October 29, 2008
Interview: ex_king_john, Brisbane concert bootlegger
A man seemingly inextricable from the Brisbane music scene of late goes by the pseudonym ex_king_john. He attends shows most weeks, and records the majority of performances he sees. He regularly blogs and posts recordings at Turn It Up To 10, while past recordings can be found on his LastFM journal. He’s kindly taken the time to reflect on several topics, including his motives for recording shows, street press, rock music and the wider Brisbane music scene.
Thanks for your time. First and foremost – why do you record shows?
In 2006 my kids finished high school. It is surprising how much time that frees up for anyone who is even remotely involved in their kids’ education, especially on the weekend. Weekend television is a wasteland and my social life – which had pretty much consisted of school-related stuff – fell off as well. So I went back to doing what I had done before I had children: going out to watch bands. I’d been taking the kids to the Big Day Out for a few years and listened to ZZZ [mainly The Yard] and JJJ so I knew a bit about the music scene but not a lot really about the local scene. For a birthday present that year I bought myself tickets to Teenage Fanclub, and Bob Mould at The Zoo [my first time there]. Started going to Ric’s and seeing local bands ’cause it was free. I was getting morning coffee from Jamie’s in the Valley at the time and met Bo. who played all this reggae which I also love passionately and went to a couple of shows in the carpark there before it was closed down. Saw I Heart Hiroshima, Nightcrash, early Scul Hazzards with Lachlan on vocals, Shakes, couple of other noise bands, Heavyweight Champion. Suddenly you’re going out every weekend, sometimes twice.
But before this I think it was the year before, I went to an Ed Kuepper show at The Troubadour and had a great time. Later I noticed it had been bootlegged and I emailed a couple of the guys who had it up on trading sites and asked if there was any way I could get a copy. No one even answered the email. So I figured if I wanted any recordings I’d have to have something to trade. So I spent some time looking at the different technology options ranging from hideously expensive to really cheap and eventually went with cheap but good quality.
I got a basic [cheap run-out of an old model] Mini-disc from Sydney and ordered the mics and pre amp from the US. They all arrived the day before Market Day 2006 and I worked out how to use it that night and went along the next day and recorded Sekiden, IHH, jump2lightspeed, Iron On, a couple of others. And finally went along to the next Ed Keupper show at Ric’s and hey presto, I’m a bootlegger.
Can you describe your recording setup?
A picture paints a thousand words. Here’s the setup I used at Splendour this year. Actually it’s the contents of my pockets. Nothing bigger than a cigarette packet.
The little foam balls are the microphones with windshields on them – they sit in my ears. The small black box is the pre-amp and the gray thing is the mini-disc. The other items are phone, spare discs, batteries, wallet, change and programme. Technically I use Sound Professional binaural mics and a Sound Professional Pre-Amp. I record as wav files onto a Mini-disc [Model MZ-NH600] The Mini-disc I use is inexpensive and only has a line-in not Mic-in plug so I need the pre-amp unit.
It seems to me that this has evolved from a curious hobby to something of a mild obsession – you said yourself that you aim to record every band you see. Do you remember a distinct point where you made this realisation?
There wasn’t really a distinct point. Early on, I do remember looking at the lists of taped shows and thinking, “I could get a copy of every show The Church ever did but there are no Sekiden recordings out there”. And everyone asks if there are any <insert obscure 1970’s local band name here> tapes around but no one is recording anything except their reunion shows. Even now, all the tapers want are the big names. Fair enough, but it didn’t seem like it was helping the music. In 20 years time when someone says “do you have any Nightstick or Sekiden tapes” at least they’ll be able to say yes to Sekiden.
You can see that it’s not exactly a heavy load to carry round. I don’t mosh so I’m usually just standing watching the band anyway. Doing a shuffle and nodding in time is about as active as I get. So it’s easy to have it and record. I don’t see it as an obsession really. I just go out a lot to see bands and I carry the rig with me so if I see a show, it’s probable that I’ll record it. It’s not so much an aim as a natural consequence. If anything I’m obsessive about going out to see bands. I’m happy to admit to that.
What do you aim to capture when recording a performance?
Because I have a fairly basic recording setup, I pretty much capture what I hear and I’m stuck with that though that is also the beauty of what I do. I try to avoid doing anything to the sound cause I’m not very technically smart in that area. The most I do is put the recording through a compressor if it’s a bit quiet. Makes it a bit easier to hear over loudspeakers. On a couple of recordings I’ve filtered out some really low buzzy bass noises that made it hard to hear detail. Usually it’s the drums being mic’d to hell but these days it could be aggressive bass amping. So it depends on the room and the sound engineer on the night. But I do like the room noise. I have a couple of soundboard recordings and they are very clear but dead silent between tracks, and they lack that spark that a good audience recording can have. I also like some of the audience noise though it is really annoying when people stand next to you and have a conversation about something. I can’t really tell them to shut up ’cause I’m recording. Though I have told a couple to shut up because they were actually interfering with my enjoying the show.
What is it about rock music that you find exciting? What do you look for in a band’s live performance?
I am piss poor at analysing this side of it. Music is transcendent and the best live music takes me out of the now, or arouses or hightens emotions, usually positively. The physicality of rock adds another dimension. In fact I’m musically fairly diverse and some of my most memorable musical experiences have been a children’s choir; the first time I saw Jay Reatard; a church pipe organ recital in a Brisbane suburban church; Little Feat at Festival Hall, and Eddy Current Suppression Ring at the Step Inn this year. I never know what will happen, so I look forward to any musical experience and I’m rarely totally disappointed. I’m just lucky I guess.
What do you find appealing about the Brisbane music scene?
First up, the music. Then the people. Plus it’s all pretty accessible in the Valley with a few venues outside like Rosie’s or Fat Louie’s in the City and the Hangar in Red Hill or a couple in West End. Not like Melbourne which has a great music scene but way more spread out. But seriously when I started going out again it was not like the old days. Pig City made it sounds great but once you got past The Survivors and The Leftovers and Razar and The Go-Betweens and The Saints etc doing one-off shows at suburban halls that hadn’t heard of them yet, there just wasn’t much else on. Now there are hundreds of good bands and tens of venues.
And the people are great.
Since you’ve become friendly with many members of the Brisbane music scene, do you occasionally feel obliged to attend certain shows?
No. I don’t think I’ve felt that at all. I try to avoid promising that I’ll tape particular shows because that generally means something will go wrong. But I’ve never felt anyone expected me to go to certain shows.
I may have the year wrong, but I recall that Pearl Jam were offering live recordings of their 2003 Australian shows soon after the band had finished playing. I think Something For Kate did something similar more recently for a special show that they played at The Corner in Melbourne. Do you think that there’s a market for venues to offer similar limited edition recordings? This question immediately sends copyright alarm bells ringing, but I’m interested in your thoughts. Places like The Zoo get loads of quality bands each month, and I think they’re missing a legitimate opportunity by not recording. Or maybe they do, secretly…
Pretty sure The Zoo is not secretly recording anything. If venues do record I’m also pretty sure the bands agree and get something for it. The Drones seem to have a habit of recording their live shows and selling them in various formats to fans. More and more bands are seeing these as legitimate recordings for fans and using them to make money or at least as marketing tools. It’s becoming more common I understand for venues in the US to record and sell live shows to punters as they leave the venue, especially the larger venues and chains like Clear Channel’s live venues. There are a couple of venues in Melbourne that record shows regularly and make them available on line like Moshcam, but audio instead of video. I don’t know how money is made there but it is a commercial operation. Copyright is relatively easy to work out I expect.
What do you think about Moshcam?
Moshcam is great. I visit there occasionally.
Does MegaUpload offer traffic stats? If so, which of your recordings have proven most popular?
MegaUpload offers basic statistics. There’s a number of downloads for each file but there’s also a stat that should show where the downloaders come from. Some files that have been downloaded 30 times according to the number of downloads haven’t been downloaded at all if I ask where the downloads went. But I think at least the relativities are probably correct. So far the most popular download by far has been the Wolfmother @ GOMA show – over 500 downloads.
Wolfmother – Live @ GOMA Warhol Up Late – 12 April 2008 – 504
The Grates – Live @ The Troubadour – 24 June 2008 – 80
The Saints – Live @ Pig City – 14 July 2007 – 74
Battles – Live @ The Zoo – 22 Jan 2008 – 56
What role does the Brisbane street press currently fulfill, and where do you think they’re missing opportunities?
Street press is important because it’s an easy-to-access guide to what is happening in the city. Maybe not every single thing, but generally the gig guides are essential as is the advertising for upcoming tours etc. Time Off‘s gig guide has gone off a little since the recent change and I hope they can bring it back up to speed. The web is much less useful for gig guides. It’s great for finding out stuff you know about already. And I find it a lot easier to browse a single A3 sheet of closely-packed type than scroll through pages of sparsely-populated web pages. Plus I read most live reviews and record reviews.
You’ve seen a lot of shows in Brisbane and visited most, if not all live venues. Is there anything you feel the scene is missing, or opportunities that haven’t been fully realised? We all know there’s a gap between The Arena/The Tivoli and the Convention Centre…
If Brisbane has a problem it is too many good bands for the size of the fan base. Many more venues might run the risk of spreading the numbers too thin. The other problem is that for all the going out that’s going on, most of the people going out are going to clubs. Music is secondary for them. Not that there aren’t dedicated dance music fans who do follow the music.
But the lack of a venue between the Tivoli and the Brisbane Entertainment Centre is a problem I think. Pity they pulled down Festival Hall. There is a rumour of a 1000 person venue in West End coming up.
Looking back over your recordings thus far, you seem to lean heavily toward rock acts. Are there certain genres you steer clear of? Can we expect to hear ex_king_john recordings of touring metal or hip hop acts?
I try to see different genres but obviously I’m a fan of rock music. I don’t steer clear of any genre in particular but I’m not a big fan of metal so it’s unlikely you’ll hear too much of that. Or musical comedy.
Finally – 2008’s been a great year for live music in Brisbane. I’ve been to loads of shows, though mostly touring Australian bands. What are some highlights of this year on a local, national and international level?
The aforementioned Jay Reatard, and Eddy Current shows. Golden Plains was a whole weekend of highlights. The Drones at Splendour. John Cale at the Tivoli in Nov last year, Battles at The Zoo. Last week at the Step Inn was just about the perfect lineup of local bands – Violent Soho, Eat Laser Scumbag, No Anchor, Turnpike, Dick Nasty – just add Nova Scotia. But then I’d go see I Heart Hiroshima, The Grates, Sekiden anytime, anywhere as well. I will shamelessly plug the Before Hollywood compilation “Stranded” here as one of the best compilations ever. If you don’t have it, get it and use it as your guide to Brisbane music as it exists in 2008.
Seconded – Stranded is great. Thanks for your time!
ex_king_john’s name isn’t John; he would prefer to remain anonymous. He can be contacted via email. His blog is Turn It Up To 10. If you spot a guy at a Brisbane concert wearing earphones and staring intently at the stage, say hi – just not while the bands are playing.
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