Sound Diplomacy on the Road: Brisbane

Often overlooked by travellers rushing to check the Sydney Opera, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef off their must dos, Queensland’s capital city is a vibrant urban oasis where one can experience gorgeous landscapes, top notch art, amazing food and a lively cultural scene.


Music is a central feature of the city’s diverse cultural offering.  From community street festivals to international superstar performances in large arenas and unique street musician programmes around town, the city lives and breathes music.


Historically, it has produced some of Australia’s best known and successful bands including The Saints, The Go-Betweens, The Veronicas and Savage Garden.  Brisbane’s also the home of two of the strongest young voices of Aussie hip-hop right now - the fierce and talented Mallrat and Miss Blanks.


The city prides itself on Fortitude Valley, Australia’s only dedicated entertainment precinct, where music is literally everywhere (including the street pavement). Covering an area of over 346 acres, it concentrates much of the live music offering and music business, including The Foundry - a music club, record store, rehearsal space and community, comprising of over 15 music businesses, which I had the chance to visit and chat to.


Brisbane has more than 15 venues with dedicated live music programming and 23 music festivals happening all year round. My personal highlights include The Triffid - a-hangar-cum-stateoftheart-soundproof-club with lively beer garden; The Powerhouse - multi-arts venue in a repurposed power plant, home of the Wonderland and MELT festivals, the latter being the biggest celebration for the LGBTQ+ community in Queensland; and the fascinating Riverstage - a 9,500 capacity open air stage on the Brisbane river and right next to the lush City Botanic Gardens.


To add to this, since 2010 Brisbane has been running City Sounds - Australia’s largest free live music program, presenting local and touring bands and artists in various central locations around town, on a weekly basis. It also runs Gathering - a dedicated showcase for aboriginal and Torres Strait artists happening weekly in the Queen Street Mall. 

Queensland is set to have Australia’s largest density of First Nations people over the next 10 years, so its capital city will surely incorporate more indigenous arts into its cultural programming.


Brisbane has one of the friendliest and laid back cultures I’ve ever experienced. Maybe it’s the climate, or the people, or both. Either way, there are few places I could have wished work could send me to in late November and if you’re ever in that part of the world, make sure to pay it a visit.

Sound Diplomacy on the Road: Melbourne

In November, I flew all the way Down Under to represent Sound Diplomacy at Face the Music conference in Melbourne and to do field research for a music strategy project in Brisbane. Both cities greeted me with blue skies, friendly faces and amazing music scenes.

With its population of nearly 5 million, Melbourne is not only Victoria’s state capital - it’s a melting point of cultures (fun fact: it has the third largest Greek population after Athens and Thessaloniki), creative people, food and music. It’s also a pure treat for the senses of anyone arriving from the northern hemisphere at this time of the year.


Melbourne is home to Face the Music - a friendly summit for the local and international music industry. It takes place during the Melbourne Music Week in various locations, such as the marvelous St. Paul’s cathedral and open stages on Federation Square.

Face the Music celebrated its 10th edition with numerous panels, workshops and an international focus on Germany, which is the reason I was invited to speak there, giving Australian artists tips on making it in the German market.

Together with the other international guests, I enjoyed the chance to visit a few of the city’s legendary music locations, such as the Bakehouse Studios. Having played host to the likes of Nick Cave, Cut Copy and Cat Power over its 25 years, Bakehouse is a true local institution that managed to survive the waves of ongoing urban redevelopment in the area. Located on Melbourne’s busiest urban thoroughfare, this is a unique multi-studio and rehearsal space where every room has been designed by a different visual artist that, in turn, inspires musicians. Check out the fantastic Oh Pep!, who played an acoustic set in one of the main rooms.

We couldn’t miss a short stopover at Cherry Bar in the CBD, which is not only rumoured to be Lady Gaga’s hang of choice when in town, but a trusted staple on the local nightlife scene, where waves of happy patrons dance to metal karaoke till the early morn. Oh, and did I mention it’s located on Melbourne’s very own AC/DC Lane?

From big performance halls and open-air stages, to gritty alleys and hidden warehouses, Melbourne offers so much to the music-hungry! I can’t wait to be back for Music Cities Convention in 2018 and hope to see you there.

I would like to thank everyone at Creative Victoria’s Music Passport programme for making this trip possible, and the lovely Face the Music crew for showing me around.

Stay tuned for even more Australia as I share my favorites from Brisbane!


Photos by Sound Diplomacy, Music Victoria and Face the Music.

Music Cities Convention: Memphis

In October, we held the fifth edition of our Music Cities Convention alongside Music Export Memphis and Memphis Music Initiative in the birthplace of rock 'n' roll and the home of the Blues - Memphis, Tennessee.

The event was a sell-out. 215 attendees travelled to Memphis from 5 continents, 10 countries and over 50 cities. We had an incredibly busy three days with 37 speakers bringing their music city expertise to six presentations, five panels, roundtable sessions and two event receptions!

The convention kicked-off with an opening reception at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Memphis Slim Collaboratory, allowing the delegates to absorb some of the music history that Memphis has to offer. The Recording Academy: Memphis Chapter partnered with the event to provide entertainment from the world-renowned Stax Recording Academy graduates, as well as superb local food and drinks.

MCC - Memphis

After this crash course into Memphis’ musical history, the following day saw the full 225 delegates descend on the Halloran Centre for a day of presentations and panels, with discussions and talks ranging from ‘Every City Needs a Music Strategy: Artists as Leaders’ to ‘Chengdu Music City’ to ‘Understanding Audiences: The Role of the Consumer in our Music Ecosystems’. Coffee was provided by the excellent local roaster Edge Alley Coffee and food by local favourites, Sweet Potato Baby.

MCC - Memphis Panel

After the day’s talks, we had a special surprise for the delegates and one of the highlights of the event! Local musicians the Memph Orleans Street Symphony were ready and waiting to lead the group down the road to our main event reception at the Blues Hall of Fame Museum - you can check out footage of this in our event video at the bottom of this article! For the reception we partnered up with upcoming Music Cities Convention hosts State of Victoria: City of Melbourne and Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission to provide our delegates with amazing drinks, food and conversation, which was a fitting end to a great day.

MCC - Procession

The final day of the convention included a half-day of roundtable sessions for a limited capacity of 80 delegates. Topics that were discussed included ‘Music Ecosystems of the Future: What Has to be Improved to Develop a Forward-Thinking Music Policy City?’, ‘Access to Music for Everyone’ and ‘Designing Music-Friendly Noise Regulations and Policies’ which was presented in partnership with expert Don Pitts the CEO of Sound Music Cities.

MCC - Roundtables

The team at Sound Diplomacy then ended the three days with a special VIP speaker trip to the former home of Elvis, Graceland. We had an amazing time, but some of the delegation had an even better time...

MCC - Jackets

We’ve now launched our two 2018 Music Cities Convention events, so head to our website for more information and updates. Check out the Music Cities Memphis video here


Sound Diplomacy on the Road: Seoul

Over the past two months Sound Diplomacy has travelled to Seoul in different capacities. We are always excited to come to Seoul, it truly lives up to its reputation as a 24 hour city. In Seoul, cultural activities, from performances to digital installations, are awaiting the curious mind around every corner.


Being invited to speak at Seoul Music Cities Connection, I traveled to Seoul to present some of our work and discuss best practice and policies for Music Cities with the local music industry, researchers and city representatives. The event took place at Platform 61, a three storey space built from shipping containers in the north-west of Seoul. Opened in 2016, the space includes recording studios, artist residencies and a concert venue. As part of the conference, there were also some music showcases. I was especially impressed by the performances around Hyewon Choi, Songhee Kwon and Seayool Kim, Songhee Pansori Lab, building on their traditional background in gugak music with more contemporary influences.

During my time in Seoul I managed to visit some other creative spaces. I was most impressed by the Oil Tank Culture Park, which opened a week before my visit and is close to the World Cup Stadium.  The 140,000 m2 space hasn’t been open to the public for over 40 years. The whole area comprises of six oil tanks that have been renewed over the few last years and now offer indoor and outdoor concert spaces, exhibition spaces, a community center and much more. On Friday evening I visited Seoul Art Space Gumcheon, a former telephone factory that had been regenerated into a  multi-functional arts space in 2009. They were hosting a special night with some of their local and international residents and other performers, including a great performance by Seoul artist KIRARA.

Mystik, one of my favorite clubs from my last visit had unfortunately closed, but the city is still bustling with lots of other venues and spaces. Since my last visit the owners of Cakeshop have expanded and grown their existing space with Contra, next to its smaller location called Pistil, offering a wider variety of musical styles. I was amazed by vurt and volnost, clubs that are hidden away in residential buildings behind seemingly hidden doors, soundproofed, offering a space for Korean and international artists.

If you are interested in diving deeper into Seoul’s electronic music scene, I recommend spending some time on Seoul Community Radio, who are operating out of a Itaewon. On my visit to their studio, I managed to catch a set by Disco Experience. I also recommend the hidden-away record store Clique Records. It wasn’t easy to find, but if you are lucky you will also be treated to a concert on their rooftop.


After mu:con last year, this was my second visit to Seoul. There are still many more places and areas I haven’t mentioned or didn’t get to visit. Thanks to the organisers of Seoul Music Cities Connection and all of the other people who showed me around during my visit to Seoul.

Sound Diplomacy on the Road: Bilbao

Last month, Sound Diplomacy’s Berlin team travelled to Bilbao to attend BIME Pro - one of Spain’s leading international music industry networking and music & tech conferences.

Bilbao is a former industrial powerhouse and busy port located in the Basque country in northern Spain. Hit hard by severe economic recession in the 90s, the city has since moved on from its industrial past and successfully reinvented itself as a culture & services hub.

We observed this innovative and friendly local spirit in the variety of Bilbao’s music places - from impromptu community choir performances in the historic urban hub, pintxos hotspot Plaza Nueva and raw energy heavy metal shows in Bilborock - a former church-turned-community centre - to the grandiosity of the BEC Exhibition Centre, a multi-use fari and sports arena built in 2005.

Home to both BIME Pro and BIME Live - the two-day music festival responsible for bringing legendary artists to Bilbao - the scale of BEC allows for a true ‘big festival’ experience. Our personal highlights this year included the colossal, yet intimate performance by German industrial veterans Einstürzende Neubauten and the sheer happiness that Orbital brought to our inner 90s ravers. There was nothing better to wrap up a busy three days packed with inspiring panels on the future of music, the launch of Keychange - a European initiative to empower women in the music industry, and BIME City - the showcase programme for emerging artists, ranging from French psychedelic combos to Colombian techno producers.


Photo credits: Javi Muñoz Pacoto and Sound Diplomacy

Why Cities Should Be Planned for Night – and Not Just Day

This article first appeared in NewCities

Image: toyechkina - Adobe 

Image: toyechkina - Adobe 

The Anglo-Saxon planning system that guides our towns and cities in North America is not fit for purpose. The reason I say this is that the rules and guidelines that determine what is built where and why ignores the length of our day. The concept and practice of planning urban areas is tailored almost exclusively to daytime functions. This means, intentionally or not, the needs of the nighttime are overlooked from a planning perspective. This creates significant tension in our town centres and central business districts around the world.

This is one of the primary reasons cultural and entertainment venues are struggling in city centres around the world. In London, one-third of all music venues have closed in the last ten years and around half of all nightclubs. In Toronto, seven music venues have closed in 2017 alone. These trends are echoed everywhere. If these challenges are addressed in planning, we can surmise that two opposing needs of urban residents at night – those who want to sleep and those who want to go out – are not considered at the same time and place, making it difficult to consciously cater for both. Planning, being a blunt tool, classifies commercial, industrial or residential, leaving little leeway for culture as growing pressure on living space means residential areas are encroaching into crowded urban areas, putting residents closer to entertainment or commercial uses. If managed appropriately through mixed-use planning, strict guidelines and modern development practices, this would energise our towns and cities.  Instead, in practice, it leads to noise complaints, ordinances, infractions and conflicts.

No one individual is to blame and there is no single reason why businesses close their doors. But, if we take a closer look at our cities’ blueprints and explore how our cities are mapped, designated and planned, planning for nighttime is frighteningly absent. While all cities need more homes for more people, the cultural reasons many of us choose life in cities are under threat. I believe this boils down to the historical framework that guides how we plan. If we plan for the daytime but license at night, we create a reactionary system after 7:00 p.m. where everyone loses. If buildings are not fit for purpose, for example, or allowed to be constructed without considering their local environment, those that inhabit them are affected. It makes it incredibly difficult to positively plan for all scenarios.

We need a global, 24-hour planning system to ensure we are building better towns and cities for us all, whatever activities we choose to participate in after 7:00 p.m. There are many examples of city leaders demonstrating tools and mechanisms that work through planning. In San Francisco, the city entertainment licensing agency, the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, are statutory consultees on planning applications within 300 feet of an entertainment premises. This includes condos, office blocks and hotels. In London, music venues are being planned within mixed use developments from the very beginning of the master planning process, including one in Vicarage Field in the city’s eastern suburbs and the Old Vinyl Factory, in the west. In New York City, the Mayor is creating a Nighttime Ambassador position to tackle a host of issues including burdensome regulations for licensed operators. In the United States alone, over 40 cities have a Nighttime Mayor or a Nighttime Manager. The State of Florida is even developing a network to support them. Much of this work is about compliance, policing, safety and noise, but it legitimises a need to plan at night – and provides the appropriate support to manage this plan.

Much of this is framed around the need to increase nightlife, but this is not the case. It is about legitimising, planning and thinking about life at night – from now into the future – and how it affects the places we choose to live. Only London has a vision for developing and managing its nighttime economy – and it is less than one month old – a document that proactively projects and proposes a plan, rather than waiting for something to happen. This is just beginning. Every city should plan all day, all 24 hours, and while life at night means something different in each city, every city experiences night, and it is the same amount of time for all of us.