Opinion //

Gig Life: An insight into the Audience, Music and Student Experience

Live music can be an enigmatic pastime.

One way to spend your weeknights is in the foggy haze of one of the pubs of King St as they pedestal this week’s rotation of surging Innerwest bands. Maybe you would make the trek to Oxford Art Factory, or traipse your way through The Vanguard, Kelly’s on King, Mary’s Underground or The Lansdowne. Perhaps you’d like some local post-hardcore, re-born jazz, alternative-rock, funk, soul or RnB. 

Live music can be an enigmatic pastime. The Inner West, and by default, The University of Sydney is notorious for its gig culture. For some, the best parts of student life are synonymous with exploring new live music or attending parasocial invites to nouveau gigs.  So much so, that the council itself has a ‘gig guide’ accessible for their youth coining this pastime as a “vital part of the cultural fabric and identity of Sydney’s Innerwest.” But is this choice of Friday night activity an enjoyable way to spend your social battery, or a product of the daunting jealousy of being absent from a scene likened to last Friday’s gig? 

To fill this void of introspection, I dug a little deeper into some of the voices that make up the ‘cultural fabric’ of our local gig space. University of Sydney student and musician, Justina Blahlock sat down with me to discuss her “unofficial guide” to understanding the Inner West’s gig culture. Justina occupies both “the artist and the audience” and feels that live music is deeply synonymic with her sense of expression and 

Justina explains that there are three key kinds of audiences to live music. The 1st level being The Rock: Hard to crack and often apprehensive of an unfamiliar scene, the rock may come across as standoffish, but be assured that with time for tentative unfurling, their inner enjoyer is alive and well. 

For the 2nd level, next in line, is The Embrace: a contagious release of stress enters the performance walls as personal identity unfolds. They giggle and they groove – opening up to the vibrance of local art. 

And completing our 3 level guide is, The Fine Wine: considered as a matured, but engaged, exhilarated audience member, its fitting to identify them as tasteful embracers of everything.

Front-manning her RnB/Neo-Soul band Astral Juice, Justina’s preferred live music environment is a “sultry embrace”, promoting an inclusive and accessible space dedicated to the appreciation of her band’s art. Collaborating with fellow collectives like Alpha Goose  and Skruish, her live audience is often filled with university students and young adults, becoming a “hive of collaboration” and connections for all.

Regardless of level, the Inner West and its students deserve to see their artists live. To respond to this demand, the University of Sydney offers their own spin on ‘gig life’ with their newly birthed festival Someday Soon hosted by the USU at the Manning Bar. With its genesis in October 2022, the weekend festival saw a setlist of over 20 artists and a healthy jump start for the almost 50 year old venue. Manning Bar witnessed its own re-birth of live music culture in the early months of 2022 as they began their onslaught of weekend gig line-ups, and marginally acclaimed DJ sets every other Friday. 

The experience of an audience is a crucial part of gig and student life. It serves as the link to meeting like-minded folk, connecting with young talent, and fostering one’s creative ambitions regardless of which sweaty dance floor you dare to enter.

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