Sydney, Australia has been one of the main go-to world cities for live music over the past few decades. Not only have international artists made the lengthy flight to the land down under, but Sydney itself has created a burgeoning live music and cultural scene at the same time.

The once vivid Sydney Opera House has been dimmed by some party poopers.

This has been helped along by music festivals like the Big Day Out, which over the years has attracted the likes of Nirvana, Iggy Pop and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And more recently, cultural festivals like the Vivid Sydney Light, Music, & Ideas Festival – a live show held in Kings Cross, known as the heart of Sydney’s nightlife – have championed local artists and allowed the entire city to interact.

But sadly, recent developments have brought Sydney’s status as a live music destination into question.

The Big Day Out’s double stages in Sydney, 2010. Photo by Ari Bakker, CC 2.0, via Flickr.

Even with these two examples in mind, the outlook isn’t great for Sydney’s music culture. After more than 20 years, another music fest, the Big Day Out, was sold in 2014 and hasn’t been back since. And just last week, this year’s Vivid Festival was shut down by the police at 9:30 for a noise complaint, just four songs in. But not to worry, festival attendees were promised a free drink for the disappointment.

In stark contrast to other cities around the world, London, Ontario are acknowledging things like noise pollution and creating a thriving live music culture in the process. Politicians in the city recently endorsed a move towards allowing music to play on bar patios in an attempt to enliven the city’s cultural scene. Among other stipulations however, the music cannot play past midnight and can be no higher than 70 decibels loud; a volume level defined as “ambient” music.

Similar things are happening in the live music capital of the world: Austin, Texas. An upcoming proposal next week to city officials will propose that any new venues built downtown are to take into account their location and its compatibility to sound. For instance, a new venue built near residential areas will need to keep in mind noise levels after a certain hour.

And yet events like the noise complaint at Vivid this week are only the cherry on top of the cake. Perhaps more controversial in Sydney has been so-called “lockout” laws put in place in 2014 that, among other regulations, stipulate that patrons cannot reenter a bar after 1:30 AM if they leave before then and to stop all drink service at 3:00 AM.

These laws were put in place after a “one-punch” death killed a youth only a month prior during New Year’s Eve celebrations. The supreme irony is that during the following New Year’s, criticism of the laws from the public was so harsh that the laws were lifted for one night only.

Such Draconian laws have meant that some bands are refusing to play in Sydney venues in protest. More dire is the lack of revenue coming in for bars and clubs especially during peak times on Friday and Saturday nights.

There have been discussions among Sydney politicians to relax the laws over a trial period, however this most recent event at the Vivid festival is just the latest in a long line of live music embarrassments for the city, and is causing its status as an international cultural location to come into serious question.

Hopefully Sydney’s live music scene can be saved, and soon.


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