Can Brisbane Become Australia’s Live Music Capital? BIGSOUND Says Yes

September is the busiest month for music in Brisbane, and the arrival of the 22nd iteration of the industry conference BIGSOUND means the bands are amped, delegates at the ready, and energy is cranked to 11 all in the name of rock’n’roll.

This is where bands come to perform hoping to be signed by the biggest global labels who decide what you’ll be listening to next.

From pop to new-wave punk, indie to country, hip-hop, First Nations performers and those who fly in from New Zealand for centre stage, it’s a bustling three days of high energy that transforms Fortitude Valley’s live music venues into a party zone which runs hot from day and the night-time.

Jujulips – South African raised NZ rapper comes to Bigsound.
Brisbane’s Full Moon Flower Children band perform at Bigsound.

Artists showcase music in snappy 30-minute sets vying to get the attention of industry leaders, label managers, venue bookers and artist management.

BIGSOUND is where Courtney Barnett, Ball Park Music and Flume have roamed before their careers took off; and this year’s stellar mix of talent is proof that Australian independent artists have got what it takes to take on the world stage. Heartbreak High actress and singer Ayesha Madon also brought her music to the stages here in 2023.

Some of those who captured our hearts were Melbourne’s angular post-punk outfit Radio Free Alice and the amped punk energy of The Empty Threats from Adelaide.  Tamara and the Dreams [fronted by Tamara Reichman] serenaded with an indie folk jangle and Full Flower Moon Band rollicked through might rock revivalist sets.  Even NZ’s Reb Fountain entranced with a mystical folk energy not seen this side of Kate Bush. Byron Bay based Gimmy are a creamy pastiche of art rock meets pop and fresh of a buzzing review at SITG.

Brisbane is certainly giving cities like Melbourne a run for its live music money – where the gig economy is thriving here. More than 250,000 interstate travellers descended onto the city this weekend – coming for music, the Brisbane Festival, NRL and AFL finals games.

Iconic venues such as The Zoo [where bands like Regurgitator played many times in their career] are packed wall to wall over the hectic three days. It’s the city where Powderfinger bassist Johnny Collins – aka J.C – owns and runs two of venues [The Triffid, which opened in 2016 and Fortitude Music Hall which opened in 2019] – in the vein and very possible hope that Brisbane becomes the live music capital of Australia.

“BIGSOUND is great to chance for bands to rub shoulders with the whole industry and go and have a coffee or beer with them,” said Johnny Collins. “From a musician’s point of view, it’s essential you be here if you take your music seriously.”

Collins, who spent decades on the road touring, said it made sense he’d eventually open his own venues. He knows the importance of a good sound system and what it means to cutting down soundcheck time, as does a decent couch backstage for those on the road non-stop. And who doesn’t love to lie down and call loved ones back home while charging a phone?

He hopes to knock the Melbourne live music scene off its perch and make Brisbane the firm leader.

Live Music at Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane.

“It’s quite possible we can do that,” said Johnny Collins. “When I opened Fortitude Music Hall, I wanted to create a venue bigger than The Zoo, something smaller than The Triffid – that gap in the market like what The Corner does in Melbourne and The Metro in Sydney. I got my wish and it’s my job to keep the music coming here,” he said.

NZ award-winning songwriter Bic Runga made her BIGSOUND debut this year; speaking at a keynote conference about singing in language – having just recently recorded her 90s hit Sway in Maori.

“There is a big movement in New Zealand to record in language and that was part my contribution to BIGSOUND,” said Bic Runga.

“It has been a real success story in NZ and Māori music is all over the airwaves and they go straight to No. 1. I feel like I am living in a Māori renaissance era and I have loved connecting with local indigenous artists in Australia. It’s not an artistic add on. Māori musician exist in every genre of the spectrum back home, and we want to bring more life into this movement,” said Runga.

For someone who became a 90s hit maker and relocated to NYC from NZ at her peak, Runga shares pertinent advice for those budding hitmakers keen to get signed.

“You have to smash it out and get it noticed at BIGSOUND,” she said. “You have to be match fit and be ready to blow everyone away. It doesn’t help if you haven’t toured before, but if you have a go at one of these showcases and realise the high pressure of it, you can’t hide in this environment or fake it. You have to deliver,” she said.

Brothers Steve and Dave Sleswick purchased The Tivoli in 2016 and the Princess Theatre in 2021 [where Paul Kelly played two sold out shows this week] after an extensive renovation.

“Our venues are centralised so you feel part of a scene, there’s an energy you can’t really find anywhere else because we are in a concentrated space and you get sucked into it,” said Dave Sleswick.

“As we gear up to the Olympics, we have the infrastructure to support live music. I’m all about keeping that front and centre as the Olympic sporting precinct happens around us,” he said.

Melbourne post-punk outfit Radio Free Alice is one to watch in 2024.
Battlesnake – bringing a Zappa-esque rock to the stages. This Sydney band put on a great show at Bigsound.


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