The SLAM rally movement originated in Melbourne after 20,000 music fans took to the streets to demonstrate their support for Australian live music. The February 2010 street protest was spurred by the threatened closure of iconic live music venue The Tote in Collingwood. Two years on, in the wake of National Slam Day – a celebration of live music at small venues around the country – I spoke with Helen Marcou, SLAM co-founder, to find out about their recent activities and plans for the future.
Marcou has all the smarts and intelligent enunciation of an international human rights lawyer. But what I really got out of our lengthy chat was that this group of lobbyists – all volunteers – are doing some incredible work to ensure there is a future for live music in Australia’s cultural landscape.
“There are several key objectives that SLAM are currently looking at. The agent of change principle is one of these,” explains Marcou, “With a projected 30,000 apartments being built in the City of Melbourne over the next 10 years, raising awareness of the agent of change principle will go a long way to protecting inner city live music venues, with the likes of Cherry Bar and the Corner Hotel already being affected by this type of urban development.”
The agent of change principle protects the first occupant by effectively putting the onus of change on the newcomer, so for example, where a developer builds a high rise apartment building next to a live music venue, the onus of protecting the residents from noise violation – by soundproofing or otherwise – falls to the developer, not the existing venue.
“Another of SLAM’s objectives is to change the way in which noise levels are measured. The noise level is set by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and hasn’t been reviewed since 1978, and part of the problem is that it was developed prior to the contemporary environment of high-density urban populations. Places like Brisbane, for example, have recognised the need to take a more technical approach to measuring noise at different frequencies. Part of the problem is that there isn’t a unified system for measuring noise pollution. Different council’s take a different approach. Some measure the noise level from inside the residence with the windows shut. Others take it from outside the nearest bordering wall.”
SLAM has had a number of successes to date, least of all highlighting the strong public support for live music in Australia, and the momentum hasn’t been lost. Although the organisation has its roots in the Melbourne live music scene, today SLAM has campaigners in every state continuing to advocate for cultural change and seeking to identify and protect the venues that benefit local communities.
“A small group of us met recently with a delegation from South Australia, including the Deputy Premier Jon Rau and some of his advisors. They are looking at reforming policies in SA as part of the ‘raise the bar’ campaign, which was initiated after receiving 1700 emails from constituents concerned about the state’s live music future.”
“At a national level, a group from the contemporary music sector are in the midst of preparing a position paper for the next state government round table. The main objective is to look at somehow shielding cultural clusters from the effects of overregulation and gentrification. Cultural clusters are not limited to licensed venues but can also include schools, art performance places, production warehouses, recording studios and other creative and cultural spaces. “
National SLAM Day marks the second anniversary of the successful 2010 rally, and it is clear that an intense amount of work has gone into ensuring that the momentum brought about by the initial rally has not been lost. Fortunately for us, they are showing no signs of slowing down.
I want to leave you with a final quote from Marcou, something I picked up during my early morning forage through the google-oids. In February this year, in the lead up to National SLAM Day, Marcou is quoted in The Age:
“The point of SLAM is to re-enforce that live music brings communities together… What we’re saying is that we don’t want to live in soulless, corporate dormitories.”
Thanks to Helen Marcou for taking the time to give us an update on SLAM’s activities (and for not making me feel like a foolish paralegal).
Written for The Rock Chronicles (Melbourne publication).