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Music

Sep 11, 2012

Rock of ages, except us teenagers who can't hear the music

Liquor licensing laws lock out minors from their favourite music gigs. Josh Thorburn, a 16-year-old music fan in Melbourne, reckons the industry is losing a generation of fans like him.

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Our capital cities have some of the best live music scenes across the world. But I can’t experience much of it.

Last Friday night I was played beautiful melodies, awesome bass lines, powerful vocals and gorgeous guitar riffs … from my computer. I can only look at photos of gigs on band Facebook pages. I watch the lead singer fire up the crowd and hear the audience sing along to the chorus … on YouTube. I would be there too, singing along with friends and watching the magic that is a live gig. But I’m 16, and across most of Australia I’m not allowed into a gig.

Many artists struggle to make a living in the music industry. Bands such as these need as many of their fans to attend their shows as possible. Music venues themselves need to win the loyalty of the next generation of music-loving teenagers and young adults.

Young people are the heart of the music industry. We listen to music constantly and blast it from our bedrooms. We buy music and learn lyrics by heart. We have posters of our favourite bands on their walls. We buy EPs, and try to get the band to sign them. We should be able to see bands perform live.

Only in New South Wales and South Australia are all-ages concerts permitted — and those states all-ages gigs are held in very few venues. Bars that have bands play every night have to apply for special circumstances liquor licences. Across the rest of Australia, music bars are unable to hold all-ages gigs due to strict liquor licensing laws. However, all states allow under-18s gigs. These gigs cost more to run and often bands lose money.

Under-18s are not allowed in venues even with parental consent. I have been able to occasionally attend gigs with my mother, despite the embarrassment. Many venues don’t even allow this, yet a parent can take their young child to a pub.

At Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, I am allowed to see a live band. Alcohol is permitted, and the people that drink are not in a restricted area. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground I can see a football match where alcohol is served, again without a restricted area. Less than two kilometres away from both places is the popular music venue the Corner Hotel — I’m not allowed to enter on any night.

In Britain and the United States, all-ages concerts are held much more frequently. In Britain, most places hold shows that are 14-plus or 16-plus (younger if accompanied by a parent) most nights. In the US, laws in some states are similar to the ones in Australia, yet many gigs are all-ages. Some venues give bands the option of whether they want to perform an all-ages show or not. Bands that are more popular with under-18s commonly have all-ages gigs.

There, alcohol is served and patrons too young to drink are marked with a cross on their hand as they enter. Why can’t Australian state governments adopt similar laws? If there is no change, generations of Australian teenagers will continue to miss seeing live gigs.

While music concerts are not the safest events in the world, they are not the most dangerous either. Parents should have the individual responsibility to decide whether their child can go to a live gig. This responsibility should not lie in the hands of state governments.

Late last Friday night as the two bands I wanted to see — Sydney-based Bearhug and Brisbane act Gung Ho — would have been playing, I decided I would write an email to my local state MP while listening to some Bob Dylan to calm me down. As I rued the night that could have been, a young Dylan sang through my earphones:

Oh my name it ain’t nothing,
My age it means less.

If only.

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