This morning, the good people of Sydney woke up to an unusual sight – more than a dozen memorial plaques, scattered around the city at the sites of departed music venues like Hugos, Goodgod and the Piano Room, emblazoned with the names and logos of the artists who got their start there. 

The likes of Flume, Alison Wonderland, Peking Duk, Flight Facilities, Nina Las Vegas, Anna Lunoe, Jagwar MaBag Raiders, Sneaky Sound System, Yolanda Be Cool, RUFUS, Art vs Science, Cloud Control, The Preatures and Lorde herself gave their blessing to the campaign, intended to shift the conversation around Sydney’s controversial lockout laws. 

It’s sad to see the life and soul sucked out of our home town as the some of these venues are closing due to some very poorly thought out lawmaking. Clubs like this one are the cultural incubators that made it possible for ourselves and many other bands, DJs and producers to get a start in our careers. It’s heartbreaking to see so many businesses close and we feel sorry for the next generation that they won’t have the same opportunities we did coming up. STOP KILLING CULTURE!!! #keepsydneyopen

A photo posted by BAG RAIDERS (@bag_raiders) on

The guerrilla-style campaign is actually the result of months of hard work and planning by advertising creatives and life-long music lovers Jonno Seidler and Tristan Cornelius, in conjunction with the Keep Sydney Open movement.

Seidler and friends had a hectic evening last night, whizzing around Sydney under cover of darkness to put the plaques up, and today, we spoke to him about the inspiration behind the campaign. 

PEDESTRIAN.TV: What was the thinking behind all of this?

JONNO SEIDLER: I have been a music journo for 10 years, and what frustrated me about the conversation around the lockouts was that they all seemed to be focused around people drinking, getting into fights and being out late at night. I’m almost 30, I’m not out ’til 3am anymore, but I love live music – it’s the reason I live, the reason I’ve met most of my friends, and I felt like nobody was having a conversation about what was happening to the venues. 

When I started, my Friday night residency at Q Bar helped to shape me as an artist, learn my craft, discover so much music, be part of a community & LIVE. I learnt by surrounding myself in the culture, trying new things, failing, succeeding, having the space to experiment. The nightlife in Sydney is what made me fall in love with what I do. So many of my craziest, fondest, stupidest & most inspiring memories come from this time in my life… don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t given this opportunity. I owe you a lot. LOCKOUTS AREN’T THE ANSWER. We need our freedom back this isn’t footloose #keepsydneyopen

A photo posted by Alison Wonderland (@alisonwonderland) on

P.TV: Live music venues have been hit hard by lockout laws … 

JS: The venues are at the front line of the problem – they’ve been hit harder than anyone else. A lot of them couldn’t take the pressure of the police presence, shorter trading hours, having to lock out patrons who were going outside to meet friends or have a ciggie. If they didn’t shut down, they had to change their businesses to suit the new economy. Bar Brosé in Darlinghurst is a hatted restaurant, but it used to be The Passage – it was one of the places that had a 5am license, and musicians and DJs used to go there after they knocked off. They found it increasingly difficult to sustain a business after the lockouts, and there was no other way but to do something new. If you’re not running a restaurant in Sydney, you can’t survive. Some venues are still around, but there’s nowhere near the amount of programming they used to have. 

P.TV: The plaques remind me of the ones you see around the London, at historical sites like Virginia Woolf’s house – was that the inspiration?

JS: Yes. Tristan is an unbelievable art director, and we had a few chats about what we could do – at one point, we had an idea of Sydney being ‘silenced’ an using the mute button icon. At another point, we were going to take out silent ads on Spotify, with musicians like Flight Facilities talking at the very end. The idea we kept coming back to was was the blue plaques you see around London – we thought it was an interesting idea to do that for people who were still alive.

We played our first shows in venues that no longer exist. They’ve shut their doors because the lockout laws have crippled Sydney’s late night economy. Tomorrow we headline Listen Out Festival in Melbourne for 15,000 people. We wouldn’t have gotten here coming up in todays Sydney. So many other Australian artists may not be discovered without somewhere to play. Surely we aren’t the only ones who want our city back. #KeepSydneyOpen

A photo posted by RÜFÜS / RÜFÜS DU SOL (@rufussounds) on

P.TV: Tell me about the work that went into putting this together …

JS: I know a lot of the artists through my line of work, so we reached out to them to get their approval and get them on board. We knew it would have a big impact if people got to see the plaques by their favourite artists sharing them on social media, because that gives this a lot of legitimacy. In terms of doing the plaques up … the logistics were a bit of a nightmare. We had to get quotes for the materials, and Keep Sydney Open ain’t exactly drowning in money. In the end, we came up with a Frankenstein solution of laser-cut acrylic discs, with vinyl printed over them – the logos of every band are laser-cut with a 3d printer. They were dreamed up by local sculpture artist Oliver Tanner. I physically stuck the logos on with superglue and that was a pain in the arse, because they they were finicky, and superglue dries quickly … 

Played some fun as hell shows at Spectrum in Sydney over the years. Also Phoenix and QBar. All shutdown thanks to the Sydney lockouts. Music cannot flourish without decent venues, and the lockouts have decimated many. #keepsydneyopen

A photo posted by Art vs Science (@artvssciencemusic) on

P.TV: Are you worried they’ll get torn down?


JS: I was concerned the Hugos ones would go down and they’re apparently still there … I’m told Alison Wonderland‘s has been taken down. We’ve also left about $1000 worth of flowers around the city, at the various memorials. 

P.TV: What are you hoping will be the end result of all this?

JS: I want to change the conversation – if we’re going to have a proper converation about the lockouts, we need to realistically take everything on board. More importantly, I think our country has a big problems with alcohol aside from all this. I think that rather than dealing with the actual binge drinking problem, we’re trying band-aid fixes like the lock-out, and we’re suddenly surprised when they don’t really work. It’s obvious that there’s not going to be violence when there’s no-one in a suburb anymore, but someone needs to step up and address the bigger issue. It wont be Mike Baird. Someone needs to say ‘we’re going to talk to children about alcohol in the same way we do about sex.’ We need to have programs so kids don’t learn about drinking by binging in a park. It’s not surprising that we get from there to people going out and getting loaded and fighting in the street, when that’s the environment.

pretty much every interview I do people ask about the cluster of artists who have come out of the small tight knit music community in Sydney. before I moved to the USA I spend 6 yrs honing my skills in Sydney clubs alongside @flumemusic @ninalasvegas @rufusdusol @awonderdj @flightfac @haydenj_music & many more. the impact we have on global music now is a result of the creative spaces & resources we had to grow our skills back home. sadly 90% of these Sydney clubs have gone out of business thanks to new lock out laws. personally I can tell you that without that community I would not have learned the skills to be doing what I’m doing now. no way. the state has decided that the next generation of artists like us are not worth cultivating. what a fkn shame. #keepsydneyopen.

A photo posted by Anna Lunoe (@annalunoe) on

P.TV: What would be your best memory of a gig at one of the departed venues?

JS: That’s a tough one, but I’m going to make it a tie between live music and mechanically produced music, since Ian Callinan seems to think there’s a difference. In the case of the former, I can’t go past the classic Sosueme parties, which took over 34B, QW Bar and Spectrum. I swear in one evening I saw Joyride, Hayden James, Art Vs Science, Bag Raiders and Alison Wonderland all play live. For the latter, Bandits at Phoenix was a gem. Everything I know about electronic music, I learned from Nina Las Vegas, Anna Lunoe, Kato, Dan De Caires, Spruce Lee, Bad Ezzy and Levins. That club night was amazing. I miss it all the time.

Photos: Patrick Stevenson & Sam MacDonald, Hobo / Facebook.

Source: Keep Sydney Open / Jonno Seidler.