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Melbourne’s Best Buskers Aren't Twee Yuppie Folk Singers

We take a stroll down Melbourne's Swanston Street and meet some of the city's more colorful street performers.

by Sarah Werkmeister
Jan 28 2015, 3:00pm

This article originally appeared on Noisey Australia.

Our encounters with buskers are often fleeting, but regardless of the artists' talent they add a colorful dynamic to city streets. Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper is running a competition to find Melbourne's best busker. Unfortunately, most of the competition finalists have names like Stephanie and Josh, live in Southbank or Doncaster and look more like twee yuppies than true representatives of the Melbourne busking community.

In truth, Melbourne has a diverse range of street performers who busk for a variety of reasons that range from getting a spare buck on their weekends off school to supporting a family to paying their board or, hell, maybe getting a bit riff-raffed. Some are musically trained; some aren't trained at all but they are entertaining nonetheless. And that's what busking's all about, right? Street performance shouldn't be limited to white-bread singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars.

Some of our local favorites include the guy sporting bagpipes made from a goon sack and the kid who shreds on Swanston St like a regular Kerry King. We walked down Swanston Street one Saturday to check the busking action.

Name: Chris

Age: "I ain't too young to worry and I ain't too old to cry" - AC/DC

Instrument: Guitar

Where: Bourke St across from Meyers Place

What's your musical background?
"I used to be in a band called Mineral Sands - we've still got a myspace up if you want to check it out."

What are your influences?
"Everything from Steve Kilbey to Steven Lucas from X. Tim Rogers is requested a lot, and I play a lot of Bruce Springsteen and Elvis. A crucial influence is the Powder Monkeys, and I also really like Lykke Li's "I Follow Rivers." My favorite film is The Blood of the Poet—an old Cocteau film which the Church played a soundtrack for at Melbourne Music Week last year. Also, other buskers including Lindsay Buckland and Delta Dave (RIP).

Why he's one of our favorites: If you've ever walked past this guy, you would have encountered him either playing you a song or paying attention to detail by sliding a compliment into another song's lyrics. He'll always have a compliment and a story to tell. After our yarn, he serenaded me with a Go-Betweens song.


Name: Victor

Instrument: Drums; a hodge-podge of snares and toms

Where: Swanston and Little Lonsdale

How long have you been busking?
"All my life."

Is busking profitable?
"Yes. Sometimes you can make a hundred bucks in a day along here. The best spot for busking is probably all along Swanston Street".

What's your favorite thing about busking?
"People are really nice in the city."

Why he's one of our favorites: He actually makes sense out of the random drum pieces. Plus, look at that wizard beard!


Name: Isabella

Age: 11

Instrument: Piano (in the case, a pretty spectacular new-school Korg)

Where: Bourke and Swanston Streets

How long have you been busking?
"I've been busking for a year now, but I've been playing classical piano for five."

What are your influences?
"I play a bit of everything, but my specialty is classical music."

Is busking profitable?
"On good days I've sold 20 CDs."

Why she's one of our favorites: She's 11! And slays on the Korg.


Name: Hai-Chin

Instrument: Hulusi (or cucurbit flute)

Where: Corner of Little Bourke and Swanston

Why he's one of our favorites: Even though there was a language barrier (Hai-Chin was asking Chinese people on the street to translate for us) it was evident that the guy takes great pride in the curcubit flute and its origin of Yunnan, where he's from. Plus, the flute looks like a magical bong that makes calming Enya-esque tunes.


Name: Mars Madness

Instrument: MPC500 sampler (80s AKAI sampler)

Where: Swanston and Little Collins

How long have you been busking?
"About three years. I got sick of fruit picking, so decided to go with busking."

What's the best thing about busking?
"I do it from the heart. There's also the freedom that comes with the lifestyle, and it's a great way of learning a new city. The not so good thing is when drunk people piss on the street right in front of you."

Is it profitable?
"It's always a roller coaster. Tuesday's don't work for me, but they do for others."

Why he's one of our favorites: Mars actually makes some pretty killer beats and he's a real friendly guy.