Monday, September 21, 2009

New regulations threaten to kill Melbourne's vibrant live music scene

I received the following letter in my email box last week from a muso friend of mine. If its interpretation of the new regulations is true, it is extremely worrying for anyone involved in live music in Melbourne.

"Hi All

As advocates of live music in Melbourne, we thought it wise to send you a note regarding a recent change to licensing and live music regulations that has slipped a little under the radar in the last month. We'd love it if you could spend a couple of minutes reading about this situation and lend your support to the cause.

It's come to our attention thanks to a letter from 3RRR Stalwart Johnnie Von Goes, that a recent change in liquor licensing laws in Victoria has become a genuine threat to live music in this city. Of course it seems that a threat to live music in Melbourne arises every couple of years. 3am Lockouts and gentrification of our glorious inner suburbs cause a reasonable amount of media hooplah but it's certainly worrying that these latest changes are happening with barely a whimper.

In the past few weeks small pubs and licensed premises around town have had visits from Consumer Affairs in attempt to curb alcohol related violence.

These pubs have been told they must provide security guards if they are going have live music...
Any sort of live music...
Any size crowd...

A security guard gets paid around $250 per shift. Bands in small pubs these days don't get much more than a rider and a meal. It's not hard to do the maths. At least one pub has already stopped hosting live music and it seems a matter of time before a whole lot more will be forced to follow suit.

This problem extends further. A Bazooki player in your local Greek tavern will require the venue to hire security. That means we'll need a security guard to watch over 4 families eating the mixed grill and greek salad. Blues at The Rainbow Hotel to 15 people on a Tuesday night will require security. We're talking jazz, rock, punk, afrobeat, dub, reggae, lounge, abstract pointilism, folk and classical music. We're talking open mic nights in front of friends and family. These places don't attract violence or large crowds. Although we agree there is a need to stamp out alcohol fueled violence, taken to this level, it's ridiculous. Clearly there's a need within the policy to differentiate between large venues with the potential for violence and small venues that will be adversely and unfairly affected by these regulations.

So, you get the picture. The healthy cultural life of a city requires grass roots artists to be embraced and nurtured. The real possibility of small venues losing live music forever will impact the development of emerging artists as well as those playing niche and culturally diverse genres. The effect will be felt throughout the music community."

Something does need to be done about the booze-filled violence that is plaguing Melbourne these days, but the regulators would seem to be barking up the wrong tree here. Consider the clubs playing commercial dance, hip-hop or R&B, where fights are commonplace. I spent most of my early clubbing days at hip-hop/R&B nights, and saw people being carried out on stretchers a number of times, and had a bottle thrown at my head for no reason at another club. Just walking past the big mainstream clubs these days, the level of testosterone on display is obvious. Venues such as QBH have been in the news repeatedly for all the wrong reasons, while the Salt nightclub (another place I used to hang out a lot) was closed down several years ago because of repeated stabbing incidents.

I have attended my share of gigs and played in a number of bands myself for a few years. Witnessing a fight was very rare indeed. Particularly in venues playing original music in the live-music heartland of Melbourne's inner north, punters tend to be serious about appreciating the music and not particularly interested in flexing their muscles. Certain types of bands and venues do attract rowdy crowds, particularly at the outer suburban pubs with bands playing rock covers. Which is why these regulations should be applied on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, it'll be good for the security industry but terrible for everyone else.

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