What’s wrong with the Sydney music scene?

Live music venues are dying

Since 2012 the Record Crate has been a popular Sydney venue for live music. But on the evening of Sunday, the 16th of September, the Record Crate opened its doors for the final time. A few days prior, the owners of the venue had announced on Facebook: “Sydney culture has changed so dramatically over the past two or three years and we simply could not keep up”.

The sudden closure left bands who had booked gigs scrambling to find another venue in which to perform.

Since 2014, there has been net 176 venue closures in Sydney. Melbourne, on the other hand, currently boasts more live music venues per capita than any city in the world, with around one venue per 9,503 residents, according to a survey undertaken by Melbourne Live Music. Brisbane is also faring much better than Sydney—The Guardian’s Nathan Jolly reported in September this year that Brisbane is a prospering musical hub, with no evidence of such widespread venue closure.

So, what is it about Sydney that is causing so many music venues to close?

At the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Music and Arts Economy in New South Wales stakeholders gave evidence that the package of legislation known colloquially as the ‘lockout laws’ were the predominant cause of venue closures in Sydney. Isabella Manfredi (lead singer and songwriter of Sydney band The Preatures) gave testimony to the Committee that lockout laws were really just the ‘nail in the coffin’ of the Sydney music scene. Manfredi outlined that the lack of music venues in Sydney has made it difficult for up and coming Sydney musicians to hone their stage presence, musicality and performance skills. Many young people pursuing a music career are (seemingly justifiably) leaving Sydney for Melbourne or cities even further afield.

Sixo Cooper, a booking agent and founder of online zines Culture Eater and Cool Try, agrees that the lockout laws are a major reason for the decline in the Sydney Music scene. It is not only the direct impact of the laws themselves, Cooper told Honi,but the corresponding shift in nightlife culture, as people allegedly go out less at night because they feel unwelcome.

However, many active in the Sydney music scene believe focused criticism on the lockout laws has obscured deeper cultural issues that are more to blame for venue closure. Robbie Macpherson, bassist and manager of Sydney funk-rock band Just Breathe, and founder of the music collective Vandida, told Honi that venues are closing because not enough people attend live music shows.

The non-attendance, Macpherson reasons, is attributable to live music being relegated in contemporary Australian culture. Indeed, it seems almost intuitive that in the age of YouTube and Spotify it is difficult to convince people to actually leave their house to watch live music.

Cooper and Macpherson agree that there are key practical ways in which venues and artists can work to improve the Sydney live music scene, away from petitioning for the abolishment of lockout laws. Macpherson states venues must make an effort into creating a welcoming, inviting environment–not just opening the doors, installing a PA system and hoping for the best.

Artists shouldn’t just play shows for the sake of it, and should make sure to put time and effort into their releases, marketing, and music, said Macpherson. But fundamentally, people must realise that live music shows can be as fun as clubbing—perhaps even more.

It is clear multiple factors have contributed to the dire situation of Sydney’s music scene. Repealing the lockout laws will clearly not automatically alter the underlying cultural apathy towards live music in Sydney, even if it is a good place to start.