28 February 2023

Getting loud about live music and the night-time economy

| Ross Solly
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Midnight Oil on stage in Canberra in 2017.

Midnight Oil on stage in Canberra: how can you sleep with all that racket? Photo: Michael Weaver.

I love going to see live music.

There’s something about the energy and the excitement of a live band that really gets my blood pumping. My days of elbowing my way to the front of the stage and sweating my way through a mosh pit are well and truly behind me, but I’m just as happy these days standing back near the bar, taking it all in.

Sadly in Canberra, and most other major cities around Australia, the number of live music venues is in serious decline. It’s not because they’re not popular or don’t make money. In nearly every situation where a music venue has closed down, it’s because of noise complaints.

Not just the noise of the music. In fact, more often than not, it’s the noise of the rowdy patrons well after the last guitar has been put in its case. And the behaviour of the crowd on the way home, dumping empty drink containers and sometimes urinating, or even vomiting, on people’s front lawns.

It’s not just live music that gets under people’s skin – there were complaints about the Multicultural Festival. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

The recent Multicultural Festival was a success on so many levels as up to 350,000 people threw off the COVID hangover by converging on Canberra’s city centre to celebrate our diversity and culture.

Twelve people, though, found the cacophony of noise emanating from the festival too much to bear and lodged noise complaints. And that exposed the shortcomings of the ACT’s noise restriction laws.

The current acceptable level is 65 decibels, which Daniel Ballantyne from Music ACT says is a bit of a joke.

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The ACT Minister for the Arts is Tara Cheyne. If she didn’t know before that the ACT’s noise laws are too restrictive, she does now.

“A lively night-time economy is a priority for us as a government,” the Minister said, adding that the night-time economy has been added to her portfolio of responsibilities. Some people get all the cool gigs!

Except the way the ACT is tracking, Tara Cheyne’s perusal of Canberra night-time economy options might be pretty limited and getting smaller all the time.

But at least she’s making all the right noises (albeit below 65 decibels).

“We can’t be a global destination if there is nowhere to go after 8 pm. People do want that liveliness, and liveliness does often mean noise,” she said.

The government wants to set up a city entertainment precinct, where music and entertainment and its associated loud noise would be protected. Of course, this would affect lots of inner-city residents, so the government is seeking feedback (but not the sort of feedback you get from loud guitars at well over 65 decibels. For now, at least …)

But it’s not just the city that the government needs to look at. With new residential developments springing up all over the ACT, you can bet your bottom dollar a lot of those folk will be none too impressed when Midnight Oil goes booming out of Stage 88, or Spacey Jane take to the stage at EPIC.

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The government says it hears the concerns, and somewhere down the track it will tackle them. Daniel Ballantyne is urging those in power to get a move on before people start thinking Canberra is dull (and too quiet!)

“We’ve got a huge challenge. Canberra’s noise regulation laws and planning are way behind other jurisdictions,” he said.

Of course, if people buy a place next to a pub or a festival site, they do so knowing full well it might get noisy. It’s like people who buy properties under flight paths.

By rights, their subsequent noise complaints should receive short shrift.

Case dismissed, your Honour.

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In the meantime, the noise from the increasing number of continuously barking dogs around the city seems to be no problem whatsoever….

HiddenDragon7:27 pm 01 Mar 23

Sounds like it might be time for another one of those oh-so-productive fact-finding study tours to get the latest ideas on nocturnal activities, and maybe to recruit a Patsy Stone impersonator with a Cockney accent as Canberra’s “night czar” –


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