There’s an unfortunate irony regarding those archival photos of Sydney that now adorn the outside of many building sites in our CBD. Many of them recall those long gone days when trams rolled merrily up and down our major streets. Juxtaposed of course is the almost stagnant trail of light rail construction that continues with its almost suffocating choke hold on local businesses, pedestrian traffic and the city at large.
Yes back in 1961 we got rid of our trams and in the following decades did a shameful job in pulling down some of Sydney’s finest old theatres like The Regent and The Mayfair. More recently we seem to have done an equally deadly job in killing off Sydney’s night life.
877 kilometres south and Melbourne, once lampooned as a ‘bleak’ city, must surely be laughing. Their trams have been running continually since 1906, many of their fine old theatres like The Forum are still standing and they were recently voted the ‘live music’ capital of the world, with their plethora of city and suburban wide music venues.
Melbourne’s live music and nightlife scene is surely the envy of Sydney and you have to wonder why one city is so successful and the other stuck firmly in the entertainment doldrums. Whilst the lockout laws have played their part it’s just too simplistic to blame the crackdown in Kings Cross and elsewhere for the current malaise.
Maybe we need to look at all the reasons why Melbourne does it so well, whilst Sydney longs for the nostalgia when you could down shots until six in the morning. For starters it’s a lot easier to open a new music venue in Melbourne, rents are more realistic and council compliance not nearly as officious as it is here. There’s a climate that encourages more small business startups, often by people with a genuine love of live music or a nightclub culture.
Here in Sydney it’s often the large corporate hotel chains or colourful Kings Cross identities who have called the ‘shots’, when it comes to both live music and dj oriented clubs. Their prime motivation is selling alcohol as opposed to providing a venue for local live music or any other kind of night time entertainment.
Whilst we have a thriving small bar culture, very few of these bars feature live music whereas Melbourne has both a large number of both small, medium size and 600 plus venues – allowing younger bands and musicians to work their way up an encouraging ladder and play on a regular basis.
It’s also fair to say Melbourne has both the people prepared to put money and the creative zeal into dedicated music and nightlife venues. New venues are cropping up all the time – punter friendly and put together with both style and imagination.
Over the past three to four decades the live music scene in Melbourne has also enjoyed far greater support from local media than has been the case in Sydney. Their three community stations 3PBS, 3RRR and 3CR are pro-active in promoting and supporting local live music, far more so that their Sydney counterparts. Even their mainstream newspapers like The Age and Herald-Sun have a better coverage of Melbourne’s local music scene than Sydney’s SMH and Telegraph.
Lifting the lockout laws might restore some of Sydney’s late night culture but it’s certainly no panacea when it comes to reviving live music or a vibrant club scene. When Sydney decided to trash its trams back in the early 60s, many Melbournians warned us against such a ‘dumb’ move. In a city noted for its rampant opportunism, infrastructure gone mad, real estate greed and Kafkaesque council compliance, there is a lot to learn from the folks in bleak city.