The Aussie BBQ debuts in Sydney and Melbourne

If you happen to be in the States around March, you’ll notice quite an influx of Aussie bands making movements around the country. This is due to the conjoined efforts of Stage Mothers and SXSW – the latter, a showcase of bands for the world to see (in Austin), and Stage Mothers, the creators of The Aussie BBQ – a showcase of Aussie Bands in Austin, LAand NYC.

Now in its eighth year, the team behind Stage Mothers have decided to bring the party home, bringing us a showcase of local talent in Sydney and Melbourne (see below for full lineups etc.). In advance of the shows, we had a chat to Stage Mothers’ Glenn Dickies, who brings us some insight into the biggest showcase of Aussie music in the USA… and his predictions on who’ll hit the right buttons at this years SXSW convention.


Let’s start off by getting to know the history of the Aussie BBQ – how did it first get started, and where did your involvement come in?

Hi thanks Larry, appreciate you taking the time out.

Hmm well back in 2003 I went over to South by Southwest for a holiday and to do a little bit of travelling through the States. At the same time Mary (Mihelakos) had also gone over but this was about the 6th or 7th time she’d been over. We kind of knew each other from seeing each other at gigs, well I knew her anyway. So on that trip we struck up a bit of a friendship that carried over to when we got back to Melbourne where we would pretty much bump into each other on a nightly basis at gigs. So over as SXSW approached again we discussed whether or not we were going over and both decided we were. During those discussions we talked about how there was zero presence for Australian acts and the ones that were there didn’t really know the best way to approach it. We’d both been to enough gigs and thrown enough backyard parties to think we could do something while we were over there to help give a Australian music some profile. So a couple of months out we set ourselves the task of putting on a BBQ and show for the Aussie bands heading over to SX. Seemed pretty easy, find a venue, get some kind of booze and throw a BBQ. At that time The Drones were heading over so Locki from Spooky Records, Tim Hegarty who was managing The Drones at the time along Sophie Best were also going over so we all put our heads together to make it happen at Emos Annex. It was a modest event of about 100 or so people but it was at least the start of Australian bands not getting lost in the mix.

We hadn’t thought beyond that year. It was a bit of fun and a cool way to spend some of our holidays but as the next year approached Mary and I again started talking about it and decided to do it again. It wasn’t until 2006 that we decided that we’d make it a legitimate part of our lives so we started our little company Stage Mothers and here we are 8 years down the track and it’s now one of the most attended county focused events on the SXSW calendar and has opened up opportunities for over 100 Australian acts. It’s also grown beyond just the SXSW event into mini festivals in LA and New York and now this year a couple of little events in Melbourne and Sydney.

The core goal of the BBQ is, of course, to fly the Aussie music flag around America – what brought on the decision to bring it home for 2010?

Well Larry we wanted to help raise the awareness of The Aussie BBQ shows in Australia so that local fans can support their favourite bands and so that our local sponsors can get some well deserved local publicity. Elwood have been supporting the BBQ for 5 years now without ever asking for anything in return, we owe it to them to show the bands and the public how much their efforts have helped Australian music. As the events are quite expensive to run overseas and Mary and I usually put our own money in to make up for any shortfall we are using these events to raise money that we can put directly in to promotion and marketing in the States which gives all of the bands more to an opportunity to succeed.

Are there plans to expand the showcase further? To the UK or Canada, for instance?

Yes Larry there are. I’m actually going over to Canadian Music Week before SXSW this year to work on an Aussie BBQ event with One Movement Festival to see if we can take what we’ve learnt in the States to the Canadainians. We are also working on a couple of events in the UK in May around Great Escape. We’ve done small shows in the UK before but decided that if we’re going to go back and do it again we want to do it really well and make an impact.

In general, how have you found US audiences to receive Aussie artists?

The shows are still pretty indie when it comes to the size of the shows and the 300 million people in the States. Part of what we do is to get key industry to the shows and then the rest is generally made up of real music fans who understand that Australia has a strong history of great LIVE music so the reception is usually great. I do think though that through doing these mini festivals and giving the audience a chance to see so many acts in one spot that they tend to be blown away by how many good bands there are. I’m always confident that any bands playing our shows can match it with any international act in their chosen genre.

Has this reception changed at all during the 8 years of the Aussie BBQ? No doubt bands like Wolfmother and Jet would have helped things along…

It’s changed in the sense that way more people come to the shows now but I’m not sure that many Americans realise that JET and Wolfmother are from Australia anyway so I’m not sure that that’s had a huge impact. I think that as an Australian though it almost gives us more confidence to try and take on the States because we’ve seen success stories like the ones you’ve mentioned. Funnily enough I think Savage Garden is the one Australian acts that a lot of American’s recognise as Australian.

The fact that flights are cheaper now to means that it’s easier for Australian’s to get back over there regularly which is necessary in that market. If you’re not prepared to go over there for an extended period of time or to go back and forth often it’s hard to get a real commitment from label types in some cases.

When they arrive to the experience the “Aussie Style BBQ”, how many people, on average, will request a “Shrimp on a Barbie”?

At least 90% and out of that 90% 100% think they’re the first to say that. The opposite to that now is that we get quite a few expiates to the shows now and because American’s don’t have the same kind of BBQ sausages that we have and the general condiments are different we now get some Australian’s complaining that it’s not traditional enough. Makes me laugh in a sad kind of way.

Looking back home, what are your thoughts on the current climate of the Australian music industry? For one, does the closure of venues such as The Tote and the Hopetoun Hotel represent a wider problem, or are we simply evolving?

The wider problem is that everyone love the idea of having plenty of live music venues but are willing to go to them regularly. The Tote closed because the 2000 people that came on the last weekend weren’t willing to support the place on a regular basis. I think the regulations down in Melbourne are particularly short sighted though when a venue like the Railway suddenly has to have 2 security guards on that’s ridiculous. People who go to see live music are going there with a purpose and it’s only on a very rare occasion that I’ve ever seen a fight during a show. And if I have they’ve usually stumbled into the wrong place.

I’m in Sydney now and it’s a completely different culture when it comes to seeing live music. I don’t see as many people just going to see a gig because they feel like seeing something new that hasn’t been talked up. The Houy regularly supported this kind of show but like I mentioned above with the Tote not enough people actually supported the pub. Also a lot of the venue owners in Sydney couldn’t give a shit about the bands playing and that resinates to the security and bar staff who a lot of the time seem put out by it unlike Melbourne where musicians and music fans often work the bar as was the case at the Houy. It’s a sad state of affairs up here and we’re lucky to have people like the Rule Brothers at the Annandale and Mark from Oxford Arts Factory who really believe in live music.

Any Aussie bands we should have our money on to break at this years SXSW?

My 3 top tips are: Violent Soho, The Middle East, Kate Miller-Hiedke but my interpretation of “breaking” may be different to yours.

Are there any bands who have come along where you’ve been surprised they haven’t made an impact? Or vice versa?

Well Powderfinger played the send BBQ we did and at that time they were already one of Australia’s biggest bands and it didn’t seem to happen for them as much as I may have thought. I was really happy last year with the impact that Ash Grunwald had. He really impressed a lot of the Americans and I think a lot of the Australian saw him in a different light too.

And finally, which local artists do you think all of Australia – nay, the world – should be listening to?

I just love the Middle East and think they should be listened to by everyone. I would personally love more people to listen to the new JET record because it’s a really great record and I don’t think enough people have given it a chance. I’ve heard the new Violent Soho record which is killer and live Boy and Bear have been one of my favourites lately but they don’t have much recorded yet. And if you don’t have The Drones in your life you’re not living.



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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.