Presenting performances in creative and unique spaces is what Alice Fraser is currently all about. In creating and launching The Jam Room, based in Glenelg, Fraser is building sustainable platforms for performers to showcase their art, whilst also generating a buzz amongst local industry folk and the public for this new avenue of performance. The Café Series, presented by The Jam Room, aims to bring unplugged and original music showcases to cafés around South Australia. For an initiative which has only conducted four sessions thus far, The Café Series has already garnered quite the amount of support and isn't slowing down.
Each month leading up to 2013 will see Fraser add a new café to the series, building a circuit and this Thursday will see Café Troppo become café number two to be added on the list. I catch up with Fraser at Café Troppo, where she takes me through the origins of the series and where she hopes to see these sessions go.
Can you tell me how this series came about?
Well, my friends Tash and Laura moved back from Canada, and they opened up a café called the Annex Café. In moving in there, they actually placed an old piano and they raised a small stage in the corner and when we went to say hello during one of their opening weeks they were like, “We should definitely do some performances here!” and I said, “Okay! Let’s do it!”. So due to licensing and because it was a small venue, we thought we’d aim just for completely unplugged performances and particularly folk, I don’t want to exclusively say ‘folk’, but acoustic stuff that doesn’t require massive amplification and electronic equipment. We don’t need to get an extra license and it’s good in a small room to be intimate; that’s literally how it started, it was an idea over coffee at a café, which has evolved now into a series!
Did you find it hard to gather interest, in terms of finding venues who would take bands in this small and intimate setting?
Actually no, it’s been easier. Througha series of music connections... if I take the Annex Café and the one that being added in August, Café Troppo, I actually know the people in there and they’re willing to take the risk. They’re willing to try something new and they’re willing to do something completely unplugged and offer their café clientele something that’s not just coffee and cake and lunch; they actually want to add that extra element, or the ‘x’ factor, which in this case, is live acoustic music. There have been a few cafés regionally who have been a little hesitant, but only because they’re suffering due to winter trade and it’s tough to branch out when you have had a quiet trading period. I think it'll be good once summer hits, hence why I’m adding a café every month leading up towards the end of the year.
In terms of the musicians involved, I think Adelaide’s one of those scenes where it’s so tight-knit – has this worked in your favour?
Absolutely. After the first one, we made the commitment to take lots of photos at the show and for Tash to film snippets and once it went online and people started hearing about the new initiative… a lot of musicians potentially do play in venues all around town all the time, so for something different in a different area… People who come to the Annex Café won’t necessarily go to a pub gig or go to a music venue in town. That was part of the reasoning behind it. Funnily enough, a lot of the people who came to the session last week were musicians themselves! There was probably about ten musicians out of the crowd of 40, they came because they just love seeing the real close and intimate performance from these bands who they see all the time in a full set up.
I guess there aren’t really that many venues around town, CBD-wise, that would allow for this intimate vibe.
That’s exactly right. It’s aim is to not make the big bucks, it’s just not, but we need a platform where people can just sit down and listen and not be interrupted by really loud crowds or people who are semi-interested in the music. Here, people full-blown listen to the songs and you can actually see the audiences’ response. People have cried at songs and bands performing and people tell funny stories…sometimes the musicians forget their lyrics and it’s honestly just all part of the theme. As someone said the other day, it’s probably the closest thing Adelaide has to house concerts and in a way, it probably is.
Looking at this project in the long-term, you were saying before you were planning on bringing the idea to a larger space…would this be something you’d want to make a permanent fixture?
Oh absolutely, definitely!
I’ve never done anything like this before so I’m a complete novice with this stuff, but how would funding come into all, especially looking further down the line. Has that been hard?
Do you know what, I’ve never applied for a grant! [Laughs] I split my week up between working for MusicSA where I lecture, I do guest lectures elsewhere and I’m also signing up at Flinders University. I work for a variety of bands and I work for a hotel group on weekends, so I literally am self-funded. I kind of am a stickler for wanting to keep it that way, because I like the idea that I own all of these ideas that I’m bringing and you know, it’s hard at times, because sometimes I am a difficult person to get a hold of! That’s because I need to pay the rent and I need to put food on the table as well. I haven’t applied for grants, but it’s certainly something I’d look at.
Oh for sure, I only ask because I would assume that this is an initiative that more arts foundations would definitely be keen to be getting behind! It sounds like there’s a decent support base behind it already!
Oh yeah! The past three sessions in Glenelg, which is the only place it’s been held so far, we’ve had over 65 people each week wanting to come. We’ve had to turn people away at the door and I think, “You know, there’s something really working for this audience for them to keep coming and for them to be talking about it”. I’m really excited about potentially taking it to a bigger space and of course, a different setting will mean having different bands set up and it’ll still be acoustic-based, but it’ll offer them a bigger stage and a bigger audience. I’m excited about that.
Have you had much attention come through from the interstate market?
Absolutely. In August, I’ve got Jack Carty! He’s coming over and I’ve got a café intimate tour with him. He’s like the first tester; he’s from Sydney and he kind of rose up through Timber & Steel and the Folk Club out of the Oxford Arts Factory. I think that collaboration between the artists that perform there and the initiatives with something like Adelaide, I think it works some parallels. I think there are certainly some collaborations that will be able to occur between them and people like me, who are doing something on a smaller scale. We’re not the bigwigs, but we don’t need to be.
For sure. You just mentioned a ‘café tour’, what would that entail?
Sure, just selecting and hand-picking cafés from around all the different regions and doing performances there. I’m looking to quite seriously integrate the regional areas a lot more. My family comes from the country, as does my boyfriend’s, my boyfriend’s family still lives there; there’s certainly a calling to take bands out to those areas and of course, some of the talent that’s actually out in the country never gets seen! That’s been the best part about this, we’ve actually connected with some music teachers and we’ve gotten high school students to come and perform and it’s been an incredible platform for first performers as well as a few seasoned ones as well!
It’s funny; I’ve ended up as almost a consultant for those shows, particularly with the folk and acoustic things; it’s hard to know where to start in Adelaide. I mean, I think that the Wheaty is one of the best venues in Adelaide but it’s still a room of 120, and if you don’t have a following here, it can feel incredibly terrible if you’re playing to a room of no one. That’s why we use the cafés, who have an inbuilt crowd, and then we can bring these artists over on a Thursday; we’re being very consistent with only putting these shows on Thursdays, it activates a mid-week crowd and it’s something different. Adelaide is a Friday to Sunday town, so it doesn’t step on any toes there and it creates an extended trading night for these cafés.
For these bands, they can come and play this show where they know there’s going to be at least 40 people in the room and they can promote the show that they may be doing on the Friday or the Saturday. You could almost see it as a semi-secret show, because we’ve had a ground following of people come to the sessions because of the sessions, not because of who’s playing. It has that good leeway to offer those really cool shows to these touring bands.
Yeah, and you’re going to be guaranteed something different musically, with each experience.
For sure, even for myself as the booker, I get shocked as to what some of the bands actually perform! It’s like, “That is not even what I expected, but I love it!”.
What would you say has been a highlight for you, since the Café Series started?
That is an incredibly difficult question! Probably one of my personal favourites, just out of the pure fact that it just shocked everyone in the room as to how good it was, was a girl named Jordan Ruru. She teaches out at Northern Sound System and she’s studying out at Salisbury. She came along with her brother and she’s this funk soul and she’s sung on a few hip-hop collaborations; she’s only 18 years old and she just blew everyone away. She got a standing ovation and a call for an encore and yeah, if you go on that alone…this girl has got something going on!
Wow! How early on in the series was that performance?
She was two sessions ago, so still relatively new. I mean, we’ve only done four sessions. Since then, there’s been a calling for her to come back and do a few shows, so she’s going to be doing the launch here at the Troppo, because I know that she’ll do so well! Dr Piffle and the Burlap Band, they’re just something completely different and I dig that, then you have someone like Abbey Howlett, who has her own soul project and is also the backing singer for the Irie Knights and God God Dammit Dammit. So it’s like it’s this music community that’s offering this diverse range; we go from funk-soul to country with banjo…it’s really cool.
I was having a conversation recently and the topic of people like yourself with The Jam Room and others like Sam Wright with Moving Music came up and it was like there’s this wave of young Adelaide people taking over in changing the state of our industry. It’s a cool way of thinking about it, but also slightly intimidating!
[Laughs] It can be, but if you look at how lots of people are complaining…not even so much complaining, about how the state of the industry has such speculation around it and that there have been so many different reviews from all different avenues, from Government to music bodies to music businesses to individuals. I just think that sure, there needs to be some sort of cohesion and some sort of understanding as to where our industry direction is going, but I certainly think part of this whole reviving of the scene wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for some of these projects, you know? It’s what makes them different; we may be working independently and on quite a small scale, but in actual fact, we’re integrating completely different areas. I focus on suburbia, Sam does town… there’s cool blogs and the work that Renew Adelaide with their side-projects and it’s pretty astounding.
You know, I started out in the industry by just hitting the road with bands, I toured and I tour managed and I just threw myself into working at different festivals around Australia. In talking to the musicians there, so many of them came back with the same ideas about Adelaide and there was this common thread of them just not knowing where to place themselves. It’s like now; I’m offering these platforms on a consistent basis; each Thursday you know that there’s going to be one of these shows happening around Adelaide that these bands can potentially slot into! Lots of people have said recently that I’ve got my fingers in a lot of different pies, but I have to because otherwise I don’t make a living!
I completely understand that! I think it’s an interesting time to be involved in the industry here at the moment; you’re either on the end of the spectrum where you’re enjoying the benefits of the cyclic nature of the Adelaide industry, or you’re up the other end, where you’re trying to move these things forward. It’s exciting.
True. I see it as a time of discovery too; I think about some of the performers that I’ve had over the past four sessions, and from those sessions they’ve gotten a whole bunch of other gigs around town and people from other events have started to come and watch these shows to maybe pick people for the events that they’re running. From that alone, it’s indirectly caused a bit of cohesion; I’ve been putting on performances where there is amazing talent and whilst they are from different genres, you never know who’s going to come and they may actually then end up melding and doing events from there.
I reckon it’s a pretty cool time but you know, if the Café Series can ultimately end up like… I take the guys from the Communion label in the UK, they are real heroes of mine in how they do things. So, to have a collective space in Glenelg, just to be outside of the city and to put the spotlight on a beachside area! I love the beach, I’ve grown up there and I surf, it’s going to be really important to have that tie in with the scene down there.
It’ll be awesome, especially when summer comes along!
Oh, it’s going to be so amazing!
I can’t wait. It all just sounds so exciting!
With the amount of work I’ve been doing with people interstate, with the exception of the Folk Club, I don’t think I’ve come across a project that’s kicked off as well this one has.
Yeah and the best thing about it is that it’s seriously just word of mouth. I love that, because you end up getting people who come because they’ve responded to word of mouth, and they also deliver word of mouth. It’s like, they’re talking about the performances, the food, and the local wine that they’ve had and about the local art that’s on the walls. A lot of this just feeds into the idea of the scene and that’s what I’m about.
The Troppo Sessions will be launched at Café Troppo on Whitmore Square on Thursday, August 2nd. The event kicks off at 6:30pm, wrapping up around 9:30pm. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased by pre-booking through firstname.lastname@example.org.