As another iconic venue closes in Kings Cross and those of us that can remember the halcyon days of a vibrant Sydney nightlife mark its passing, many people are asking ‘how did this happen?’ Not more than 2 years ago Sydneysiders could dance the night away and see the morning sunrise like any other major city in the world. Now Sydney’s nightlife resembles that of a Prohibition-enforced wake. The police and the government have combined to shut down a once thriving community of social celebration that, once lost, will be forever difficult to get back. Upcoming generations of socially isolated music lovers will be regaled with stories of ‘back in the day’ and will never know what they are missing. For you never miss something if you never had it in the first place. Once the current crop of outraged dissidents drop to a near mute cacophony, the status quo will be silent. Empty dancefloors will be replaced by coffee shops and boutique eateries. Cycle racks will replace taxi ranks and the soft padding of morning joggers will replace the disarrayed stumble of the walk of shame.
Is it apathy that has brought us here? The willingness, except for a few diehards to fight against the systematic demise of small businesses that provided jobs and taxes to the State, is lamentable. Further, when some viral outrage in a far off country sends people into cataclysmic meltdown on issues that are not worthy even of commentary, I shake my head. There are tales of woe and despair on our own doorstep and they deserve having a light shone on them but as with most things, the light is subjective and still controlled by the broader media.
Apathy is one part of the current malaise but in the end it’s a simple combination of economics and government run control. There is no doubt the lockouts have crushed the industry in Sydney. The overt malignment of an entire community and the knee jerk intervention of the mainstream media have improved the safety of Kings Cross. One life saved is one life saved. There is no ‘but’ to that sentence, it is what it is. The addendum to that question is what else did it save?
According to the Police and the First Responders it has saved us from ourselves. You need go no further than reading the statistics from Saint Vincent’s Hospital and (although disputable) crime statistics to justify the State’s actions. Saving us from ourselves is something that successive State and Federal Governments are particularly skilled at. A fine example would be the current debate over marriage equality in this ‘egalitarian’ landscape. According to some politicians our whole society will crumble if people of the same sex say ‘I do’.
This concept of the ‘Nanny State’ has been a constant guiding force throughout our turbulent history. From the ‘White Australia Policy’ to mandatory voting. Australians have been told where and what to do since its inception and despite the occasional outburst of social protest much stays the same. ‘Controlled Citizens’ are what keeps the sandstone edifices of power happy.
With that power and happiness comes the ability to make money. Lots of money. In the case of Sydney’s nightlife, Real Estate and the investment return it generates have overtaken all other desires. Worshipping at the altar of double digit property price increases has meant that once-neglected inner city neighbourhoods have now become the fiefdoms of property developers. The almighty dollar rules and of course this is not just here in Australia.
If you think nightclubs closing is isolated to Sydney think again. This is just as prevalent in London and New York where an endless procession of memories have bitten the dust due to redevelopment. Money is king and history is undermined for the need to build an underground car park or collection of rabbit hutch apartments. Noise abatement and council rezoning have trashed whatever joyous celebration you wish to attend and ‘pollution of everything’ will soon be an offence.
So the governments win. Property taxes, Building Grants, Reduced Policing, Reduced Emergency Hospital Funding; all of these are significant windfalls for any treasurer of State coffers. The people are controlled and safe at home, imprisoned behind security doors and being drip fed increasingly banal and irreverent TV propaganda. House prices continue to rise and therefore the pursuit of wealth is maintained.
And here is my point. This wealth that we speak of comes at what cost? Henry Thoreau said it best, ‘Wealth is the ability to fully experience life’. Human beings are social animals. They celebrate life through social interaction. They need to be in the moment. They burn with the desire to be in a group. To share experiences. To live life. I am. You are. We are.
Our life is increasingly becoming one of distance and solitude. Despite living in ever more compacting masses, the world of virtual communication and being is leaving us more and more isolated. The shared living experiences of yesteryear will no longer exist except in the virtual world and that sense of vital face-to-face humanism will be lost. Communities raise us and experiences drive us forward. Without that umbrella of existence and history we became blank canvasses lost in a landscape of barren ideas.
So by denying us that very interaction at celebratory events and venues we are in a sense being denied our own humanity. With that loss, the fractal breakdown of an art form will then seek out and destroy much of the fabric of the entertainment and arts movement.
Dance music is what it is. The title needs no further explanation and Australian musicians and producers are amongst some of the best in the world. But how will you know if that song will ever work? How will you know if you are the next King of Tommorow? A DJ or producer without a venue to peddle their wares is much like an artist without a gallery. The immediate response of a mass of human beings to that killer track is indescribable. That shared adulation of the moment is unbeatable. The public release of emotion is an unstoppable wave of satisfaction. This celebration of time, place and being is what is being lost in Sydney in particular.
Compare this with the vibrant social scene in Melbourne and you will see what Sydney is losing. The support of artists and a thriving music scene is what that Southern metropolis fought for and you can see it every time you visit. Small bars and venues dotted around the place expounding all kinds of musical development. You could say that Melbourne has a beating soul of artistry. That in itself has its own rewards. Tourism, vitality, social community, a sense of style. Sydney on the other hand has the Harbour and beaches and not a lot else. All of Melbourne’s qualities are sadly disappearing in the NSW capitol and a city without a soul is sadly just a collection of corporate billboards. Will this ever change? Will governments loosen their grip or will Darling Harbour be the only place to enjoy oneself within the Emerald City accompanied by the soundtrack of Poker Machines?
Sadly I think not. Economics always wins and until the model becomes unsustainable, the venues will be starved of the right to exist. Maybe the loss in liquor revenue will have a residual effect on the Government’s bottom line but in a fiscal sense that does not compare to the churn of property income generated in this low interest rate environment.
The battle lines drawn between social interaction and the rights of small business compared to the insurmountable advantage of power and big business greed will forever damn Sydney’s nightlife to the memory of faded posters and crackling vinyl. This is an inevitability supported by people who prefer sleep and Big Brother to the individual right to freedom of expression.
It is a sad obituary to write but we the people cannot choose the battle field, the weapons used or the generals we want to fight for. When the odds are so dramatically stacked against the community it will ultimately be all of us that will lose. With that loss goes an entire industry, a way of life and a sense of being.
So, as we hang our heads at the loss of another party palace, all that is left to be said is ‘Hello Silence and Good-bye Soul’.
We shall remember you.
J B McCauley is the author of The King of Sunday Morning
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