Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published February 8th 2013
A night out on the town wouldn't be complete without Melbourne's busking community. We've all walked down Swanston Street and caught snatches of songs along the way, some beautiful and some not-so-beautiful. We're not New York City's Times Square, where the audition process to become a busker is fierce but we've got some characters all the same. It's time to talk about our favourite singers, street performers and artists, from the polished to the just plain weird.
Visitors to Melbourne often congregate around Federation Square and Flinders Street Station and like vultures to a dying antelope, the buskers follow them. Perhaps most famous of the Flinders Street buskers is the person dressed in a rabbit suit playing a bass guitar. He ticks all the popular busker boxes: he catches the eye, he plays well-known tracks, and the giant mask hides his no-doubt bored expression behind a manic rabbit grin. A common sight on Friday evenings is to see a tourist family posing or dancing with the rabbit man as he rocks out to Foster the People or Jet. Rumour has it he occasionally takes off the mask for a drink of water. When he does, look away, or risk spoiling the mystery forever.
Another institution in the same area is just as eye-catching but much less polished: a bearded, presumably homeless, man dancing in work boots and a pink tutu. The dancing is of dubious quality, but for a busker all attention is good attention. This guy makes more money than most (although few are brave enough to pose for a photo).
As you wander up Swanston Street, a different class of busker appears: the lone hipster and his guitar. This busker relies on playing songs that everybody knows - usually Bon Iver or Cat Stevens. You'll also find buskers like this along the Yarra River or in train stations, to take advantage of the endless stream of new people. One such advantage is that the audience changes faster than the song. Some buskers play Father and Son over and over for hours to an unsuspecting crowd of pedestrians - or even just the chorus, endlessly repeated.
Near the corner of Bourke Street (and up the street a little way) can sometimes be seen a man playing a set of homemade bagpipes. The wind apparatus - usually a tartan sack - in this man's pipes is the silver insides of a box of wine, colloquially known as a 'goon sack'. The music itself is indifferent, which is about what you'd expect from bagpipes. At least it's less piercing than the man with the real set of bagpipes who patrols the St Kilda Rd bridge.
Further up Bourke Street is another man who plays drums on a mess of overturned plastic buckets. Rumour has it that he and the homemade bagpipes man will one day play a concert together to huge audiences.
There's a dark side to Melbourne busking, too: we've all seen buskers 'singing' along to their CD players, or pretending to play the demo tunes on their electronic keyboards. People like these can be good for the occasional laugh, but let's not lose sight of the big picture: busking is an instance of the free market, and responsible consumers reward skilful performers and ignore those with less ability. Let's pool our knowledge of the best buskers in Melbourne and give them our attention - the soundtrack of the city itself is at stake.