Melbourne’s unique music laneways appeal to local and international rock fans alike, a new study from RMIT University for Creative Victoria has found.
The laneways commemorate legends of the Australian music industry and entertain visitors who recognise them as distinctly Melburnian.
RMIT sociologist and popular music expert Dr Catherine Strong said the city’s music laneways were the only alleys in Australia dedicated to rock legends and brought with them a sense of ‘cool’ to the city.
“As has been the case in other cities like Manchester, Liverpool or Aberdeen in the United States, Melbourne’s musical past can be used to generate tourist dollars and prestige,” she said.
“Naming public places like lanes after musicians is one way to tap into this.”
Three laneways in Melbourne’s central business district have been dedicated to the memory of Aussie rock legends.
AC/DC Lane, named after one of the most successful hard rock bands of all time, was created in 2005 after a music journalist and fan petitioned Melbourne City Council.
Amphlett Lane, in honour of Chrissy Amphlett from Aussie rock band The Divinyls, was established in February 2015, almost two years after the singer’s death.
The third laneway, in St Kilda, is named after Rowland S. Howard, the guitarist who played with Nick Cave in the Birthday Party in the early 1980s and who later released solo albums before his death in 2009.
Strong said her team’s study of the laneways had revealed that their visual appeal was vital to their online media presence and circulation through social media.
“The graffiti and murals in the laneways offer a spectacle for casual visitors and a memorial for dedicated fans,” she said.
“This is enhanced even further when there are events happening in the lanes, such as the recent concert by the Amphlett Stirrers in Amphlett Lane, where they performed songs by the Divinyls.”
Properly executed, Strong said Melbourne’s music laneways provided a venue fans and tourists can visit to remember and pay tribute to their idols.
“Pop music is an important aspect of a city’s identity and history and Melbourne’s music laneways are a celebration of that history and appeal as a tourist destination as well,” she said.
“Our survey gives us the first good look at the visibility, usage and reception of the alleys, and we can see that they offer positive experiences to both local and international visitors.”
Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley said Melbourne's laneways have become a defining characteristic of the city, while its live music scene is increasingly being recognised as one of the best in the world.
“Bringing the two together embeds our music heritage and culture in the DNA of our city, and provides the opportunity for a unique cultural tourism offer,” Foley said.
“The Andrews Labor Government looks forward to building on this research to create a program that will bring to life our music laneways and extend the idea across the city and state.”
With questions being asked about the possibility of more such commemorative laneways in the city, RMIT worked with Creative Victoria – the government body that champions the state’s creative industries – to measure their impact.
RMIT researchers spent three months interviewing visitors, taking in special dates such as Chrissy Amphlett and Rowland S. Howard’s respective birthdays and the day of an AC/DC concert in Melbourne.
They also scanned social media to understand the digital presence of the laneways among the online public.
They found there was room to improve the experience of the laneways to strengthen their music connection.
One respondent suggested memorials or council plaques to explain the significance of the artists to Australia.
Others offered ideas about how decisions could be made about whoo else to commemorate, suggesting expert panels, or public surveys, as possible strategies.
Strong said potential connections between local businesses and laneways should be explored to possibly increase patronage.
The rock venue Cherry Bar, located in AC/DC Lane, was the best current example of this.
The possibility of hearing the type of music the laneway celebrated while standing in it gave the name greater meaning.
The research will inform Creative Victoria’s Rocking the Laneways initiative which is part a comprehensive $22.2m Victorian Government package to boost the state’s contemporary music strengths.
Story: Kelly Ryan