Sydney is winning, you know

IMG_9080Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 1.45.17 PM

Check out this simple little symbol on this event flyer.
It says ‘we support safe spaces’, and it’s slipped in there next to the venue, organising body logos. This placement says ‘this is as important as who runs this event’ and ‘we are proud of this’.
It’s not the perfect little symbol, and I’d probably say ‘this is a safe space’, but it WORKS.

Just like flying a rainbow flag or having a rainbow sticker in your window, just like the pink triangle, this little symbol says “We are onto this.”

I’ll be attending EASY DOES IT…. tonight. (well, I probably would anyway, because live band, two floors dancing in a squashy bar: my favourites.

I do have a question, though: this is a public event, and the venue is a bar. How will the venue be enforcing safe space policies? Legit question, and out of curiousity, as we work closely with the PBC, and rely on their own commitment to equity and safety.

Now I’m all excited about community partnerships in working for safety and equity at dance events. I’d be curious to see how Nevermore Jazz Ball and Jenny Shirar and Christian Frommelt approach these things in their very-community-focussed event.


The influence of Frankie Manning on my lindy hop history

As I mentioned in the Frankie Fest post the other day, we’re teaching Frankie Manning themed classes this month at our weekly class. That means Frankie Manning themed lindy hop in the first class, and then Frankie Manning themed solo dance in the second class. Although making the distinction between the two seems to deliberately misunderstand exactly what Frankie Manning – and jazz dance – are all about.

I’m going to see if I can write a few blog posts about Frankie Manning, or, rather, using Frankie Manning as a jumping off point for some ideas. We’ll see how well things go – I’m not all that together in the longer-form writing way at the moment.

This is a post about how Frankie Manning moved into and out of my understanding of lindy hop. This is a story of personal growth (goddess, how I hope it’s about growth), not really about Frankie himself. If you want that story, you should read his autobiography.

Oh, yeah, Frankie Manning IS the best!: late 2000s and early 2010s

Frankie95, the massive birthday party for Frankie Manning, which he just missed out on seeing, seemed to suddenly change everything. It’s true, you know, you don’t know what you’ve got til you lose it. You don’t miss the water til the well runs dry. And the Silver Shadows, the most popular, and one of the most highly skilled lindy hop performance groups in the world at the time reminded people that Frankie was wonderful:

Frankie95 day3 Performance Silver Shadows tribute to Frakie Manning:

It feels, now, that the generation of international teachers being flown to Australia to teach (people like Thomas and Alice, for example, who taught a ‘Frankie class’ at Jumptown Jam last month), who mightn’t have been into this stuff in a big way before, are suddenly falling in love with Frankie Manning all over again. Or for the first time.

I’m feeling a profound sense of déjà vu. The steps that I first learnt to dance with – pecks, stomp offs, mini-dips – are now chic again. I’m not complaining. But I think that for a lot of dancers, the technique-heavy smooth style phase and then the popularity of blues dancing gave them the technical skills to really appreciate what Frankie Manning was doing, particularly in his later years. And I also think that the influence of Steven and Virgine in Melbourne (particularly during that 2000-2004 period) was very important. While their dance style was definitely juicier and groovier, their experience with Frankie Manning definitely informed their teaching, and Frankie’s understanding of music and rhythm and dance shaped the Melbourne lindy hop scene, even indirectly.

For myself, I think that Frankie himself makes it very clear that to be able to dance well, it’s just as important to able to shake your arse for Shiny Stockings at 120bpm as it is to move your arse at 230bpm with Jumpin’ at the Woodside.

Understanding Frankie’s bum and feet and hands and everything: early 2010s Sydney

Now that I’m teaching (again – the last time I taught was ~2002), I amazed by the content Frankie was teaching beginners:

Frankie Manning teaching in Denver, CO 2007:

That little sequence is quintessential Frankie Manning. He just assumed that if you were learning lindy hop, you were going to learn a complex sequence of rhythms and steps, and that that was going to be the heart of your dancing. Most lindy hop classes I see these days assume that beginners will be learning simple movements and that this sort of rhythmic work is a ‘variation’, an optional extra for more advanced dancers.

When I first started learning, this little film shows the sort of thing we learnt – in fact, I can still remember learning pretty much this exact sequence way back in about 2000. I strongly believe that this stuff – these rhythms, this use of open position, this combining partner work with individual improvisation – is the very core, the absolute essence of lindy hop. Without it, you’re just… well, you’re just doing something else. You’re not lindy hopping.

I know that right now, I’m really only beginning to properly understand just how amazing he was, even in his 90s. There are no modern dancers today who can approach his skill level. Let alone his choreographing ability. I think we are so lucky to have had him, not just in the early days of lindy hop, but most especially in the revival, when we really needed, as a community, to be taught not only how to dance, but how to love dancing and to be good to each other.

I think these interviews with today’s lindy hoppers talking about Frankie Manning at 90, at the 2004 Herrang Dance camp make all this clear:

The season of snot and ridiculously beautiful parrots

IMGP6151_rainbow-lorikeet, originally uploaded by RaeAllen.

It’s spring here in Sydney (well, summer, technically), and that means flowers and pollen and snot. We’re in a temperate/subtropical zone, near the coast, and we get masses and masses of rain in the spring and autumn months. The European seasons are particularly useless as guides to weather in Sydney… well, for pretty much all of Australia, but I really feel the discrepency most here. The Dharawal calendar makes a lot more sense. Which isn’t surprising, seeing as how it’s the sum of 40 000 years worth of observation and knowledge, rather than 200 years of trying to force a round peg into a square hole. Despite the best efforts of British colonists, we are not England, and they have not made Australia so. But most European-Australians insist on using the European seasons to describe our climate and get all emotional about falling leaves and ‘real’ seasons from a country on the other side of the planet which really only exists in their parents’ imagination. It gives me the shits a bit.

The Dharawal calendar:

Gaalung Marool
(hot and dry)

(wet becoming cooler)

Tugarah Tuli
(cold, frosty, short days)

Tugarah Gunya’marri
(cold and windy)

(cool, getting warmer)

(warm and wet)

Right now we’re in Parra’dowee, which means warm and wet. Which is what it is. Big, masive pouring rain for a week, straight-down rain, like a warm, heavy shower. And then things dry out and the plants go INSANE with their flowers, the birds go NUTS with the nectar and pollen in the flowers (especially the rainbow lorikeets, adrenaline-charged sex addicts at this time of year) and the bats get crazy for the fruit coming into season. All this is very picturesque, but by geez it makes for bad hayfever. Snot. Snot. Snot.
But Parra’dowee describes this season – warm and wet – far more effectively than ‘spring’. It’s not as though the little plants are crawling out of the frozen ground. The plants have been steadily growing for the last few months, and really only slowed down during the coldest part of the year. And ‘cold’ in Sydney means, oh, below 20*C at least! I never wear my Melbourne winter clothes, and never need scarves or woolly hats. But I’ve invested in lots more light cotton dresses since I’ve moved here (you can check the average temperatures and rainfall in these graphs).
Melbourne is (sort of) covered by the Brambuk calendar, which is pretty harsh. Very hot and dry in summer, very cold and often wet in winter. Total rubbish. It reminds me of living in Wagga, which was also rubbish, weather-wise.

Living in Sydney is like living in Brisbane or Fiji, but with less humidity and more moderate temperatures. Which is probably because they’re tropical places. I adore Sydney weather. Even in this wet season, the blocks of rain are bracketed by weeks of perfect, gloriously blue-skied days and gentle temperatures. All this makes Canberra all the stranger. Just over a mountain range to the east (sort of), the winters are freezing cold with snow, and the summers are bakingly hot and dry. Sydney is best. Canberra is our closest lindy hop scene, and we are the two closest scenes in Australia, so we visit each other for special events. It’s a three hour drive, or three hours on the bus for a $30 ticket (or $15 if you get organised early enough). One year coming home from Canberrang, the bus drove through snow flurries, then we arrived in Sydney where people were at the beach swimming.

Sydney is the best, chuck out all the rest.

Starting DJing in Sydney: Some Basic Tips

Just as I finished posting that last ranty mcrantington rant about DJing (NEEDS MOAR DJS ? (part 2) (Thursday, November 17th, 2011)) there was a flurry of emailing and suddenly, DJing in Sydney gets very interesting. This is a post about getting into DJing in Sydney. Which is suddenly, thanks to the generosity of quite a few people, very doable.

Avril and Ryan who teach on Wednesdays at the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre, 665 Darling St Rozelle (classes 7 and 8pm), have opened their small and friendly social dancing slot up to new DJs. I’ve also heard that another couple of venues are interested in doing the same sort of thing, but I’ll have to add their details when I have them confirmed. [Edit 8/12/11: Amanda and Max who teach Tuesdays in North Sydney have also offered opportunities for new DJs during their social dancing] [Edit 25/07/12: Alice and I teach on Wednesdays at the Petersham Bowls Club, and have a 30minute spot at 8pm which is perfect for new DJs].

This is an excellent place to begin DJing. There’s no pay and the crowd will be small, but that’s really what you want for your very first (few) gigs – low pressure. Avril and Ryan [and Amanda and Max] [and Alice and I] are very nice and friendly, and Unity Hall is of course Home Of Mo Jazz in Sydney.

What do you do? Drop them an email, or better yet, go along to their class and have a chat to them about doing some DJing there in the future. That second option is probably the best as it’ll give you a chance to scope out the scene and get an idea of what goes down there each week.

Why start with an after-class gig rather than a larger social dancing night? Well, firstly, you might have some good ideas, but you ain’t got mad skills – yet!

Shorter after class social dancing slots are perfect for new DJs:

  • There’s no pressure to be major-awesome; you’re not making or breaking a major social dancing night;
  • Shorter sets mean you can get in, get a taste, get out. DJing can be quite tiring at first;
  • Teachers at these regular local gigs are relaxed and friendly, which means less stress for you;
  • Students are relaxed and friendly and supportive;
  • These are quieter, smaller events. Yes, I know the urge to show off for a big crowd is strong, but trust me – you don’t want to piss off a crowd of hardcore social dancers. Yet;
  • The timing generally is more relaxed. You can take a bit of extra time to figure out how you plug your laptop into the sound gear because there aren’t a hundred people standing about staring at you.

What should you bring?

  • Your laptop or ipod or whatever it is you’re playing music from, making sure it has a media player you know how to use (itunes, winamp, whatever you like). I’d go with something really simple and familiar at first – time enough to obsess about software later;
  • An RCA Red/ White Stereo connection cable (which cost very little, and can be found at most electronics shops and all music shops):
  • TWO ¼ inch (6.5mm) TS mono phone jack connections (which cost very little, and can be found at all music shops):
  • Your laptop’s power cord;

If you’ve been practicing for a while, or want to go hardcore, then bring your headphones and an external soundcard. But you don’t really need those for your first gig.

How do you prepare?

  • Listen to your music and get to know it. Practice dancing to it in your lounge room so you know how ‘fast’ it feels, whether it’s high or low energy, etc;
  • Learn to use your media player. Experiment with all the settings – every single one;
  • Practice plugging your laptop into your stereo at home;
  • Turn off all the applications on your laptop that you won’t be using – the internet stuff, etc. This means your computer can devote all its energy to playing music, and will make crashes less likely;
  • Turn off all the notification noises – the bing bongs that tell you when you’ve got an email, the boops! that tell you you’re turning the volume up or down;
  • Practice playing pretend sets. How do you drag and drop songs into your playlist?

What should you play?
That’s really up to you. I don’t think you can call yourself a swing DJ if you have less than 90% of your (DJing) collection devoted to swinging jazz. I have lots of other music, but I don’t DJ it for swing dancers. If you’re totally stuck for ideas, perhaps you should work on your music collection for a while before you start DJing.

  • There are basic lists of iconic songs all over the place: Reuben’s list is a good place to start, this is my short list of overplayed songs), and this is my list of ‘essential’ swing albums;
  • What do you hear in class/out social dancing? Ask the DJs. Talk to your local DJs, and be brave enough to chat to DJs at larger events. I know it’s tempting to interrogate a DJ who’s just sitting there, tapping their laptop, but resist the urge – they’re working. Grab them later on – they LOVE talking about music!
  • Don’t ask DJs or teachers to give you music. Would you ask your mechanic to give you free parts for your car?
  • Join the FB group of Australian DJs;
  • Check out;

Don’t expect to be the best DJ in the world your first time. Just go and treat this as a learning experience that could be fun. Just like dancing, the more social dancing you do, the better you’ll get, the more you’ll learn.

[EDIT: This is one of a number of loosely-associated posts about music in Sydney lindy hop today. This list includes:


NEEDS MOAR DJS ? (part 2)

(photo of Trev and I ‘DJing’ at MLX8 by scott_aus)

This post is the second of two. In the first part (NEEDS MOAR DJS ? (part 1)) I rambled on about Sydney’s DJing culture at the moment, particularly in reference to its social dancing culture and basic demographics. This second part spends a bit of time talking about why DJing sucks and why I like DJing. At some point in the future I’ll try to write about how we might (despite all our better instincts) go about encouraging new DJs in the swing dance scene.

I’m going to carry on with the (increasingly ridiculous) point that we need more DJs here in Sydney. Because as things are going, we’re in pretty dire straits: NEED MOAR DJS!!1!!

How do we get these moar DJs?
One of the most frustrating suggestions I’ve heard lately is that we should “just put out an ad for more DJs”. Gee, why hadn’t I thought of that. As though there are squads of skilled DJs sitting about at home who hadn’t thought about DJing. Or rather, the implication is that any old fool with some music can DJ.

*headdesk* repeatedly

Here is where things get tricky. Yes, any old fool with an ipod or a laptop can just plug into a sound system and play some music. But this is what will happen 99% of the time:

  • They won’t play ‘swing music’. They’ll play songs that they luuurve and can’t believe no one ever plays. Because no one has every played that fucking Wham Jitterbug song, or Richard Cheese. They’ll play one fucked up song after another, and everyone will get shitty/bored and get drunk/go home.
  • They will play ‘swing music’, but they’ll be using shitty, shitty pirated mp3s that sound HORRIBLE and are unlistenable. So an experienced DJ/person will have to step in to help them fix the sound.
  • They will play ‘swing music’, but it will all be under 100bpm or above 200bpm, all from one small musical style, and all very samey. This’ll be fine for that person and their three friends, but everyone else will get shitty/bored and get drunk/go home.

The best case scenario in these moments is that the dancers will be ok with one of these DJs pulling this rubbish, so long as there’s a second DJ who’ll play ‘real’ swing music. Either way, you’re going to need a second DJ or some sort of technology-savvy person working with the new ‘DJs’ to help them actually make sound come out of the metal box.
And of course, we haven’t even begun to approach a DJ who has a) decent music, and b) knows how to combine it, and c) work the room so that people have a chance to breathe/get their groove on.

Who’d have thought. DJing actually requires some skills and knowledge.

So, yeah, just putting out an ad won’t turn up any surprise DJ gems. It might get you one or two people who have an interest. But what you’ll probably get is a bunch of guys with inflated egos who think DJing is ‘easy’. You might get one or two women, but they won’t have as much confidence as the guys. What will probably happen is that the few people who are actually interested in DJing swing music for swing dancers will pay attention to how things turn out, and then they’ll be disappointed and put off by the reality and the fallout of that reality.
As with building a swing dance scene generally, new DJs are more the result of long term plans and strategies than surprise discoveries.

This ‘just put in an ad for DJs’ approach is a clear indication of the value of social dancing and of music – low. This makes sense if your financial bread and butter is classes, and social dancing an optional extra. It’s also the antithesis of how I approach dancing. I see classes as a place for me to develop skills which make my social dancing better/easier/more fun/more creative. If your business relies on class attendance (rather than social dance attendance), it’s important to develop an institutional discourse which values pedagogy – learning and teaching – above all else, and which also articulates clear hierarchies of knowledge. Most importantly, learning is positioned as something which happens in classes, knowledge is bought and paid for, then passed from teachers to students like a little package.

What this really makes clear, I guess, is the way Sydney (and Melbourne, at least until about 2008) relies on dance schools to put on social dancing events. I don’t know if this happens in other scenes. But dance classes are the centre of the community, rather than the ground crew or entry point for a vibrant social dancing scene. I’m not sure why. Maybe we just seem to assume that running classes makes better business sense than running regular social dances? I mean, we only have three annual events, nationally (of a total of twelve or thirteen), which are all social dancing, with no workshops: Canberrang (Canberra), Devil City Swing (Tasmania) and MLX. MLX is the best-attended, largest of those events, and began as a workshop weekend. I often wonder if our national obsession with workshops has something to do with Australia’s small and geographically dispersed population. Or if it’s a result of our distance from the rest of the lindy hopping world. Historically, traveling to dance in Australia has been centred on workshops and learning rather than social dancing.

…but look, I’ve wandered off-topic again. It is relevant, because it explains why I think music and social dancing are so important to a contemporary lindy hop culture. It’s not just because I love social dancing above all else, or because I am a DJ, with much to gain from a community valuing my skills. I do think that a modern lindy hop scene cannot be truly socially and creatively sustainable if it does not include social dancing. Because social dancing is really challenging. And it’s also the place where dancing stops being a series of monologues and becomes an exciting, challenging discourse. It’s called social dancing for a reason. But let’s get back to talking about DJing.

There are other ways of encouraging new DJs.
I’ve written quite a few posts about getting into DJing:

Looking at that list, all I can think is:

NONE OF THIS IS ENCOURAGING. These are not helpful posts. tl;dr Too depressing. Too much thinking!

I need to write a post talking about how to encourage people to take up DJing. I really do. But this is not that post.

(photo of Tomo by Swifty, an American photographer, DJ and dancer in NY).

Basically, becoming a good DJ requires a lot of time. Yeah, some money. But the time is the biggest investment. Time to learn music. To learn how to use technology. To spend actually DJing and moving from sucking to being half decent and then, finally, good. You can be competent within a year, but it takes at least a couple of years to get good. Just like lindy hop, DJing for lindy hop is a long term project. Time spent sitting on your arse DJing instead of dancing. That always surprises new DJs: you don’t get to dance to the music you love that you’re playing? No, buddy, you don’t. Because there are very few people who have the ninja skills to pull off a good set while dancing to it. And 90% of the guys (and they are blokes) who dance while DJing aren’t anywhere near as good as they think they are. No, buddy, you’re not.

And if you’re just in the scene to have fun and dance, why on earth would you waste your time learning to DJing, and then actually DJing? Particularly when there’s an awesome band on every free night you have during the week?

So you get these people to start DJing. Why would they bother to stick with it? The hours are shitty. You aren’t treated with a whole heap of respect – there’s no line of groupies waiting for you after a set. There’s next to no money in it. Unless that money is the money you sink into your gear and music. You’re far more likely to get abused by some blockhead venue owner or manager than thanked. You’ll constantly deal with idiots suggesting amazing songs no one ever plays. By Wham. Most of the sets you do will be small time local sets for mixed range of dancers who’d really rather talk and flirt than dance. Unless you’re in a big scene with a core set of hardcore dancers. That means Melbourne, in Australia – we just don’t have that significant core group anywhere else, not in decent numbers. Even in Melbourne, though, most of your sets would be for smaller crowds. Because the smaller sets are the bread and butter of a swing dance scene.

Golly, with all that bad news, why does anyone DJ at all? Why do I DJ?

  • I love the music. The music brought me to dancing in the first place. And that’s why I stay. And that’s also why I get up and leave when some fucker plays Richard Cheese or that fucking Wham song. AGAIN. I love the music. It inspires my dancing. I go to dance classes so I can dance better(er) and do a better(er) job of making what I hear visible. I learn about dance history so I can understand what people danced to the music I love.
  • I’m a stooge. Yep. Some stooge has to make the music. So I’ll do it. I started DJing because I was sick and tired of the bullshit music I used to hear out social dancing in Melbourne circa 2004. If someone else was DJing every week, DJing the good stuff, I’d never have gotten into it. Perhaps. So, yes, I was that annoying new DJ playing ‘songs no one ever plays’. It’s just that everyone else was playing Wham, and I wanted to play some Lionel Hampton.
  • I like learning new things. I have a curious brain. And DJing is interesting. That’s one of the reasons I stick with it. The fundamentals of DJing are pretty simple: play music. But the practicalities are endlessly challenging: keep them dancing. Make them have fun. Make them crazy with pleasure. How do you do that, consistently? Their tastes and dance skills keep changing, so the DJing has to change too. There are no constants! Curious brain, inquires.
  • Collegiality keeps me with it. I do like to talk. And write. And DJing gives me something interesting to talk and think and write about. Not just on my own – with other people! I think my DJing makes me better at organising other DJs, so I also do it so I have some sort of empathy with their requirements.
  • The history of the music is interesting. Not the boring ‘jazz started in New Orleans’ rubbish. But the interesting stuff – such and such was in Person X’s band, but also in Y’s band, and both bands recorded the same song in the same year. And both bands were on different record labels. And the labels decided who got to decide what songs. And those labels affected which bands played which venues. And those venues were segregated/weren’t segregated. And that affected who danced to those bands live.
  • DJing feeds in nicely to my media studies/cultural studies background. I did a chapter of my PhD on DJing cultures, and I’m still interested in DJing as a case study/testing ground for various critical theories. I especially like the way DJing and dancing require participation, and I like the way that gives my research and writing mo cred.
  • It makes me feel proud and happy when people enjoy the music I play. I feel a sense of pride when I can make a crowd crazy. But I feel especially happy when someone tells me they like what I’ve done. Because I’m a hooman being, and I like the approval of my peers. I like feeling good about myself. And I like to facilitate other people’s fun. The hardest thing in the world is watching my friends dance like fools having crazy fun while I’m DJing. Without me. But then, one of the nicest things in the world is to see people I know – people I love! – having masses of fun to my music. I mean, what could be better than watching my partner dancing like an uninhibited adrenaline junky idiot to a song I chose because I knew he’d love it? Best exchange of presents ever.
  • Not many women were DJing when I began. It shat me to hear and see men being all holier than thou about DJing. Fuck, if they can do it, there’s no reason I can’t.
  • The hunting instinct. There’s something very satisfying about hunting down the perfect song, then dumping it into a set at just the right time and having people come running up to say “What was that SONG?” Yep, that’s a good feeling. But there’s something even more satisfying about going complete on an artist. On hunting down everything they recorded, and just having it. Because I’m a bit obcon, but also because… well, that’s the reason. Completists aren’t really 100% normal, are they? It’s also quite exciting to find a new artist or song or band and then testing it out on dancers. Is it as good as you expected it to be? Why not? I like that.
  • DJing is a good thing to do when you’re injured. I didn’t find my DJing improved while I was off dancing with an injury, but it gave me something to do at dances.
  • It’s creative. There really is something creatively challenging and satisfying about putting together songs in just the right way. Sure, you’re not mixing or making the music yourself. But no one else has played just this combination of songs at just this moment for just this crowd before, nor will they ever again. That’s a moment of creativity. And it’s exciting. When I’m really in the DJing groove, I feel as though I’m out there dancing every single song. I feel far more connected to the dancers than I ever do when I’m out there with them on the dance floor. I can see them all responding to each other and to the music. I can feel my own body responding – my heart rate elevating or dropping, my skin flushing, my pores sweating. I can feel the beat in my body, and the emotions of the music in my own… heart? And I use those feelings to make decisions about the next song I play. That feeling is really, really addictive. I think that’s what makes dancing so addictive. You get totally lost in the music, and nothing else exists. Plus: adrenaline, endorphins, physical contact. It’s all majorly addictive. And then revisiting those sets afterwards, figuring out why things worked or didn’t helps revisit those feelings. Contact high, yo.

So, really, there are lots of reasons to take up DJing. But how do you articulate all those things in the two minutes you have to talk to a dancer who may be interested in taking up DJing? Should you? It’s all very hippy and amorphous. And a little sweary.

I will try to write another post about how to get people interested in taking up DJing.

NB: There’s a nice, simple post about working conditions for DJs over at Words Pursued called Gotta Be Satisfied. This link came to me via a few people – Ryan Swift and (caution – FB link) Wandering and Pondering (also found at Wandering and Pondering.)
There’s the beginning of a discussion about related issues over at Swing DJs in the DJ Administration thread I started, but I don’t see that going anywhere.

As with most politically sensitive issues, most of the interesting talk will no doubt happen under the radar – on twitter, in emails, in private messages and face to face chats. I know I’m involved in about half a dozen conversations with people about these same issues. I tell you what, I’ve never been as aware of the role of unions as I am while talking about DJs. I’d never say it out loud (oops), but you can see how unionising – getting together as an organised group – is really in the interests of workers and bosses. The workers get more equitable working conditions and pay, the bosses get more consistent and reliable work from their employees. But shoosh. We won’t have any of that goddamn commie bastard talk here.

[EDIT: This is one of a number of loosely-associated posts about music in Sydney lindy hop today. This list includes:


NEEDS MOAR DJS ? (part 1)

In this post I ramble on about Sydney’s DJing culture at the moment, particularly in reference to its social dancing culture and basic demographics. It began as a huge post, but has split into two. The second one (NEEDS MOAR DJS ? (part 2)) spends a bit of time talking about why DJing sucks and why I like DJing. At some point in the future I’ll try to write about how we might (despite all our better instincts) go about encouraging new DJs in the swing dance scene. I’ll begin this discussion with a blanket statement: Sydney’s swing dancers like live music. I’ve written quite a bit about it in this post ‘Swing Dancing’ and Lindy Hop in Sydney: an Exercise in Speculative Fiction. But we also quite like DJed social dancing nights as well.

I think there’s a link between a scene’s age and its use of DJs. New scenes rely on bands for social dancing, and only use DJs to fill in after class or in informal contexts. Yes? Hm. That seems a long bow to draw. But let’s leave it for now, and move on to another spurious declaration. Older scenes develop fairly complicated and professionalised DJing cultures and DJs. They also produce better DJs, usually people who’ve been dancing for a while, but not always. In recent moments, though, some of the older scenes in America have returned to live music in a big way (Seattle), and scenes in cities like New York and New Orleans are seeing increasing attention to their live music cultures from local and visiting dancers. In these scenes DJing has taken a more supportive (though still essential) role. Sydney dancers traveling overseas to scenes like these are bringing this idea back to our city: live music is good. Their online discussion and interaction with dancers from those overseas scenes reinforces the radical ideas traveling dancers bring home to Sydney. The idea that ‘live music is good’ (and ‘cool’) is also circulating in other Australian scenes, and reinforced when Australian dancers meet up at events or talk online.
For an awful lot of dancers, the idea of what they should like (as propagated by teachers, influential individuals (teachers, etc), the programs of high profile events, etc) is more important than what they might actually like. For example, most people find themselves, mid-dance liking dancing to LCJO’s ‘C Jam Blues’. But most dancers who’ve been around for a while don’t like the idea of dancing to it. Because it’s too overplayed/slow/bigband/whatevs. This fascinates the part of my brain that likes to think about taste and cultures of taste and the influence of various digital media. It can really frustrate the other part of my brain that likes to DJ stuff I like, which doesn’t always coincide with popular trends (enough goddamn tuba-shouting-banjo for Ceiling Cat’s sake! For pity’s sake, give me a little classic big band swing for my lindy hop!) But, for the most part, it’s difficult to argue with this fad. Live music: it is good. It really is.

So there’s something of a tension between DJed and live music social dancing in Sydney. They often attract different crowds and are managed by different ideological, financial and political forces.

Let’s talk numbers.

Sydney lindy hop demographics. There are about 4.5 million people living in Sydney (and about 4 million in Melbourne). Sydney is the largest city in Australia, though not the fastest growing. DJing isn’t one of the largest pools of labour in the Sydney lindy hop community – there are only about thirteen of us. There are about fourteen teachers working regularly and occasionally with the two larger inner city schools, and many teachers are also DJs. There are a bunch of other teachers with the other schools in the outer suburbs, but I don’t know them at all really (I’d put them, conservatively, at about ten teachers). Unpaid volunteers number anywhere between fifty and one hundred across the two larger schools (this is a difficult one to quantify). I have no idea how many people take swing dance classes in Sydney. Sydney has hosted two or three larger annual events in the past (dropping to one this year) and a number of smaller workshop weekends. There is a great deal of cross-pollination with the Canberra scene, which is only a three hour drive away. No other Australian scenes are so close together – most are at least eight hours drive apart (I am blurring Geelong into the outer suburbs of Melbourne).

Sydney has lots of social dancing. Because we have lots of DJed social nights. We have three regular dancer-run DJed events: Swingpit, Roxbury, Jump Jive n Wail. JJW is mostly rock n roll, jump blues and neo swing, and it’s a gig managed by one professional DJing couple. It’s a majorly popular cross-over point between the rock n roll, rockabilly,’swing’ and lindy hop scenes. Roxbury and Swingpit are run by two different dance schoosl and are on fortnightly, on alternating weekends. Swingpit uses four DJs per month, Roxbury between four and six per month. They tend to draw on different DJing pools. Then there’s the new and irregular North Sydney after-class social dancing, which has one or two sets per month, give or take. DJs are also used for other occasional social dances – the (irregular) late night Speakeasy, band breaks for live music gigs run by dancers, and larger social dances run every now and then.

(Me, Ben and Kat, DJs for the SP performance ball this year. Not the most thrilling DJing gig; we may have been distracted by our own fun.)

Sydney’s complicated cultural architecture leaves us in a fairly tricky position when it comes to running DJed social dancing nights. Basically, we don’t have enough DJs to fill all our DJed social dancing spots. Our current venues use between ten and twelve DJ sets per month. That’s at least two sets per week. Of the ~thirteen DJs in our town, five DJ regularly and have solid skills. Only three of those DJ interstate, and only two or three would I hire for a big interstate event. We also have five DJs who DJ irregularly, but who would really rather dance. Two of the thirteen very rarely DJ any more (and haven’t in literally years). We have one or two or perhaps three or four who are really green. And then there are assorted blues DJs who don’t get to DJ anywhere any more at the moment, as our blues scene has pretty much collapsed.
When you look at the number of sets to be filled, those thirteen DJs don’t go too far. Some (like me) will do quite a few sets, but cap at about three per month. Most would rather DJ no more than once a month. Some are on complete hiatus.
At this point I simply can’t get enough DJs to fill the slots at Swingpit alone. This is partly because it’s November, and November is a busy month. Sure, people go nuts in December with parties and stuff, but in November people are really working their guts out at work. And Sydney can be an expensive town, requiring jobs that can be quite demanding. We’re also at the tail end of exchange season in Australia – there are about six large events in October and November, plus a round of christmas dances and festivals. So most of the DJs (and teachers and dancers) are kind of tired and burnt out. They just can’t manage DJing on top of everything else.

So we have lots of healthy social dancing nights, quite a lot of keen social dancers, but not enough DJs to do the DJed gigs. The obvious solution would be to put on bands instead of DJs. Bands pull numbers, and Sydney is busy proving there’s a clear market for live music events catering to dancers. So why don’t we just swap bands for DJs?

There are some financial issues at work. Neither Swingpit nor Roxbury could afford to put on a live band every fortnight. Both events are run on quite a tight budget, in part because they only charge $6 and $5 respectively for social dancing entry. That’s nothing. It’s hard to find a decent lunch for $5 these days, let alone a good night of fun dancing. An obvious solution would be to charge more for the social dancing nights, and to put on a band with the extra money. Two years ago I think you’d have had an outraged chorus of tightarsedness from dancers. But these days we pay anywhere from $10 to $40 for live music at venues with good dance floors.
Despite these brilliant(ly unthought out) arguments, there are a range of factors affecting the finances of these events which need to be taken into account. And even I know not to discuss these sorts of things in detail in public. :D
A shift to live music at our regular, dancer-run core social dancing events would mean a larger shift in the way social dancing events are run. Coordinating a band involves different skills and contacts than coordinating DJs. Bands need proper pay, and DJs are largely regarded as ‘hobbyists’ or volunteer labour. DJs are usually dancers and (preferably) know how dancers use music. Bands know music, but aren’t (in Sydney anyway) serious dancers, so they don’t know how dancers use music. More importantly, one gig for dancers a fortnight is not the most important thing in a band’s working life. They have other, more lucrative (corporate) gigs in their schedule. I think, however, the biggest and most difficult challenge in shifting from DJs to bands would involve prioritising music and social dancing, which organisations who make their money from teaching are not willing to do.

What if we did drop DJs completely and use bands instead? I’m not sure how things would go. I don’t think class-centred institutions like dance ‘schools’ could accommodate such hardcore ideological shifts. That’s a whole different way of thinking about dance and about profitable dance projects. An entire reshuffling of the social hierarchies and (commodified) knowledge values of a community. I think the modern Sydney lindy hop scene needs DJs, if only because it means that it doesn’t then need to reassess the value it gives music, and the knowledge and financial economy of the scene as a whole. Such a major change would involve a lot of ground-level effort, which Sydney isn’t really built for. Not at the moment. But even with an increased emphasis on live music for dancer-run events, there’d still be a place for DJed social dancing, if only on a smaller scale.

Let’s pause for a moment, and think about me.

What would I like? In a perfect world there’d be social dancing every week. Twice a week. At least. By social dancing, I mean spaces and events that are perfect for dancing. A decent floor that’s not covered in drunks and broken glass. They could be with live bands. That’d be cool. But I’d be ok with a really good DJed event as as well. So long as they were really good DJs. To be honest, in my perfect world, we’d have a DJed dance once a month that featured only really top notch DJing, was held in a dance-centred space (like a not-too-big dance studio) with an excellent, appropriate sound system, with a bar next door or attached or something so we could get drinks or noms. But the dancing would be the most important activity. And by good DJing, I mean mad crowd working skills and excellent solid swinging jazz. No neo. No rock n roll. No fucking novelty songs. Just 1920s-1950s classic swing and modern recreationist bands. Combined cleverely by a DJ who’s watching the floor. Four hours of that once a month, and I’d be happy. I’d complement that with lots of dancing to live bands each week. Unity Hall on Sundays. A Friday night band in a fun venue like the Camelot Lounge. Saturdays at different one-off events with different bands. A different band (or two) each week.

I’d be quite happy retiring some of our DJed social dancing sets. My DJ skills would slide a bit, but I do DJ interstate quite a bit, so I’m not really all that sad about it. And, by gum, I’d much prefer dancing to DJing myself! Right, now I’ve almost convinced myself that crying “DJ drought” is really my missing the point. Perhaps it might be more useful to rethink a (short sighted, isolationist) DJ-centred approach to social swing dancing culture. It seems a better idea to integrate live music more thoroughly into our everyday dance activities, to reduce our DJed dancer-run events and present entirely new types of dancer-run DJed events.

So, really, is it so sad to lose DJed social dancing? Hmmmm…..

I’m going to continue this discussion in another post, as this one is way too big already. The second part (NEEDS MOAR DJS ? (part 2)) will talk about the frustrating parts of DJing and this ‘DJ drought’.

[EDIT: This is one of a number of loosely-associated posts about music in Sydney lindy hop today. This list includes:


zoot suit riot (riot)

All that talk about neo swing in that last blog post has had me thinking about zoot suits.

There’s lots of bullshit ‘scholarship’ around about zoot suits. The best thing I’ve ever read about them was a book chapter called “The Right to the City in Los Angeles: Discourse and Practice of a Chicano Alternative Public Sphere” by Raul H. Villa in the book Masses, classes and the public sphere edited by Mike Hill and Warren Montag (2000) (on Google Books).

One of the worst things I’ve ever read was Stuart Cosgrove’s article “The Zoot Suit and Style Warfare” in Angela McRobbie’s edited collection Zoot Suits and Second-Hand Dresses: An Anthology of Fashion and Music (1989). I know it’s a bit of a big call, picking on Cosgrove. But that article is wrongity wrongtown. In so many ways. I haven’t read it in a while, though, so I could be completely mistaken. I just remember it being scarily inaccurate. McRobbie’s talk about second hand dresses in the 80s is a lot more useful.

What is a zoot suit?
This article ‘The Zoot Suit Riots’ (from Manong: The Story of Raymond G. Perla
Photographs and storys from the Manong Generation
) isn’t such a bad place to start for a description of the actual item of clothing. Basically, they were really big suits, using lots of fabric, which were popular with some latino/chicano youth in Los Angeles during the second world war. Using lots of fabric was kind of shocking in a time of wartime austerity. Of course, race and ethnicity are the most important parts of this story.

What did a zoot suit look like?

This is a picture of Edward James Olmos in the 1981 film film Zoot Suit:

That film was strange sort of musical. You can find interesting bits of it on Youtube – search. But that’s an 80s version of the zoot suit. Here’s a cool photo of some bloke with Katherine Dunham in 1943. He’s not wearing a zoot suit, but he’s in a pose which looks a lot like a ‘pimp walk’, a key jazz step associated with zoot suits, pimps and swaggering cool. He may have mad skills and be super cool, but he’s not wearing a zoot suit.

Here’s a funny photo of Spike Lee (left) and Denzel Washington (right) in Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X:

Even better, watch them strutting, pimp-walk style in one of the early scenes of the film here. Malcolm X’s autobiography has some interesting things to say about young black American men and zoot suits. Spike Lee’s film is interesting because so many hardcore totally legit and awesome lindy hoppers were involved in its production, including Frankie Manning and Norma Miller. The dance scene from the film was really influential in the burgeoning swing dance scene at the time. Enjoy the dubbing:


Lee specifically intended to have the film pay homage to the greatest lindy hoppers of the original period: the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Frankie Manning, Norma Mmiller and so on. The dance scene from Malcolm X itself echoes iconic music and dance film sequences from the original swing era. You have only to compare that dance scene with the Jitterbug Contest from Keep Punchin’.

…but anyway, I was talking about zoot suits. Yeah, yeah, Malcolm X is good stuff. But it’s not really getting to the heart of the matter. Where are those Chicanos Villa talks about his fascinating story about Los Angeles?

That’s Cab Calloway. But by the time this photo was taken, he was majorly famous. So he’s not really representing subversive public spheres… or is he? Look, I can’t really explore that here, but it’s worth thinking about Cab Calloway, ethnicity, race, the Cotton Club and performing identity.

That’s a picture of Mexican star Tin Tan in 1945. I found it here on this interesting page about zoot suits. That page is actually part of a research guide discussing the play and film Zoot Suit. The play Zoot Suit premiered in LA in 1978 and was released as a film in 1981, “the first Chicano written, performed and directed feature length film in history” (to quote the site).

It’s also interesting to read Ephemeral New York blog post about vintage clothes in New York in the 80s. Forties and thirties fashion was kind of getting a reboot in the 80s (you can see it a bit in films like Desperately Seeking Susan and Pretty in Pink).

Wait. What has all this got to do with lindy hop today. WHY are the white ‘swing dancers’ in Sydney STILL wearing zoot suits?

Ok, so it’s the 80s, right. You’ve looked at that stuff I’ve just linked. Now, in the 80s, lindy hop starts getting a bit of a revival. Young American, British and European (Sweden!) dancers start hunting down living dancers from the 30s and 40s. You can watch a really cool interview with Al Minns, where he talks about the Swedes’ approaching him. In 1989 the band Royal Crown Revue is formed by Eddie Nichols, punk and son of a jazz singer.

Neo swing is getting started. It has its roots in punk, ska, rock and roll. That’s where I remember it starting – my friends’ punk bands were support acts for visiting American bands like Royal Crown Revue, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Brian Setzer, Squirrel Nut Zippers, etc etc etc.

Ok, now it’s the 1990s. The film Swing Kids is released in 1993, Swingers in 1996. Lindy hop has gone mainstream. At least in America. In 1998 Gap release this ad for khakis. If Gap are using swing dancing for ads, you know it’s mainstream. I start dancing lindy hop in Brisbane in 1998, only a little while after classes started there. But it’d been in Sydney for a little while already. It’d only just started happening in Melbourne. We have the rock n roll and latin dance scenes to blame for lindy hop’s popularity in Sydney and Melbourne, and the influence of immigrant Brits.

Yeah, yeah, ZOOT SUITS?!

In 1997 the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies release a song called ‘Zoot Suit Riot’. It supposedly has something to do with the zoot suit riots.


Who’s your daddy? Yes I am.

I’m sure LA lindy hoppers watching that video can see lots of famous names and people. But when I watch that clip, all I can hear is the song, and all I can see is the first dance performance I did in public. ARGH. MY EARS.
And at the time, all those bright suits and big hats and black and white shoes had indy cred. That stuff was cool.

[EDIT: This is one of a number of loosely-associated posts about music in Sydney lindy hop today. This list includes:


[Edit 18/11/11: A nice little article about a Vintage Zoot Suit Auctioned for nearly $80K was posted to Yehoodi this week.]

Live Music and Dance Economies + beer

I’m afraid this isn’t a terribly well written or thought out post. Spring has struck, my sinuses are buzzing with histamines and my brain is running slow and foggy. But I wanted to join up all these issues before I forgot them.

So this is a story about liquor licensing, live music economies (financial and cultural) and dance cultures. It’s not terribly well researched or referenced, so please do go on and explore the issue rather than relying on my dodgy interpretation of events. I mean, buggered if I really know anything about liquor licensing in Australia and within Australian states.

The ABC story Live music injects $1b into economy (Lucy Carter and staff, Posted September 19, 2011 10:56:27) discusses a report on the economic value of the Australian live music scene commissioned by “industry stakeholders including the Australian Council for the Arts and the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)”.

  • The study was limited to live music performances in pubs/bars, clubs, restaurants/cafes and nightclubs in Australia.
  • the venues included in the study were limited to those in live music venues licensed by APRA that staged live music during the 2009/10 financial year.
  • The study included only revenue generated from venue-based live music performances.

(pg 4)

The basic point here is that live music makes a significant contribution to the state and national economies, and is therefore important. This gains particular relevance in the context of ongoing battles over noise restrictions, the gentrification of urban spaces and the rezoning of areas where live music lives.
I need to note, here, that live jazz in Australia does not have broad appeal. It tends to cater to a much older demograph than most of the live music discussed in that report. But I think this is important. If live music is equated to ‘youth culture’ in popular discourse it marginalises an increasing (and increasingly influential) demograph and market: older audiences. I also think it’s important for jazz to reposition itself as a product for a more diverse audience. Bands like Virus in Melbourne did this well in the early 2000s, and New Orleans of course can pull this off because live music – of all types – is so thoroughly embedded in the mythos of the place. But live jazz is positioned as ‘art’ music rather than popular music in Sydney. Frankly, I think there should be more live jazz in everyday community spaces (like pubs), and this live jazz should be representative of the whole spectrum of ‘jazz’.

…though, personally, I want more of the hot jazz and less of the twiddlyfiddly arty stuff. Because it was designed and built as popular music and lots of fun to dance to.

My attention was caught by the fact that this was a study of venues serving alcohol and licensed by APRA because there’s been a recent discussion on Bug’s Question Of The Day FB page about paying cover charges, buying drinks and tipping at live music venues. The full question (15th September) reads:

I’ve noticed that, not only in New Orleans but every scene I’ve been to, dancers don’t want to pay a cover charge or tip the band. I’ve also heard from venue owners that dancers are notorious for not buying drinks. Why are we as a community resistant to supporting the musicians and venues? Do we not know any better? If so, how do we educate the community?

Drinking and tipping and cover charges at live music gigs are an issue for lindy hoppers because most dancers don’t drink much while dancing. Simply because it’s a demanding game, and drinking impairs your dance skills. So a venue that depends on drinking to cover the cost of live music is not going to make it, financially, if their clientele is made up entirely of lindy hoppers. The amount dancers drink really depends on the gig – the time of day, the vibe and so on. So they will drink, just not at every gig, every time. If we were to depend on live music for our entire scene, I think a reasonable standard of dancing would require spaces that focussed on dancing, rather than drinking. Ballrooms, dance halls and cabaret clubs with more physical room and a greater emphasis on dancing as well as bars and pubs where the social focus is more diverse.

I don’t think it’s a terribly good idea to promote drinking generally in a culture like Australia’s where binge drinking is a serious social issue, but I don’t want to suggest that I think drinking is wrong or bad. Basically, lindy hop events aren’t like other social events at licensed venues in Australia, and I think it’s a really good thing (and the thing I enjoy most about dance events) that young men and women (and older men and women!) can enjoy social events and dancing without getting shitfaced. I think that social and cultural practices and spaces should be centred on more than just drinking, not that social and cultural spaces should exclude drinking. Diverse cultural spaces make for diverse and vibrant communities, cross-generationally.

I don’t drink, so I don’t buy alcohol at live music gigs. I’m not a huge soft drink fan, so I don’t buy softies. I’ll buy a mineral water with lime, or some chips. But I like pubs. I like their casual drop-in culture where you can meet friends for a quick drink or a long meal. I like the way live music is an important part of pub culture. But I’ve been been struck by the differences between Melbourne pub culture (which I really like) and Sydney pub culture, which is a lot less pleasant.

There are different laws and licenses in each Australian state, and local licensing laws are often regulated by local councils – eg in Melbourne local city councils regulate licenses. A venue can lose its liquor license if it breaches noise level laws or serves under age customers. I have some problems with the way licensing works in Sydney, mostly because licenses are very expensive, and geared towards larger venues subsidised by on-site gambling (whether a TAB, Kino or pokies). Licensing in Sydney seems (at first and cursory glance) to promote pubs and licensed venues as places to get totally shitfaced, rather than places to meet friends, share a meal, listen to a band, play trivia, read, laugh, talk or get shitfaced. They’re simply more diverse community spaces in Melbourne than in Sydney. While even I’d drop into a pub in Melbourne on my own to drink or eat at the main bar, I’d feel a lot less comfortable at most Sydney pubs, because I’m not there to drop a million dollars in the pokies or the TAB or to drink a jug of beer on my own at lunch time.

This is where my knowledge really breaks down, but the way licensing works is affected by the influence of Clubs Australia, an influential interests group representing social clubs (like RSLs, Sporting clubs, etc). Pubs and clubs are different, legally and culturally, but in Sydney large corporations own a string of pubs and interests in clubs. Their main source of income from these businesses is gambling, or more specifically, pokies. Pokies are a scourge on the earth, encouraging people to sit and drop coins into a machine for hours and hours at a time. This type of gambling targets lower income earners and I think it’s promoters are ethically fail. Pokies also degrade the conviviality of a local pub – people sit in front of a machine rather than a bar, conversation is impeded by the loud noises and attention required to pull a lever. Live music and pokies are fundamentally incompatible: you can’t make good music in a room full of pokie machines. And pubs depending on pokies for revenue will devote valuable floor space (whole rooms!) to pokies rather than less profitable bands.

There’s been speculation about the effect of pokies on pub culture, and news articles like this Daily Telegraph one from earlier this year suggest that a focus on pokies has led to a neglect of drinkers. Of real, live people. I’d argue that chain pubs, run by an absent owner, are not community-oriented spaces at all. And pubs that are most culturally and socially relevant spaces are local spaces. Which is why one suburb in Melbourne can host so many small pubs – each serves a particular local clientele and offers a specific ‘experience’. Grand Final afternoon is perhaps the best example of this sort of localised specialisation, but the live music culture is just as useful an illustration of the cultural value of smaller, independently owned and operated pubs.

The federal government is currently considering revisions to the legislation affecting pokies, and Clubs Australia is spending an awful lot of money on advertising to drum up opposition to the changes. I’m curious to see how it all pans out. There are very few convincing arguments for promoting pokies, and many convincing arguments against it.

And here is where I’ll have to leave my discussion of pokies and licensing specifics, as I’m a bit histamine-crazy and generally ignorant of the facts. But I wanted to link up this news article, reference that Bugs Question, and the also something about the recent sale of the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain to a corporate entity who owns a chain of pubs.

Unity Hall hosts one of Australia’s best jazz bands every Sunday afternoon. Musicians passing through town regularly drop in to play a few songs, so you’ll see all sorts of brilliant Australian (and visiting) musicians. For my money, this is the best dancing music in town. Dancers go there to dance, and there’s no cover charge. The bar staff charge the locals less for drinks than dancers (which is totally ok by me), but dancers who do turn up (and who pretty much count as regulars, though not necessarily locals) always buy drinks and chips and maintain a good relationship with bar staff and musicians.
While this is the best opportunity for hardcore dancing, it’s a small venue, and dancers need to share it with ‘nondancers’. Or, in other words, ‘normal folk’ who like to dance but don’t spend a million hours on dance classes. Because it is in a non dancer-run space, dancers need to engage their real social skills. Talking. Hanging out. Dealing with dickheads off the street. I think it’s a good place to learn floor craft (safety first!), to engage your social skills (conversate!) and to enjoy and support quality live music. Unity Hall isn’t as ‘good’ a pub as the best independent pubs in Melbourne – it does have a TAB taking up lots of space, and pokies, and it isn’t properly cross-generational (though it’s getting there), or multicultural (though even Melbourne pubs don’t really rock the multiculturalism). But it’s one of the better Sydney pubs, and I really hope the it doesn’t change for the worse with its new owners.

The sale of the Unity Hall hotel is indicative of how many pubs in Sydney are run: by big businesses who own a chain of pubs and treat them as warehouses for the real money makers – pokie machines. This is a bit shit when you compare it to Melbourne where there’s a strong independent pub culture, which results in brilliant food, child/family friendly pubs (which are also popular with the young and hip), live music venues and bar staff and owners who know their clientele and give a shit. Basically, venues which are owned and operated by members of the local community for the local community are more likely to give a shit about the local community and be important community spaces. Whether you’re looking for awesome food, locally sourced beers, live music, somewhere to dance, somewhere to talk, or just a quiet spot for a quick pint at lunch time.

I know my perception of Sydney pubs as community spaces is biased by my experiences in urban Melbourne (and I don’t mean to feed into the Syd/Melb rivalry), but I think state-based licensing laws are significant when we’re talking about dancers’ obligations at live music venues. Honestly, if licenses were less expensive, venues wouldn’t be so dependent on drinks’ sales and gambling to cover their costs. They could operate on a smaller profit margin, offering more specific and niche services – good food, niche music, smaller premises – and not need to rely on shit like pokies and promoting binge drinking. They could be more responsible and responsive community spaces.

[Edit: I need to read
A history of machine gambling in the NSW club
industry: from community benefit to
commercialisation” by Nerilee Hing

No Meat Week: Monday (& Sunday)

We’ve been living the CSIRO lifestyle for a year or two now, and while I like the lighter evening meals (without carbs), we’ve been struggling, ethically, with the amount of meat the diet includes. Also, it’s bad for your guts. So I’ve instituted a week without meat.

I’ve lived the vegetarian lifestyle here and there over the years, most prominently in a share house in Melbourne between 2001 and 2003. I’d moved to Melbourne from Brisbane, taking the coward’s approach to ending a long term relationship, and moving into a huge terrace house in North Melbourne with a bunch of younger students. They were all about 20 and I was about 26. I loved it. It was a delight to no longer be living unhappily in an New Farm flat with one other person. It was wonderful to suddenly be eating with a household of 5 other people (including ever-present boyfriends and girlfriends). I had my own shelf in the larder, my own milk in the fridge. I took my trolley to the Vic Markets every week, and I walked everywhere. I gave up meat. Alliances shifted within the sharehouse, and two of us began cooking together, tired of being third or fourth in line at the stove each night. We now occupied two shelves in the larder.

At the end of that first year, two of us left the strange sharehouse anchor guy to set up house in another, smaller terrace in Carlton North with a new housemate. Vegetarianism turned into vegan coeliacism as one of us discovered gluten intolerance and hardcore eating issues (masquerading as ethics). Each week I bought a trolley full of veggies from the Vic Markets, a trolley full of tofu, various not-wheat grains and dried goods from the Melbourne uni co-op and a trolley full of assorted canned goods and giant bags of rice and rice noodles. We were three fairly hardcore athletes. I was a newly addicted social lindy hopper, dancing two or three nights a week and walking or cycling everywhere. One housemate was a serious cyclist/climber/runner with a similarly-afflicted boyfriend in his very early 20s. The other house mate was equally active, but male and voraciously hungry. All. The. Time. We ate all the time. I ate two dinners almost every night. I got skinnier.

In 2003 we moved to another house – a gorgeous free standing colonial in Brunswick. We gained a house mate, the coeliac’s boyfriend. I gained a Squeeze. Eventually the coeliac had to call defeat as her doctor gave her supplement injections and demanded a return to nonveganism. Eggs entered our diet. Milk.

During those three years we ate a lot of what we called ‘veggie slop’ – misceleneous vegetarian curries drawn from Kurma‘s book or our increasingly beleagured imaginations. I remember one particularly awful meal in our third share house together. Kidney beans. Rice noodles. Some sort of rubbishy greasy sauce. But those years also brought kicheri and a new appreciation for tofu. Firm tofu, cubed, thrown into a coconut milk/tomato based vegetable curry. Tofu marinated in lemon juice, honey, miso and ginger then stir fried with vegetables. Brown rice. Basmati rice. Jasmine rice. Arborio rice. Pulao. Biriyani. Fried rice. Rice pudding. Rice noodles: flat, narrow, sheets, fresh, dried. Mung bean noodles. We made delicious dinners, for the most part, though I’ve never really eaten that way since.

But this week we’re going to revisit the vegetarian days of yore. We’re going to eat the way we used to in Carlton North, crowded around the dining table or camped out on the second hand, re-covered sofas in front of the television.

It’s already been a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. Last night we had spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Something I started eating in Brisbane, along with a million zillion other people, when San Remo included a basic spinach and ricotta recipe on the back of the cannelloni boxes. But we substitute a chunk of fetta for some of the ricotta, and we use fresh spinach rather frozen. Delicious.

Tonight we had this easy Cauliflower (queen of vegetables) and onion dish (recipe c/o Madhur Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking):

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped coarsely
2 inch long, 1 inch wide piece ginger peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large head of cauliflower (I just used half a big cauliflower)
8tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 medium fresh or canned tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tbs chopped fresh coriander (I used more than this)
1 fresh hot green chilli washed and finely sliced or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I used 1/4 ground chilli)
2tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp garam marsala
2tsp salt
1tbs lemon juice

Blend onion, garlic and ginger with 4 tbsp of water and blend to a paste.

Break cauliflower into small flowerets, not longer than 1 to 1.5 inches, and not wider at the head than 1/2 to 1 inch.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 10-12 inch pot over a medium flame, pour in the paste from the blender, and add the turmeric. Fry, stirring for 5 minutes.

Add the tomato, green coriander, chili or cayenne, and fry for 5 minutes. If necessary, add 1 tsp of warm water at at time and stir to prevent sticking. Now put in the cauliflower, coriander, cumin, garam masala, salt and lemon juice.
Fry and stir for 1 minute.

Add 4 tbsp warm water, stir, cover, lower flame, allow to cook slowly 35-45 minutes. Stir gently every 10 minutes or so. The cauliflower is done when each floweret is tender with just a trace of crispness along its spine.


We had it with rice: brown half an onion cut into rings in some olive oil, add some finely chopped spinach, half a tsp of ground coriander and half a tsp of sweet paprika. Mix it all in. Add some washed basmati rice, mix it all up. Then add water and cook it absorption method style. I do all that in the rice cooker.

And finally, I grilled some haloumi cheese we’d bought on impulse. And we ate it all. The rice was particularly delicious – the browned onion and greasiness of the olive oil making a perfect match for the cheese. The cauliflower was just a little sour around the edges, from the lemon and ginger. Delicious.

I’d had dodgy rice cooker risotto for lunch, using up tomatoes, zuchini, capsicum, mushrooms, some herbs from the garden. It was a bit boring. Needed some rehydrated porcini mushrooms.

I’m not used to all these evening carbs and feel decidedly full. Tomorrow I’m going to reduce portions and drop the hardcore dairy. I’m thinking the ‘asian style’ pumpkin soup from Stephanie Alexander’s big orange book. Or something involving chick peas. I adore chick peas.

i like pie

Here’s a little round up:
Western Swing is ME.
I am currently in love with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. This is in preparation for the Hot Club of Cowtown tour next month. I saw them in the UK (at the Marlborough Jazz Fest) in 2004, and they were freakin’ GREAT. The next week I saw Casey McGill’s band at a dance camp and they told me that their bass player had absconded for the HCCT. I’m not sure whether that’s a tragedy or an awesomey.
Bad foot is still ME.
My foot is still bung. I have been to see a podiatrist to strapped me up. That helped the first time, but not the second time. I am also doing exercises to strengthen the muscles in my calves/shin to help out my plantar fascia (ie so it’s not overloaded). I am down to get orthotics next week, but they mightn’t work. Basically, these fibroids in my foot are never going to go away and they can’t be cut out. So I’m looking at pain management and impact reduction. I danced two half dances on the last weekend and it HURT. The problem is not so much the impact (which hurts and hurts normally), but the fact that there’s pivoting and my foot actually twists when we do lots of turns and things. That’s where the pain is at. It sucked to find out how much it still hurt, but at least I know where I’m at. Though I think I’d have preferred to continue in blissful (and hopeful) ignorance. If I can’t dance again, I’m really not sure what I’m going to do. If it’s not lindy hop, it could have been something else – I come from a long line of dancing, lumbering folk, and I can’t fight my DNA. Perhaps I’ll learn an instrument. Any suggestions? Maybe the drums? Bass? I did a lot of singing at school, but that was a long time ago.
Allergies are GO.
I am having trouble breathing and my ear is all glued up. Again. Still, I’ve had much less trouble with my health since I moved to Sydney, so I’m certainly not complaining. It is melaluca flowering season, and there goddamn paper barks all over every street in every inner city suburb in Australia, so I need to deal. Won’t be long now, though, and I can come off the antihistamines.
Library is MINE.
I have been back to the Con’s library this week. It is a joyful place. Though it is full of students, now, and that sucks. They’re almost uniformly middle or upper class, supernerds and 70% male. Guess that’s what a career in hardcore arty music requires. The jazz section was all dusty when I first got in there. Now it has at least some use. The refec near the library is SHITHOUSE. The actual room is quite nice – it has a lovely little stage (with nice piano), and would be perfect for a dance gig. The acoustics are magical. But the food is inedible. I was reduced to pre-made sandwiches. Most of the students in this (actually quite nice) mini-refec were eating packed lunches. There you go.
emusic is not all mine. Yet.
I am blowing through my emusic downloads ridiculously quickly. Even when I ration them. There’re simply not enough.
Quickflix is suspended.
Since we moved to Sydney the DVDs have been slower to arrive, have almost always been terribly scratched, and we never get anything in the top 50 of our list. I have suspended our account until we’ve decided what to do. We’re still on one of their unlimited DVD accounts, but I’m not sure it’s worth it, as we only get about 3 a week, which isn’t much better than getting 12 a month max, is it? The video shop here is pretty good, so we might just go old school. Though using a video shop means I have no natural limit on my DVD viewing.
Dr Who and Farscape rule my world.
Screw BSG with its upsetting gender politics and ridiculously FAILED science. I am all about rebooted Dr Who and Farscape. I didn’t dig either the first time I saw them, and never really got past the first couple of episodes. Now I love them. Farscape passes the Bechdel Test. Dr Who does not. Rose + her mum. Talking about the Doctor. Though every now and then Rose gets to discuss a drama with another female character, there’s not much woman-to-woman action. I think it’s partly to do with the newer format – story arcs only last an episode, rather than a week’s worth of episodes. There’s not as much character development. And a bit too much kissing. I like Eccleston, but I’m not struck on Tennant. His bottom jaw sticks out too far. I liked Eccleston’s big nose and ears a whole lot. And was the Doctor always this manic? I’ll have to rewatch some old ones (I liked brown, curly haired, long-scarf, jelly baby Doctor best).
I am a crocheting demon.
I should post some pictures to prove it. But I love complicated afghan patterns, and have been compulsively crocheting as I watch my way through the Commonwealth’s greatest contributions to popular culture. We went to Spotlight in Bondi Junction the other weekend so I could stock up on yarn. That joint was totally trashed on Saturday afternoon. I need another supplier; perhaps I could order online in bulk? The poor Squeeze is buried in gorgeously three dimensional flowers, in various combinations, so perhaps it’s time to stop.

I am bike YAY!
Yesterday we rode down the Cook’s River after work for a quick ride. It was overcast, humid and coming up a storm. It was great. The sun set over the river, we saw wildlife, we dodged nonnas out walking and talking and planned a longer down-stream walk for a future date. This river goes to Botany Bay, you know.
I am still dealing with the fact that we live in Sydney.
I’m surprised by the historical weight I’m carrying in Sydney. It’s like all these suburbs and places are full of all the post-Invasion history of this country. Every bit of history I remember has something to do with Sydney. And most of it is narrated by songs from the Peter Coomb’s song book which delighted so many good little Australians in the 1980s.
Singing too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-attidy,
Singing too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay,
Singing too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-attidy,
And we’re bound for Botany Bay.
I’m sure that that song has celtic roots as well. One of the strangest moments of my post-MA European travel was being shut in at a Cornish pub where a heap of drunken … Corns? Cornishpeople? sang one of those sorts of ‘traditional Australian songs’. But with celtic names. My Irish grandfather used to sing The Wild Colonial Boy. So even though I’m caught up in all this Australian music, it’s just as Irish as the American folk music I dig.
I did arrive in Australia in 1982, straight into rural Wagga Wagga, so moving to New South Wales is far more familiar than moving to Melbourne did in 2001. The humidity is lovely. It’s not as heinous as Brisbane’s, but it’s nicer and wetter than Melbourne. And my skin loves it. The Squeeze declared last night, as we rode up the hill towards the lightning and iron-grey sky: “Moving here was the best thing we’ve done!” He’s delighted by the tropical storms. So am I – I’ve missed them. There’s something wonderful about a good, heavy-like-a-hot-shower rainstorm, complete with lighting and crashing thunder. Far, far better than drizzly, wingey bastard Melbourne weather. Even if it didn’t rain, it’d be cloudy and overcast forever. I don’t miss that shit. Though I’m thinking the Victorians are.
Dollhouse sucks arse, Pushing Daisies is delightful.
That’s it in a nutshell, really. I’m not impressed by DH.
1. The FBI/BSG guy is a crap actor. He’s so crap I can hardly watch him on screen. That scene in the last episode where he and the ‘dead wife’ DH client chatted in the kitchen? It was so, so, so bad. I groaned. I gnashed my teeth.
2. The opening credits are incredibly, crappily bullshit.
3. I’m still not entirely sure about the gender stuff. There’s an awful lot of talk about the women ‘dolls’ as sexualised bodies. And though there’re references to their missions which don’t involve sex, we spend a lot of time looking at them having sex or wearing very high heels or tight, booby shirts, or generally packing a whole lot of very conventional, bullshit femininity. It’s a bit too Alias for me, but with less self-determination on their part. I had hoped there’d be a clever twist to undo some of this, but I’m beginning to lose hope. Joss Whedon is hyped, but, really, Buffy was his pinacle. I didn’t mind Serenity (look, I’m losing the italics, ok?), but it wasn’t great. The film wasn’t great cinema. The series wasn’t that good – a little too heavy on the patriarchal family structure for my liking. Yes, I get the whole male captain/father parallel, and that Mal might perhaps have been overcompensating for his wartime mistakes with other people’s lives, but still… Actually, it takes Buffy an awful long time to lose her patriarch. I’ve rewatched a bit of season 5 lately, and she’s STILL got Giles there, Watchering. So perhaps Buffy isn’t so great either… God, if this is the best we can do, this string of compromises.
Anyways, I’m not impressed by DH
4. Did I mention the terrible acting by FBI guy?
Pushing Daisies, though, is wonderful.
It’s charming. It’s clever. It’s lovely to look at. Its visual style has a lot in common with Tim Burton’s brighter, more colourful stuff. It’s a bit surreal and hyper-colour, but not dark like Burton. Well, except for the premise of the series: the pie maker protagonist can bring dead things back to life. For a minute. If he touches them within that minute, they go back to being dead. If he doesn’t, they stay alive and something has to replace them in the deadness. The point of the series: Emerson Cod (finally, a show with a not-white central character!), a private detective, works with the Pie Maker to solve murders. For profit. Pie Maker brings his childhood sweetheart, Chuck, back to life in one of the earliest eps, so they can’t touch. They love each other. The other main character is Olive, who, by the end of season two, is the very best character.
Why do I like this program?
1. The hyper-colour, phantastical mise en scene.
2. Passes Bechdel Test.
3. Olive. With her pet pig Pigby.
4. The male protagonist is a pie maker. There’s a lot of talk about food and baking pies and comfort food. It’s very lush. Here, have a look.
5. The singing scenes. Olive sings a couple of songs. One of which is ‘Eternal Flame’. Yes, a Bangles singing scene. The other is ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’. It’s wonderful.
Also, there’s singing.
6. Chuck’s spinster aunts (who raised her) are cheese fans and also used to be synchronised swimming super stars: Darling Mermaid Darlings. One has an eye patch.
7. Most of all, I love the dialogue. It’s very, very wordy. Lots of fast talking. But it’s all puns and onomatapeia (sp?) and all those other lovely wordnerd things. It looks good, it sounds good, and it’s funny. It makes me giggle.
8. It’s not horrid. There are some pretty gross deaths, but it’s not upsetting. Most of the programs I like these days are horribly dark. But Pushing Daisies is not. It’s lovely. The Pie Maker and Chuck love each other. Olive is tiny and super tough and awesome. She can bake pies or solve crimes. She’s great.
9. I watch it before bed, when I’m tired, and it helps me get to sleep. It’s nice.
The only thing I don’t like about it is that it was cancelled before the end of its second season. Apparently they’re screening the finale in the US in their summer, so at least we’ll get that degree of closure. But still. It’s really great telly. Here’s the first bit to prove it: