Mess+Noise story: ‘Is Our Live Music Scene In Crisis?’, March 2012

A feature for Mess+Noise looking at the state of Australia’s live music scene. For the story I spoke to operators of The Tote and The Workers Club in Melbourne, Oxford Art Factory and The Annandale in Sydney, Alhambra Lounge in Brisbane, the Grace Emily Hotel in Adelaide, and The Brisbane Hotel in Hobart.

You’d think these would be anxious times for live music operators. Every week word comes through of yet another venue closure.

In the last month alone, The Jade Monkey in Adelaide, Woodland Bar in Brisbane, The Gaelic in Sydney and no less than three Melbourne venues – Miss LibertineBuffalo Club and The East Brunswick Club – have all announced they’ll be shutting their doors.

Meanwhile, federal minister and former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett has finally come to the defence of The Annandale, one of Sydney’s most iconic venues, which had its own near-death experience last year. In a recent interview with M+N, Garrett expressed his concerns about the longevity of little venues across the country, which he said are the lifeblood of Australia’s music scene.

“Well, it’s tougher for some venues to keep their doors open,” he conceded, “and I think that’s a real pity because these places … have been incredibly important incubators of the live music scene in this city for many years, and they continue to fulfil that function, and it’s a very valuable one for musicians to ply their trade.”

So what’s really going on with live music in Australia? Are we in the midst of a crisis? To find out, M+N talked to operators in Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney, getting a grip on current fortunes and asking how they see the health of the industry as a whole. In Perth, we contacted The Bakery, Amplifier Capitol and The Fly By Night; all were either unwilling or unable to comment.

The Tote (Jon) Collingwood, Melbourne

None of the news of the last couple of weeks really surprises me. I don’t know as much about other states, but from the discussions I’ve had with people in Sydney, in particular, everyone is battling regulation everywhere. And it’s not just Australia, it’s San Francisco, it’s London. Just everywhere.

Planning is one of the biggest issues; it’s so hard to open a venue now. It’s just impossible negotiating the current regulatory framework that we have. The amount of money you need to invest has gotten so high that you just wouldn’t recoup it. We don’t have an investment framework that’s functional, and then we don’t have a regulatory framework to live within that’s functional either. It makes life very difficult.

For example, if you’ve got a venue and you get a new residential development going up near you, immediately you go out of compliance with the noise standards – and you haven’t done anything! Even if the developer decides to put sound proofing on the venue it doesn’t solve your problems, because the measurements are taken outside of the building, not inside the building. We don’t have appropriate places where music venues can exist, if you like, and that’s one of the things we’ve got to try and get into the planning system.

For the full article, visit Mess+Noise. Photo credit: Martin Nester.

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