Ian Jorgensen (Blink)
A Low Hum
Inspired by Steve Albini’s essay, The Problem With Music, Ian Jorgensen – known as Blink – decided to write his own version, a version for New Zealand. He started the essay, or set of essays, a few years back – but as a big part of his solution was around how the venues could be doing a better job, or rather how someone could be doing a better job in running a venue (focussing on music, rather than booze) Blink put his money where his mouth was and created the venue Puppies. It was many things and among those things Puppies was a testing ground for Blink, a chance for him to put into practice the many theoretical concepts he’d created in writing the first part of the book; in touring bands around New Zealand and the world.
Jorgensen’s caffeinated writing style will not win any prizes but what is far more important is his audience – he’s created a cult of fans and bands and music-followers know that chief amongst his concerns always is the music: it’s about creating a space – a place – for music. Everything from the little details (making sure there is scrap paper and pens in the green room so that an artist can draft a setlist) through to the very important things (having a green room, creating a stage, making a space that sounds good, eschewing venue hire) is part of Blink’s focus. His main mission with Puppies was to create a venue where the music was first and foremost, where gigs started on time – early, preferably. Or at least they stuck to their advertised set-times. And the plan was to always put on a good show that didn’t break the budget.
Puppies has recently closed – the end of what Jorgensen concludes was a successful experiment. In the book he tells us he wiped his debt, and walked away happy, no longer wanting to be a venue manager or publican; accepting, for the time that he was there that it would be required of him but never wanting to be defined in that one role.
It’s a time for reflection for Blink – he’s wrapped up his annual Camp A Low Hum, chapters are being closed off. He will always have irons in the fire. But for now if you’re a musician or a passionate support of music in New Zealand you owe it yourself to read this book. It’s available via Blink’s A Low Hum website – at fixed price for the hard copy or via donation for the e-reader version.
The version I read was riddled with typos and normally that would make me pretty unhappy. I could look past them because of the spirit in which the book is intended. Here is someone passing on what they know, what they’ve experienced, a memoir of a short – busy – time around what they’ve created. And the second half of the book – Why I Started And Ran Puppies draws on the first half (The Problem With Music In New Zealand and How To Fix It) without too much in the way of repetition. In fact it’s best to understand this as a 2-for-1 or 2-in-1; two sets of essays that are of course connected. In some cases there are answers in the second section for questions posed in the first but where the conclusion is something of a back-pat for setting up a successful venue and walking away (I’d still argue it couldn’t truly be called a success – successful venues are not shut down within two years, the owner might walk away but the brand is continued, sold on, maintained by someone else) it’s the first half of the book I was most interested in.
Here Blink looks at problems around late starting times and a culture of drinking in New Zealand – he talks of the live music industry handing itself over to the breweries. He shows some ways this could be changed, where relevant he supplies examples of successful tours he’s been involved with, shows he’s created. But again, it’s not just about the back-pat. The interesting moments are in the breakdowns, of particular interest to everyone should be Jorgensen’s frustration with APRA, explaining a rigged system that demands money in arbitrary amounts, a very archaic approach still trundled out in this post-Empire world.
This is why you should buy this book – and support Blink’s agenda. Not because he has every answer. Not because he is 100% correct. Not even so that he can install a decent spellcheck – you need this book because its goal is to create and further the dialogue around the frustrating issues in a small country with an old guard that clings to established rituals. It furthers the dialogue, it shows examples from real-world experience and the aim, always, is to promote and share, to enrich – to hope for a new gigging world where we can turn up to shows at a reasonable hour. Where we can see musicians that have been looked after by the venue and then in turn slog it out to put on the best show they can for themselves and for the venue. And always for the audience. To nurture audiences that care about music over and above boozing. Idealistic? Of course!
Blink’s at his best when he is celebrating the culture he’s had a huge hand in creating. Whether you’re at all interested in the bands he has focussed on is irrelevant – there are plenty of ideas here – in an easy read, a worthy, slim volume. It should give the musicians, audiences and venue operators all something to think about, and often something to strive towards.
I applaud him for his efforts here – and I consider the book a must-read.