Sydney’s live music scene isn’t exactly thriving. In the last year, the Annandale Hotel has gone into receivership, the Sandringham closed down, and most venues in the city have been faced with increased regulation on the side. At the same time, other venues are almost eclipsing their fallen contemporaries. GoodGod, a small CBD-based club, has managed to surpass the city’s regulations, hosting packed out sets from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and Major Lazer, rising to a lauded position within the community in the process. The one word completely disconnected from Sydney’s live music scene is stability with new venues popping up every month as older ones fade away at the same time.
The recently closed-down Midian, a venue forced to operate illegally due to live music restrictions in Marrickville, offered a setting where bands played intensely involved sets while the sound quality in the venue frequently outshone most of its contemporaries. On the other side of the city, the Oxford Art Factory (OAF) operates day in and day out, frequently hosting concerts that easily sell out. Despite this, the sound quality is inferior, the venue poorly set out and objectively one of the worst of its size in the city. OAF’s only redeeming feature was the Gallery Bar which often served as the venue for smaller Sydney-based bands in an intimate setting, however, even this has shifted in a new direction. Yet Midian has been closed down and Oxford Art Gallery is flourishing.
I spoke to Marcus Whale, one half of Sydney-based group Collarbones, and no stranger to the city’s live music scene. After supporting PVT at the Oxford Art Gallery several weeks ago, and having played gigs at GoodGod, the Standard and more, Whale was able to drop some insights on the workings within this scene stating that “on one hand, the issue is mostly a shortage of smaller venues that are less expensive to book in particular, but larger venues too, which means they’re often booked three months in advance.” Whilst Whale acknowledged the issues of “regulatory constraints” he brought attention to the presence of a myriad of other issues which contribute to the uncertainty that plagues the live scene in Sydney. When asked what his favourite venue in Sydney was, Whale named the now-closed Tone, “which filled an important niche for live electronic music.” The venue “closed simply because the landlord felt they got a better offer,” with regulations and location barely playing into the equation.
On the whole, alongside the lack of smaller venues, these issues remain at the forefront of the live music debate in Sydney. For instance, GoodGod Small Club operates under a license where the bar is able to remain open until 5am on Friday and Saturday nights, yet despite booking artists on a similar scale of fame to those the Annandale books, the club has thrived while the latter has faced regulation after regulation. The Annandale dilemma poses a straight-forward question: is it still possible to have a successful live venue in a residential area?
Led by Mayor Darcy Byrne, who played an influential role in establishing the Labor Loves Live Music campaign, Leichardt Council has started a surprisingly targeted and precise response to the flailing Sydney music scene. In light of the Annandale hotel falling into receivership, the council passed Byrne’s live music reform in an effort to “make Parramatta Rd the official live music district of Sydney” citing the influence of New Orleans. Essentially, the live music district would, in definition, have a sense of stability and legitimacy that Sydney’s music scene has never truly experienced.
Whether Leichardt Council’s reform will herald in a new age of Australian music in a similar vein to the lauded golden era, where one could see Midnight Oil, The Saints, Hunters and Collectors, Nick Cave, and the Dirty Three at local bars, is yet to be seen. The collective consciousness of the musical side of Sydney has, however, reached an agreement: things need to change.