Murder on the Dancefloor - Don't Kill Live Music Rally

BY Laura Melrose

The Don’t Kill Live Music Rally on the 21st February in Sydney was a smash hit.

Instead of making for local happy hours and commuter trains after work on Thursday, the music fans of Sydney turned out in force to rally against the threat our state government is posing to festivals, music and the arts. 

Hyde Park was flooded, and not just with rain. Everywhere you looked were protest slogans and people of all demographics – young creatives with multi-hued hair, leather clad metal heads, suited up corporates, ageing rockers, fabulous queens and all manner of musos and lovers of the arts. The Rubens, Ocean Alley, Cloud Control, Dan Sultan, Olympia, Bertie Blackman and Urthboy, rousing words and performances from numerous artists fired up the crowd. Despite the rain and the constant hits from the NSW government, the people of Sydney will not take the attack on the industry lying down.

The message from the collection of speakers was a sobering one. Further to the denials of pill-testing evidence and other festival shut downs that we have already seen this year (RIP Psyfari and Mountain Sounds), the NSW government, under premier Gladys Berejiklian, has pushed through legislation for the regulatory requirements of music festivals. The new laws come into effect next Friday, 1st March. What confounds understanding, however, is the fact that no one knows what this legislation is. City of Sydney Councillor Jess Scully stood before the crowd of hundreds bemoaning the impossibility of engaging with the government in legislative practices when they refuse to consult with local councils and members of the relevant industries. She said that two weeks ago, City of Sydney councillors were pulled into a room and handed a death sentence in the form of this legislation. What’s more, no other NSW councils were consulted. This legislation does not just affect us in the CBD – it affects councils and communities all over the state. Arguably the laws have an even heavier impact on regional NSW due to the localities of music festivals and the revenue that such events bring.  

Music festivals are not the only things under threat. Without knowing what the legislation is, we cannot know how it will affect events such as Yabun, the largest gathering and recognition of First Nations people in the country, the Illawarra folk festival, Tamworth’s country music festival, or even our beloved Mardi Gras. While these events have never seen a major health scare the likes of which have caused this knee-jerk legislating, they could pay the same price.

In late 2018, the state government outlined the 18 categories of ‘risk’ at events, giving each a point score of between 1 and 32. All outdoor events were almost certain to be classed ‘high risk’ and subject to a license fee. The guidelines have since been removed from NSW Health’s website due to backlash.

The strongest message from speakers and protesters alike was this: respond to these Draconian policies at the ballot box. If you aren’t already, enrol to vote. Use the mechanisms that the government understands to tell them that you will not stand for this. Call and write to Gladys Berejiklian and your local members! For every one person who phones in, they assume that there are ONE HUNDRED people who feel the same but haven’t called. IMAGINE IF WE ALL CALLED. I know I will be – first thing tomorrow, from the car on the way to Secret Garden’s swansong. Yet another NSW festival heaving its dying breaths. 

As well as encouraging punters to vote, speakers at the rally called for a music regulation consultation roundtable. Such an initiative would allow key groups to discuss and review all regulation impacting live music, hopefully developing an industry standard for police and healthcare services on event sites, and increasing the the government’s willingness to work with the industry to formulate safety plans that are comprehensive, effective and reasonable.

The one caution I would put to protesters and advocates is to be careful in the manners with which you push your point. We have a voice that we may use in the streets and at the ballot box, however no one wants to see a regression to a style of negative politics that involves denigrating a politician’s appearance, race, gender or any other personal factor in lieu of rebutting their policies. Gladys Berejiklian is killing our music scene, and I want her the hell out of government – but she is still a person, and deserves respect.

As Michael ‘Chuggi’ Chugg put it (in a remarkable, electrifying speech that miraculously did not contain even one f-bomb) – Australian music is set to take over the world, and we will not let this government stop us! Lets give these conservative boomers the boot. March 23rd is not far away.

As a last resort, we can always move to Melbourne – but I’d hate to let them win, wouldn’t you?

#keepSydneyopen | #dontkilllivemusic | #beheardnotharmed