Over the past decade many initiatives have been put in place to revitalise live music in Sydney. Both the State Government and local councils have funded programs aimed at bringing back a music scene that flourished in the 80s and 90s. The biggest problem seems to have been the constantly changing landscape when it comes to real estate prices, venue start up costs and countless regulation. The public’s appetite for live music is as strong as ever but satisfying it is another tune altogether.
As I have written before live music boomed in Sydney when corruption was rife and regulation was lax. The 80s was the golden period when the licensing police often turned a well rewarded blind eye, colourful identities ran many of the clubs and packing five hundred people into a venue supposedly restricted to three hundred was common place. There was a dangerous side of course. Lack of enforced regulation meant many of the venues, such as the notorious Phoenician Club on Broadway, were potential fire traps and bouncers regularly beat up misbehaving patrons.
Nevertheless the 80s and the 90s were great, for both musicians and punters alike. Regardless of the week night there was always a gig worth attending and many weekend venues operated well into the wee small hours. Musicians would finish at one club, moving on to a late night opener to often jam with the featured band. Visiting international artists often dropped in to do the same thing.
Times have changed dramatically and the cyber age has provided many alternative forms of entertainment and preoccupation. However the almost primeval social interaction that a live music gig provides remains a potent and engaging force, ably demonstrated during the current Covid period. In recent months many live music venues have reopened, albeit with greatly reduced capacity and strict Covid protocols. Punters have flocked to these venues enforce and musicians have welcome the opportunity to play again, even though the financial reward is considerably diminished.
It’s more than likely we will be in for a stinker of a year financially in 2021 and many of the live music venues that operated pre-COVID will have pulled up stumps. Others will no doubt appear to fill the void and it’s here that we need to avoid all the mistakes of the past twenty years. The State Government has already made a significant step in legislating to remove restrictions that once applied to the type of music presented in various venues, opening up the possibility of many previously denied restaurants and pubs hosting live entertainment.
If by the middle of 2021 and vaccination for the virus has proved a success, we would assume most music venues would be back to operating at close to full capacity. It’s a great opportunity for both the Government and councils to really nurture a renaissance offering both financial incentives and an even more sympathetic approach to regulation.
City Of Sydney Council has recently announced plans to revitalise the Darlinghurst section of Oxford Street, which has currently hit close to rock bottom. Now would certainly be the time to create a live music hub in an area that was once synonymous with a number of seminal music venues like Beatle Village, Klub Kakadu and the Oxford Funhouse. Gentrification seems have consumed Kings Cross and the exorbitant cost of real estate in the CBD makes any venue start up prohibitive.
The now shambolic Oxford Street with its many vacant and boarded up shops is ripe for a resurgence with live music leading the way. It’s the perfect location for at least half dozen new venues plus the already established Oxford Art Factory to breathe new life into the strip and help revitalize the whole business community.