Music / Interview

Industry Q&A: Dave Sleswick from The Tivoli

Dave Sleswick, Creative Director for The Tivoli Brisbane gives us a real insight into what it's like co-owning one of Australia's most iconic music venues

Dave Sleswick has had a long love affair with the iconic Tivoli in Brisbane. We chat to Dave about the thriving Brisbane music scene, along with the blood sweat, tears and gigging that goes into running such a sought after venue.

How did you end up co-owning one of Brisbane’s most iconic venues? Do you think there were key opportunities or events that led you to The Tivoli?

I started working at The Tivoli when I was 20 years old. I had a close friend who already worked there and was pretty envious that she got to see so many amazing bands, and got paid to do it. So naturally I hassled her for a referral. Sooner or later I was slinging beers over the bars while also trying to complete a pretty tedious university arts degree. I travelled and lived overseas and began working in other arts venues across the country as well – but always retained a strong connection to The Tivoli and my extended Tiv family.

This ten-year history with the venue put me in good stead to step in and take the venue to new and exciting places when the previous owner was ready to move on. I worked closely with my brother Steve, who has a successful career in property and real estate – and in 2016 we put in a bid for the venue and got it. Steve and I make a great complimentary team and have never looked back. It’s the best move we’ve ever made.

What do you think makes The Tivoli so iconic? 

The building itself is 101 years old, and the Tivoli business is 31 years old this year. Anyone who knows the history of Brisbane knows that we have a reputation for knocking down places of cultural significance. Festival Hall, Clouldland, the original Tivoli in King George Square – just to name a few.

The Tivoli is special because it’s still standing and has withstood the test of time. It’s iconic because of the brilliant artists that have graced the stage. It’s a keystone gathering place that has hosted countless life-changing, memorable experiences for punters. It’s unique design and aesthetic provides a nostalgic backdrop for music lovers of all ages. There are decades of blood, sweat, tears and stories ingrained in the walls. For all the reasons above, it’s an icon – and I guess we are just her caretaker.

In general, what do you think makes Brisbane’s live music scene so unique? 

The Brisbane live music scene is incredibly open and generous. I feel very supported by my colleagues in the scene here, and by other music venues in the area. The density of live music spaces in the Valley means that we’re able to look after the punters experience quite well – getting them into the precinct and giving them various options. There’s an energy in Brisbane at the moment too with the construction of the new Fortitude Music Hall – which will no doubt contribute to the growth of the scene here.

The presence of QMusic and BIGSOUND in Brisbane are also huge contributors to Brisbane’s uniqueness – supporting and nurturing the next crop from around Australia through a major national gathering.

What I pray for Brisbane is that we keep our independent, curious and radical spirit that shaped the city’s music history. We need to keep some of it underground. We need to keep pushing the boundaries.  As the live music experience becomes more and more commercialised, we need to stay true to the core of what music, art and culture is all about. I think about this a lot.

What do you love most about your job? 

I mean – quite simply – I love watching live music. I love experiencing that sense of togetherness, especially when things can feel a bit shitty (politically and socially) around you. I get to help create that experience. You really can’t beat that.

Also my team here at The Tiv are unreal, and I get to hang out with the best people every day.

What advice would you give young people who aspire to a career in the music industry? And particularly in the live music space? 

Three things:

  • Dig your heels in and do the work. Running a venue is not all glam bam, beers and parties. Sometimes you’re the one in the toilets with a mop.
  • Relationships are everything so treat people exceptionally and with care.
  • Find your purpose, and keep reminding yourself (and others) of it.

I still have a lot of learning to do myself, and I hardly consider myself an expert. Would happily accept some advice back.

Looking ahead, what do you think will be the biggest game-changer for Australian music in the next five to ten years? 

That’s a tricky question as everything is moving and changing very quickly all the time. Even though the live music scene is seriously flourishing right now, venues, artists, festivals and promoters are going to need to be constantly reinvigorating this live experience to ensure punters changing needs are being met. We’re seeing the rise of experience-based events that don’t necessarily rely on having 100 massive names on the line-up, but more about creating a memorable and original identity. I think this will be the future.

I’m personally really excited about Australia’s growing relationship in the greater Asia Pacific region and think we’ll begin to see more brilliant Asian artists on our line-ups. There are some epic and super original artists from the region that simply don’t get the exposure in Australia right now and I think the market for this could be huge.

I also think we’ll see some legislation put in place to dismantle some of the unjust secondary ticketing markets about. Very necessary as most in the industry would agree.

Which Tivoli shows are you most excited for this year? 

Heaps that aren’t announced yet (keep your eyes peeled).

Once that are announced: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, The Internet, Leon Bridges, Neneh Cherry, Nakhane, Cat Power.

Can you tell us three artists we need on our Spotify playlists right now?

Nakhane, Yaeji, Idiotape (Korea), the new Lykke Li.

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