The “War on Festivals”. Australian music history in the making

This is a chronological account of how the Australian music community, along with live music fans, fought together to object unfair and unjustified laws.

THIS IS A STORY OF SOCIAL ACTIVISM AT ITS BEST.

Part 14 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

  • On 21 February 2019 approximately 20,000 people attended a peaceful Don’t Kill Live Music (DKLM) rally in Sydney’s Hyde Park.
  • Urthboy, The Rubens, Polish Club and Dan Sultan were some of the artists that performed to express their solidarity with the movement.
  • Industry speakers included Helen Marcou from Bakehouse Studios/SLAM, Michael Chugg from Chugg Entertainment, Gordon Bradbury – the Wollongong Lord Mayor or Julien Hamilton from The Presets.
  • The purpose of the rally was to protest against harsh regulations hurriedly introduced by the NSW (New South Wales) Government, affecting music festivals in the state.

BACKGROUND

PREVIOUS CASES

  • In February 2014 the NSW Government introduced the so-called “lockout laws” in the Sydney CBD entertainment precinct. This includes lively suburbs of Darlinghurst, The Rocks and Haymarket, and affects other popular hang-out spots like Ultimo, Chippendale or Surry Hills as well. The objective was “to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence”. 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks at bars, pubs and clubs were enforced. It was the first move that, indirectly, restricted access to live (music) entertainment in the NSW’s capital.
  • According to initial reports and assessments, 5 years after the implementation, the violence rates did fall. And so did the profits of the entertainment-related businesses located in the district, as claimed by their owners.
  • To avoid potential economic losses, a cross-party group is scheduled to meet in the near future to closely review the results and discuss the next steps.
  • On the other hand, in the last few years, an increased number of deaths related to drug use at music festivals across Australia has been registered. Until today no state or local government has proposed a realistic and effective way to deal with the issue, shifting the blame onto the festival organisers directly.
  • The Australian Festival Association (AFA) is a strong advocate of the collaborative approach and pill testing.
  • Successful research was conducted at the Groovin The Moo (GTM) festival in 2018. The results show pill testing significantly reduces both the amount and variety of drugs taken by festival goers.

THE “WAR ON FESTIVALS” –

HOW IT ALL STARTED

  • Between mid-September 2018 and mid-January 2019 five deaths of young punters between the ages of 19-23 occur at music festivals in NSW. All of them are suspected drug-related incidents. This leads the state government, under the leadership of Premier Gladys Berejiklian, to react.
  • Without proper consultation with the music industry or festival promoters, the NSW Government rushes to announces new regulations for festivals in the state at the beginning of February 2019.
  • All such events are classified by their degree of risk. 14 festivals receive the “high risk” red flag, amongst them Electric Gardens, Ultra, FOMO or Defqon.1 (that has since been postponed indefinitely Down Under). Their organisers either find out from the media or get a text message late in the evening, shortly before the new laws are scheduled to be implemented. The criteria for flagging the festivals as “high risk” are unclear.
  • Additionally, increased police presence resulting in much higher fees to ensure safety at festivals is imposed on organisers. Due to that, two of them – Psyfari and Mountain Sounds – have no option but to cancel their respective events altogether. The latter one calls the event off only a week before the kick-off. The festival is currently in liquidation and still owes money to some business partners and artists.
  • The NSW Government’s actions are perceived as harmful to the Australian live music scene and dubbed by the industry as “war on festivals”.

THE #DONTKILLLIVEMUSIC MOVEMENT –

HOW THE INDUSTRY FOUGHT BACK

  • On 11 February 2019 bands like Peking Duk and Northlane take to social media to express their disagreement with NSW Government’s actions. International artists booked to play Mountain Sounds – Yungblud and Nothing But Thieves – announce substitute shows for their fans in NSW. The Don’t Kill Live Music campaign is born.
  • The DKLM Australian Facebook page is launched on 12 February 2019. The movement receives massive support from the Australian music community and beyond, including recording artists, radio stations, printed press, music venues, curators, festival promoters, individual music fans and progressive NSW politicians.
Birds of Tokyo’s singer, Ian Kenny, urges music fans to come to the rally
  • On the same day a petition on change.org is created. As of today (3 September 2019) over 140,000 people have signed it.
  • A rally with music performances and guests speakers from the industry is announced. Approximately 24,000 people RSVP to the Facebook event.
  • An open letter with now famous words, “Dear music lovers, your music is under attack” is published on the movement’s newly launched website.
  • A week before the rally a gofundme page is set up to cover the rally’s costs.
  • 18 February 2019 – it is now possible to purchase the DKLM tee and collect them at the rally. The merch quickly sells out.
  • The rally goes as planned on 21 February 2019.

THE AFTERMATH

  • Despite the protest in Sydney and Australian music industry’s objections, on 28 February 2019 the NSW Government publishes two regulations affecting music festivals in the state, with the full list of “high risk” events.
  • Some of the festivals classified as “high risk” initiate a class action against the NSW Government at the beginning of March 2019.
  • On 7 March 2019 Flea from Red Hot Chilli Peppers calls the NSW Goverment’s regulations “bullshit”.
  • With the upcoming state elections in mind, DKLM ask all political parties in the state to speak out about their music policies. Based on that, three parties (including Labor) are endorsed on FB.
  • The NSW elections take place on 23 March 2019. Gladys Berejiklian is re-elected as the state’s Premier – the Liberal-National coalition wins the popular vote.
  • The official recommendations from DKLM are submitted to the public inquiry on 18 July 2019.
  • There are approximately 50 other submissions, from Live Nation Australasia, City of Sydney, FBi Radio and Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, amongst others.
  • On 14 August 2019 the movement’s reps take part in the official inquiry into the Music Festivals regulations which sees wider participation of the parties concerned. Only one recommendation proposed by the NSW Government is supported by DKLM.

THE OUTCOME

  • A formal report with the inquiry’s findings is issued by the NSW Government on 28 August 2019. It addresses the lack of proper research and consultation in the previously published regulations, calls for the establishment of a “round table” to discuss the best way forward and disallows the strict laws imposed on music festivals.
Check out my IG for the photo report + videos from the rally

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