1989 was the year that everything changed for Brisbane.
Pictured: Bernard Fanning of Powderfinger performing at their final show, Brisbane Riverstage, 2010. Image: Stephen Booth.
Wayne Goss and the ALP had swept into power following two years of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption. The inquiry also resulted in the resignation of Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson, and saw a number of government ministers jailed alongside Police Commissioner Terry Lewis.
In the 70’s and 80’s Brisbane was seen at best as a large country town, and at worst a political backwater and police state, with Joh’s use of force against protesters and unions well documented.
The environment led to most musicians and creatives leaving the city, most notably The Go-Betweens, who packed their bags for London in 1979, just two years after forming at the University of Queensland.
Leanne de Souza is one of the curatorial advisors for the High Rotation Exhibition which launches this Friday at the Museum of Brisbane in City Hall. She’s spent the last 30 years working as a booking agent, in artist management (representing Kate Miller-Heidke, george, Katie Noonan and Miles From Nowhere amongst others), and as an event manager and cultural producer.
The exhibition covers three epic decades of the Brisbane music scene from 1989 to 2019. Leanne told 96five that the task of bringing the exhibition together was a personal one.
“It really was an exciting project to come on board with, and I feel like it was pulling together the last 30 years of my life.”
A New Era
Initially High Rotation was meant to be a broader exhibit of the Brisbane music scene, but Leanne felt it better to focus on the three decades since 1989.
“From ’89 it was the first time musicians, artists and creative producers stopped leaving Brisbane and really started to stay. There’s been a lot of work done about what we call the Pig City years (a punk reference to what was effectively a police state in Brisbane pre 1989). The Saints and The Go-Betweens are iconic and of course we tip our hats to them.”
“We were more interested in that period between ’89 and 2019, and what it was that built the music we know and love from Brisbane.”
Leanne remembers fondly the mid 90’s buzz that eventually exploded with national and international success for bands like Powderfinger, Savage Garden, Regurgitator and Custard.
“There was something special going on and it was so exciting! There was obviously the influence of grunge and what we were hearing in America, but there was also a real DIY ethos in Brisbane. That came from the underground, the punk scene, and (radio) 4ZZZ, which really helped to drive the scene.”
There were also a number of other factors that helped Brisbane artists get a leg up during those years.
“Triple J started to broadcast nationally from 1989 and was pretty critical. Of course, we had the internet and technology start up, and with that came local distributors putting out CD’s. Poster companies began and we had all of the other infrastructure that sat around the making of the music. That meant that the fans could now more easily hear the records and get out to gigs.”
“It really was quite a time and the rest of the world was looking at us. We knew we had something here and wanted to bring the rest of the world to feel it, and to give our artists a break. Once again that was the community coming together to make something happen.”
“We do have a very special music community in Brisbane.”
Brisbane as Inspiration
High Rotation is set to be a highly immersive experience, and will feature a wide range of multi-media content. One of the highlights for Leanne is the collection of music videos that have been remastered specially for the exhibition.
“A lot of those music videos are set against the backdrop of our city; the buildings, the parks, and I think that the people of Brisbane will be blown away by the creativity of the videos.”
Punters can also expect to hear interviews and get a feel for what goes on with people behind the scenes as well as Brisbane’s high profile artists. There’s also an amazing collection of memorabilia, instruments, photos and posters on show as well.
“The exhibition really tells the full story. For the music fans it will prompt a lot of memories and discussion about the collective stories of hundreds of people.”
High Rotation is on at the Museum of Brisbane in City hall from August 30th until the 19th of April 2020. The exhibit is open daily from 10am until 5pm, and from 10am until 7pm on Fridays. All the information is available on the MOB website.