Long Road Ahead As Culture Cops Maintain Grip On Adelaide’s Music Scene
Adelaide music is in a state of flux at the moment with the South Australian state government first introducing a raft of measures designed to stave alcohol-related violence, then introducing a number of programs designed to minimise the damage the changes could make to music venues.
Alcohol-related violence has become a chief concern for Premier Weatherill and the South Australian Government, joining his interstate counterparts in New South Wales who have used the issue to introduce widespread changes to liquor licensing despite crime statistics showing assaults have actually decreased over the last five years.
Weatherill and his government have already moved to introduce a new code of practice for licensed venues that will ban shots, glassware and introduce scanning IDs, a move that’s part of broader measures to curb increased violence along with more police enforcement and education program targeting the consequences of aggressive behaviour when drunk.
The move follows the South Australian government’s recent introduction of hefty new liquor licensing fees, with new tariffs for late night venues; which will no doubt affecting the business and culture of many Adelaide-based clubs and live music venues who rely on late night trading to fund music activities.
Managers of the popular Edinburgh Castle Hotel, which hosts a number of bands each week, have flagged their concern over the fees, adding if they do not open after 2am they will not make enough of a profit to keep going.
In response, Business Services and Consumer Minister John Rau introduced potential hope in the grim atmosphere of the city’s dwindling music scene, with the introduction of new, cheaper licenses aimed at creating laneway bars and ‘hole in the wall’ hotspots across Adelaide’s CBD, similar to Melbourne and Sydney’s night culture.
Premier Jay Weatherill has since played the white knight and announced plans to introduce a music expert to work in collaboration with the Premier’s office to develop strategies of overcoming newly introduced planning and licensing issues, the very same policing strategies he helped implement.
Glastonbury booker Martin Elbourne was eventually chosen as the ‘thinker in residence’ and will be investigating licensing issues, opportunities for local performers and musicians and focussing on industry development.
But the issue of new new liquor licensing fees and late night trading restrictions has masked a deeper issue that South Australia has yet to face.
“In South Australia if a person performs in person on licensed premises – that is defined as ‘entertainment’ and regulated, but if you broadcast sport, gamble, or have recorded music, that is exempt from the strict, erratic and often archaic entertainment approvals process,” says Greens’ SA Arts spokesperson Tammy Franks MLC.
“Yet across the rest of Australia live performance is considered a normal activity in hotels, bars, restaurants, clubs and cafes. It beggars belief that South Australia persists with such old-fashioned liquor licensing laws.”
New South Wales had similar provision called PoPE, a development application that had to be lodged with the local council, to change the use of a premises from just a licensed venue to a place of public entertainment, and often costing in excess of $100,000.
But after numerous years of petitioning by the Raise The Bar campaign they got an early Christmas present in 2008 when the then New South Wales Planning Minister instructed councils that they can no longer require development consent for small scale live entertainment in pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants.
Back in South Australia, Ms Franks has introduced a private members bill into the parliament to remove definitions of ‘entertainment’ from the Liquor Licensing which she says have been used by ‘culture cops’ to derail the Adelaide’s music community.
“While we are announcing a live music Thinker in Residence and we are hearing from the government that we are going to see (perhaps) small bar licences introduced in the near future, we have culture cops policing what entertainment there is in licensed premises in this state.”
“That is, police and monitoring time, funded by our government, spent monitoring what happens in terms of entertainment and live music on licensed premises in this state. In many cases that is an incredible waste of public resources and a punitive approach that not only kills creativity but punishes small business and discriminates arbitrarily.”
“Perhaps this act contains provisions around the monitoring of entertainment for all good intentions, but in practice it is being applied very oddly,” adds Ms Franks, who has uncovered a minefield of bizarre clauses added to music venues around the state.
For instance The Elephant, near Cinema Place, has a special clause which states that any live entertainment provided on the licensed premises shall be appropriate to and compatible with the operation of a themed Irish Bar or British Pub.
But this isn’t the only example of bizarre cultural policing. CIBO Espresso’s licence prohibits any blues, heavy metal or grunge bands from playing there; while at Purplez they’re prohibited from having live entertainment on a Monday and Tuesday and on a Wednesday performances are limited to solo, duets or one and two-piece bands.
Other conditions facing some music venues include the restriction on advertising or conducting the premises as a rock band or heavy metal venue, or restrictions that prohibit a venue from advertising that bands perform there at all.
“We have licence conditions in this state which dictate that something must be themed as an Irish bar or British pub in terms of the entertainment that would provide,” Franks told the parliament. “I defy anyone to say without a skerrick of doubt what exactly that particular type of entertainment could, should or would include.”
“Why do we specifically have a clause about grunge music and not acid jazz or art rock or folk rock? I wonder at what point something becomes grunge.”
But these rules and regulations aren’t just hangovers from old legal frameworks. Unlike outdated laws around the world that prohibit all manner of behaviour but are never actually enforces, music venues are still being prosecuted for breaches of these conditions.
In 2008 for instance, one venue was prosecuted in court for not playing folk music as was defined and specified in its licence. That venue was found guilty of this charge because it was contended that the music it was playing in its venue was not folk music.
Another venue is currently before the courts because its licence specifically precludes any of its live performances from being advertised, including a ban on posters outside its venue or in its window.
“It is specifically being prosecuted through the courts after the police monitored its Facebook page for a good four months over the summer break,” says Franks.
“Not for overtly advertising its live performances but in fact for saying that it had a jazzy fusion of entertainment—not even citing the particular band that was playing or the performers who were playing that they are allowed to have playing there, but just alluding to the fact that there might be some music in that venue while you ate your meal and had a drink.”
Thinker In Residence Martin Elbourne will no doubt hear from a number of stakeholders on these issues as he learns the scale and complexity of the problem facing Adelaide’s music scene.
In the meantime, as fees are hiked and politicians use licensed venues as a political strawman, an out-of-control bureaucracy will continue to harass venues after going around and checking whether or not someone was playing folk, grunge, or heavy metal.
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 »