Culture MDIA2003_18 MDIA2003_IssuesTrendFeature_18 MDIA2003Wed1.00 PeterWed1.00_2003_18

Iconic Music Venues are Just Another Victim of the Sydney Lockout Laws

By Brooke Burns

Sydney’s troubled music scene was dealt a hard hit when another iconic venue, The Basement, announced it would be closing its curtains one final time after losing its battle against the lockout laws.

Since the enforcement of the 2014 lockout laws, Sydney’s live music culture has been met with a series of setbacks, struggling to find the funds to keep their doors open as they continue to fight against the decreasing numbers of clientele.

“Because of the lockout laws there’s been a steady decline of foot traffic and the general attendance of the night time economy because of less people and I guess that area of Sydney has been affected quite heavily,” says Oxford Art Factory manager, Mark Gerber.

A number of independent music venues within the Sydney region are currently facing pressure, or have already shut down due to overzealous licensing police, council rangers and sky-high fines.

Coupled with fines and licensing, “the price of real estate has become so valuable now, that owners are closing venues to build apartments and offices,” says lead singer Dave Warner, of Dave Warner’s from the Suburbs.

The Financial Burden

The greatest loss remains to be the noticeable decline in paying customers and the consumer’s willingness to attend a live concert in the early hours of the night, with music being turned off by 12am.

“Majority of reasons why they’ve had to close their doors is because there’s simply no one there anymore to effectively create a walk up crowd and drop in – there’s no longer a drop in. There’s no one left on the street after midnight so it’s a difficult thing,” remarks Gerber.

The once thriving Sydney music scene has undoubtedly been crushed by the lockout laws, but that’s why “you have to offer more than just a great show. You have to offer food, music, atmosphere, vibe,” says manager, Sabrina Medcalf of Frankie’s Pizza.

“I think the lockout laws were definitely a blow to the night life industries, but music and drinking and night life has suffered through a lot worse in the past and it’s still persevered.Give people a reason to stay for another 4 or 5 or 6 hours after the band leaves the stage,” states Medcalf.

Photo: Oxford Art Factory on Oxford St, Sydney

For many businesses, it’s not feasible to completely restructure their business model when they have spent many years being solely dependent on the housing of live music.

“They can’t really transform their business model accordingly and also it can just be on the basis of having built a reputation over the years, it’s difficult for a business to all of a sudden flip a coin and and become something new,” says Gerber.

“Its culture is based on people attending you for various reasons and if you all of a sudden try to tell people that you’re something else, it’s a difficult thing to try and achieve.”

Lack of Opportunities for Emerging Talent

It’s not only business owners that are feeling the repercussions of the lockout laws, emerging artists are also fighting an uphill battle when it comes to searching for new venues to showcase their music.

“People just don’t see the value in music anymore, I don’t think it’s as cultural as it used to be,” says veteran musician member of Fuchsia, Tony Durant. “[Live music] was quite a political motivating force in those days and it just doesn’t seem to happen like that anymore”.

Photo: Tony Durant of rock band, Fuchsia 

“To learn to play music to an audience is like any trade, you have to do it and perform and get in front of an audience to do it. And that’s how we all learned our craft”, says Durant, “the fact that there aren’t many venues for musicians to play in front of audiences, you just don’t learn your trade”.

With only the same “4 or 5 venues” throughout Sydney “willing to help and support local bands”, getting out and exposing music to fans and industry professionals is proving to be a challenge for young bass guitarist and member of rock band The Dissolutes, Nicky Wellard.

Not only are young musicians facing issues in sourcing live music venues to play at, but they are also noticing a decline in the public’s interest to go out and watch live music.

“[Bands] want to travel up and down the coast and kind of do tours where they’re playing in different areas. There’s just not that much on offer… with how popular clubs are and how most young people just go out to a club instead of going to a live gig,” says Wellard. “Half the reasons these venues can’t support themselves is the lack of numbers of people who are interested and our age, it’s had a massive impact on us and on musicians”.

A New Approach for Being Heard

Wellard confirms that up-and-coming bands are now searching for alternative methods in which will allows for them to have their music heard.

“The way to combat that is by creating a community where the bands bring all their fans in… it creates like a following,” says Wellard, “it’s kind of the beginning of a fan base and it can push you to the next level. So there are ways that we can get around it but like, it’s a lot harder than what is was like 5 or 7 years ago”.

Young bands just starting out are now trying a different approach, utilising the opportunities available online to produce and market their music in hope of capturing the attention of potential agents and live music coordinators.

Photo: Emerging talent and bass guitarist, Nicky Wellard

“People make recordings and then put them on the internet and maybe if that works well they might get invited to play, says Greg Macainsh of 80’s rock band, Skyhooks.

The key to a successful career is to “focus on recording,” says Warner. Yet, to make it fulltime and have a sufficient wage, many will have to “contemplate touring internationally”, due to the lack of operating venues around the Sydney region.

“It’s a bit back-to-front from how it originally was when bands had the desire to play in front of people, not just in a recording studio and then download it onto YouTube,” remarks Macainsh.

Macainsh comments on the dreams of aspiring performing stating that “young bands virtually have to pay to play”.


Please follow the link provided to listen to my vodcast that discusses the closing of Sydney music venues:Brooke Burns Vodcast