Australian artists hit out at perceived double standard in NSW singing and dancing ban

Singing and dancing is banned at hospitality and entertainment venues, as well as music festivals, until January 27

A number of Australian artists, including DZ Deathrays and The Jungle Giants, have hit out at a perceived double standard regarding the NSW government’s ban on singing and dancing in the state amid a surge of COVID-19 cases.

Last Friday (January 7), NSW premier Dominic Perrottet announced that attendees would not be allowed to sing and dance in hospitality venues (including bars and nightclubs) and entertainment facilities in the state until at least January 27.

On January 10, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant signed an amendment to the relevant Public Health Act, with an explanatory note saying the object of the amendment was to “prohibit singing and dancing by persons attending music festivals.”

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The amendment requires that “an occupier of premises at which a music festival is being held” ensure the festival has no more than 20,000 patrons and that “no person sings or dances on the premises” besides performers and those rehearsing to perform at the festival.

The state’s events industry has already begun to feel the impact of the restrictions – and the amendment. On Tuesday (January 11), the organisers of music and wine festival Grapevine Gathering announced that as a result of the policy change, they had been forced to cancel their NSW event, which was scheduled to take place this weekend in the Hunter Valley.

The same day, The Australian published a story on the restrictions, their “devastating consequences” for the live music industry, and how these rules did not appear to apply to places of worship that hosted performances similar to that of live concerts. Written by Andrew McMillen, the article specifically cited a Hillsong church service at its Hills Convention Centre in Norwest, Sydney over the weekend that concluded with an extended performance by the megachurch’s praise band, Hillsong Worship.

Five vocalists and four instrumentalists performed their song ‘That’s the Power’ to a congregation of masked parishioners standing, some with their arms raised – looking not dissimilar to the kind of rock concert which is currently banned in the state, McMillen wrote.

In a statement to NME, a NSW Health spokesperson said that the venues and settings where singing and dancing is currently banned – “music festivals, hospitality venues, nightclubs, entertainment facilities and major recreation facilities” – “are deemed as high risk due to increased movement and mingling within and across these venues, the influence of alcohol consumption, and the removal of masks in these settings to consume food and drink.

“People attending religious services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings.”

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When contacted by NME, Hillsong declined public comment.

Prompted by the Australian article, DZ Deathrays took to Instagram to criticise what appeared to be an incongruence in how pandemic restrictions are applied to the detriment of the live music industry.

The band began by saying they were not in opposition to restrictions designed to protect people, and that despite being “financially crippled” by the laws over the past two years, still supported the “vast majority” of them.

However, the Brisbane rockers continued, it was a “slap in the face to the arts industry” when the restrictions did not appear to apply to “large lobbying entities such as sports groups (the cricket/tennis/footy)” and groups such as Hillsong.

When restrictions were not applied equally, they argued, it was “legislation to kill a dying music industry.”

Multiple Australian artists echoed their sentiments in the comments, including WAAX, Jaguar Jonze, What So Not, Dune Rats, Confidence Man, Bad//Dreems and CXLOE.

“Truer words have never been said,” wrote Clowns vocalist Stevie Williams. Tagging a Sydney law firm, songwriter Holly Rankin (aka Jack River) enquired about whether there was a legal case to be made. “Let’s sue the state government,” she wrote.

Others have taken a more tongue-in-cheek but nevertheless pointed approach to the issue, as The Music notes. On social media, The Jungle Giants wrote: “Thinking about starting a church in NSW so we can play some gigs. Who’s in?” In a follow-up tweet, they added that they were “seriously considering it [and] gunna make some calls”.

As Music Feeds reported yesterday, Sydney pub and venue The Lord Gladstone also poked fun at the apparent disparity in the rules between live music events and religious gatherings, announcing that they would rebrand as The Gladsong Hotel for a one-off event later this month.

“It’s been an absolutely frustrating period of time for all venue owners. Right now and over the past couple of years,” Lord Gladstone owner Mitch Crum commented at the time. “I can’t say I’m terribly religious though I worship live music. Does that make us exempt?”

Speaking to The Australian, Stephen Wade, chief executive of Sydney booking agency Select Music and chairman of the Australian Live Music Business Council, said the music industry had been “consistently targeted whenever there seems to be a major issue” with COVID-19 cases.

“The confusion for the people who make their living within our industry is: what is the difference between singing and dancing at the cricket, or at Hillsong, or at a wedding, which are all allowed as of today?” he asked. “Our industry cops this again, without consultation. We’re consistently punished, as soon as everything goes really bad.”

Yesterday, Live Performance Australia chief executive Evelyn Richardson said that the body had lobbied arts minister Paul Fletcher for a federal live event insurance scheme in a December meeting, but that there was “no appetite” for one.

“Omicron has played out worse than anyone expected,” she told the Guardian. “We appreciate the support we’ve had, but the government needs to step up and introduce a national scheme.”

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