Event aims to put live music in spotlight

There are few music experiences as good as watching your favourite musician in a small venue.

Sure, festivals such as Big Day Out are great fun and a rite of passage for many of us, but watching an artist do their thing in an intimate space is something different entirely.

Whether it's swaying to a crooning jazz musician in a smoky room or bouncing around in a 50-person mosh pit to a burgeoning rock group, these small gigs give bands a way to learn how to perform for an audience and give punters a way to discover new sounds and a community of like-minded fans.

But the live music scene is struggling. Laws surrounding noise allowances and venue capacity, gaps in the national touring circuit and red tape that inhibits performances are just some of the issues making it hard for small gigs to survive.

Which is where SLAM Day comes in. Spawned out of the 2010 SLAM rally in Melbourne that specifically protested and overturned unfounded Victorian Liquor Licensing policies that linked live music to high risk activity, the day now aims to bring awareness to the issues stopping live music from thriving nationally.

This year marks the second annual SLAM Day, where venues across the country register their events on February 23 to celebrate live music and draw attention to the need for small gigs.

Helen Marcou, co-founder of SLAM, says while it has made significant progress in getting recognition of the importance of live music, such as the appointment of a national live music co-ordinator last month after three years of lobbying, there are still issues to be addressed.

"The main concerns vary from state to state, but we're seeing a recurring theme in a lot of cities and towns where the footprint of residential development is heavily impacting upon venues and gigs being able to exist," she says.

"At present residential complaints in a lot of the country are able to shut down a lot of these live music communities."

The Patch at Fairy Meadow is one such live music venue that dealt with this problem over the past 18 months. As of last week, it has cancelled several upcoming gigs, including one planned for SLAM Day, while it waits for a decision from The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing as to whether "amplified entertainment" will be restricted at the venue, following damaging noise complaints.

Jeb Taylor, venue booker for The Patch, as well as Barcode in the CBD, says noise complaints over the past year were the main problem he had to overcome when planning the live music calendar because they limited what bands and how many could be booked.

So far about 200 gigs across the country are registered for SLAM and Marcou believes they will have more than 300 before the date arrives, almost double the amount from last year.

Her overall aim is to work with local, state and federal governments to develop a live music policy that reduces any barriers for venues to put on smaller shows.

Helen Marcou and Quincy McLean co-founded SLAM.

Helen Marcou and Quincy McLean co-founded SLAM.