30 Years of Brisbane’s Music Scene

As music fans revel in the opening of the Fortitude Music Hall in Brisbane’s heart, they can also look forward to a celebration of the past three decades of the city’s music at the Museum of Brisbane.

The exhibit, High Rotation, will take viewers on a cultural journey beginning with Triple J’s 1989 national expansion, which allowed emerging musicians to reach more music lovers than before.

John Willsteed, Queensland University of Technology senior lecturer of music, former Go-Between and a member of Brisbane band Halfway, described the period as a “real shift in how bands could connect with audiences”.

“Triple J going national allowed bands who in the past struggled to develop a national audience – which they would have had to do by constant touring – to develop a national audience through the radio station,” Dr Willsteed said.

“It probably led to a certain homogenisation in popular music to an extent; people have talked about it in the past, the idea that Triple J only played particular music styles that they were fond of, so bands started making music that fitted the style to get the airplay.”

While new music distribution avenues opened up in the ’90s and ’00s, Dr Willsteed said at the same time, in typical Brisbane fashion, significant music venues were torn down.

The 2003 demolition of the much-loved Festival Hall is the most obvious example. “The map of the city is a map of cultural history, where you can pinpoint places on the map that were important venues,” he said.

“Brisbane being what it is, we have a tendency to tear everything down, so a lot of the venues that might have been important to our story no longer exist.”

With the much-anticipated opening of Fortitude Music Hall last month, Brisbanites could celebrate a new venue in their city and have a rare chance to be a part of the journey it would take.

“It is the beginning of a story. We (have) realised as places are taken away that those stories are really important,” Dr Willsteed said.

“We often only mark the end of them, so it is great to be around for the marking of the beginning of a story.”

He predicted a change in the demographics late at night in Fortitude Valley, with music fans visible in greater numbers among young partiers.

It could be considered the perfect time for a 30-year reflection but Dr Willsteed said “it is always the right time for a reflection on our [arts and music] culture and our cultural history, because it is not something that is very big here”.

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