July 2, 2014

Swan Gallery

Tags: Memories

Radio became very important to me while doing postgraduate research in the mid-90’s. I didn’t have a TV, so the radio became my main source of entertainment and news (the Internet not being as all encompassing as now). The local university radio station, RTRFM, was a favourite and I would routinely listen to the excellent Strictly Rhythm show on Saturday nights with Ben Stinga. He introduced me to Detroit Techno, Chicago House and related styles. It was the only place I knew to hear such music, and the Usenet news groups were the only place to find people discussing similar music.

One day there was a message on the newsgroup from someone else in Perth! Even better was his invitation for anyone in Perth to a DJ set he was performing. My only contact with other locals was that radio show - I wasn’t even aware there was a local scene. So I sent the guy an email. He wrote back, just as amazed as me there was someone else so nearby online, and gave me the details.

He was performing at a party in the Swan Art Gallery on Hay Street. I hadn’t heard of it before, but that wasn’t surprising. I knew Hay Street though, one of the main thoroughfares in the city centre, it contained many shops and what passed as boutiques in Perth. Based on my knowledge of art galleries, Hay Street and his 10pm starting time, I quickly built an impression of what to expect.

I imagined an opening exhibition at a hip gallery. Polished jarrah floorboards, modern art. The cool crowd sipping champagne and cocktails while saying things like “Yes, this is a slammin’ ”Millsian“:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Mills beat.” I dressed appropriately - dress shoes, nice trousers and collared shirt.

My first inkling of trouble began as I walked down Hay Street. I started in the centre of town and just kept walking. I soon passed out of the business district into the area between the city and West Perth. I had never been there before. Nowhere in Perth is dangerous, but this part of town was definitely rundown. I later discovered the whole area had been marked for demolition and redevelopment. Thus it provided cheap space for artist’s studios. The Swan Art Gallery was actually an old warehouse used as an art collective by a bunch of struggling artists - part studio, part squat. At least until it fell down, probably quite soon judging by the look of it. Everyone was dressed in a grungy style. The event was the birthday party of one of the artists.

I had come this far, so attempted to enter and was immediately stopped. “Who are you? How do you know Beth?”. A couple of unfriendly people were guarding the door. Perhaps they thought I was undercover police - at the time they had a hilarious reputation for dressing inappropriately. I said I didn’t know the birthday girl, but was invited by the DJ. They checked and let me in. I clearly stood out and apart. The DJ was asked how he knew me and he replied I was just some geek off the Internet. His group of friends didn’t want to talk to me. When I tried to start a conversation with his girlfriend, she walked away saying she had lost her drugs and needed to find them (I later saw her crawling around on the dirty floor, so maybe it was true).

I just found myself a nice spot with good acoustics and listened to the music. The guy who invited me had passable DJ skills, but he played good music - lots of old techno classics I had never heard before. He played for just over an hour before the “proper DJ” took over with a happy hardcore set. I left.

Not a very impressive entrance to the local scene. For some time, the experience stopped me going to other events promoted by Ben Stinga on his radio show. Eventually I did start going to some of his club nights and discovered very little overlap between the art studio crowd and the welcoming people meeting through the Strictly Rhythm radio show. But that is a whole different set of memories (and one for later).