When you’re hosting a conference about electronic music, it’s probably a bit of a buzzkill to have an entire panel discussing the forces trying to stop it from existing in its natural habitat. But the crisis over lockouts, both in NSW and other states, is fast becoming one of survival. Tyson Koh, of activist movement Keep Sydney Open, joined a fiery panel of passionate late-night supporters including DJ and club owner Simon Digby, Nick Braban of Our Nightlife Queensland and South Australian entertainment director, Daniel Michael at Sydney’s EMC this week. Broadsheet sat in as these champions of Australian nightlife tried to hammer out a way forward.
“Politics isn’t sexy. That’s why we’re losing the battle.” Perhaps more than any other, this quote nails the problem. It came from Nick Braban, who reminded everyone that it’s difficult enough to get young people to actually write to their local MP, let alone attend a rally, and that the campaign needs to go national if venues and entertainment are to survive.
John Wardle is from the Live Music Office and deals directly with governments, so is well-placed to back Braban up on this point. Wardle stressed that while circumstances differ in each state, there are enough commonalities to call for collective action. “The problem is that states need to regulate liquor. Local and federal governments actually don’t mind live music. You need to go back to basics and ask ‘Is it about consumption or creativity?’”
All were quick to single out unhealthy levels of media attention, which help fast track changes in policy. “Both Newscorp and Fairfax were uniting, as were health officials and the police,” says Wardle. “That’s a huge amount of interest. Removing the lockouts is not an achievable goal in the short term. We need to start trying to change the conversation to what we like to see, rather than banning what we don’t.”
The first solution raised was simply to propagate positive stories, especially in light of this week’s news regarding drug deaths at Stereosonic, which helped to further demonise dance music. “EDM is never presented as positively as live music in news stories,” said Michael, using the anecdote of local South Australian DJ, Uberjakd, who started playing the side room in his club and has now graduated to international festivals such as Belgium’s Tomorrowland. “We need to start showing that this is what the industry has contributed culturally.”
Another beneficial option is to reimagine entertainment precincts as safe, community-friendly areas. Koh pointed to this year’s King Street Crawl in Newtown, which alongside Live N’ Local in Kings Cross, challenged the idea that live music is synonymous with drunken punches in the street. “Currently, the conversation is reduced to ‘Late night venues or safety?’ Bullshit. It can be both.”
Dean Ormston from APRA|AMCOS (a music licensing body) compared the scenario to the tragic death of cricketer Phil Hughes. “When he was hit by [that] ball, nobody shut down cricket, or even thought too long about changing the helmets,” he said. “The problem is, everyone knows about cricket. Mums and Dads in the suburbs know about it. But the only people who know about late night venues are the people who go there. They need to start getting involved.”
Clear from the concerns of the panel is that the problem is no longer isolated to Sydney. Despite the city commanding most of the media attention and currently having the most draconian laws, this is a cultural problem for the entire country. In Queensland, where lockouts are once more back on the table, Braban said he’s “shit-scared.” Digby, who comes from a city that most fiercely protects the arts, agreed. It’s a sleeping giant, and it’s only going to get worse.”
It seems the answer, as with the initial problems, lie with the youth. The question now is whether we’re willing to stand up and be counted. Koh estimates that the last Reclaim the Streets rally in Sydney drew 2,000 people. Imagine if the one next Saturday pulls ten times that number? And it happened sixfold across the country?
That’d really be something to celebrate.