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By Michelle Harrington

A few years ago I watched disbelief register simultaneously across the faces of a young band.  We were in a cavern beneath the Alliance Francaise in Grey Street (who host arts and live performances btw).  This group of young hopefuls had travelled from Geelong to attend a Music Victoria professional development session.  During conversation afterwards I’d mentioned yes, St Kilda experienced issues with noise complaints and access to venues for live music performance.  Their disbelief was genuine.  Amongst the Melbourne live music community, St Kilda and the broader City of Port Phillip are regularly touted as the cultural heritage icon that was.  There has been mounting evidence that the city is the first victim of Melbourne’s inner urban gentrification process, but as support amongst the St Kilda Live Music Community grows, it is beginning to shake off this mantle.  With centuries of late night cultural heritage behind it, our lady’s ship is setting forward again so look out!

Meet me outside The Espy in fifteen?

Anna, from The Espy said, “St Kilda has always been a vibrant neighbourhood and home to many artists. We feel the demand for live music is as strong as ever…” The St Kilda Live Music Community agrees.  People are jumping on board this movement week after week, whilst stories of new bands and new venues simultaneously strain through.

The mayors live music round table is the first small step in the right direction.  The first session in August brought all sides of the story together and the ongoing discussions promise to be lively. With the cities of Yarra and Melbourne each hosting their own discussions and an industry brains trust on the state government’s round table; we music lovers are in a good position.  A report from Deloitte in 2011 even showed that Victorian’s love live music more than football!

Local government must include and value live music in its planning strategies. They must implement, after consultation with relevant stakeholders, a clear and evidence-based policy for the management of noise. They must establish a consultative forum for local venue managers and local music representatives to interact with council staff and processes.  Have a section on local government websites devoted to information on live music venues, planning issues, and other information relevant to the live music sector.’  (Source


This movement isn’t a bunch of wild late night revellers attempting to sing loudly, piss and spew whilst necking by your front door!  And it’s not all backpackers, bogans, yuppies, or whatever generic name you want to use.  This legacy and those issues actually keep many of Melbourne’s music lovers away.  Creative solutions to these problems are important for us.  Scott from Collage Art’s said, “It’s about who is drawn here and why, not who belongs here.”  It’s competitive out there and trying to attract an audience if a city detracts locals, let alone music fans is the antithesis of success!  Music lovers, musicians, venue operators, staff we’re all residents too.  Access to live music, is one of the reasons many of us chose (and some of us not to) live here.  For us it’s a no brainer.  Communities of people come together around music, and most contemporary live music exists around venues.

‘Single noise complaint shuts down live music venue’ is a much sexier headline and easier to digest then the ins and outs of state environmental protection legislation, liquor licensing, compliance enforcement and planning scheme overlays.  We’d rather be at gigs than lobbying VCAT!  So when a gig is impacted, like Chinese whispers the damage message goes out through the community.  SKLMC has been asking for transparency in the planning process since the beginning of 2012, so we can stem the rumour mill and get off this roller coaster ride.  So when you hear the odd ill framed phrase, lend an ear, this issue has been on the radar for over a decade, not much has been changed despite a host of recommendations and reports and we’re in a situation where it only takes one complainant for the scales to tip from our favour.  It gets a tad depressing after awhile.

In 2002, a community group called The Esplanade Alliance succeeded in instigating planning scheme amendments aimed at protecting The Espy and ensuring ongoing cultural protection for the cities live music.  One addition to the scheme noted, “places having local cultural value be supported for the contribution they make to the vitality, character and identity of the area.’  At the time these changes represented ‘some of the most progressive and far sighted planning objectives in the Victorian planning system’ (source the Esplanade Alliance).  Still the developers initial proposal ran ‘in direct contradiction to these amendments’ so off the Espy Alliance went, fight ready, to council, then VCAT. Outcome – the residents behind The Espy enjoy proximity to a vibrant culture and a good night’s sleep.  So what’s the problem?  Well shoot forward to 2012 and a story came in just this week of a South Melbourne hotel and a development that required appropriate construction.  Outcome – a sleepless resident, shh’d music and most likely a rather stressed venue operator (investigation pending)…For a city like St Kilda balancing heritage culture towards a cultural future is just not about new buildings.  We’ve had twenty years of boom time development!  Not all complainers just moved in and would you kick your grandpa or grandma out of their lifelong home!  A balanced approach is important.

Not everyone stops loving gigs once they hit WHMK (wife/husband/mortgage/kids).  Traverse this city and you’ll see performers of all ages and styles.  One of the first things I noticed after discovering Claypots and Pure Pop was that everyone really does love live music! Dads sitting in the courtyard balancing a little one on his knee in giant red ear muffs, kids queuing for a signature with parents on interstate holidays, kids perched along bar stools sipping lemonade next to nannas waiting for a show to start (it’s ok, these are arvo shows, no need to call protection services).  Backpackers, residents, visitors, gens x, y, boomer and beyond are all out loving live music in our city.  The Vineyard is beloved watering hole to a whole range of residents from young rockers to accountants, hipsters, yuppies, artists, ravers, locals, visitors and well everyone.  (In St Kilda, we’ve always mixed freely together!)  A proposal in 2010, viewed as threatening live music sent 2000 devotees descending upon council.  And for now, you can still catch live bands, from a variety of styles, most nights of the week.  With four residential developments flanking it and we anticipate more to come, SKLMC believes it’s a very pressing time to regenerate the conversation about recognising cultural clusters in the City of Port Phillip and standing up as a community for changes that protect both amenity and live music!

31 December 1933, A New Year’s Eve fireworks display drew a crowd of over 100,000, many of whom stayed until 6.30am when Luna Park closed its gates. (Source, St Kilda: The Show Must Go On, Anne Longmire) 

“St Kilda has been an entertainment precinct for over 100 years. It’s got great heritage in film, music, theatre, performance generally and I believe it’s important to keep the spirit and soul of St Kilda alive.”  David Carruthers of Dog’s Bar has taken over Memo Hall and is planning nightly performances of, you guessed it, film, art, music and live performance.  That is in addition to the six nights of live music currently on at Dogs.  So the future is looking bright for Acland St!  Speaking of bright, surely you’ve caught a live show amongst the gallery walls of the Bright Space, another local attracting Melbourne’s premier visual and audio artists?  But will that continue to happen when the warehouses on either side convert to ‘art apartments?’

Wow is that the word count?  We haven’t yet mentioned that the infamous Tongue and Groove will soon convert to a live production studio with Channel 31 or that the newly soundproofed Prince Public Bar will keep you returning to Fitzroy St night after night for ORIGINAL live music.  Even the old Snakepit is spruiking loads of live nights.

So what have we learnt? Live music lives here, always has, and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon.  People have been living and visiting this city, well forever, in search of culture at all times of the night/day.  But have we learnt anything since 1933 or even 2002?  Can live music lovers ever throw down the gloves and strike a balance that fosters a continuing legacy?  Let’s just call it a cultural cluster and get on with the fabulous business of creating and living in this fabulous city.  Old residents and new.  Things have changed, but essentially St Kilda’s the same.  A diverse group of people, fiercely original, fiercely protective of their city and its culture!  Desley, local resident and musician, In my opinion St Kilda village is a hub for the best of Australian music. As a musician I can’t imagine St Kilda without its music, as a supporter of Australian acts I can’t imagine hearing more accomplished performances everyday in the village. It feels right living here.”

Do you love live music?  Do you vote?  Local elections are on 27 October and music’s on the agenda. “Music means many things to many people, but the most important is that it IS passion, creativity, happiness and life for many people.” (quote,

Now get out there dammit, there’s music playing!


Michelle Harrington is a local resident, live music lover and a founder of the St Kilda Rock Chronicles.

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