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Gatekeeping Night Spaces: the role of booking agents in creating ‘local’ live music venues and scenes

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Abstract:

A complex relationship exists between music scenes and the infrastructure in which they are located. This article focuses on the rise and fall of the Oxford Tavern, a live music venue in the Australian city of Wollongong. Pivotal in this venue was the role that booking agents played in developing what they perceived as an inclusive, self-sufficient and vibrant music scene—by generating and then consistently implementing a strict philosophy on what music and which bands performed there. Bookings were not based on reputation, and potentially better known or more lucrative bands were regularly denied access in favour of ‘local’ bands socially connected to the music scene. These bands were authenticated as ‘local’ because of social and geographical proximity—not because of any innate musicological distinctiveness connected to Wollongong. This social geographical emphasis on ‘local’ and ‘original’ music transcended musical genre and subcultural style. Although in one sense ‘exclusionary’, gatekeeping also fostered bonds of community and belonging, creating a perceived haven for diverse local cultures within a monopolised urban nightscape. Such gatekeeping practices—explored here through interviews with booking agents and music scene participants—were pivotal to the longevity of the music venue and scene. Only when booking agents with a strong ‘local’ ethos were removed from the venue did it struggle to survive, and ultimately collapse.

Keywords: Live music venue; Oxford Tavern; Wollongong; booking agents; cultural infrastructure; gatekeepers; local music

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00049182.2012.649518

Publication date: 2012-03-01

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