SLAM Day, Save Live Australia’s Music nationwide celebration of small gigs and live music, is fast approaching. On Saturday, 23rd February a projected 300 live shows will take place in small venues, cafes and backyards in the largest simultaneous exhibition of live music Australia has ever seen.
Save Live Australia’s Music is an independent organisation that aims to perserve and promote live music as well as affecting the policies that impact upon music venues and musicians.
SLAM Day 2013 will mark the third anniversary since 2010’s SLAM Rally, a public protest that took moved through Melbourne to raise awareness about Victorian Liquor Licensing policies that connected live music to high risk activity.
Two year later marked the fist national SLAM Day.
In the lead up to this months SLAM Day, SLAM Co-founder Helen Marcou took the time to detail what’s in store for SLAM Day 2013, what’s on SLAM’s current political agenda, and how you can help support live music in Australia.
Music Feeds: How has SLAM Day evolved since last year’s inaugural event?
Helen Marcou: Like a gentle avalanche gathering mass as it grows. It’s now in the final stretch, with gigs being staged all over the country. Live music issues relating to SLAM Day are in the press every day; our SLAMbassadors are working overtime.
MF: Last year SLAM’s ‘Gig Day’ saw over 150 gigs played in small venues across the country. How many gigs is SLAM aiming for this year on Saturday, 23rd February?
HM:We currently have over 200 gigs registered and we are aiming to be at 300 before SLAM Day.
MF: What constitutes a SLAM ‘small venue’, and how can someone register their space as a possible gig location?
HM: We don’t register locations or venues as such, just gigs that have been booked and put together. Any small gig can register on our SLAM day gig guide. Whether you’re hosting a live gig in your backyard for just a few friends or a show in a venue for 1500 fans, all small gigs where musicians are getting paid are welcome.
MF: SLAM Day has garnered support from the likes of Elvis Costello and numerous well-known Australian acts. Are there any prominent bands or solo artists performing for SLAM Day 2013?
HM: Well-known, unknown, fallen from grace or preparing to conquer, the quality of music that music lovers can catch any night of the year is world-class in Australia. Our high-profile supporters like Nick Cave, Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins, Dan Sultan, Megan Washington, Kimbra, Eskimo Joe etc all cut their teeth at small gigs and go to small gigs whenever they can. But to answer your question, some highlights on SLAM Day will be: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Adalita, Vince Jones, Mojo Juju, Smith Street Band in Victoria, Bonjah, Pete Murray, Wendy Matthews, Blackchords & Denis Tek in NSW, Jeff Martyn (Tea Party) in Darwin, MONA in Tassie (who are programming a special SLAM Day event), Emperors, Lloyd Spiegel, Tim Rogers & The Bamboos in WA, and shows in QLD include everything from the Dirt Farm Alternative Music Festival to Einsturzende Neubauten…..
MF: What are some of the current difficulties that are faced when it comes to Save Live Australia’s Music?
HM: There is a recurring theme around inner cities and towns where the footprint of residential development is impacting heavily on gigs and live music communities. Noise restrictions affect more than just licensed premises. Music studios, music schools, dance schools, and art performance spaces all have to deal with noise complaints. We are tackling planning and amenity issues as well as looking at stimulating the regional touring circuit, and also looking at best practice issues for venues when dealing with musicians and keeping pressure on governments to reduce barriers to live music. Live music is recognised in the objects of licensing law in many states, but not all: QLD and Tasmania are still to catch up.
We see live music like an eco system, so if a piece of the equation is being slowly squeezed out, be it venues, artists, community radio, studios, bookers, publicists etc, then live music suffers
Festival and big ticket concerts’ attendances are healthier than ever, so we have prioritised small gigs as our current focus. Small gigs are integral to an artist’s career, and for the live music sector to survive, gigs of all sizes need to prosper.
MF: The Greens have proposed an Artist Fund as part of the party’s arts policy to ensure that artists are paid for their performances. Is there currently an issue with bands and solo artists not being paid, or at least, not being paid appropriately for live gigs?
HM: This is a problem that has been occurring for generations. Recent Australia Council findings state that the majority of musicians earn less than $12,000 per year, and most of that income is derived from live performance. The investment that artists have to put into their music is rarely recouped. Our aim is to elevate the value of music to the broader public. Door prices for bands have not changed for 20 years, yet punters are often reluctant to cough up when they can get music for free everywhere. ‘Artist’s funds’ or ‘live performance returns’ from alcohol excise are good ideas that have been put forward by various parties to address this.
It’s a big can of worms. The last thing we want is a homogenised music scene where creativity is quashed: music has its origins in folk culture just as much if not more so than it does in commerce. It’s not a pure transaction. Many bands move to Melbourne because of the organic scene, and now we are seeing an oversupply of musicians. This is great for punters as they can access quality music any night of the week, but it’s not so great for professional artists who want to get paid. A lot of bands are willing to play for free, to build an audience or just connect with their community. Making a living from music requires more determination than ever before. A healthy national touring circuit would certainly ease the current supply vs demand balance.
MF: Live music venues seem to be periodically closing down around Australia. Are venues on the decline or is it a cycle of one venue closes, another one opens?
HM: The SLAM Day registration process has been an eye-opener when it comes to mapping trends. We have found that many listed live music venues have dramatically reduced in some states. On a glance there is now a trend to have only recorded music in a lot of traditional live music venues in WA, SA & NSW. There’s quite an underground scene emerging in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, where pop-up gigs (unlicensed) are fostering a whole new audience. The nature of the commercial world will always see venues opening and closing, but SLAM’s role is to make sure that regulatory burdens are removed so that the scene can take a natural, unhindered course.
MF: Dr Ianto Ware was recently appointed as National Live Music Coordinator. What will that hopefully mean for live music in Australia?
HM: Dr Ware has a long history of music activism and has been a supporter of SLAM since the outset. He has been an indie musician for about 15 years, so he did his time. He’s also the guru on regulatory issues like ‘the building code’. We have called for a live music coordinator for the last 3 years, and we are really pleased with the appointment. Our understanding is that this role comes with a lot of autonomy, so Ianto can pull together data and resources and make properly informed policy recommendations to the Government.
MF: SLAM has been involved in affecting policy such as reforming licensing laws to all-ages gigs and breaking the legal ties between music and violence. What’s SLAM’s current political agenda?
HM: Behind the scenes, we are contributing to the Victorian Premier’s Live Music roundtable, tackling issues like planning reform, EPA review of SEPP N2, the building code, and now a best-practice code for live music venues. In SA we will seek further involvement with the Live Music Action Plan, Sydney’s new live music task force, and of course the federal election this year, where we will be calling on all candidates to have a live music policy.
MF: SLAM is about more than just Gig Day. What’s the best way for someone to help Save Australia’s Live Music, particularly if they are not a musician or venue owner?
HM: We are a volunteer-run action group, so any music lover can roll up their sleeves and get involved.
•You can start a live music community group in your area.
•Follow us on social media to keep up on news and events. Facebook and Twitter @SLAMrally #SLAMDay
• Or donate to our ‘fighting fund’; you can become a supporter for as little as $10.