Words by Annie-Mei Forster.
What Does Dropping the Lockout Laws in Sydney Mean for Venue Owners
‘All My Mates Have Gone to Melbourne’ and ‘Cut Shapes Not Culture’ are a couple of the hard-hitting protest signs seen at marches against Sydney’s lockout laws. It’s been nearly six years since the NSW government introduced legislation to prevent alcohol-fuelled violence occurring as late-night revellers head home. Unfortunately, it also had a massive impact on Sydney’s nightlife economy, as it forced nightclub and bottle shop owners to close earlier.
City of Sydney councillor, Jess Scully estimates that the lockout laws have cost the city’s economy $16 billion a year in lost revenue. However, more detrimentally, it has lost Sydney its reputation as a place to have fun. Following the announcement in November last year that the government is to reverse the laws – the question now is how Sydney can regain its place on the global stage as the vibrant nightlife city it once was?
Have the laws been entirely reversed?
While the 1:30 am lockouts were lifted in the Sydney CBD and Oxford Street from January 14, 2020, the restrictions are still in place in King’s Cross. It also means liquor shops can stay open until midnight every night of the week (except Sunday when it is 11:00 pm).
Music venue owners are ecstatic about the reversal of the lockouts. In an interview with ABC on September 8, 2019, Oxford Art Factory owner, Mark Gerber said that under the lockout laws, “it felt like living in East Berlin under Stasi control”.
Local music venues vital for Australian musicians
It’s been tough in recent years for Aussie musicians trying to play gigs in Sydney, with Flume releasing the single Heater in protest of the lockout laws. Other artists, such as Aria award-winning jazz musician Jonathan Zwartz, have been struggling to find venues to play. In an interview, he said that he used to play gigs almost every night but is currently only playing about four a month.
Many music artists, such as Art vs Science and Gang of Youths, got their start in modest city venues. These bands have said that playing to audiences in a small room gave them the motivation to keep going. The lockout laws have made it hard for artists to earn enough money, with musicians like Sia and Gotye heading overseas to find work. It’s sad for Australia to lose such talented artists.
Since the introduction of the lockout laws, 176 music venues have closed. Nick Drabble, one half of Set Mo, said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald on May 27, 2018, “The pre-lockout era in Sydney gave us a regular income which we invested into building our studio slowly over years. We wouldn’t be in the position we are today if Sydney was like it is today back then.”
We hate to compare Sydney to Melbourne, but over four years, the Victorian government invested a whopping $22 million in the music industry. In contrast, the NSW government committed a measly $1 million between 2017-18. What makes this worse is employment within the live music industry in Sydney has decreased, while gambling jobs increased. What should take precedence – music or gambling? We think it’s a no-brainer. Music not only generates money for the economy but makes a city vibrant and creative, plus exposes people to new ideas, while gambling may cause addiction and destroy families.
Rebuilding Sydney’s music scene
Since the introduction of the lockout laws in 2014, Oxford Art Factory suffered a 40 per cent decrease in revenue, which made it extremely hard to stay afloat. However, with the reversal, it’s still going to take some time to recoup some of that lost income.
Reputations are easily lost, but they’re harder to regain. Let’s hope for Sydney’s sake that the government makes a conscious effort to help the music industry. Given that many music sites have closed in Sydney over the last six years, it leaves the ones that are still afloat with the hard task of refilling their venues with people who want to see gigs.
Musicians who have left Sydney to find work elsewhere, are unlikely to come rushing back despite the lifting of the lockout laws. So how do venue owners get musicians back onstage and playing for locals who love live music?
Well, there’s an app, called Muso that helps musicians find gigs and venues find artists. It’s as easy as downloading the app and setting up an account. Muso is a fantastic platform for music artists who are struggling with the question of, ‘where do I go to find gigs?’ We believe in giving artists as many opportunities as possible to perform live music in Australia. The Muso app is currently available in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, with 750 gigs already played. So, for time-poor venue owners and musicians – it’s the perfect option.