When I was in Melbourne last weekend, I noticed that the Bourke Street Mall has pretty much been taken over by professional level street performers with personal PA systems and CD stalls. I’m in two minds about electric busking. I’m probably less likely to drop a coin in their box simply because they give the impression that they’re doing pretty well, although I appreciate that this impression may be misleading. These days, it’s quite cheap and easy to produce and manufacture a CD from your bedroom, and just as economical to put backing tracks on an iPod and play them through a battery amp. Even so, that air of professionalism leaves me somewhat unfulfilled – I don’t know if I’m seeing a street performer or a professional making a personal appearance.
The slightly less slick (but no less interesting) buskers seem to have moved into Swanston Street now, with the more traditional style of buskers taking up positions outside Flinders Street Station. All of them had amplifiers though, and a few still had backing tracks too, including the very cool surf guitarist and the guy playing blues harp. I guess amplification is necessary now for players to make themselves audible over the hubbub of the city, and you certainly have to allow that the young man playing the Theremin needed an amp.
I have nothing against the amplified, professional buskers. If I can listen to Lindsay Buckland for half an hour or so on a late afternoon, that is utter bliss! But a part of me missed the buskers who just have a red guitar, three chords and the truth. That’s why it was really refreshing to go out to Camberwell Market on Sunday morning and hear a fiddle player who had come only with her violin, case and music stand.