My Say

November 3rd 2002

As active members of the Australian music scene, it is crucial that we maintain a vigilant surveillance of our contemporaries. In this quixotic business new trends can emerge overnight, trends to whose coattails it is crucial that we adhere. Often this means taking our work home. Many people think that the moment we throw our still chiming guitars to a team of roadies and depart the stage in a frenzy of self-congratulation and backslapping, our days work is done. Not so. Our post-gig debriefings are often just the start of work commitments that may range deep into the night. There will be reports to write, trends to discuss and movements to monitor. Naturally, an event as important as the ARIA's requires our close scrutiny.

Invitations to the glamorous event dried up some time ago. The Fauves have not been viewed as relevant participants of the this country's flourishing music scene for a good 4 or 5 years: rightfully so as it is patently obvious to anyone with even a passing interest that we remain completely incapable of moving anything like the requisite number of units necessary to join this exclusive club. It is our lot to look on in admiration, slightly envious, but mostly in awe of talent occupying an exalted status way beyond our meagre ambitions. While it remains a source of some regret that our participation in the annual event has become so marginalised, it has in no way diminished the importance that we attach to the night. I feel proud that our commitment to celebrating this industry's wonderful achievements is as strong as ever. We may not have been there in person but we were there in spirit as we made ourselves comfortable and awaited eagerly for the first stars to make their journey along the red carpeted entrance.

Cradling a thick sheaf of notepaper on my knees, I noticed a trend straight away. This year's new fashion was revealing itself as a brave departure into a dull aural landscape, bereft of distinguishing features and characterised only by a complete lack of perspective and self-analysis. I scrawled the word Blandcore in my minutes and watched on, utterly compelled. Going back over my notes the next day I knew that it could remain little more than a matter of time before this new genre was rightfully recognised with a category of its own at the ARIA's. Blandcore. I underlined the word and highlighted it in flouro pen for good measure.

On reflection I realised that I was able to insert this neologism into the titles of most categories and discover that it was unlikely there would have been much change in the winner. Best new Blandcore artist, Best Male Blandcore, Blandcore album of the year and so on. The new moniker was covering the Australian music scene like a supermarket's Homebrand label on tins of inferior baked beans.

That the ARIA's are an awards show is a fact registered by all but the most ill informed onlookers. That they are a hopelessly compromised contrivance, riven by a massive conflict of interest and designed to do little more than affix small ARIA facsimiles in the bottom corners of ads in an effort to move more product is perhaps not quite so commonly recognised. The Australian Record Industry Association is run by the very corporations whose acts gorge on the feast of congratulations laid at their tables by the generous budgets of multinational record companies. The night acts as a forum to publicise their acts. They share out the prizes and give everyone a go at performing, endeavouring all the while to maintain an appropriate air of legitimacy. Naturally, the ARIA's are meaningless as a measure of the worth of an act, a point clearly evidenced by the quality of the winners. Not that any of this is apparent in the victor's predictable celebrations; fist pumping, indulgent speeches and unbridled joy accompany most of the announcements. It takes a special lack of insight to view the winning of an ARIA as anything other than a faintly ironic joke. I'm afraid it's all rather cut and dried. If you don't have the depth of self analysis to see that you are no more vindicated as an artist by the ambivalent musings of a disparate bunch of industry hacks than you were by all the signatures you affixed to dole forms in the years prior to this moment then the evidence is becoming damning. You, sadly, are a fucking dickhead.

Rove kicked the night off with a short mention of the nightclub attack in Bali. With the ceremony taking place only days after the outrage, the search for an appropriate prologue to 3 hours of hedonistic self-indulgence was always going to be fraught with pitfalls. Rove's brief eulogy was the last time it was mentioned. To what degree the population at large should curtail the day to day processes of their lives and modify their emotions after tragedy is a question to which people far wiser and more judicious than me don't have the answer. Suffice it to say that no one at the show seemed to modify their behavior in even the remotest manner. As a positive, we were spared sickening US-style panegyrics by artists, above all, interested in the powerful PR benefits accruing from their staged concern. On the downside, not one person so much as alluded to the fact that an awards show, lightweight at the best of times, was not exactly uppermost in the nation's priorities that Tuesday evening. I found some of the overt celebrating out of place. Then again, I found most of the attendees at an event designed to reward excellence out of place. In some ways this absence of reference was a relief. None of these talents, resolutely unable to say anything relevant in music honed over many months, was likely to be able to add anything of consequence in a short acceptance speech.

This was supposed to be the dangerous ARIA's, the year the nominees would be served alcohol during the ceremony, resulting in all manner of bacchanalian excess and confirming once more that no one knows how to shake the system like a rock star. What we got was the dullest year ever. A turgid parade of bloated egos hauled their mild-mannered arses on to stage to accept awards more meaningless than an INXS lyric. If there was a personality at this year's show then it must have been in the toilet with its fingers down its throat because I didn't see it. The scariest moment was watching Killing Heidi, still blithely unaware that their career is plummeting to earth with the hideous abandon of a spent rocket stage, parading around as though the dream was still alive. Looking like they'd been dressed in the sort of plastic tape used to surround crime scenes, they managed to effect just the kind of forced desperation that is the trademark of the music they're currently making. Ultimately, however, the rest of the evening was about as dangerous as a moth hanging around the Christmas lights at Carols By Candlelight.

The presenters were the same bunch of hacks they haul out every year. Most tried to get in and out quickly, sparing embarrassment but adding inexorably to the tedium. Those who tried scripted routines simply made fools of themselves. Future presentations would do well to avail themselves of a coin operated drink machine. Winners can come up, insert their cash and watch expectantly as the award tumbles into their clammy hands like a cold soft drink. This could provide potential for entertainment in watching thwarted recipients kick the machine with frustration upon finding their award stuck fast in the delivery chute.

It's the punters who paid to get in that I feel sorry for. At least those of us at home determined to slog on had some of the wretched drudgery broken by ad breaks and trips to the toilet. By the time the auditorium was full, the cream of oz music industry had turned into a flabby blancmange. Whoever edited the pre-recorded bore that we watched on television must have been trying to save on overtime; the show dragged like a lame leg behind a hunchback. The night featured far too many performers, a reminder that it is ultimately set up for record companies to advertise their bands. Act after act got on with ponderous versions of their ponderous songs. Every second tryhard got hold of the complimentary string section to add some faux gravitas to their otherwise empty statements. Album of the year winner Kacey Chambers was so talented she chose a Cindy Lauper cover with which to acknowledge her profound contribution to the last 12 months of Australian music. Behind her the American connection continued as the white Ben Harper show, John Butler, noodled around gratingly on his irrelevant slide guitar.

It was no surprise that the winners' acceptance speeches consisted of little more than a string of inconsequential banalities. I'm obviously missing something here. I thought that these people were being awarded for their creativity, yet few of them seemed able to manage more than a breathless "oh my god I wasn't expecting this" upon their arrival at the rostrum. Here's a newsflash. If you're nominated then you're a 1 in 5 chance of winning - fair odds. Moreover, if you're someone as obvious as Kylie then you sure as fuck know at least half the nominees in your category are just filler placed there to give the appearance of a contest. You're odds are dramatically increased and it's simply disingenuous to pretend that your victory is a surprise. Either say something worthwhile or have the good grace to be out of the country and available only for a pre-recorded satellite hook up. One day someone will have the honesty and integrity to get up and thank no one other than themselves. Acknowledgement of record company functionaries comes off as unbelievably phony and self-serving from a group of people otherwise so certain in the belief that their tiny granule of talent has sufficient bulk to hold the rest of the universe in its gravitational sway. This obsession with fake humility is one of the prime reasons our country finds it so difficult to produce genuine rock stars.

In the days subsequent to the awards the great yarns start to filter out. X got drunk, Y said Z's album maybe wasn't that great, W had a little too much to drink, V exhibited a certain amount of chagrin on hearing they had not won an award while the rest of the alphabet was slightly tipsy. Rock remains as dangerous as ever. The only thing duller than ARIA night are the interminable self-promoting stories of inebriation rolled out in the post mortem. Roughly 8 million Australians get drunk on any particular weekend. When will radio DJ's, record company representatives and musicians alike realise that a simple trip to the local beer barn will reveal behavior many times more wanton than anything arising from their tame tea party. Australia's musicians look like role models for an investment portfolio company when contrasted with the vomiting, brawling, lecherous masses spilling into the streets outside any of a thousand corner hotels on a given night. Let's put on a couple of cover bands, a few kegs of Bundy and Coke and make next year's ARIA's a real night for the people. The winners can be decided by chook raffle and proxies, drawn from an audience of drunken onlookers, can come up to accept the awards. An extraordinary act of parliament will allow for one night of martial law with all musicians detained on their couches under house arrest.

Previous My Say entries

October 9th 2002
September 4th 2002