Decimating Sydney's live music scene isn't the answer — Sungenre Soapbox
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Decimating Sydney’s live music scene isn’t the answer
Drummer Sam Devenport played in Tame Impala while he was a resident of Perth, a decade prior to the formation of his Sydney four piece rock outfit Gaspar Sanz. Here, he expresses his frustration with New South Wales lockout laws. Gaspar Sanz’s second EP Meanderthal is due for release on April 26.

We know the Sydney lockout laws completely decimated Sydney’s nightlife and by extension its live music scene. A live music scene – my own myopia notwithstanding – I believe is essential to a vibrant and thriving culture. Isn’t Sydney supposed to be a worldly city?

My first foray into music was back in Perth in the mid 2000s. I played venues such as Mojo’s, The Norfolk Basement and The Swan Basement, which were almost exclusively geared towards putting on young local bands. We were able to grow a fan base and establish a foothold in the local music scene over there by playing consistent and well-supported gigs. Starting a new band in Sydney in 2017, I was shocked to experience the desolation of the local music landscape due to the State Government’s draconian and authoritarian policies. Sydney was harder to get gigs in than Perth 10 years ago. I knew the lockout laws were shortsighted and damaging but they hadn’t affected me directly before, and it was much worse than I thought it would be.

Starting a new band in Sydney in 2017, I was shocked to experience the desolation of the local music landscape due to the State Government’s draconian and authoritarian policies.

Sydney doesn’t have a nightlife/live music/alcohol problem; it’s got a male violence problem. What I mean when I say we have a male violence problem is we don’t rate in the top 15 for binge drinking countries, but the Australian police are dealing with approximately 5,000 domestic disturbances a week. Last year 69 women were killed, the vast majority of which were by a current or former spouse. Australia also rates 6th in the world for violent crime/rapes per million people (5% more than the USA).

The tragic deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie should have been a moment where that very problem was addressed. Instead the government pursued a Band-Aid solution – that they had the audacity to benefit from – while building an environment that allowed the core problem to worsen both directly and passively.

Since the introduction of the laws in 2014 non-domestic assaults have indeed dropped in Kings Cross and the CBD. However, according to stats compiled by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics in 2017, violence has surged in the surrounding suburbs of the lockout-affected zones.

Addressing something of this magnitude is going to take years, and requires incredibly nuanced and sophisticated policymaking to even come close to fixing it.

Addressing something of this magnitude is going to take years, and requires incredibly nuanced and sophisticated policymaking to even come close to fixing it. Something I don’t hold high hopes of the government achieving if they continue with their current path of quick fix, cover-all policies.

In the case of Kelly and Christie it’s important to consider that both of the attacks occurred before midnight, so even if the lockout laws had been in place, they would not have prevented these tragic incidents.

Then of course, came the unfathomable exemption of The Star Casino (one of the most violent venues in NSW) from these laws.

Major building developers have swooped in to Kings Cross like vultures to feast on the rotting carcasses of defunct venues, many of which hosted live music. Pub and nightclub owners estimate the dramatic drop in customers has cost the industry well over $1 billion.

The lockout laws have done very little to actually solve the violence problem they were brought in to combat. We’re certainly no closer to the root of the problem than we were before.

Let me first check my own privilege here. We are a band of white, straight males, who all grew up middle class and have the extremely fortunate ability to pursue our dream of making music. By sheer accident of birth we’ve already won the cosmic lottery. I acknowledge that the previous version of the music scene I mourn was sometimes guilty of the very same violence/culture I’m admonishing here. It is still a predominantly blokey culture that has diversity problems, especially in regards to festival representation. However, over the course of the last 3-4 years there has been an eruption of diversity in the Australian music scene.

Artists like Courtney Barnett and Tash Sultana have exploded onto the world stage and there are more female and non-binary bands on the local scene than ever before, along with the welcome rise of artists of colour such as Kwame and Baker Boy. Being forced to essentially rebuild the live music scene in Sydney has allowed female music to expand without former limitations. We still have a long way to go, but now people are actually talking about it.

We want to grow live music in this city again by innovation and political activism. We need to rebuild better than before and do what the government failed to do. We need to be better than them. We need to address/call out male violence and anti-social behaviour in our ranks, especially if they are your friends. Support the venues that promote live music. Go to the gigs, and when you’re there, realise you’re part of building something better than what was there before.

Live music is an inclusive and sacrosanct space for people from all walks of life to come together and feed off the energy of each other and those performing before them. It encourages people to go out and connect with complete strangers over a mutual interest they may never share in any other facet of their lives. It’s one of the rare contexts in which you can be truly present. Live music isn’t damaging, it is nourishing.

Editor’s note: This is a guest-submitted opinion piece. Any numbers contained within which are presented as fact may not have been reviewed or verified by our editorial team.