Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spaces and Places.

Last night I had a very enjoyable dinner with friends at the 20,000 Cows Restaurant in Lismore, NSW and thought to write a little about the analogy between this place and the current space for political music.

20,000 Cows is a quaint little restaurant outside of the CBD. It is housed in an old petrol station with an odd, triangular shaped, small building and a small court yard. Inside the walls are decorated with a range of unique and hand made art works, the curtains are all different colours, there are lanterns, candles on the table and a collection of odd pieces of furniture. There is a potbelly stove made out of an old beer keg, panels of melted glass and a book on Ghandi on the wall.

The food which is absolutely beautiful is Middle Eastern and Indian vegan/vegetarian and the philosophy of the proprietor, Murray Vilkelis, is based on animal rights and respect for other living beings. Some people eat around coffee tables while sitting on lounges, others at tables with mismatching chairs.

The atmosphere is fantastic – there are people from all backgrounds including those from non mainstream and mainstream cultures. It serves as a meeting place for many that appreciate the ideological basis of the ‘business’ and it serves as a place where people from outside that culture can be comfortable and become accustom to alternative approaches.

I say ideological basis of the ‘business’ because while there are recommended prices, these are optional –the menu states that these are suggested prices.

It was a great evening and I will be certain to return many more times however it was not without its hiccups. It was very busy with a Gem Festival nearby attracting a large number of people, this led to some cramping with people squashed together in small spaces and the high demand on the staff led to some delays in service and some confusion about meals.

This was really of a secondary concern to my friends and I, and I only raise it because I was thinking at the time what a great analogy this place was for the current space of political music in the digital environment.

Political music is unique and at present it suffers from a small area in which to thrive. The artists congregate in what little architecture is available to them which is beneficial because of its intimacy and concentration, however the spaces have not grown to accommodate new creators, they have not expanded enough to house everyone comfortably and in a way that provides the greatest level of service. The distribution system (serving staff) are limited in effectiveness because of the lack of expansion and money to do more.

The business appears to be worthwhile from an economic perspective however I was not the one to pay the bill so I cannot say from personal experience whether social norms are enough to ensure that the costs are covered. At a guess I would say that most people that go there are ethically motivated enough to pay the recommended price but am sure that on occasion those that can’t don’t, and sometimes those that can, do not either. The generosity of the proprietor is both what attracts people to try new experiences but at the same time does not of itself ensure or guarantee that the business will continue without financial concerns. As I have noted recently, Trent Reznor estimates that only around 18% of consumers paid to access his bands music when a similar business model was used.

The ideological basis of the restaurant is both an attraction to those that appreciate alternative perspectives, catering (pun intended) to their desire for integtrity and respect. For others, perhaps it is something that does the opposite. It is the same for political music - not everyone who is exposed to it goes on to appreciate its true value.

I didn’t get to eat all that I ordered and some friends ate another person’s meal because of the lack of resources (serving staff per customer) – this is a direct parallel to those of us that want more political music but cannot find it.

There were delays in getting our meals (lack of cooks = lack of artists) but the uniqueness of the food was worth waiting for – it takes time to prepare something that is not generic and mass produced.

And there were things that were not welcome, such as the consumption of meat from other sources on the premises and smoking – this relates to the notion that non dedicated spaces for political expression dilute its potency and ability to get its message across.

As I said, it was a wonderful and very enjoyable evening – we all had a great time and please don’t take this as a criticism of the restaurant. This is merely me being observational and using a real space example as an illustration of what is taking place on the internet.

I had been to this restaurant some 10 or more years ago and never saw it in this way. If you ever have the chance, go, and see for yourself how special cultures express themselves and think a little of how much better the world would be if there were more chances for it to do so.

More Information

Wolf & Lamb, Wolf and Lamb: Animal Free Cooking (7th ed, 2002) <> at 17 May 2009

Your Restaurant, 20,000 Cows (2009)
<> at 17 May 2009

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