There are over 300 gigs planned for SLAM Day on Feb 23rd, the third annual effort by the Save Live Australian Music Team.
The HQ of SLAM is Bakehouse Studios, the beating heart of Melbourne’s music community, guaranteed to render misty-eyed any muso who has passed through its double doors.
The studios, on Richmond’s Hoddle Street, has played host to everyone from local 13 year olds having their first ever jam, to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Paul Kelly and – really – Olivia Newton-John. Opened over 20 years ago by Helen Marcou and her partner, producer and former Blue Ruin frontman Quincy McLean, it’s a rustic joint, with a homely kitchen, hanging baskets, a sun-dappled courtyard, rehearsal rooms studded with leather armchairs, and an old Chinatown-style bar.
“We met hanging around the Crystal Ballroom in the 1980s,” Marcou says of the couple’s passion for live music, which has not diminished with the addition of two children. “Running Bakehouse, we were hearing on a weekly basis of people losing their gigs. It wasn’t till the Tote closed, though, that we realised how new liquor licensing laws would have such an effect on people’s livelihoods. Between 80 and 130 venues have been forced to cut out mid-week shows or cut out music altogether over a six-month period.”
The SLAM Rally, held in Melbourne on Feb 23 of last year, was the biggest cultural protest in Australia’s history, and succeeded in changing the liquor licensing policy established by the Brumby government. Venues like Melbourne’s iconic Tote Hotel have been able to reopen.
“We naively thought we’d put on a great rally and a big show; hijack the idea of AC/DC playing on the back of a truck,” Marcou says, noting rally day was also the 34th anniversary of AC/DC’s iconic filming of ‘Long Way to the Top’. “We thought we’d just change the law, but if you pick a fight with government, you’re then the one at the helm who needs to negotiate the change.”
While SLAM has already brought about great changes, the team would like to see a cultural impact checklist installed to identify and protect venues that benefit local communities.
“Even when liquor licensing isn’t involved we’re finding live music primary and secondary producers – production warehouses, rehearsal studios, art galleries, theatre spaces – are subject to the footprint of residential development,” she points out. “It’s of major importance that this issue is addressed now, before population increase, gentrification and rising land prices worsen the problem.”
National Slam Day, this February 23 – the anniversary of the original rally – seeks to bring the government’s attention to the fact that 5.1 million people attended small venues last year, in comparison to the 4.3 million who attended AFL home and away games. Bands are registering their gigs, no matter how small, online at the SLAM website.
“Just get down to your local venue,” says Marcou. “Not only are we supporting original music, but we want to encourage a code of conduct for venues: musicians must be paid, there should be a tip jar and hot meal for the band. So go on gig crawls, hire your own PA and put on shows. It will be a great day; Quincy is calling it 'musicians’ Christmas'”.
To find an event near you or register your own show, head to the SLAM website.