‘2019 – A Year Before Lockdown’ takes us back to the pre-pandemic live music scene we’ve missed so dearly

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‘2019 – A Year Before Lockdown’ takes us back to the pre-pandemic live music scene we’ve missed so dearly

Words by Brandon Davis

The photobook documents the work of 58 Australian photographers, capturing the live performances of over 200 musicians.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the live music industry. As we pass the one-year mark since Australia’s first outbreak and subsequent lockdown, the thrill of a crowded mosh pit can at times seem like a distant memory. An entire portion of our lives has been put on hold, and everybody involved in the music industry is hurting.

Australian photographer Kevin Bull feels this more than anyone else. For someone with decades of experience in live music photography, this dramatic shift in opportunity grows more heartbreaking as the pandemic stretches on. His new project, 2019 – A Year Before Lockdown, reflects on a time when the industry was thriving, and music photographers had more work than they could handle.

“The seeds of the project go back to the middle of 2020. We were all starting to get our heads around what a COVID lockdown would look like, and how it would affect the music industry.” He says. “I had just completed a couple of books that documented my own live music photography, and it made sense to expand that idea.”

Kevin pitched the idea to a number of photographers and initially locked in the support of about 15 from around the country. This number gave him the confidence that he could pull together enough photographers from across the country to justify a full-scale book. Further submissions opened towards the end of 2020, allowing photographers to put forward their images of Australian musicians taken during 2019 and up until the country’s first lockdown.

“I received thousands of images, and over Christmas and the New Year, I culled these down to a 240-page book. At this point, I knew which artists were to be included.”

He cast a wide net, seeking approval from over 230 artists; that number now rests at just over 200. Most have a single page, but there are a handful with double pages, including Amyl and the Sniffers, Baker Boy, Cub Sport and Tash Sultana to name a few.

“Considering I began with 230 artists, I am really pleased with this well-rounded look at the Australian music industry.”

The book is a continuation of Kevin’s long-standing passion for gig photography, dating as far back as the early 80s, where he would take his father’s SLR into gigs throughout Newcastle. Despite the book’s premise of reflecting upon a pre-COVID live music industry, he says it would have happened regardless of the outbreak.

“In 2019 I went through the process of putting my own book together, just one for myself. I then put together a couple of Sydney Live Music Photography books, again just for the photographers. After doing these, the thought of doing an Australian version seemed possible. At this point we were well into 2020 and dealing with COVID, there were no gigs to shoot, and I reached out to a group of shooters to get their thoughts. From there, I approached SupportAct, and kept it going.”

Kevin has conducted most of his photography career in Sydney, under the wing of Reverb Magazine in Newcastle. After leaving his 20-year background in IT, he went full time with Reverb in 2007, and essentially had his choice of gigs to shoot ever since. For the next five years, he photographed every show that he wanted to, eventually shooting up to 20-30 shows per year prior to 2020. Though he’s spent most of his career in Sydney, he says it was important that this book’s list of photographers spanned the whole of Australia.

“There was no point in doing this if it only contained shooters from Sydney and Newcastle. It needed to cover Australia both in terms of where the photographer lives, but also where the images have been taken, and I feel that we have done this well. The response from the photographers has been really supportive.”

With so many big names appearing on each page, Kevin is proud what he’s been able to achieve with the project. He notes much of that pride comes from the resounding approval given by so many major artists.

“There are artists where I punched the air when they agreed to be included. Names like John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John… To have Australian music royalty in a book that I had my hand in, now that is a proud moment.”

“And there is a photographer that I am proud of including: Me. It was an odd feeling to include some of your own images amongst what you are considering are the best for the project. That my images don’t feel out-of-place, this is what I am proud of.”

Kevin hopes the book will represent the insane raw talent of Australia’s gig shooters – the story tellers of the music industry. It’s a wide and wonderful snapshot of just how driven the community was prior to lockdown, and the list of artists presents a distinct visual commentary on COVID’s massive impact. This element of storytelling is what Kevin appreciates most about his craft.

“I love its ability to capture a moment – magic moments that 1000 people at the gig are all seeing, but because it is frozen, there’s this strength in the image. Personally, I like the lack of control, be it lighting or simply what the artist is about to do. It’s a real challenge to capture these moments. Many times, you may miss but when you get it right, it makes up for it.”

A portion of the book’s sales will go to SupportAct, a charity delivering crisis relief and mental health & wellbeing services to artists, crew and music workers who are doing it tough.

“There is money in the hands of music industry people in need that would not be there without SupportAct. And it’s a charity that is supporting the industry that I am directly working in… It was a no-brainer.”

The book is expected to be available for purchase soon. Keep an eye out for updates on the project’s website, available here!