Politicians, Pokies, & The Rotten Battle Over Sydney’s Music Scene
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last week you’ve no doubt read about the death of teenager Thomas Kelly in a senseless attack in Sydney’s King Cross.
A truly tragic event, made all the more tragic as the ‘blame game’ begins, with the New South Wales Government’s crosshairs aimed squarely at small boutique venues across the city.
New South Wales Arts & Hospitality Minister George Souris has come out swinging in the wake of the attack, blaming small bars because they have “a lower level of surveillance, a lower level of supervision, a lower level of compliance”, adding that pokies venues “are better policed, better supervised than those smaller venues”.
While not blaming small venues entirely, Mr Souris said they were to blame “to some extent, that really has been a failure of policy – the proliferation of small licences in the concentrated way that they have occurred,” in particular taking aim at the huge amount of small bars he says have popped up in Kings Cross.
And if you think you’ve read that wrong, you haven’t.
Of course not everyone agrees with the minister, especially John Wardle, the strategist behind the Raise The Bar campaign and the driving force behind some of the biggest reforms to New South Wales liquor laws in the past few years.
“Small bars and restaurants in Sydney and NSW are playing an incredible role in providing jobs and opportunities for musicians since the 2007 liquor laws and the end of PoPE laws in 2009,” Wardle said to Tone Deaf. “From the Moose and Corridor in Newtown, to the Green Room in Enmore – Small Bar itself… the list goes on…”
“These venues have live music and are adding to the diversity of our night economy,” he continued. “As for gaming venues being better run… really? What bullshit. What sort of vision does Barry O’Farrell have for NSW?”
“At the time the liquor laws were debated in the NSW Parliament, the coalition had the opportunity to support proposed amendments to the legislation restricting new bar licenses to a capacity of 120 patrons and did not do so, allowing the governments laws to pass unopposed. This legislation was not opposed by the Liberal/National coalition.”
Regardless, the New South Wales Government now plans to review rules governing the establishment of small bars. Confused yet? We probably should start from the top with the long battle for not just small bars in Sydney, but for the future of the city’s culture.
You see unlike their southern brethren in Melbourne who took to small bar culture in droves, with a glass of chardonnay in one hand and the hipster manifesto in the other, Sydney has long suffered under an archaic and confusing system that up until a few years ago all but prevented small bars from opening.
But why is that a problem? Because small bars can cater to an increasingly fragmented array of niche tastes in music, which allows small bands to cut their teeth before the good stuff rises to the top.
As AC/DC once said, “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll”, and that way usually begins at small bars in front of your mum and your school mates.
That was unless you lived in Sydney, where live music pubs quickly made way for beer barns with ubiquitous plasma TVs, poker machines, rude bouncers, and violent drunks.
Prior to changes to the Liquor Act in 2007 that nullified laws written 25 years prior, the situation was so bad you couldn’t buy alcohol at a restaurant without buying a meal, and small bars were virtually non-existent due to a system that was more restrictive, expensive and complex than any other system in Australia.
Due to the archaic nature of the laws, small bars did not fit within the rigid licence categories available, or the costs were simply so high they favoured large sporting bars or pokies clubs, out-pricing most entrepreneurs who couldn’t afford the exorbitant costs.
On 23rd February 2010, the SLAM rally saw 20,000 people march through Melbourne to the tune of AC/DC’s definitive ‘Long Way to the Top’, in protest against the Victorian Government’s misguided policy link between live music and violence. Out on the streets of our city, we showed our support and love for a truly great live music community. The SLAM rally was the largest cultural protest in Australia’s history. Now all of Australia has the opportunity to participate in a national event that celebrates our local musicians in our small venues.
Thursday 23rd February 2012, is National SLAM Day and a huge number of gigs are being held around the country to support local artists and venues. You can see a ful gig guide here of the day here. To celebrate our friends at SLAM have got together some of Australia's best musicians and asked them through a series of speech bubble photos what live music in small venues means to them.
Check out their answers on the following pages, and on Thursday help support the industry by getting out and experiencing the spontaneous excitement and intimacy you only get at a small venue. Watch this slideshow »