If you’re a fan of indie music and places that play it, chances are you’ve danced to tunes spun by Ian Bell, aka DJ Ian.
Ian’s been a part of the music fabric of Adelaide for quite a few decades, starting out working in record shops in the early ‘80s and DJing at the cool clubs of that time like the Tou Can Tou, Limbo and Le Rox.
“The Tou Can Tou was a fairly legendary club in its day and determinedly alternative,” Ian remembers. “At the time, there was a lot of disco and they didn’t want any disco. They were playing lots of The Smiths, The Cure, funk records and stuff like that.”
It was also in the ‘80s that Ian started writing for Rip It Up, the now-defunct music street paper. Ian eventually convinced them to let him take photos of bands as well (although he’d already been sneaking his camera into gigs for years).
Since then, Ian has photographed many hundreds of bands and musicians in all types of venues, from small and intimate to those holding tens of thousands. He’s currently exhibiting some of his work which stunningly captures the energy and spirit of his diverse subjects, sometimes photographed under challenging circumstances.
“I’ve had bands pour drinks on me, crowd surfers give me neck damage by landing on my head. Some shows are like being a combat photographer – explosions of fire and loud noise and bodies flying around,” Ian laughs.
“But there’s nothing better than being at a band you love, and getting great shots. There’s a photo of Gene Simmons in my exhibition where he’s pointing right down the barrel of the camera. Often you hit the button and you just know – gold, that was gold.”
Ian was born in England and came out with his family when he was around eight years old. His father became ill on the journey over and sadly passed away not long after they arrived.
“Grabbing on to music was part of a reaction to that. No matter if I was sad, or if things were going badly, I could always rely on music.”
While still robust, the music scene in Adelaide has changed quite a bit since Ian first became involved.
“In the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s there was a circuit, so a band like Midnight Oil for instance would come and play five nights in a row. They’d play at the Tivoli, Sweethearts, the Bridgeway, and so it meant that if your favourite band came to town, you could go five nights in a row and see them in five different venues, and every night would be packed, whether it was Wednesday or a Sunday. Pokies had a really bad effect on that.
“When I started DJing at the Tou Can it was open at least five nights a week. Tuesday was a slow night – three bands for $5 – and they would take anybody. You’d have some band trying to be The Cure, then an Elvis impersonator, and then some death metal band, but people still went because it was cheap. On the weekends, they were open until five am. It was where people met each other, people who liked the same music.
“For me, music has always been the great social lubricant of my life. Almost every friend I have I’ve met at a gig, in a record store, walking down the street seeing someone wearing a t-shirt of the same band that is on my t-shirt. I wouldn’t have met my wife if she hadn’t come to my club. If I hadn’t met my wife, I wouldn’t have my daughter. All the things important to me all stem from music.
“Music figuratively and literally gives a city its pulse, it gives a city its life. Music is absolutely crucial to me day to day, and live music – there’s nothing more fantastic than seeing a band you’ve never seen or heard of and have them blow your mind, just as seeing a band that you already love justifies how great they are.”
So, what’s the best way to keep the music scene in Adelaide pumping?
“People who are seeing music, keep going to see things. Go see local bands, go see bands you’ve never heard of. Go on YouTube, Spotify – investigate. If you’re saying there’s no decent music anymore, it just means you’re not looking, you’re not paying attention.”
Ian continues to DJ regularly around town and you’ll often see him at a gig, camera in tow. He currently writes and shoots for hifiwaythepopchronicles.com. His exhibition, ‘My Camera Never Lies’, is on at Urban Cow Studio until 28 April, 2018. Ian is DJing at the exhibition on Friday nights.
Did you know?
On December 15, 2015 – Adelaide was designated as the first and only UNESCO City of Music in Australia.
Click here to discover what that means and how the City of Adelaide is working with local industry groups, venues and musicians to help support and further develop the scene through a range of initiatives and exciting live performance programs like Rock the Square.
For more city-based live music events and performances, head here!