The days are dusty and warm, and the nights welcome a kaleidoscope of bright lights and colourful strobes as you push through the ache of a long day. By the end of it all you are exhausted and most certainly defeated, but the countdown is intuitively set for next year and you can’t wait for your next music festival to happen all over again.
For the people of New South Wales, events have been threatened by a recent change in legislation. Commencing on March 1, the NSW Government appointed a panel of health, law enforcement and regulatory experts to impose a new licensing scheme on music festivals, following numerous suspected drug related deaths at recent events in the state. Under the new scheme, the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority may require higher risk festivals to apply for a music festival licence.
Festivals are already being canceled or moved interstate because of expensive police bills and other cost associated with the new scheme. And, while these regulations only apply to NSW, Victoria could very well feel the effects soon enough.
It is safe to say Victoria – and Melbourne, in particular – is one of the most thriving live music capitals in the world.
The most recent Melbourne Live Music Census confirms Melbourne has more live music venues per capita than any other city around the world, with $1.42 billion spent in small venues and at concerts and festivals.
There are also more than 21 renowned music festivals held in Victoria annually, and this doesn’t include the smaller-scale celebrations that are just as much fun.
Impressive, right? You can only imagine how adamant the righteous residents of Victoria are to protect their city in a state proud to celebrate live music.
However, a thriving scene in Victoria could be at risk if the culture in other major cities is dwindling.
Psyfari and Mountain Sounds Festival are two NSW events that have been forced to cancel. Stevo, one of Psyfari’s organisers, was shattered to farewell his haven of expression and creativity.
“This model of festival is already very difficult to maintain financially. With no alcohol sales and no investors or sponsorship, there is only so much money you can raise through ticket sales,” he said.
“Actions and policies by the NSW Government and particularly NSW Police have had a disastrous impact on this, making a lot of these events financially nonviable.”
Stevo is adamant the dire music scene in NSW could very well bear weight among other states, including Victoria.
“The changes in NSW will impact events all across the country. One way in which they will impact other states is the rising cost of bringing international artists to Australia. With no Sydney or NSW leg of a tour to help share the costs, these prices will rise. Some artists will be less keen to come here also knowing that they are travelling across the world but doing less shows,” he said.
As well as this, lack of venues and audiences could in turn trigger the erosion of Victoria’s national music environment.
“Interstate events will be impacted in others ways with some promoters moving their events out of NSW, which will put pressure on the limited number of venues out there,” Stevo said.
It’s clear there are concerns about how these new rules will affect the music scene, but the element of risk associated with the culture of music festivals can’t be taken lightly either.
Jonathan O’Dea, NSW Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier and Treasurer, said this new scheme was to ensure music festivals were safe for everyone to enjoy.
“The new licensing scheme is designed to support operators of higher risk festivals and to help ensure they have appropriate safety arrangements in place,” O’Dea told D*scribe.
“Plans will needed to make provisions for things like adequate onsite medical services, evacuation points, freely available water outlets, and entry and exit points for emergency vehicles.
“The NSW Government recognises that most operators are committed to safety and work hard to do the right thing. Now they will have access to more expert advice and support to help them run safer events.”
As for community uproar, it has been equally as almighty and zealous among our borders here in Victoria, and has seen the creation of the ‘Don’t Kill Live Music Australia’ (DKLMA) petition reaching a whopping 120,000+ signatures. The petition also saw thousands of community members, musicians and festival crew on the warpath to protest the “decimating” of their music culture. The rally in Hyde Park saw more than 30,000 people registering their interest nation-wide, and addressed issues of lockout laws and vilification of live music.
The petition organisers intend to expose the inaccuracies behind the introduced laws.
“The proposed laws are a market intervention that create incentives for operators to change their events according to legal definitions of what a ‘music festival’ is, which changes culture. They also discriminate against young people and people in rural areas arbitrarily,” the community group said.
“They create more red tape for operators who are already doing the right thing on the basis of a bad risk categorisation tool.”
They also flag the concern of the potential for these laws to seep their way into other states.
“Australia has a tendency to try and harmonise state laws across states. We would hate to see what has been attempted in NSW implemented Australia wide. We would become cultural backwater,” the group said.
“It would be an economically irrational move, because festivals and the music industry bring in huge amounts of tourism, and stimulate federal and state economic activity, which in turn generates tax revenue.”
The group believes there are other ways to address the safety and welfare of patrons in relation to the number of recent deaths at music festivals.
“We need a comprehensive strategic approach that looks at every situation in which harm and risk can be reduced, and we need to take action in those situations,” said the group.
“That’s why education and pill testing are likely important parts in efforts to reduce the incidence of drug use, making sure people don’t take quantities of drugs that cause overdoses, and are not taking contaminated drugs.
“A world without live music isn’t a reality we like the sound of.”
No matter which end of the argument you relate to, everyone would agree the cultural values surrounding live music cannot be measured.
Friendships are made and relationships are formed, and no matter where in Australia there is potential for threat, Victorians should and will continue to care.