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Alex Greenwich wants to ensure the viability of the Sydney live music and performance scene, and would like to see the NSW Government follow suit.
The inner city has long been the place to see live music and performance, and it’s the place where musicians and performers live. The performing arts communities continue to thrive in Sydney and contribute to the State’s cultural, social and economic fabric in the face of rising challenges. I believe all levels of government should work to encourage a vibrant live music and performance scene. Australian cabaret and jazz as well as the pub rock scene all have strong roots in Sydney, as do gay and lesbian drag shows. We constantly hear people revere the glory days of the live music scene in the 1970s and 1980s, when most venues had local bands playing every night.
Unfortunately, in the 1990s poker machines were introduced into pubs and hotels, which ultimately replaced the bands. The onerous Place of Public Entertainment (PoPE) licences were also introduced, forcing venues to apply for additional development consent and creating the need for costly works if live entertainment was provided on premises. Before 2008, our liquor laws were prohibitive of anything but beer barns, which had stopped hiring bands since the 1990s, and nightclubs, which do not normally have live music. Increasing gentrification of the inner city created new tensions with residents, who do not want to hear loud music inside their homes late at night when they are trying to sleep, which is fair enough. The growing trend for families to stay in the inner city and in apartments creates additional challenges to encouraging live music, because aspiring young musicians grow up without garages to jam in and share their walls with neighbours likely to be bothered by band practice. Similarly, the affordable housing crisis prevents many performers and artists from living in the inner city as they rarely earn enough money to cover rising rents and house prices.
While the closure of dedicated Surry Hills live music venues the Hopetoun and the Excelsior were seen as blows to Sydney’s live music scene, new live music venues continue to emerge in the inner city, including the Oxford Art Factory, Good God, Frankie’s Pizza Bar, FBI Social, the Hollywood Hotel, the Brighton, the Standard, the Lansdowne and upstairs at the Beresford. Sydney bands continue to have international success, particularly independent bands.
Removal of the need for live music venues to get a PoPE licence and new liquor licensing laws that encourage small bars and hotels without gaming machines — introduced following Clover Moore’s small bars campaign — have encouraged a different mix of licensed premises. However, this year inner Sydney live music suffered a new setback, with new liquor licensing restrictions that target all licensed venues in the central business district, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. Of the 220 hotels, pubs and clubs in the central business district, 143 are classified live music venues and they must now close the door to new patrons at 1.30 a.m.
While traditionally bands would play shows before midnight, this model has been changing, with live music provided later. Furthermore, some venues subsidise live music shows with traditional nightclub entertainment after midnight. I understand the Government’s intention to address alcohol-associated violence, however, live music should be a part of the solution. It is well established that people consume less alcohol while watching a performance; when the band is playing or the drag show is on, few are at the bar.
The City of Sydney adopted the Live Music and Performance Action Plan to help strengthen inner Sydney’s live music and performance scenes. Recommendations include trialling music loading zones outside venues, making council-owned properties available for practice, facilitating the approvals process for small, low-risk events, setting new soundproof standards for new residential developments and providing formal, independent and confidential mediation to deal with noise complaints. Included is a proposal for the Federal Government to ease restrictions to allow more musicians to play secret shows and collaborate with local musicians in small venues without breaching contract or visa arrangements.
There are also vital recommendations for the NSW Government. Musicians and performers need to be included in affordable housing schemes so that they can access key worker accommodation and the Government should create a fund using poker machine revenue — given poker machines in hotels contributed to the reduction in live music — to support live music projects. In 2011, the Australasian Performing Right Association commissioned Ernst & Young to survey Australia’s live music scene and found that it contributes more than $1.2 billion to the Australian economy, supporting almost 15,000 jobs with total profits and wages at $625 million. Thirty-two per cent of the venue-based music industry is located in New South Wales.
The inner city’s live music scene makes a massive economic, social and cultural contribution to Sydney. I hope the State Government thoroughly assesses the impacts of licensing laws and introduces new measures to ensure the viability of a growing live music industry.