Sydney has suffered blow after blow to its live music scene. Not long after the NSW Government enacted its controversial lockout laws in 2014, a number of venues permanently shut down, with many more forced to close in the years to follow.
When the laws were finally lifted earlier this year, there was a glimmer of hope. But now restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus have forced clubs, bars and pubs to close once more. While it’s hoped that most venues will only shut temporarily, it’s expected that loss of income will cause some to close for good.
“Most of them barely survived the lockout laws, and it’s so crushing that just months after those laws were repealed, this happened,” Andrew Levins, who makes music under the moniker DJ Levins, tells Broadsheet. “I don’t think anyone is denying the importance of isolating, but the immediate effect is venues having to close. There’ll be less venues for people to go to, for me to play in, and that make Sydney interesting,” he says.
Levins has been playing sets at clubs and festivals in Sydney and across Australia for nearly two decades. Alongside DJ mates Diplo and Nina Las Vegas, Levins founded Heaps Decent, Australian sister label to Diplo’s Mad Decent label. And he's shared the stage with acts such as A-Trak, the Vengaboys, Girl Talk, S Club 7, GZA and more. But every one of his gigs for the next six months has been cancelled. Businesses and events are suffering across the board, and so are independent artists.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but Levins has found an innovative way to keep doing what he loves while earning money from his skills: curating and mixing music for people to listen to in their living rooms while they’re socially distancing.
“I’ve accepted that I won’t be DJing for the next few months, but I still want to keep up to date with music and [keep] making people happy with music,” he says. “I love reading the room and watching people get psyched up whenever I drop the perfect song at the perfect moment. You can still do that by curating mixes, so I thought why not try and recoup some of the money I’ve lost by offering a service that people might be missing soon – mixed music?”
He’s created a Patreon site where music lovers can pay for one of three tiers of access: $5 per month gives you two new monthly mixtapes, as well as playlists on Spotify and Apple Music for each (so the artists benefit from streams, too); $10 gets you the monthly mixes, as well as bonus access to almost 40 mixtapes from Levins’s career; and after three months of the $20 package, Levins will make you a personalised mixtape (plus you get all the other features).
The original plan was to only make one mix per month and move to two once he hit a certain number of patrons. But he reached that goal in just 24 hours. Next he wants to create an accompanying podcast all about putting the mixes together, and the stories behind them; eventually he wants to make three mixes a month and pay a guest DJ to make a fourth.
The first mix for March is a love letter to Darlinghurst tiki bar The Cliff Dive, one of his favourite venues to play. It features hip-hop and R’n’B from around the world, with a strong focus on music from Africa, Jamaica and Latin America.
“I was a bit disconnected from DJing at the beginning of last year, and as soon as I started DJing there I realised I could play whatever I wanted, because it was a massively diverse crowd,” Levins says. “I got to play a lot of Afro-beats and pop from Nigeria, lots of dancehall and Reggaeton – it’s a very worldly, global affair.”
There’s also diversity in the dozens of mixtapes he’s curated and shared over the past 20 years of his DJ career – underground hip-hop, ’60s and ’70s “dad rock”, ’90s and early ’00s Australian alternative rock, throwback pop songs and more. It’s a great way to discover new music, and a lot of patrons have already jumped onboard.
“The response has been really heartwarming. When you’re DJing, you’re kind of above the crowd and there isn’t much approachability,” Levins says, “Since starting this project I’ve been getting lovely messages from people who met their now-partner on a night I DJ’d, or I played a set at a festival that was really special to them.”