many places in Newcastle that people under the age of 18 can see live music. The staples have come and gone. The Loft closed in 2013. Whites Records closed in 2014. Hombre Records closed in 2015. Drone closed in 2016. The Commons closed only a few months ago, capping off 2017. These were all cornerstone venues for all-age audiences in Newcastle, spaces where shows could reliably and regularly be held; other than the odd bowling club gig, it was typically unlikely underage punters were going to catch gigs anywhere else.

Hometown heroes Trophy Eyes performing their song ‘Bandaid’. Filmed at Hombre Records during the venue’s heyday.

“I attended a few shows at Hombre and I loved what they were doing, providing a space where anyone under the age of 18 could perform and attend live music,” said Bec Solman, the founder and runner of Drone.

“Due to personal and financial reasons Whaley [the founder and runner of Hombre Records] made the call to sadly discontinue the space, leaving a big hole in the local music scene. Basically without any hesitation I thought to myself, ‘why the hell can’t I do this?’, and so I did. I had two weeks after the final Hombre show to reface and set up a new and improved AA venue in the same spot. That’s when Drone Newcastle began.”

Like spaces before and after, Drone had a good run. A host of local, statewide, interstate and even some international acts played at the venue. Anyone who was there for it remembers it fondly. You’d often see the same faces each week.

But like all those before it (and those after), good things came to an end when the Council ordered Solman to immediately close Drone due to the venue not being approved for live entertainment and following noise complaints. “I faced a very stressful week of assessing the situation I’d been put in, trying the best I could before making the heartbreaking decision to close the venue. The last Drone show was at the Small Ballroom, we couldn’t risk the show at Drone’s location. We just made it over the one year mark.”

Almost all of these spaces and initiatives were community-built, run and funded. Only the Loft could be considered a Council-involved effort, and even that was taken down by budget cuts. The issue of all-age spaces in Newcastle is two-pronged; a lack of suitable venues and a lack of Council effort, involvement and funding. The Council shuts down venues but offers no suitable alternative. The Council refuses to fund community-run venues. The Council turns a blind eye, and Newcastle’s under-18 community and culture suffer.

“It’s not only important for under-18’s but for everyone,” says Bec. “Small local venues are so important. They’re a stepping stone for local bands, and I think it’s important to have a live music venue that isn’t just the pub scene, somewhere safe for people to go and socialise and just see some damn good live music.”

“Performing and attending live music can be very important for those who may suffer from mental health issues. That’s what I loved most about running the venue, seeing people week after week come out of their shells to perform and socialise. More and more new faces every time. It really showed how important that space was for so many people, including myself. If it wasn’t for me being welcomed with open arms to that space back in 2015, Drone never would have existed at all.”

Despite the poor track record, there have been some positive developments for the all-ages scene in the past year, the past few months and even in the past few weeks. Despite the closure of the Commons, the Boys Don’t Cry music collective (which previously operated out of the Commons) continues to organise shows for all-age audiences. “While this may be the end of the Commons for the time being, it’s definitely not going to be the end of all-ages gigs in Newcastle. The all-ages scene is not going to die, in fact we’re going to come back stronger than before,” said Boys Don’t Cry’s founder and runner Andrew Brassington, as quoted in this Newcastle Herald article.

Steps in the right direction: Labor NCC Councillor Carol Duncan celebrates new all-age live music policies from the Council.

He may well be right, too; only a few weeks ago Boys Don’t Cry partnered with the Council and a number of other local cultural organisations (such as No Fi Collective, who also specialise in music and arts events for audiences both over and underaged) for Darby Street Live, a street festival which saw many Darby Street shopfronts host over 25 artists. Alongside this, the Council has recently shown a renewed interest in supporting underage live music. A roundtable was held last month at the Edwards, which saw the Council resolve to instal a Council-run all-ages music venue, under the supervision of a newly-established Newcastle Live Music Industry Advisory Group.

Underage music is important, and it’s not going to die. But it won’t flourish like it could and very well should without support and cooperation from all: those running all-ages shows and venues, those attending them, and the Council itself.

“Right now there’s a lot of plans, mainly by the community, to rebuild art and entertainment within Newcastle. Due to personal reasons over the the last year I have not been able to be actively involved and it breaks my heart,” said Bec. “I think right now it would be good to try and get existing venues and spaces within our community on board with hosting and supporting all-ages shows. If we can show just how important it is to Newcastle I’m sure establishments would want to help in little ways that they can. The Edwards, with the help of Boys Don’t Cry, have been hosting AA in-store performances and signings. That’s exactly what we need. The bigger guys helping the little guys.”

Feature image by Jordan Millard.

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