Popular music policy in Australia and New Zealand: Part Two: “A portrait of a politician as a young rocker”: Shane Homan on live music venue regulation in NSW

Today I have a look at Shane Homan’s 2008 article in Popular Music, “A portrait of the politician as a young pub rocker: live music venue reform in Australia”, 27(2): 243-256.

For non-Australians, the Joyce reference in the title refers not to Australia’s arts minister, Peter Garrett, the former lead singer for seminal Australian rock band Midnight Oil, but New South Wales’ former Premier (Chief Minister), Morris Iemma, who rediscovered a teenage love of attending pub rock gigs after taking office in the mid 2000’s .  But Homan’s article is really about the policy framework that regulates Australia’s live contemporary music venues in this country’s largest state, New South Wales, and the demographic and regulatory trends that have affected it.

Sydney’s famous “pub rock” scene produced a number of world-famous acts in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, including Midnight Oil, the Hunters and Collectors, INXS, Icehouse and a slew of others. Homan’s paper does a good job of explaining this scene: “the Australian pub rock experience in particular distinguished the local product in a global market; the renowned ferocity of bands and ‘punters’ provided a distinctive regional characteristic to a local industry built upon an imported cultural form.”

By the mid-1990s, however, the commercial live music sector was confronting some significant problems: rapid gentrification of the inner-city neighbourhoods where live music pubs were located was leading to complaints against live venues and regulatory enforcement by local governments; this issue was exacerbated by state laws aimed at suppressing alcohol-related violence and public disorder. “Gambling law changes also made an impact,” Homan writes, as slot machines rapidly proliferated in New South Wales pubs, often at the expense of support for live music.

Ironically, it is the cosmopolitan and cultural nature of inner-city districts that is typically the selling point for urban redevelopment and inner-city gentrification; Homan argues that “the property boom, and subsequent changes to residential populations, has thus provoked a perverse programme of social selection, where the more controlled urban environment sought by the new residents is distinctly at odds with its earlier vibrant, cosmopolitan reputation.”

Homan then goes on to take an in-depth look at New South Wales’ live music venue regulations. Predictably, he finds they are expensive, opaque and typically at odds with other aspects of cultural policy, such as live music initiatives. It’s a fascinating discussion for those interested in the policy minutiae, and a valuable lesson in one jurisdiction’s regulatory overhead  on cultural expression for the rest of us.

Homan concludes that “within more orderly, gentrified constructions of the night-time economy, the presence of the ‘noisy’ live music venue remains a key means of assessing our commitment to a diversity of cultural leisure communities.”

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