How Sydney could learn from the way they treat live music in Melbourne

Melbourne has long been celebrated as the cultural capital of Australia. Where other major Australian metropolises may thrive in their beaches or iconic structures, the Victorian capital has always served as Australia’s epicentre for arts and culture. While in many ways Sydney has slowly been creeping up on its southern sister state in the bar and restaurant scene in recent years, to compare the two in terms of their live music scene is pretty futile.

While Sydney is suffering from being bogged down by neanderthalic acts of violence and the laws that are being passed, as consequence, by equally neanderthalic state ‘leaders’, there are still cases of noise complaints being the key reason for shutting down more venues. Combine this with the slowly expanding Sydney lockout area and you’ve got the perfect formula for a culturally impotent city. Where Melbourne actively seeks to endorse live music as a vital part of metropolitan life – as important as the NGV or the ACMI – Sydney seems hell bent on draining the nocturnal life force from Sydney music, sucking it dry until the city becomes a blank-eyed, nine-to-five stiff.

annandale hotel

The regressive measures taken to cure the problem-child that is Sydney’s nightlife is draining the City’s live music, and something needs to change. We take a look at how Sydney could learn from the way they treat live music in Melbourne.

This week marked the demise of another institution that has been around for generations. The Landsdowne Hotel in Sydney will soon close its doors, set to be sold, ironically, to the Academy of Music and Performing Arts. It got me thinking which one will be next.

Obviously the live music landscapes in both Sydney and Melbourne have changed pretty dramatically over the past few decades. No longer can you see INXS at the Dee Why RSL, or Chisel at the Punters Club in Fitzroy. Over the years, as pub culture has slowly dwindled, the live music hubs have been more focused on the CBD’s of each city.

A study by a researcher at RMIT found that, since the mid 80s, the spread of consistent live music has slowly crawled towards the city centres, and the sparks of activity in the outer regions of each city have slowly but surely gone out. What we are now left with is the fragile skeleton of a once booming pub music culture. One that is a different, smaller version of what once was, but one that is absolutely still going strong. r trying to at least.

I learned only recently that, in 2014, the Victorian State Government implemented progressive measures that had the clear goal of aiding a suffering live music industry in mind. At first I was shocked; mostly because it seemed to me that, living in Sydney, I’d basically never heard of the Government taking steps to do anything positive for the live music scene around me. Pretty much from when I started going to gigs it had been a pretty grim story everywhere I looked.

The laws put in place in Melbourne state that any new development within 50 metres of an existing live music venue will take full responsibility for sufficient soundproofing. Basically this meant that developers and new residents had the ball in their court, taking the strain from a live music scene that was suffering blows in some of it’s most beloved parts (around that time, the iconic Cherry Bar was on the brink of closing down because of the insistent, screeching complaints of local residents about “all that racket”). The Government also pledged half a million dollars to a fund that provides assistance to older heritage buildings in soundproofing for live music.

Over the past few years Sydney has seen the demise of countless live music venues for myriad reasons. Iconic places like The Annandale and The Hopetoun suffered from the cold sneer of residential noise complaints, as well as licensing issues when eventually buried both venues. For a small window of time just last year, Enmore’s Vic On The Park enjoyed a run of pretty unforgettable outdoor afternoon gigs, including a comeback set from The Vines and Rice Is Nice’s massive label party. These gigs mysteriously ceased after the latter (I wonder why?), and it most definitely seemed like it was too good to be true. Small club venues in Kings X and Darlinghurst like Spectrum, Q Bar, Flinders and The Backroom have all slowly fallen like dominos as the legacy of Bazza O’Fazza has left their respective districts a nocturnal ghost town.

Just last week the iconic Imperial Hotel finally shut its doors after a vivacious scandal regarding a whole lot of drug taking, debauchery, and irresponsible service of alcohol. The demise prompted a new petition calling on the NSW Government to follow Victoria in their laws regarding noise complaints.

Organsied by Sydney musician Siobhan Ponyton, the letter reads:

“In 2014 laws were passed in Victoria to protect important music venues from being shut down by noise complaints, basically stating that if you moved near a venue that was there before you moved in, you had no right to complain about the noise.”

“The Imperial Hotel is at the centre of Queer culture in Sydney, and has now been brought down by noise complaints,” it continues. “This is a familiar story in Sydney, The Annandale and The Hopetoun being prime examples. Newtown was built around Artists, live music, Queer culture and alternative spaces. We cannot let people shut us down, shut us up, and shut us out. Newtown is too good to lose.”

While not exactly pertinent to the wider troubles that have plagued Sydney’s live music scene, the petition is the start of a pretty important dialogue. The regressive measures that the NSW Government were put in place in response to some pretty dark things that were happening around Sydney (drunk morons punching people to death is pretty fucked up). But the past year has seen these laws do some pretty irreversible damage to Sydney’s live music.

Where problems like noise complaints and licensing issues have plagued an already brittle live music scene, lockout laws are only driving live music further into the ground. Soon there will be little left. Sydney needs to take a leaf out of Melbourne’s book and start being progressive in addressing issues that, if not handled correctly, will see the city’s live music scene into an early grave.