Speakeasy Zine Interview

Sydney writer and broadcaster Lee Tran Lam recently interviewed me for the tenth issue of her beautiful Speak-easy zine. Without wishing to descend into a mutual ‘love-in’, Lee Tran commitment and dedication to the local music and culture scene is astonishing, and it’s clear that she does this quite sincerely ‘for the love of it’. Aside from her growing zine back cataglogue, she also presents the all-Australian music show ‘Local Fidelity‘ on Sunday nights on FBi, runs a food blog ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry‘ and has just compiled a new CD as a fundraising exercise for FBi. Introduce yourself at either of her blogs to hunt down a copy of the zine, which also features interviews with Eliza Sarlos, Daniel Boud, Even Books, Jonathon Valenzuela and many more, alongside a stunning selection of images from in and around the city.


Speak-Easy #10, May 2009

Stuart Buchanan will forever be blazed in my memory as the first DJ I know to play ‘Young Folks’ by Peter, Bjorn & John (I remember the exact moment I heard it in my Ashfield flat and I had to stop everything I was doing). This was about a billion years before it was on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and blitzing people’s mobile ringtones. This is really just one facet of Stu – he is super-ahead of everything without being one of those braggy sorts who has to go on about trumping the zeitgeist all the time. In fact, he’s ultra-modest even though he ends up achieving things like ‘The Guardian’ newspaper crowning his (then) music blog as one of the best in the world.

Stuart currently hosts ‘Disorient’ on FBI 94.5FM, runs the ‘Discontent’ music blog and is Executive Producer of Creative Sydney – a festival that seems genuinely exciting and energising, all about firing up local ideas and artists (rather than flogging author merchandise, as certain staid festivals seem to pivot on). He’s one of the smartest eggs I know, I’m glad he is in the EP chair for this.

Can you tell me your first memory of Sydney?

Either the first weekend, or shortly thereafter, I went to a gig at Space3 on Cleveland Street and saw very early appearances from Spod (accompanied by a dancing Toecutter) and The Emergency. It was rough and crammed and fantastic. It proved straight away that there was great worth to be found beneath the veneer.

Can you tell me what first attracted you to Sydney – was it the “weather and beaches” chestnut?

I met my girlfriend (laterly fiancee, laterly wife) in London. We had both spent around six years in the city and, despite it being an amazing place to live, we both knew it was time to move on. She was a Sydneysider, born in Surry Hills, and she wanted to move back home. I’d never been to Australia, but Love forced my hand and I made the move.

The main thing I didn’t bargain on was the effect that tourism had on the city. Having lived in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, I fully understood just what an influx of tourists can do to a city (especially during Edinburgh Festival season where the population literally doubles), but I was shocked at the amount of what felt like ‘no-go zones’ for residents. Each of those other cities very much had a sense of self, that tourists were secondary to the equation, and that the cities didn’t have to compromise. Here, it felt like countless concessions had been made to tourism – whole spaces at the heart of the city like Darling Harbour or The Rocks were almost entirely devoid of Sydneysiders, and that felt completely backwards. The people of Sydney were made to feel like they didn’t own the city – the net result being, when tourists visited those places, they got a completely false impression of what the city was actually all about. They’re marshalled off to their walled garden, their exclusion zones, where they can get a great a picture of the Bridge or the House, but they’re not experiencing a real sense of what the people of Sydney have to offer.

How hard / easy do you think it is to be creative in Sydney? What are the most interesting creative projects you’ve come across?

It’s hard to say to put that in context, as I’ve been here just over six years. I hear people talk about very lean years for music and culture in the late 90s and early part of this decade, when pubs kicked out live music and the city lost some of its soul. I never lived through that, but it feels like it might be easier now than it was then. Support networks such as 2SER, FBi, alternative press and, more recently, online avenues such as blog culture and Facebook, have done a great deal to creat and maintain connections between artists and audiences. But they’ve also done a great deal to inspire people who otherwise would never of thought of themselves as creative, or who thought that Sydney was not the place to pursue a creative career.

As for as “interestingness” goes, the group I come back to time and time again is Feral Media label & the Sopp Collective design group – a beautiful blend of local music and Scandanavian design, from Newtown and Chippendale. They constantly surprise me with something new and something beautiful. Whilst it would be easy to fall back and exploit the signature sound and look they’ve developed, I love their dedication to pushing themselves forward.

I dj occasionally for the Uber Lingua collective and I’m always inspired by the size and diversity of the community that they always seem to attract. Club nights by their very nature attract a very singular type of person, people who gather together around a certain code. Uber Lingua is one of the few club experiences where there is no code. Many different styles of music and culture are represented, hence you’re always guaranteed a new and unexpected experience. That’s something that can’t always be said for most of the city’s club nights, where you’re going there to get another taste of what you already know.

What’s your favourite depiction of Sydney in a song/movie/novel/artwork/blog/any-bit-of-pop-culture?

The Naked City crew on FBi often play Tommy Leonetti’s “My City Of Sydney”, and it always make me chuckle – a Sinatra-like croooner warbling on about “that little church steeple in Woolloomoolloo”. I find myself singing that line when I’m doing the dishes or driving in the car, and I have absolutely no idea why.

How much has your idea of Sydney been remapped since having kids?

I obviously go places and do things I wouldn’t otherwise have found, and thus you see a completely different side to the city. It means that I rarely spend any weekend time in the city centre, that instead we hunt down larger, often more interesting, outdoor spaces further out. And because children get bored very, very quickly – I’m always having to find somewhere new.

If you had to create your soundtrack to Sydney, it would sound like ….

The life of a radio presenter is a blessing and a curse – I’m blessed to be drenched in so much fine music, but cursed to rarely ever return to albums after one or two listens. There’s always a pile of new music to listen to. So my soundtrack for Sydney is constantly changing and rearranging, and never the same twice. And as a relatively recent arrival, I don’t have a lifetime of city experiences that are bound up in local music. This month I’ve been listening to Sydney bands such as Ghoul, Underlapper, No Art, Seekae and Telafonica, but ask me again next week and it’ll all be different.

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