SLAM Rally: One Year On
A year on from the 20,000-strong SLAM (Save Live Australia’s Music) rally through the streets of Melbourne, we speak to some of the key players behind the largest cultural protest in Australia’s history. Read our original report [here](/articles/3882468). Photos by ROBERT CARBONE*, **KRISTY MILLIKEN** and *LEAH ROBERTSON.
Helen Marcou and Quincy McLean
What was SLAM born out of?
The seed for SLAM was planted on the weekend of The Tote’s [?Last Drinks?](/articles/3850129) in January 2010. Liquor licensing laws were making the running of small music pubs untenable. We looked for supporters from key people within Victoria’s strong and passionate music community and the call was answered with a vengeance. After a week of saying, “Someone’s gotta do something”, it occurred to us that we were probably in as good a position as anybody. We’ve run Bakehouse [Studios in Richmond] for 20 years and have become connected to thousands of local musicians over that time. We had heard that various commercial interests were trying to recreate the ‘Long Way To The Top? film clip, AC/DC were in town and had declined all offers, so we hijacked the idea and rode on the publicity and interest about the anniversary for the cause.
What are your recollections of the day?
The musicians and music fans of Melbourne took back the streets of the city. The greatest thing was the community spirit and the elation we experienced en masse. The cheers from the crowd as various speakers struck a chord; the spectacle of the band on the back of the truck; [MC] Brian [Nankervis] revving everyone up to “flip the bird? as the truck passed the headquarters of Liquor Licensing with a roar
of laughter; [Triple R presenter] Jonny Von Goes [giving it to the politicians]( http://www.slamrally.org/speeches/jon-von-goes/); the contrast of Paul Kelly marching alongside My Disco; The Dirty 3 with Cut Copy; parents, grandparents and all their offspring; bands and fans all together. Some of those unforgettable moments like Paul Kelly’s words about “small venues being our universities” and the roar that Ian Bland got when he proclaimed that [it’s safer in our music venues than under the lights of Crown [Casino]](http://www.slamrally.org/speeches/ian-bland/).
We were hands on all the way: Quincy had to pack the truck, run the rally and do 28 interviews at the same time; while Helen oversaw the workings of the extravaganza. It was a whole month of running on adrenaline pulling it together and being in constant battle with the government, while putting on the biggest show of our lives. On the day we felt a strange calmness, seeing the crowd gather, all because of the professional help we had. Our SLAM team came from the music world, not your regular protest organisers, and were so smooth.
A year on, do you think SLAM has achieved its goals?
Our major goal was to galvanise the music community and display our strength to policy-makers and the broader community. In establishing SLAM we had one goal: to stop liquor licensing laws crippling midweek gigs in small venues. We won this all important first round, although they were slow off the mark, government and the Liquor Licensing Commission (LLC) listened to the 20,000 strong voice of the people and eventually it was deemed that “music doesn’t cause violence”; a no-brainer to most, but the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly.
The Tote has finally had its [new security plan rubberstamped](/news/4200764). A lot of people assumed that this must have happened before it [reopened](/articles/3975716), but it only came through in the last week. Amenity and the implementation of the ?agent of change? principle, as well as gentrification and ?cumulative impact? have become the next hurdles. We signed off on the [The Live Music Agreement](http://www.slamrally.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/LiveMusicAgreement_5-10-1.pdf) in October 2010, where solutions would be sought in the future. The Baillieu Government promised to “protect live music? by changing the ?objects of the Liquor Licensing Act” if elected. This promise was made two days before the election and we have every intention of ensuring they keep it – the agreement was signed by representatives of Liquor Licensing, a statutory body; the music community; and the Victorian Government, who act on behalf of the Victorian people. They also made a very public statement with their placards, ?Liberals love live music?, so if they do, it’s time for them to prove it.
How active is SLAM today?
We were labouring under the misapprehension that if we got out onto the
streets and banged our instruments that those in power would listen to the people and we could put SLAM to bed after the rally. One year on, the work still continues.
We realised that when lobbying government, it’s crucial to have a seat at the negotiating table where you are expected to write the new policy in order to achieve the best possible result. It was an enormous learning curve that saw members of FG4LM [Fair Go 4 Live Music], SLAM and Music Victoria putting in months of volunteer time to negotiate our reform paper that led to the Live Music Agreement. The rally put live music firmly on the political agenda at all levels of government. We’ve been active on a local council level, adding to the Live Music Strategy for The City of Melbourne, advocating on behalf of the buskers and contributing to the City of Yarra’s ?Live Music Working Group?.
Are you enjoying your new role as activists?
We don’t know that ?enjoying? is the right word. We both saw this as
something that had to be done. It’s been a tough, yet rewarding year for us. We have young kids and Bakehouse is our family business. We didn’t realise how many months of our time this would take up. We were determined to see SLAM through and strongly believe that the new peak body for contemporary music, Music Victoria, and other support groups like The Push should be properly resourced. We feel honoured to have our efforts recognised by the press, politicians and our peers, but most importantly, we wanted to contribute to the future shaping of our culture and the type of community we want to live in.
#Former licensee, The Tote
What are your recollections of the day?
The SLAM rally was a day of conflicting emotions. I was still in shock from The Tote’s closure, but could see how it was an important part (but definitely not the only part) of getting people motivated for a change to ridiculous regulations that were killing off live music in Victoria. Something good was going to come out of it. The (ex) Tote staff met up together before hand. We planned to march together, in our matching t-shirts, but as soon as the rally started the crowd overwhelmed us and we got dispersed among the throng. As the rally moved up Bourke Street, I slipped down Market Lane, ran into Ding Dong (I needed a piss) then ran up Little Bourke Street. so that I could get a good possie for the speeches. Looking down the hill at the size of the crowd left me gob-smacked.
Were you invited to make a speech?
I wasn’t asked to talk. The speakers were almost all musicians which made sense. The rally was also about issues that were much broader than just The Tote’s closure. Anyway, I was talked out by the time of the rally; people had seen enough of my mug. And I could never have spoken as eloquently as Paul Kelly did!
What were some of the most important things to came out of the rally?
1) The music community (not just the industry) got organised. It was genuine, ground-swell people power. It was large and it was effective. 2) The government took notice. They could hardly ignore what happened. There is now some recognition at government level of the importance of the live music scene. There was zilch before. 3)Some changes were made. There’s a new director of Liquor Licensing; live music and “alcohol fuelled violence” have been de-linked; and some regulations have been rolled back.
Do you think we’re in a better state now than a year ago?
The rally was a turning point for live music. Things have definitely improved. However, there is so much, much more that needs to be done. A
lot of this is important but boring, behind the scenes work that Fair Go 4 Live Music, SLAM and Music Victoria are engaged in. As a result, some councils are actively looking at ways to foster live music in their areas. While in opposition, the new state government made many statements in support of live music – and let’s not forget those placards they were holding! I trust that this wasn’t just headline grabbing rhetoric but a sign of real commitment.
Each year, the anniversary of the rally gives us a good moment to look at what has been achieved and what still needs to be done. It’s a chance to celebrate live music. And, maybe, a date when we’ll need to get back on the streets again to remind the government that we need to see more action.
How do you feel about the rally now, a year on?
A year on, I’m less in shock. I’m still saddened that I lost my business because of regulations that have been shown to have been based on false assumptions and thrown out. I think I ran a great venue that contributed a lot to our culture. I think punters (and the local police!) agreed. I still don’t know what I did to paint a target on the side of the building that led to so much grief. But I’ll probably never know the answer to that. It’s in the past. I made some great friendships. I watched some amazing people at work. (Quincy and Helen get my vote for king and queen of Moomba!). I’ve been elected to the board of Music Victoria which will play an important part in the future. And I’m enjoying being one of the crowd at shows.
Evelyn Morris (aka Pikelet)
What are your recollections of the day, and your speech in particular?
I remember feeling super nervous about speaking while walking next to Tim Rogers and chatting with him about it. He was going to be introducing me to the giant audience. I couldn’t really grasp then just how many people I was going to speak in front of, and the whole thing seemed impossible to me. He was very comforting and relaxed and that helped me to calm down a little. When I was on stage everything sorta melted away and only adrenalin survived. I didn’t use my notes at all, and I could spot the faces of people I knew as I spoke. I was speaking about them and to them in my mind, about feelings of connection with other humans that I’d experienced through music. Each of their familiar faces sparked more of an emotional response within me. It became difficult to hold back my tears at several points during the short speech.
The day was about acknowledging the importance and relevance of music in everyone’s lives. I see music as important for many reasons. The main one for me is as a social tool and a framework for creating growth and evolution within human beings. Anytime you engage with music in a way that’s more meaningful than just listening to it in the background, you are engaging in the act of empathy (sometimes at least, an attempt at empathy) and enabling yourself to see a perspective you may not have previously. I believe this is of enormous importance to humanity, and it’s a large part of why I’ve always known I will be a musician for life. The fact that the government was accusing such highly evolved and well-meaning individuals of violence was so ridiculous to me. It was almost like a giant joke with 20,000 people all laughing along with you. (Or maybe at me – I’m still not sure if my speech was any good.)
How far do you think we’ve come since then?
It’s very difficult for me to say, but I do know that the people from SLAM are extremely diligent and unstoppable. I have the utmost faith in them. Just recently I was asked to express my opinions about how the airlines should change their structures to suit musicians better, and I was invited to have a good-ol’-whinge about bad experiences I’ve had with airlines whilst touring… with a view to change the way airlines do their business. That kind of question has certainly NEVER been asked of me before! I have a sense that there are a few different organisations now that are backing us up and I feel better about the future prospects of musical expression and the development of the arts in Melbourne.
Read Evelyn’s speech [here](http://www.slamrally.org/speeches/evelyn-morris/).
#Fair Go 4 Live Music and current Tote licensee
What are your recollections of the day?
Mild panic! I had to give a talk, so I was really dealing with that. I was just a great big bag of nerves. There’s been other rallies obviously, but certainly with something with a cultural agenda, there’s never been anything like it really.
A year on, do you think SLAM achieved what it set out to do?
Certainly on the licensing thing, which was the pointy end of it. Things are certainly much better now and we’ve broken that relationship between live music and it being perceived as attracting violence and anti-social behavior. I think we’ve won that argument, and that was the important one to win. They [the government] treat things differently than they did before. All that’s good, but the broader picture in regards to including the regulatory framework in planning, that’s all yet to be done.
In terms of ?agent of change??
Yeah, and trying to convince the new government that it’s still an important issue that needs to be addressed.
Have they been receptive?
Well, in all fairness, we haven’t really got to talk to them yet – They got into office, it was the Christmas break and then the floods hit, so we haven’t had much of an opportunity to deal with them. It’s not an excuse, but it’s the reality.
Did the rally give you much bargaining power with the Brumby Government?
Oh, no doubt. It set the political agenda.
And, obviously, the [Live Music] Agreement. Do you think that would’ve happened if it wasn’t for the rally?
There was a group of us who were working on the issue – the Fair Go group – back in September/November , and we weren’t getting anywhere. So it was the voice of the people, if you like, that allowed us to open the doors of government.
And it paved the way for Music Victoria as well?
Well, that’s right, but that initiative had been going independently anyway. There were a group of people that I wasn’t involved with – that were working with it. But what it did allow was for us to put the seed funding on the table as one of the things that needed to be addressed. It allowed us to push that along as well.
Do you think people still have the rally in the back of their minds when they deal with the music community now?
I think the music community has a certain amount of political respect. For a very long time it’s been outside of government. There’s been no contact between contemporary music and government at all levels, really, and that’s changed. In that sense, they know who we are and they know who to deal with, whereas before they had no idea. There was no peak body in Victoria and a whole lot of people espousing points of view, so they didn’t know who to talk to, who the organisations were, or what they stood for.
Has Music Victoria taken a bit of the pressure off yourself and Helen and Quincy?
Well, no. Suddenly the government’s wanted to talk, and someone’s had to do all of the talking and go to all the meetings, so in that sense it hasn’t taken the pressure off at all. Plus I’m on the board of Music Victoria, and I stupidly put my hand up for reelection and got reelected. [Laughs]
#Music Victoria CEO, former Age journalist
What are your recollections of the day?
I remember arriving and initially thinking that not that many people had bothered to come, but then the crowd just kept on building. There was so much pride and camaraderie, it really felt like we were creating history – as well as re-visiting history by re-enacting Melbourne’s most famous video clip, AC/DC’s ‘Long Way to the Top’. I had to estimate the crowd size on the spot for the following day’s front page story in The Age, and the police and union estimates were about 20,000 apart. I went with ?more than 10,000?, but it could’ve been up to 20,000, which makes it the largest cultural protest in Australia’s history. Not a bad effort for a couple of music lovers who already had plenty on their plate!
In hindsight, what did SLAM achieve?
It unified not just the music industry but the music community. It was a reminder that we are not just many small businesses but a unified powerful force that comprised not only the industry, but the fans. It proved that we were a powerful political force to be reckoned with, and the government started taking us more seriously. It may have taken another six months, but eventually the [inappropriate link between violence and live music was removed](/news/4085467). It also encouraged Arts Victoria to commission a report into the economic contribution live music makes in this stage. That report should be released shortly and the expect the figures to further highlight the important contribution music makes to this state.
Would Music Victoria exist without SLAM?
Music Victoria was well under way before the SLAM rally (the interim board was already in place), but it probably expedited the government’s seeding funding. So the timing was beneficial to raise the awareness and it gave us a mandate.
A year on, do you think we’re in a better state?
Yes, I do. The rally also led to the Coalition formulating a live music
policy which will see an object inserted into the Liquor Licensing Act that acknowledges the positive contribution of live music, which will have an impact on any decision. In my Music Victoria role, I am also now representing the live music industry on the Liquor Control Advisory Board and we are helping set up a live music roundtable for the new government to monitor ongoing issues. There’s still a lot to be done, and Music Victoria is dedicated to supporting the growth of the contemporary music industry.
SLAM RALLY 2010: [Report](/articles/3882468), [photo gallery](/galleries/3882559).
The SLAM anniversary show takes place at The Tote tonight (February 23). More details [here](/news/4191044).