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“What would you do if the Lord Mayor came to you and said, ‘write a plan for the city?’” asks John Wardle.

Wardle is the chair of the City of Sydney Live music and Live Performance Taskforce. A musician and entertainment policy activist he has a defined interest in what he calls ‘barriers’, “You see stupidity, unfairness, retape and cost – I’ve turned my feeble mind and laptop to beavering away at trying to make changes,” he explains.

He is not alone in questioning the participation of those who have been paid to represent the music sector.  The 11 appointed members to the taskforce view two areas of concern, a regulatory stream and an audience development stream. Wardle has experienced a struggling industry crippled by regulatory and legislative changes and dwindling audiences since the introduction of pokie machines in 1997.

NSW provides almost a third of the $1.2 billion that live music contributes to the Australian economy. According to a report released in 2011 by Ernst and Young live music is the industry’s biggest employer with Australians attending 48 million live music performances in 2009-2010.

In our Lord Mayor’s Cultural Policy Discussion Paper the Taskforce will draft an action plan for Council to consider in the City’s development of a Cultural Policy for Sydney. “What persuades people to get involved, go out to shows or invest in local work?” asks Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

Music is an industry bound up in local development strategies, alongside other new media, entertainment and content industries such as film, multi-media, and publishing. Like any other art form music is geared towards production and can be situated in frameworks more familiar to economics. The economic is evident in how companies create images of products, brand names and concepts. Throughout the world the most popular performers are copied and parodied, and cover bands and imitations are numerous. We only need turn on the TV to view swash-buckle vocalising that has no geographical cultural compass other than perhaps an accent or language vis-à-vis.

“The practice of music has lost its key functions and roles in society,” writes acclaimed violinist and instrument maker Jon Rose, in the opening sentence of Currency House’s latest platform paper, The Music of Place: Reclaiming a Practice. Rose’s views are positioned with the avant-garde and encourages ‘unpopular’ music as a possible way to solve the death of professional musicianship.

Not unlike Rose, author, critic, presenter and documentary maker Clinton Walker also published a confronting essay that calls for a change to state and council regulations. Made at Night: Live Music in Australia is a direct response to the forced closing of the seminal band venues due to liquor licensing restrictions and noise complaints. The Hopetoun, The Harp, Sandringham and Annandale Hotels have either closed or fallen into receivership. The increase of residential living in entertainment hot spots has had a dramatic impact on band venues. Inadequate noise complaint processes within the Liquor Act have had a crippling effect.

These pleas for ‘a fair go for venues’ was answered by the Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne, who at the end of March adopted new policies to allow an increase in noise levels and trading hours along Parramatta Road. The changes implemented have an intention to reduce legal action against live venues. Marrickville Council have recently passed a similar policy on the other side of Parramatta Road.

For venues considered compliant with a DA, a Liquor Licence and correct noise levels, the current processes may only require a complaint over noise pollution to jeopardise operations. In the case of the Annandale Hotel the Rule brothers spent $200,000 on The Land and Environment Court and Council spent over $100,000. The Court found that the traffic on Parramatta Road was louder than the people leaving the Annandale Hotel. The hotel went into receivership in February. “I think what Darcy is promoting is essential for venue and live music culture,” said John Wardle.

Notions of local sounds are always fluid and not always successful: various interests have attempted to promote other places as the ‘latest thing’ in the music industry. At the most basic level of activities musicians should have places to record and perform. Venues with sympathetic booking agents, places that bill new musical practices, concrete spaces that emphasise cultural meaning. Many such spaces have emerged from oppositional intent for sub-cultural use.

To further explore these issues you can listen to an arts panel discussion, Hard Road – the future of live music in Sydney that featured four prominent music industry leaders, John Wardle, Clinton Walker, Stuart Coupe, Director of Laughing Outlaw Records and Mark Lucas, President and Music Director of Petersham Bowling Club. Presented by Talking Through Your Arts, the discussion will be available online from Saturday, May 11 at www.ttya.com. (AS)

THE MUSIC OF PLACE: Reclaiming a practice by Jon Rose, Platform Papers 35, published by Currency House (2013)

THE HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT: Live Music in Australia by Clinton Walker, Platform Papers 32, published by Currency House (2012)

BY ANGELA STRETCH