Report: SLAM Turns 1, But The Fight Goes On

DARREN LEVIN* was at The Tote last night as a sold-out crowd celebrated the one-year anniversary of the SLAM Rally – but is the battle to protect Melbourne’s live music scene only just beginning? Photos by *ROBERT CARBONE.

The Tote: Where magic happens. Where else can you see Henry Wagons doing Blondie’s ?Call Me? backed by Even on a Wednesday night? Or Dan Sultan, Dallas Crane’s Dave Larkin and Paris Wells belting out ?Long Way To The Top? with the original Rats of Tobruk bagpipers?

Just over a year on from that [Drones performance](/articles/3850129), which brought a premature and thankfully short-lived end to The Tote, a sold-out crowd gathered for the anniversary of the [SLAM Rally](/articles/3882468), a 20,000-strong protest through the streets of Melbourne in February last year. Described as the largest cultural protest Australia’s ever seen, the rally prompted a monumental about-face from the Victorian government whose draconian liquor licensing regulations were bringing live venues like The Tote to their knees. They had coupled alcohol-related violence and live music, and frankly, we were having none of it.

A year on, and while that so-called proxy [has been removed](/news/4085467) and The Tote’s ?high risk? security conditions [amended](/news/4200764), some venues were still doing it tough as evidenced by a heckler midway through SLAM organiser Helen Marcou’s politically charged and impassioned speech.

?What about Pure Pop?? yelled Dave Stevens, the owner of the St Kilda record store cum venue that had been battling noise restrictions of late. ?It’s being closed down,? he said.

While Stevens? concerns were quickly deflected – in truth, it wasn’t the forum for such an outburst – they reflected a worrying new development, and perhaps a bigger threat to the live music scene than liquor licensing: gentrification and the resultant rise in noise complaints.

?Last night’s outburst showed just how urgent the situation has become.?

Pure Pop, which has been hosting live music in their courtyard to counteract the downward trend in record sales, has become the latest victim of this phenomenon (the Birmingham [buckled](/news/4107862) to similar complaints last year). A few neighbourhood wowsers have objected to the noise emanating from their courtyard, and the council have inexplicably sided with them – even though the venue is located in the heart of St Kilda, just off busy Acland Street, and the music always winds up at 8pm.

In fairness to SLAM, Fair Go 4 Live Music and the newly established peak body Music Victoria, noise restrictions and the ?agent of change? principle have always been on the agenda, it’s just that last night’s outburst showed just how urgent the situation has become. Marcou, to her credit, was gracious in dealing with the hecklers (a drunk Irishman also lambasted her, unfairly, for not being a musician). She committed to maintaining pressure on the state Liberal government; a noble gesture given SLAM was originally established purely for the purposes of the rally and she has her own business to run, Bakehouse Studios with husband and rally co-organiser Quincy McLean.

?They [the Liberals] have committed two days before the election to change the objects of the act, which means they’re going to change the law to protect live music. We just need to hold them to that,? she said to cheers. ?We’re not going away. We’re live music people, we stay up late at night – we can stay up till fucking 3am. As [Tote licensee] Jon Perring once said, ?There’s life after Lateline.? We’re here to prove it. Thanks everyone for marching and coming here to The Tote tonight.?

Marcou’s speech was followed by an auction for Victoria flood victims and a ?surprise? performance of Television’s ?Marquee Moon? by one half of Dallas Crane (singer Dave Larkin and guitarist Pete Satchell) and You Am I’s Davey Lane on bass.

Earlier, in keeping with the ?Tote jukebox? theme, The Ukeladies? Amanda Roff and Dan Kelly did ?Born To Run? on a glockenspiel; Oh Mercy’s Alexander Gow sang The Triffids? ?Wide Open Road? with Robert McComb on guitar (Gow also broke a mic stand during Leonard Cohen’s ?Memories?); The Panics performed Midnight Oil’s ?The Dead Heart?; The Wolfgramm sisters did The Faces? ?Stay With Me?; and Dan Sultan belted out The Stones? ?Gimme Shelter? with Spencer P Jones and Dave Larkin on guitar. There were short sets too from Wedgetail (completing a month-long residency with special guest Linda J from The Dacios), X, Kim Salmon and Spencer Jones, who was showered with coins during ?The Bogans (Are Having All The Fun)?.

Marcou confirmed she was looking at hosting ?SLAM Day? events around the country next year, with small venues such as Sydney’s Annandale already on board for 2012. ?We’re going to celebrate small venues nationally,? Marcou said. ?We’re going to get our big established artists together with our less established artists to create some of that sweat, intimacy, mayhem, magic that you only get in small venues – you don’t get it out there in the big stadiums.?

Magic, indeed.