Hoodoo Gurus, Urthboy, Brooke McClymont and dozens of other members of the local music community have descended on NSW Parliament House to spell out all the ways the government’s venue rules and regulations have, TBH, caused shit to become seriously fucked in Sydney.
A parliamentary inquiry into the state’s music industry has shone a light on the cooked array of “archaic regulatory conditions” and “red tape” that are currently “decimating” the city’s live music culture and “kneecapping” the careers of its emerging artists.
“As recently as this week a Marrickville restaurant and live music lounge was in discussions with police about whether they were permitted to have a mirror ball up,” Live Music Office director John Wardle told the inquiry, as just one example of the regulations that local venues are forced to deal with on the reg.
While Sydney Fringe Festival director Kerri Glasscock has shared her own horror story detailing how the regulations have forced the annual artistic spectacular to impose a “no dancing” clause on its applications to hold events.
“NSW currently has the most archaic regulation of any state that actively prohibits cultural activity,” she tells News Corp.
Of course said “archaic regulation” includes the city’s notorious lockout laws — and you can bet your 3am last drink that the music community had a LOT to say about the Godzilla job that those have wrought upon the local live music industry.
In one of hundreds of submissions served to the inquiry, the heads of one of Sydney’s premiere live music venues, the Oxford Art Factory, revealed that the lockouts have had an “unspeakable” impact on the way that their business operates.
Devastatingly, they’ve fessed up to losing the ability to support emerging talent like they used to, as a direct result of the way the laws have wiped out after-dark foot traffic on Oxford Street.
The venue’s submission reads:
“…A venue such as the OAF relies heavily on outside foot traffic and word of mouth to fill our venue on a weekly basis. Since the introduction of the lockout laws in February 2014, we’ve seen a steady decrease in the amount of foot traffic to the Darlinghurst and Surry Hills entertainment precincts, which has had an unspeakable impact on the way that the OAF is able to operate. No longer can we afford to have unsuccessful or poorly attended nights. We are now less able to take risks on unestablished bands and emerging artists, which therefore minimises the opportunities we can present to the local scene.”
A second submission from OAF CEO Mark Gerber reveals that the venue’s revenue has plummeted by a horrifying 40% since the lockout laws were slapped into place “without any community consultation”, and what’s more, the half hour lockout extension granted to OAF following last year’s Callinan Review has amounted to squat, with the venue seeing “no increase in trade or attendance”.
“In fact we are still very much on the same downward spiral as we were prior to it being granted,” Gerber says. “The reason is that the public perception of the entire Oxford Street precinct continues to be one of closure at 1:30am…a no-go zone for any late-night activities and not worth going to anymore.
“Oxford Street nowadays starts to look like a ghost town after midnight on weekends, after 1:30AM you can count the foot traffic on one hand, when in the immediate years before to the lockout it was approaching the kind of vibrant and diverse night life that cities such as London, New York, Paris and Melbourne are still proud of today.”
The OAF submission adds: “This half hour extension of trade is a mere token, having no practical impact on the venue itself nor its wider reach within the community.”
A submission from a group of 23 Sydney small bars echoes the exact same sentiments, confirming that “Callinan’s recommendations regarding live entertainment have not resulted in any return of pre-lockout trade to the affected areas”.
Despite being granted the same 2am lockout extension, the coalition of bars argues that “the way that Sydney audiences thinks about going out has fundamentally shifted away from these zones, to other areas like Newtown and Barangaroo.
“Much like spraying Roundup indiscriminately on a garden, flowering plants have been destroyed along with the weeds. Numerous small bars have closed. Those that remain, struggle to achieve ongoing profitability and long term sustainability.”
All of these venues have expressed a “dire” need for the government to implement drastic changes to the current regime and “slash red tape” to prevent “impending doom”, and local musicians are backing the call.
Prior to giving evidence at the Upper House inquiry, Hoodoo Gurus frontman Dave Faulkner told Fairfax that live music has been “harassed almost out of existence” in Sydney by pokies, restrictive liquor laws and planning rules.
“Sydney has spent so much energy destroying its claim to be a hub of anything other than real estate and wowserism,” he said.
While rapper Tim Levinson, who you probably know better as Urthboy, added the current genocide of live music venues across Sydney had “really kneecapped” the development of live music in the city.
Meanwhile, another huge issue threatening live music venues is noise complaints, and the submission from the NSW branch of the Australian Hotels Association warned that venues will continue to cark it or else shun live music altogether if better protections aren’t put in place.
It comes after police threatened to ban an Enmore venue from hosting live music after a single noise complaint was received at 7pm on a Saturday night, while similarly last year an iconic inner-west pub was forced to bin its six-year-running acoustic Sunday session after a new neighbour moved in and complained about the noise.
A Sydney Vivid Festival concert in Kings Cross, which had been staged to “help reinvigorate Sydney’s nightlife”, was also ironically shut down back in 2017 due to a noise complaint, after the band had played just four songs.
Elsewhere, in a case of tragic irony, after OAF’s submission to the inquiry stated that:
“Along with the impending closure of the Brighton Up Bar (come March 2018) the Sydney CBD will only have a total of three small live music venues (under 1000 capacity); the OAF, Hudson Ballroom and The Basement. Live music can only exist when there’s a place to play it, and three small venues are not enough to maintain a culture and provide a path for the next generation of bands and artists to emerge.”
…we’re now hearing that The Basement is also set to close down imminently.
Reflecting on the inquiry’s nearly 400 submissions, anti-lockouts group and budding political party Keep Sydney Open commented that “the private struggles and absurd regulations that venues face are only now beginning to surface.
“Instead of treating venues as assets to the community, the state government and police [are] killing them off. It’s time for authorities to acknowledge the value of Sydney’s night-time economy and rethink the way in which it is regulated,” they posted on Facebook.
Following the hearings yesterday, the Upper House committee — chaired by Paul Green MLC of the Christian Democratic Party — will now consider the NSW Government’s policies to support music and arts culture, “including permanent and temporary venue spaces, and policy and legislation options in other jurisdictions”.
The committee will also look at “whether local councils are setting realistic noise abatement and environmental impact targets in their consideration of development applications from cafes, restaurants and live music venues.”
We look forward to hearing their thoughts.