Back in September of 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story titled “Size doesn’t matter for Sydney’s small venues”. The crux of the story was that whilst some larger venues were closing down the influx of small bars and similar low capacity venues was taking up the slack.
A few years later and things really haven’t changed all that much with larger venues such as the Newtown Social Club in the Sandringham Hotel shutting its doors on live music and small bars such as Marrickville’s Gasoline Pony regularly hosting live music.
When disco reared its ugly head in the 70s and 80s many predicted that live music was dead and DJs would take over the world. Whilst DJ culture continues to flourish in many different forms, live music remains essentially indefatigable. It’s an almost essential part of social interaction for people of all ages not to mention its many other rewards.
For decades in Australia live music, especially rock and pop, has been at the mercy of the pub barons, the club industry and anybody with a vested interest in the sale of alcohol. Few hotels have ever programmed live music as a community service – with perhaps a few notable exceptions. As such many quickly discovered that there was more money to be made out of turning the band room into a gambling den full of pokies.
Whilst the old school might bemoan the demise of pub rock, the positive is that many live music venues are now free of the grip of the corporate pub moguls. Unfortunately the unholy alliance between live music and alcohol remains unless there is a quantum change in the way live music is presented.
We should look to the overseas experience where virtually any space is on the cards as a potential live music habitat. Take the case of Abner Brown’s barbershop in Dublin, where the owner bought an old leather couch and decorated the shop with some old guitars and music posters. His original hope was that the odd musician might come in, sit themselves on the couch and play a few tunes. Flash forward and these days the barbershop has become a regular live music venue, attracting punters from all over the world.
In an over regulated city like Sydney, this kind of scenario is always going to run into the focus of council bureaucrats with questions like “where are the male and female toilets?”, “where is your public liability?” and “where is your entertainment licence?”. Despite many councils wanting to be seen as promoters of a live music culture, the barriers they put in its way are often insurmountable.
The cashed up City Of Sydney Council could well look to creating a special pop up licence where any conducive space could become a live music venue with a minimum of infrastructure. A small PA, a few tables and chairs and some homemade décor would be the basic requirement with punters encouraged to BYO or imbibe beforehand. The numerous vacant shops in Oxford Street and Kings Cross would be an ideal starting point The Council could cover public liability and without a constant flow of alcohol, the need for toilets would be at a minimum.
Whilst some of the regulators might go berserk at the prospect it’s well worth considering – and it would certainly inject life back into parts of the city that are now virtually comatose. A few years down the track and the SMH could well be reporting on a great night of live music in a disused sex shop in Oxford Street or a vacant two dollar shop in the Cross.