Menu Subscribe Search



Subscribe for the Latest Music News

Enter your email address below to subscribe to a regular(ish) dose of AAA Backstage goodness direct to your inbox.

FEATURE: The Future of Brisbane’s Music Scene Under New Lockout Laws

Lockout Laws RGs

Queensland’s recently announced revised lockout laws have raised immediate concern for their potentially disastrous impact on Brisbane’s small, but bustling music scene. The new laws will see venues within Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley entertainment precinct close their doors at 1am, with last drinks at 3am. With most gigs finishing around midnight, this leaves little time for punters to move between gigs in the aftermath of a headliner’s set. It also eliminates the potential for venues to subsidise the costs of putting on bands through the revenue accumulated with post-gig drinking. We spoke to several key stakeholders in Brisbane’s music industry to see how they anticipate the new lockout laws will impact their businesses and the Brisbane music scene as a whole.

First of all, we interviewed Dominic Miller of Bluebeard Music. Miller works as a booking agent for Black Bear Lodge and The Zoo, and manages emerging Brisbane acts such as Good Boy. We also talked to The Brightside’s Events Manger Jerry Dire and the venue’s Managing Director Corey Herekiuha, who has played in a variety of Brisbane bands over the years (notably, as one of Velociraptor’s multiple guitarists). Finally, we sat down with Patrick Balfe, booking agent for Brisbane’s latest live music haven The Foundry.

“We’d already had the initial 3am lockout laws years ago and they were meant to combat the exact same things these ones are meant to combat.”

The new lockout laws have raised serious concerns across Brisbane for business owners, artists, and punters, but this is not the first time we’ve had this debate. Several years ago the Brisbane community raised similar concerns about the 3am lockout laws and other restrictions placed on nightlife environments. While the old laws do not seem to have seriously damaged the music scene, they also haven’t resolved the problem.

As Dominic Miller reflects, “We’d already had the initial 3am lockout laws years ago and they were meant to combat the exact same things these ones are meant to combat”. More to the point, the new laws target stakeholders who have little involvement with the central problem of violence in Brisbane’s nightlife precincts. “These laws affect the wrong places”, says Jerry Dire from the Brightside. “We’re pretty much done by 3am. We don’t send drunk people out on the streets. People come here for a certain reason –  to see music”. Corey Herekiuha confirms, “We’ve been open now two years and in our two years I’ll admit we’ve had two, maybe three instances that revolved around a fight that we’ve dealt in two, three minutes by our security. That’s what they’re here for”.

Likewise, Patrick Balfe maintains the problem of alcohol-fuelled violence does not apply to venues such as The Foundry, where the main purpose is to enjoy live music,. “I’m sure that kind of stuff happens at nightclubs. But with music venues I’ve never seen anything like that all”. In an ideal situation, music venues would be able to apply for some kind of exemption, but unfortunately, there would be no realistic way of regulating this. Exemptions for live music venues would probably only result in the venues being inundated by the variety of bar patrons at the core of the problem.

“There’s no evidence the 1am laws in Sydney have had any effect on decreasing violence. They’ve actually been shown to have the opposite effect by decreasing the slowing trend of violence in the lockout affected areas.”

For instance, in Sydney the lockout laws did not apply to areas out of the main entertainment precinct, such as the trendy inner western suburb of Newtown. The result was startling; a report published by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Data in 2015 showed an 80% increase of assaults at licenced venues, some of which were undoubtedly music-orientated. This figure marks to the highest level ever recorded by the Bureau.

Because Queensland’s laws apply state wide, punters will not be able to migrate to an alternative suburb to continue drinking in licenced venues. This does not mean alcohol-fuelled violence will simply cease once the clubs lock their doors, with the new laws doing little to target the core issue of violence. For instance, the one punch assault of Cole Miller just a few months ago actually occurred when Miller was walking through the streets of Chinatown and not within a club environment. These new laws will therefore have little impact on alcohol-fuelled assaults like Miller’s.

“In a wider sense there’s a general problem with violence in Australia. The issue is Labor are taking the easy way out,” says Miller. Similarly, Jerry Dire sees these new laws as having little impact on the core issue and having the potential to aggravate even more violence. “There’s no evidence the 1am laws in Sydney have had any effect on decreasing violence. They’ve actually been shown to have the opposite effect by decreasing the slowing trend of violence in the lockout affected areas,” says Dire.

Not only do the new lockout laws do little to target the core problem, but they also have the potential to cause mass congestion in Fortitude Valley. With no place left to move on to after a gig, punters and other revellers will be forced out onto the streets, and into a less secure environment. While club security handles altercations within venues, it’ll become the responsibility of the police to manage masses of dislocated club-goers all leaving the licenced venues around the same time. “When you’ve got thousands and thousands of people that suddenly all leave at one time there’s no way that’s not going to cause problems. Because it’s so concentrated, particularly in the Valley, everybody’s pretty much all in the same spot,” says Balfe.

There seems to be a financial incentive lurking behind the laws that explains why the government have not sought more viable solutions, with all casinos exempt from lockouts. Although the government may profit, stakeholders who rely on late night trade to sustain their business are all at risk of losing massive amounts of revenue. “Music venues make their money after midnight. That allows us to subsidise the smaller gigs that we have coming through on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays when we’re supporting the up-and-coming talent touring and local acts from Brisbane,” says Miller. Balfe consents, “The whole reason that music venues are able to stay afloat is that whole 11:30pm to 3:00am trade”.

Meanwhile, Herekiuha gives us a detailed account of how post-gig trading works and why it’s so essential to the sustenance of live music venues. “On a Saturday we’ll open at 6:00pm, have a band start at 8pm and finish by 11:30pm. We’ll see a transition from 11:30pm to 12:00am. That original crowd will leave and the whole late night crowd comes in. I don’t know how those transitions are going to happen. For venues that means we potentially lose that whole crowd”.

“The whole reason that music venues are able to stay afloat is that whole 11:30pm to 3:00am trade.”

Brisbane’s local scene will certainly suffer with fewer places for bands to play as businesses relying on late night trading are forced to close their doors entirely. The disconcerting number of venues that have closed down in Sydney post-lockout laws is well documented, such as beloved venue The Lansdowne in August 2015, which had been operating for close to 90 years. If massive venues such as The Lansdowne are at risk, then things are certainly looking grim for smaller venues that host local emerging acts. These numbers will only be augmented by less people attending gigs, with recent statistics demonstrating a 40% decrease in live music ticket sales in Sydney since the introduction of lockout laws.

The new laws could also mean less international or interstate acts will make the stop in Brisbane, with little financial incentive. “We’ve already seen bands starting to bypass Brisbane over the past few years because ticket sales are down. This is just going to make it worse,” says Herekiuha. Additionally, Dire points out it’ll also mean the loss of BIGSOUND, Australia’s biggest annual music industry event, which draws in industry personnel from all over the world to watch sets from around 150 local and interstate groups, who play from as early as 5pm and as late as 2am over three days. “The time just isn’t there to have all those bands play. Bands that would have played BIGSOUND and would have gotten that exposure now won’t,” says Dire.

For Balfe, these new laws will likely mean the community of music lovers who now gather in The Foundry’s outdoor smoking area for late night drinks, schmoozing, and maybe a cheeky dance, will opt to stay home. “We don’t really get a lot of those random people that might typically go to clubs. It’s usually people who might not want to see the bands that night, but they like the vibe so they might have a few drinks at home and then come in later…but I guess they won’t have that option. People will either decide to go somewhere else at one am or for people at home, 1am ticks around and they don’t have the option of going anywhere at all,” says Balfe.

“…if the models do start to change and we do start to put on gigs earlier, maybe that will create a space for people to start talk about doing things differently and create an opportunity for people to come up with ideas and collaborate in different ways.”

The most obvious solution would be to push gigs back a few hours or have fewer bands play. Although both scenarios could work in theory, there will still be massive repercussions for venue managers and business owners that could result in venues permanently shutting their doors. Although punters may warm to the idea of earlier gigs, there’s no scenario where it won’t cause inconvenience. “Everybody’s so time poor as it is. All you want to do is have a bite to eat or relax with some friends. Trying to change that to get to an event you want to see at say 6pm or even 9pm or 10pm…I just don’t think that’s going to work,” says Herekiuha.

Friday nights are a prime time for gigs and nightlife in general, but with most people knocking off from work at 5pm and looking forward to casual drinks with colleagues at a bar, or a few pre-gig drinks at home with their mates, it seems highly unlikely that anybody would make the effort to catch a band at 5pm, let alone there being enough patrons to justify the expenses. Miller agrees, “Everyone works during the day or has things to do and the night time is the time you can relax and unwind and go to the places that you love and meet people and do the things that you enjoy doing, whether that’s going to a club and seeing a DJ or seeing a band. It’s the way our culture has always been.”

Brisbane’s music scene isn’t simply at risk because punters might not make earlier playing times, but also because there will be little opportunity for potential collaborators and comrades to come together within the golden window of peak trading. ‘There’s been a lot of late nights back in my day at places like Rics at 4am where you’d meet other bands or people in the industry’, Herekiuha reflects. ‘By the time you finish playing and packing up it’s 12:30. Half an hour to get somewhere. Usually we’d have a couple of the drinks at the venue and then go somewhere else to start our night – that just won’t happen anymore. It’s all going to be done and dusted by 1 o’clock for us, so you might as well just go home’.

On the other hand, Balfe sees potential with these new laws to create the opportunity for music lovers to come together. “Those late night conversations are some of the best parts of having such a good music community and going to shows in the first place. I like to think if the models do start to change and we do start to put on gigs earlier, maybe that will create a space for people to start talk about doing things differently and create an opportunity for people to come up with ideas and collaborate in different ways. Obviously it will affect those late night, semi-drunk conversations people have. But I like to think that it has the potential to create opportunities – there’s always a silver lining,” says Balfe.

Although the government’s decision to implement new lockout laws will clearly have an impact on the viability of Brisbane’s music scene, its future is largely in the hands of punters who must either choose to adapt and support venues and musicians, or give in to the government’s Draconian tactics. “I’m sure every musician will be all for being against this and rallying it for to not exist. We’ve already started to see movements start up with Keep Brisbane Open,” says Herekiuha. Dire sees things as being a little grimmer, but like the others, he has hope that the community will eventually take a stand. “Queensland’s got a high tolerance for bullshit because we spent a long time being ruled by dickheads, especially in the 80s, but I think there will be a turning point,” says Dire. On the other hand, Balfe has faith in Brisbane to take on the challenge. “We’ve always had to do things a little bit differently. I trust Brisbane, not just the bands, but the punters as well, to make it work”.