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NSW’s War on Live Music

NSW’s tough music licensing scheme looks to amp up the war on live music

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NSW festival laws

The New South Wales’ (NSW) government in Australia has implemented a new licensing scheme where ‘higher risk’ festivals will need to acquire a new music festival license. According to the NSW Festival License Guideline, this license applies a ‘more rigorous regulatory framework to music festivals in NSW to improve their safety’. This has been put into place because of some drug-related deaths that occurred at festivals around NSW. This new licensing has now cost multiple festivals to be canceled as they could not pay the very high fees required, fees that were not in the budget, fees that were not properly explained, only weeks before the dates of the festival. These ‘high risk’ festivals were not given clear explanation as to why they were put into this category. “There was no consultation, no reason given. It was just simply you’re on a list of high-risk festivals in NSW,” explained Danny Rogers, the co-founder of Laneway Festival.

It seems that this new license was a rushed attempt to prevent drug-related issues and deaths. It is extra thousands of dollars for some extra police and additional ‘support’ from the Government (I say this very sarcastically). All it takes to be considered high risk is one drug-related illness. One single person can potentially shut down an entire festival. So what happens if you acquire this new license and this extra help, but someone still overdoses? What’s the next step?  

These issues have come about from drug-fueled illnesses, and yet, pill testing is just out of the question. It has proven to be highly successful and a ‘tremendous success’ at the ACT edition of the Groovin The Moo festival. According to The Guardian, the pill testing that was conducted potentially saved the lives of seven people, as after discovering there were lethal substances in their pills, they were discarded. This is unlike the NSW Groovin the Moo where 14 people were taken to hospital with possible drug issues. Pill testing seems to be an appropriate approach to these ‘high risk’ festivals that has seen drug deaths, it would be silly to assume that more police equals no drugs. Like it or not, drugs will enter a festival one way or another. Pill testing organizer Gino Vumbaca told The Guardian; “I spoke to a lot of young people as they walked out and the most common thread was they know a hell of a lot more now than they did when they walked in.” Perhaps it is not the patrolling of patrons we need, but the safe space of pill monitoring. It is naive to think a rigorous framework will eradicate all drugs at these events.

Along with harsh festival laws, NSW has also been hit with unforgiving noise complaint issues. Sydney is overcrowded, there are apartment buildings next to pubs, next to venues that support live music, and one noise complaint can see venues shutting down. Harold Park Hotel in Sydney had to stop hosting live music on Sunday afternoon (yes … in the afternoon) after a resident close to the venue complained about the noise. It is becoming increasingly impossible to have a successful live music scene for the medium sized venues because of planning, liquor licensing and noise provisions. Will this result in a decrease in music acts that make a name for themselves in Sydney? Where are they supposed to play? If there is nowhere to book a smaller gig, how do they get big? No one can start from the bottom if there is no bottom to play. It has a larger effect than just the venue owners. The smaller, intimate gigs are my favorite; they’re the gigs that you can afford on a random Friday night. It is an exciting time to see an intimate performance from an act that you know will soon be headlining their dream venues.

The closing of NSW festivals and venues will also have an impact on the rest of the nation. It is an expensive trip for international acts to make it to Australia, and international acts won’t come if the touring circuit becomes any smaller. The nation will miss out on headlining acts, and some of the biggest names in the world because it will no longer be worth it for them. Arts and culture hold an importance to the economy and this will affect the income our music industry provides.

Music is a community value, it brings people together, it is in our everyday lives, it is a necessity. Rogers expressed it perfectly: “We require consultation as an industry so you can … explain to us how people are coming up with decisions that impact our livelihoods.” Miscommunication seems to be a detrimental issue in this situation, along with the mistrust of festival leaders.

I would love for the NSW government to discuss, plan, and work together with the festival and live music community rather than shutting down their livelihood. Perhaps festival licenses need to be reviewed, and a new license and regulations can be formed for all festivals in NSW, rather than shaming and selecting some that seem riskier than others. It would be nice to see the government and festival directors find a happy medium, with revised regulations but without the cost of canceling. Pill testing seems to be a valuable addition, however, the government would need to get behind the idea. Music is a lifestyle and a livelihood for so many, whether you are the founder of a festival, the owner of a venue, or the individual that is just excited to see some live music on the weekend, the hasty decisions of the government has and will affect everyone involved.

Books

Book Review: Crossfire – A Litany For Survival

Unflinching and authentic, Chin’s work shakes, confronts, and envelops you

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Stacey Ann Chinn

LGBTQ poet and spoken-word artist Staceyann Chin is a powerhouse of an artist. (Exhibits A, B, and C: Her mesmerizing Def Poetry Jam performance of If Only Out of Vanity.” Her essay “Paradise of Lies,” published in the New York Times. And her hit play “MotherStruck,” set to soon work its way through the festival circuit as a series. Need we say more?) Unflinching and authentic, Chin’s work shakes, confronts, and envelops you. She is a rare talent that can captivate you in an instant — both by the political gravity of the subjects she so fearlessly and intelligently dissects and her sharp, mesmerizing, and sometimes hysterical turns of phrase. Her “snap-elastic words” can leave anyone who’s ever written for a living marveling (and wishing they had come up with them first).

This same fire is seen throughout Crossfire: A Litany for Survival, Chin’s first full-length collection of poems. Weaving adeptly between verses about the intersection of love, sex, race, gender, feminism, trauma, sexuality, queerness, motherhood, oppression, and so much more, Crossfire is a foot-on-the-gas-pedal kind of eye-opening, from start to finish.

In “Tsunami Rising,” she writes of the “weeping white women” who stood behind Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement only once a rich white actress co-opted it — a heartbreaking address dripping with explanation and patience we don’t deserve, and a tired, frustrated anger that we do.

“We are unable to process our pain with you,” she writes, “Because we are exhausted from centuries/of holding you and your children.”

In “Zuri-Siale Samanaya” — named for her daughter, with whom she often records “Living Room Protests” — Chin reflects beautifully on raising a child who is both following in her activist footsteps but coming into her own as an individual:

I can hardly wait
to hear your voice
I expect us to rumble
to create generational bruises that will have to be survived

In “Raise the Roof,” Chin’s worries that this power will not be enough to carry her daughter safely through a world intent on silencing the voices of Black women are heartbreaking.

Every day I have to drown my fears
for my child/born Black and a girl in a country
in which her safety does not matter
to anyone with power

Among the book’s other standout gems are a reflection on 9/11 titled “September in New York” and a hilarious and incisive retort to the misogynist who harassed her on Twitter (aptly titled “Tweet This Motherfucker”). But really, there is no plateau in Chin’s collection of poems. Each page of Crossfire: A Litany For Survival is fire, soul, and just damn good writing.

When artists like Chin bare their souls to put the revolution to paper, it’s up to us to truly listen.

Crossfire

by Staceyann Chin
(Haymarket Books)

Crossfire: A Litany For Survival will be published as a paperback original on October 1, 2019 by Haymarket Books.

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Culture

A Wilderness of Queer Theorists? A Review of Titus Andronicus

The great themes of Titus Andronicus all remain and hold our attention, as ever.

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In Cormac McCarthy’s masterly novel Blood Meridian, the main antagonist, the Judge, has some dispiriting reflections on the human condition and its predetermined and inflexible capacity for barbarism:

“It makes no difference what men think of war . . . War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”

This bleak vision of the American West and its new and old inhabitants invites comparison with Shakespeare’s Rome, “a wilderness of tigers” as Titus Andronicus calls it. His military victory over the Goths has left twenty-one of his sons dead, and now, as ever, another war awaits him: a family struggle of revenge against Tamora, her children, and those who would rule Rome.

There are some scenes in McCarthy’s novel that defy retelling or summary. Words like violent and terrifying come to seem pallid and banal when set against the depravity and real horror of McCarthy’s world. Similarly, the practitioners of war in Shakespeare’s first tragedy treat us to decapitation, filicide, dismemberment, and cannibalism. It’s difficult even to imagine Blood Meridian being filmed or staged, and directors taking on Titus Andronicus have often felt the same. A particularly gory 2014 production at the Globe Theatre in London left a few audience members collapsing and vomiting.

While Blood Meridian is undoubtedly McCarthy’s masterpiece, Shakespeare’s tragedy has almost always been considered a shameful aberration, undeserving of mention in the same breath as Hamlet or Macbeth. The scholar Harold Bloom went so far as to wish that this “poetic atrocity” had never been written in the first place. Interestingly, many modern viewers, occasionally wiser than verbose academics, have finally come to agree with Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience, who bloody well loved it. Their hobbies, it must be noted, also included attending public hangings, so they weren’t exactly the squeamish types. Nor are we, I suppose, accustomed as we are to the daily brutality served up on TV, social media, and the news.

Can Titus Andronicus be rescued from neglect and disfavour? Bell Shakespeare’s production at the Sydney Opera House, in the hands of director Adena Jacobs, has made an audacious attempt to do so.

Jacobs cleverly and helpfully divides the play into eight chapters, each with its own title and focus on a particular character. The first, in which we are immediately transfixed by Jane Montgomery Griffiths as Titus, adds to the already high body count: Titus murders Tamora’s son in vengeance and knocks off another one of his own in a fit of rage. His daughter Lavinia becomes the marital plaything of the men around her, and in Chapter 2, The Forest. A Snuff Film, we are forced to imagine rather than witness her gruesome rape and the removal of her tongue and hands; in this way, her attackers, Tamora’s sons Chiron and Demetrius, can remain unidentified.

Jacobs’s decision to restrain the depiction of violence is a striking and effective one. The silence in the opening seconds of this scene, in which Lavinia’s helplessness is met by Aaron the Moor’s pitiless stare, is more confronting and frightening than anything else in the play. Jayna Patel as Lavinia is impressive if underused, and Tariro Mavondo, with her purple hair and ever-present sinister allure, captivates as the play’s most interesting character Aaron, the lover of Tamora and the father of her bastard child. His immorality and villainy are splendidly contained in the great line, “If one good deed in all my life I did, / I do repent it from my very soul.”

Jacobs’s central focus is on the human body: the real physical wounds it can carry, and the penchant for violence it recreates, even across generations. A camera onstage records closeup shots of the characters’ bodily lacerations and then projects them onto the back wall. This has a startling effect, especially when combined with the eerie and constant sound effects.

The weakness in the play is the same one that afflicts most modern art and literature, often fatally: an obsession with identity politics and the importation of once recondite ideas from the academy into the mainstream.

In the show notes, and I tried to suppress an eye-roll as I read this, Jacobs tells us that her production “queers and re-dreams Shakespeare’s play”, and then she bangs on for a bit about the patriarchy.

Given the overall androgyny of the characters’ appearance and the gender-bending of the cast choices, such themes are always lurking about. It never irks that much, really, especially if the performances are truly excellent. There are only a few scenes, however, when things start to get muddled, to put it mildly. There’s the birth scene, in which Queen Tamora’s baby is delivered via an artificial womb strapped to the father, Aaron, played by a woman. This wasn’t quite as cringey as the Clown’s campy and incongruous striptease, a real exercise in pointlessness.

I failed to see the force of all this ‘queering’; it doesn’t serve to question or play with gender so much as abolish it. That’s another kind of nihilism, by the way, but not one the creators seem very interested in. Oh well. Score one against the cisheteropatriarchy, as the kids call it.  

If we are to “queer” great literature, as many artists of our moment would demand of us, it’s amusing to remember an old-fashioned meaning of that verb: to spoil or to ruin the success of something. The intrusion of wokeness into art has made a real stab at this: the removal of aesthetic criteria in favor of political point-scoring for minorities; and the replacement of universal themes with increasingly identitarian ones.

To truly achieve this, however, would be to despoil Shakespeare of all he has. Even the most earnest production couldn’t do that. The great themes of Titus Andronicus – political and family disintegration, the forever war, our return to barbarism – all remain and hold our attention, as ever. This isn’t a fair fight, come to think of it: the queer theorists never had a chance.

Bell Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is playing at the Sydney Opera House until Sunday 22         September 2019.

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