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Sydney: City Of Impotent Whingers

Our city is going through a fairly painful teething period right now. Our short-sighted transport system is a global joke, punters are getting criminal records for sneaking a couple of pills into a festival and it’s near impossible to find somewhere affordable to live – despite your local pub being turned into yet more soulless apartment blocks.

The current cold drip coffee conversation which seems to be galvanising the citizen’s anathema is of course the lockout laws et al. Oh lockout laws, bane of my desire, fuel of my fire, what would I mope about without you? We’ve now got Opal cards and a tram system going in, surely we’d be a fully fledged, respected world city if it weren’t for these embarrassing little laws. Right?

I, like most people I talk to, sourly oppose the laws. More than once I’ve been horrified that I couldn’t purchase take away booze after 10pm. For everyone I’ve conversed with that’s in favour of them, it’s surprising how many blindly believe the stats without delving into the deeper issues they’re creating. We all know these issues. Newtown is dying blah blah blah.

People, Newtown started sucking more than five years ago. Just ask anyone who lived there 10 years ago. Consider the King Street Crawl night from last September. Although I’m not a fan of most of the acts that played, I wandered around, saw some things and thought it was a pretty successful event. The question is, why was it an event? Why is it so special that the venues in Newtown that can accommodate live music on a Saturday, had live music on a Saturday night? That’s all it was, don’t get it fucked up.

Reclaim The Streets 2011
Reclaim The Streets 2011

But I’ve gone off topic. Back to the laws and our pitiful reaction to them.

Some would argue that these are first world problems, and they would be correct. We enjoy liberties that most nations couldn’t dream of. The changes the government’s making are actually quite minor, although severely damaging economically. The more worrying thought is where does it stop?

The changes are occurring incrementally so as to assuage the general population into thinking it’s for their own good, I mean, it doesn’t affect the majority of most of us, right? Then one day, after being subtly nudged to and fro into a safe little corner, we realise that it’s all too late. Perhaps then we’ll actually take action?

But what can we do now? Start a change.org petition (are we so obsequious we have to say ‘Please’ to Mike Baird)? Write a diatribe against the government and implore all your friends to hit the share button? Organise a narrowly publicised and poorly attended rally? Or perhaps just whinge about it to anyone that will cooperate and help you to feel vindicated.

This is Sydney to a T. Initiate a flaccid leftist circle jerk until the next trampling of your rights gets you hard again.

Remember partying in the street?
Remember partying in the street?

In early 90s UK, there was a fledging Drum and Bass scene, from this ultimately came UK Garage, a similar sounding genre with a lower tempo. They considered calling it the “Sunday Scene” as promoters couldn’t acquire venues on Friday and Saturday evenings, with bookers opting for more popular music on those nights.

Frustrating yes, but, with the help of pirate radio and fierce determination they persevered and carved their own niche into an already culturally rammed city.

Fast forward a few years, Garage is popping and verging on mainstream, the estate kids who had been backing it from the start couldn’t get into the classier clubs anymore in their trainers and hoodies. These kids, staunch and undeterred, created their own lane in their own spaces, Grime, and now we have Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Skepta amongst many others.

A lot of great art comes from great adversity. What ever happened to house shows in Sydney? It seems only a few years ago, anyone with a living room that could fit 10 people and a drum kit in it would house an event on a weekend night. What happened to Channel Parties? We have gone soft Sydney, the overzealous authority is in fine form.

Yes we still have some shows put on in esoteric warehouses in Marrickville, but how open are these things? Are they actually adding anything culturally? How do you find out about them? It’s sad when organisers of underground nights have to rely on closed Facebook groups.

Hell, MGTVL used to list its shows in The Drum.

Yes it’s rough that we’re losing a bunch of high profile clubs in the Cross, but really, who went to these clubs?

Sydney’s greatest detriment is that it is a deeply schismatic city. I can only postulate, but I’m guessing the hundreds or thousands of people who did go to these clubs probably aren’t overly worried about them closing, probably aren’t attending a rally against the lockouts, probably aren’t reading this article.

It’s a blip on the timeline and they’ll be happy enough to find a new club, a new bar, a new suburb. Power to them. The city is changing, that we can’t help, if we don’t move with it the rug will be completely pulled from under us.

In 2008, the 2am Lockout initiative was set up in Melbourne under similar pretence. 10,000 people showed up at Parliament House in protest. The 2am lockout was discontinued after its three-month trial period. Last time I checked we couldn’t even manage 10,000 clicks on our online petition.

Rally at Melbourne Town Hall
Rally at Melbourne Town Hall

This may all seem rather cynical and useless, and I realise the irony of writing an article deriding other people writing articles, I just ask anyone passionate about these issues to check themselves, what are you doing? What are we doing?

Club owners, bar owners, home owners: start getting weird. Put on Sunday raves, have a house show, incite a techno flash mob on Town Hall steps. Is some kind of uprising so far out of the question?

In 2013, after years of corrupt governments mismanaging funds, Brazil held mass protests over a simple price rise of public transport tickets. It was their tipping point. We don’t have the same issues as Brazil, but what is our tipping point? When do we say enough is enough and commit to something more than clicking ‘Like’ on another article which just makes us more miserable about the situation?

This is a time when we actually have to work together before it all falls apart. The fear of being fined ungodly amounts for any out of line behaviour is very real and very understandable. I would gladly give money to a Kickstarter account for anyone who stages a worthy, creative protest and gets fined for it. This is a COMMUNITY issue. How many of you would be willing to put your money where your mouth is?

One of the more noteworthy radical acts in Sydney of the last few years was the Beer Baron. This glorious service would clandestinely deliver booze at any hour of any day, with the help of a well researched loophole in the law.

Sydney needs this kind of thing, not just for its free consumption of spirits, but for the spirit of the city itself. We are a young city still growing, we need to sow our wild oats and have tales from our past to hand down as inspiration for the city’s children. We’re spending our crazy formative years being grounded, sulking about it instead of sneaking out while the olds are sleeping.

The impending Brain Drain is real. More and more people are justifiably getting jack of this situation and getting out. I have considered it many times but I have faith that Sydney can be exciting again.

Please, I actually don’t want to move to Melbourne.


Editor’s note: The economic and social impact of these ridiculous laws was well detailed in an article by Matt Barrie published yesterday, Would the last person in Sydney please turn the lights out?

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