'I loved it! But what the hell did I just see?'

Opinion: Why Adelaide Fringe is so important for new music and artistic development

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 5 minutes
32246 large
Alex Rossi
Photo by
Published 08 Feb 2019

Festival season is finally back upon us and people all over the state are gearing up for one of the biggest parties in the world. One of the best things about this time of year is the risk taking – and not just the thousands of artists who come to ply their trade or the operators who transform every dark corner, basement, rooftop and wardrobe in the city into a happening venue, but for the audiences who venture out into these dark corners to be pushed, cajoled, questioned and maybe even entertained.

Surely there is nothing in the world quite like seeing a naked aging Japanese rockstar covered in soy milk, shredding a daikon on a guitar, while singing an incomprehensible love song to his penis? Better still that the gig was held in a sweltering venue so packed with bodies and structurally questionable that it’s almost certainly still used as a cautionary tale. If you saw Jet Boys at Tuxedo Cat in 2011 you’ll know what I’m talking about. But this is the Fringe baby, and all the inspectors and nay-sayers in the land have been given the month off (or pointedly ignored) and anything goes.

Think about it: outside of festival season how many people buy a ticket to jump into a car with strangers to hear someone’s hour long monologue on their darkest secrets, have their mind blown by an extreme sensory deprivation experience, or witness men in togas stone unsuspecting theatre goers? The benchmark for a Fringe show is ‘I loved it, but what the hell did I just see?’

So powerful is this sense that ‘anything is possible’ during festival season, that it has spread its influence beyond the Mad March confines to inspire a generation of creatives working to make Adelaide an exciting place all year-round. Relaxing laws and actively enabling those with the know-how, energy and drive has transformed Adelaide into what has to be one of the most dynamic late-night economies in the country.

Music has always been an integral part of the Fringe line-up. Much of which has been produced by local artists including Max McHenry’s industrial paramilitary Mexican death cult troubadours and Carla Lippis’ mentally unstable bridesmaid with a J.R. Ewing fetish – fit well into the ‘what the hell did I just see’ category.

While these were purely original and out-there shows, the majority of music on offer still leans towards the tribute show rather than original productions. It’s not like local musicians don’t or can’t produce globally competitive festival material, but original music productions aimed at capturing the broader festival market should outnumber cover bands.

The festival season is a global content factory, a creative testing ground and network building maelstrom made up of, and connected to, some of the most creative and energetic people in the world. It’s the perfect environment to be inspired, step out of comfort zones and take some mighty huge risks. These are the defining characteristics of an arts festival after all.

For local musicians it’s a world class opportunity to capitalise on all that the festival season and its global networks bring to Adelaide at this time. Randomly bumping into new creative partners or industry mentors makes for a good origin story and Adelaide’s festival season provides unique access to the global arts market and the professional networks of business whose sole purpose is to service these markets.

To help artists and production companies take advantage of what has come about organically, the Adelaide Fringe has developed the Honey Pot and Made in Adelaide programs. These two programs are designed to help artists build networks and know-how and ultimately, some much-needed exposure during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The Adelaide Fringe is one of the few places where artists develop, test and shop ideas in time to take to that other festival: Edinburgh. Not only do artists often develop new work in Adelaide so they are hitting their straps by the time they reach Edinburgh, but international buyers attend to pick up the next big thing here. On top of this exposure, audiences and other artists alike also benefit from being exposed to work that no one else in the world may get to see.

Ask anyone in the entertainment industry and they’ll tell you that there is no golden rule to success, but the Adelaide festival season has a lot to offer anyone wanting to learn how the system works and get to meet the people who make it happen.  

Festival season programs are chock full of fantastic original live music productions. OK, so maybe not every show has to be an esoteric musical journey into the bizarre. But during the festival you are among friends, so pushing the boundaries beyond the standard tribute show will not only be welcome, but you're also likely to find an enthusiastic audience. It's about going out, taking some risks and supporting the artists who make the festival season so bloody good.