Sydney’s controversial lock-out law came into force in 2014, following a spate of one-punch deaths and assaults related to alcohol-fuelled incidents in the city.
In a government effort to make the city centre safer, the laws restrict anybody from buying alcohol from a liquor store after 10pm, as well as forcing all pubs and venues to stop letting customers in after 1:30am, and stop serving alcohol altogether after 3am.
Historically an epicentre of Australian music – The Vines, Royal Headache, Jagwar Ma and many more internationally acclaimed bands formed there – practically every local artist and cultural commentator has something to say about how the new rules are having a negative effect on Sydney’s once thriving arts scene. Venues are closing down, and local people feel like they’re being harassed needlessly. The outrage is spreading too, with Wu Tang Clan speaking against the lock-out law during their gig in Sydney a few days ago.
Following a huge rally against the law which was attended by 15,000 Sydneysider’s earlier this month, hotly-tipped Sydney band DMA’s write for NME regarding the matter. Plus, below that read The Preatures’ frontwoman Isabella Manfredi’s rousing speech from the rally.
DMA’s: “We’re not a political band, and we don’t claim to be particularly politically savvy as people. But what’s been happening in Sydney over the last few years has infuriated us, as it has many musicians and artists.
“On February 21, 15,000 people marched through Sydney to protest against the New South Wales state government’s lock-out law. A combination of anger, frustration and worry about the future of a once great city culminated in this show of defiance and peaceful protest. The protest has become international news overnight, but this has been building in Australia for quite some time.
“Sydney has been in a state of cultural regression for a while now. Sydney in the 2000’s was a city known for its music scene and nightlife – awash with amazing bands, venues and nightclubs. You could go and see your favourite artists at venues like The Hopetoun or The Annandale. Acts like The Vines, The Presets and Royal Headache were emerging from the city’s music scene, and clubnights like Bang Gang and Bandits became the stuff of legend. There were few places in the world that had more vibe than Sydney.
“A quick bit of background regarding the current lock-out law: in 2012, 18-year old Thomas Kelly died after he was randomly punched in the head outside a nightclub in Sydney’s centre, Kings Cross. A year later, the death of 18-year-old Daniel Christie in similar circumstances led to the NSW state government implementing new laws in what they saw was an essential way to combat these sorts of attacks. Venues like the ones mentioned above were no longer allowed to let people in after 1:30am, and drinks were not to be served after 3am. As well, all alcohol stores across New South Wales had to change their closing times from midnight to 10pm.
“Prior to the current lock-out law, there were issues with venues being forced to shut down due to various laws effecting them – but nothing has had quite the same effect as the current lock-out law, which has now been in place for two years.
“Whilst the attacks and deaths of Thomas and Daniel were appalling, the laws that were created to combat them were essentially a kneejerk reaction from the government, and hurried into legislation due to mounting pressure from certain parts of the media (mainly the right leaning publications). The government ignored the concerns of venue and nightclub owners, DJ’s and musicians, who were rightly worried that these new laws would do little to curb the growing culture of violence in Sydney, and instead destroy businesses and many peoples livelihoods. They weren’t wrong. Venues are shutting down left, right and centre. No one is going out in Sydney anymore, and the city is now a shell of it’s former self. And the violence that it was supposed to eradicate is still there.
“The lock-out law is destroying Sydney’s vibrant nightlife and in turn, its culture. The government has used the media furore around the coward punches and skewed statistics to further crush Sydney’s nightlife and turn the city more and more into a nanny state, whilst doing nothing to actually fix Sydney’s violence culture. To make matters even worse, the city’s two casino precincts have been excluded from the lockout zone, making the lockout laws a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
“Having a political voice is not something that we’re generally known for, or even like discussing. However the extent of these laws are directly affecting our culture and music, and more importantly, our city. Keep Sydney Open.”
DMA’s debut album ‘Hills End’ is out now on Infectious Music. The band play the following UK tour dates, and are also confirmed for SXSW and Coachella.
28th February – GLASGOW, Stereo
1st March – NEWCASTLE, Think Tank
2nd March LONDON, Garage
4th March LEEDS, Belgrave
5th March MANCHESTER, Ruby Lounge
The Preatures formed in Sydney in 2010, and frontwoman Isabella Manfredi made an impassioned speech at the rally on February 21, joining a varied collection of the city’s best acts that also included Royal Headache and Art Vs Science.
Writing on Facebook after the event, Manfredi listed the venues The Preatures have played which have now closed or reigned in their live music output as a result of the rules: Goodgod Small Club, Spectrum, Fbi Social, Flinders Bar, The Hopetoun, Club 77, Q Bar, Gaelic Club, Hunky Dory Social Club, The Lansdowne (“This is where we met”), Candy’s Apartment, Low 302 (no longer doing gigs because of noise complaints), World Bar (still doing gigs upstairs, “but the heyday of nine bands over three levels is sadly gone”), The Standard (stage and capacity halved). The only venue in the area still hanging on, Manfredi writes, is Oxford Art Factory.
Read her speech from the rally in full below, as originally published by Themusic.com.au).
Isabella Manfredi: “Well, I know that there was already an acknowledgment of country over at Belmore Park but I would just like to start by paying respect to the traditional custodians of this land, the people of the Eora nation. To elders past and present, I meet you, I see you, and I extend that respect to any aboriginal people here today. It is a privilege to share this city with you, the city we call ‘our city’, and to have a rally like this on what is and always will be Aboriginal land.
“About eight years ago I got a call. I’d just finished a long shift at the restaurant I was working at. It was about 1am and it was my best friend telling me to get my arse up to Oxford Art Factory. It had just opened and everyone was there. And by everyone I mean everyone that we knew.
“The great thing about OAF was that it took a couple of scenes that were sort of criss-crossed and disparate: the skaters, the street artists up at China Heights, and the post-punk goths, which was me, and gave them a place to converge, to listen to music, to make art, to watch live bands, and that’d really never happened before for us. I started watching bands like The Nevada Strange, The Scare, Mercy Arms, Warhorse, The Atrocities, Dark Bells, Psychonanny and The Babyshakers – and the people I met and these bands told me that I could do that. And I wanted to do that, and I did. I formed a band called The Preatures a couple of years after that and we cut our teeth at venues like Flinders Bar, Q Bar, Spectrum, Oxford Art Factory, Low 302, Club 77, Candy’s Apartment, World Bar, Dean’s at the Cross, and many others. Almost all of these venues are now gone. And the ones that are left are fighting to keep their capacity to put on live music because of these laws.
“Now if the wider community, the Daily Telegraph, and the government don’t recognise any of the names of bands and artists and venues that I’m talking about, that’s OK, they’re not supposed to. This was and is my scene. It shaped my identity, it catered to me, my tastes – it told me that I belonged and that I was part of something. I’m talking about a subculture, and the definition of a subculture is that it is not the dominant culture. It’s not mainstream. It is not liked by all.
“The most distressing thing about these laws was the way they were implemented with NO consultation of the community. It took a whole lot of venues, small businesses and entrepreneurs young and old and lumped them all together under one culture. And they called that culture Antisocial. You know what I call antisocial? Shutting down neighbourhoods. Shutting down communities. Now we know that these laws are being planned to extend into Newtown, to Marrickville, to Erskineville, to Glebe, to Double Bay. This really is a question of democracy.
“At one of the early community panels that included the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing representative Samantha Torres who drew up the legislation, and the Police lobby group ‘Last Drinks’, which had been advocating curfews for 5 years because they were concerned about violence in Kings Cross, they said to me that it wasn’t their job to think about subcultures, it wasn’t their job to consult the community. It was their job to create legislation, and it fell to us to create our own lobby, and voice what we wanted. So here we are. This is our lobby. And it will only grow.
“I’d like to share a little story with you. We were in Tassie last night playing a festival and I was watching a friend’s band, a band called Bad//Dreems, and I was thinking about one of the big issues – that unexpressed rage, or inexpressible feeling turned into male violence, male aggression. I was watching these boys take to the stage and it just captured for me the greatness and importance of music, of starting bands and making art.
“They took to the stage and they were like fighters getting ready for war, great athletes preparing for a game, adrenaline pumping, their camaraderie as great or greater than any sporting team. And they get up there and they’re thrashing around – they’re singing and they’re yelling and kicking the monitors, and they’re beating their chests and beating their heads. And then they get off the stage and they’re these gentle, kind, loving, polite young men. And it made me realise that they’re like that off the stage because they can get up and say what’s in their heart. And that is the most important gift we can give young people. Young men, young women, young trans people; any minority is offered a voice through music.
“Tyson wanted me to get up today to talk about what it’s like being a young person today in Sydney, a young musician, young creative. To be young. Well it feels like being crushed. While our generation struggles with rising rent and the reality of never owning our own home, increased regulations, the war on noise, our Universities corporatised, our social services cut, we are at once dismissed as lazy, selfish, and entitled. Now our venues and livelihoods are being taken. Did they think we wouldn’t notice? I don’t need to be moralised for wanting my city to feel ALIVE, and I don’t need to be told that my passion for my community is hysterical.
“I wonder if the government understands that these laws say to young people:
Your preferences don’t matter
Your expression doesn’t matter
Your places don’t matter
Your music doesn’t matter
Your fun doesn’t matter
Your release doesn’t matter
You don’t matter.
“The Preatures have been lucky enough to tour all over the world and together we’ve experienced big cities with 24 hour economies – like Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Austin, and Melbourne. No culture is immune from ugliness. But it should be treated as something we tackle as a community. Where we consult, we debate, where we stand up and say: this what we want and this is what we don’t want.
“We do not want violence. For this reason I think it’s more important than ever that we give young people the opportunity to go out and dance. Thank you.”