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After Six Venues Closed in Six Months, Adelaide Wants to Be a UNESCO City of Music

Getting UNESCO recognition would be good for the scene, but shouldn't the scene be good to get recognition?
July 20, 2015, 7:30pm

Dick Dale booked bands at The Squatters Arms until it closed in 2013

South Australians are more than competent grape growers. Adelaide is home to some fine churches, the expression "heaps good," as well as Farmers Union milk products and frog cakes. But does its music scene deserve UNESCO recognition?

Since 2004 the United Nations outfit has been awarding creative cities for efforts at "placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans." That sounds like a fairly exclusive decoration, but then Melbourne is already a UNESCO City of Literature, while Sydney is a UNESCO City of Film. And now UNESCO is calling out for music city aspirants, and Adelaide has applied.


The problem is that Adelaide's music scene, and general nightlife, might have hit a rough patch. The Colonel Light Hotel closed its doors in February along with The Dog & Duck, followed by The Stag in April. Then three music venues—Vinyl, The Cavern, and The Soul Box—all closed in May. That's six establishments this year, which presumably isn't the kind of thing that happens to a "city of music."

But it hasn't always been this way. The Adelaide Festival of Arts started all the way back in 1960 and featured acts such as Leo Sayer and Leonard Cohen. The Fringe Festival, the rebellious offspring of the Adelaide Festival, is the world's biggest Fringe not held in Edinburgh. Also, Cold Chisel came from Adelaide. An accolade from UNESCO could be the thing to put Adelaide's musical lineage back on track.

Douglas Gautier is CEO of the Adelaide Festival Centre and the guy leading the charge for international recognition. He hopes that being part of the UN network would give the city a cultural ego boost. As he told the ABC, "It really gives us a big tick internationally and it says we punch above our weight, as we all know we do." Douglas, however, didn't mention the recent venue closures nor the tenure-ending restructure of the Centrefor Aboriginal Studies in Music.

The Soul Box with a 'For Lease' sign in the window

This is the side to the story that former venue operators speak of. Brett Trimboli, former manager of The Soul Box, initially began the venue as Adelaide's only jazz club. However he soon found there was insufficient support and switched to a cabaret club, only to close in May after years of struggle. "The nightlife scene in Adelaide runs at a completely different pace," he told VICE. "Soul Box would have been open and over half full in capacity five nights a week in other states. People continually told us this."

And therein lies the cart-before-the-horse conundrum. A lot of industry insiders, including Brett, suggest the state government could offer more support. But then vying for UNESCO recognition is undoubtedly supportive. And this is why some people believe the government is about as supportive as it can be, letting quality be the deciding factor between success and failure.

Koral Chandler is more upbeat than most.

Koral Chandler is publicist for internationally touring Adelaide-based bands and runs a local bar, and according to her new venues are continually opening. "The ones that give people what they want will survive," she says. "And let's face it, the pubs that have closed weren't at the top of their game." As she sees it, the music scene is as strong as ever and is only adapting to changing tastes.

The fact is that Adelaide is in an economic slump. Unemployment is at over 8 percent—the second highest in the country. With this comes fickle spending habits in an already fickle industry. Venues are closing, but perhaps that's a ambiguous metric. According to Music SA there were over 700 gigs played in the city and surrounding suburbs in May, while venues such as the Crown and Anchor and Jive, for example, are still going strong after 30 years.

And what are the criteria for UNESCO designation anyway? Other cities of music include Hannover, which is the birthplace of vinyl recording, and Ghent in Belgium, which holds the I Love Techno festival and the non-Simpsons related Festival of Flanders. Sure, these are places with notable achievements, but they're not exactly New Orleans or Nashville. So maybe Adelaide does deserve a hat-tip, especially if it saves a few more venues from shutting down.

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