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Here’s what went down at the second Keep Sydney Open protest against the lockouts

The second Keep Sydney Open rally and march against the New South Wales government’s lockout laws was held yesterday, with thousands of attendees gathered once again to protest the repressive laws that have throttled nightlife and the music industry in Sydney.

The rally was smaller than the first KSO rally in February, which numbered up to 15,000 people. Organiser Tyson Koh said Sunday’s crowd was 10,000 strong. More cautious estimates ranged between 4000 and 6000 attendees. But what the second rally lacked in numbers, it made up for in noise and spirit. It also significantly marked a celebration of the progress made by the anti-lockouts movement this year in swaying opinion and keeping public and media pressure on the Baird government. Just last month an independent commission suggested to the government that the lockout could be eased from 1.30am to 2am to improve the city’s vibrancy.

The rally began in Belmore Park outside Central Station with a rousing DJ set from Stereogamous -AKA famed producer Paul Mac and partner Jonny Seymour. Well-known as leaders in Sydney’s LGBTQI community, the pair fixed rainbow banners to the stage and held up protest signs while they mixed.

After being rallied with an energetic speech by Koh, the protesters noisily marched through Hyde Park and along Oxford Street, with bands set up along the park and portable soundsystems blasting music to spur them on. The rally ended up in Taylor Square, where the thousands grooved to a booming set of nu disco and indie from Touch Sensitive and Ariane and cheered the speakers.

Once again NSW Premier Mike Baird was the main target of the protesters’ ire, with many signs calling out his puritanical views or comically insulting him. “It’s Not My Baird Time Mike,” one sign said. Another was illustrated with the poo emoji; another with Baird depicted as an ibis, with text saying, “Get in the Bin.” A group of cheeky protesters wore Donald Trump-inspired red baseball caps inscribed with “Make Sydney Late Again.”

A number of more politically-minded signs reminded attendees of the NSW government’s policies of slashing or privatising social services and criminalising environmental protests – belying the view that anti-lockouts protests are motivated only by debauchery. Quite a few signs called out the government’s relationship with real-estate developers, which many feel is an underlying cause of the crackdown on nightlife, contrary to the overt agenda of preventing alcohol-fuelled violence. (“Real Late, Not Real Estate,” said a sign held up by Jonny from Stereogamous during their set.)

Koh told the crowd that merely easing the time of the lockout isn’t enough and that Sydney should be a 24-hour city. He told protesters that “the people who run the government need to get out more, see what life is about”. He repeatedly declared that “we’re telling, not asking” the government to cooperate with protesters’ demands. KSO calls for a “Nighttime Mayor” to oversee the city’s nighttime economy (a position already implemented in London and Amsterdam). The charismatic Koh has frequently been touted as the ideal candidate for such a position, as affirmed by signs at the rally.

Newly elected independent council member Jess Scully affirmed that Lord Mayor Clover Moore and her team oppose the lockouts and favour evidence-based policies for the city’s nighttime economy instead of the state government’s “sledgehammer approach”. “We’ve done the research,” she stated. “We know what it will take to find solutions to these problems.” She said the lockouts and their impact on culture were reported as one of the top three issues of concern among Sydney residents during the election.

Urthboy’s poetic speech highlighted how the lockouts have put further financial strain on Sydney’s musicians. “Musicians have no regular pay, no superannuation,” he said. He told the crowd that he’s been advised by friends and fellow musicians over and over that he should move to Melbourne, but he prefers to stay in Sydney and “fight for culture here” – inspiring big cheers from the crowd.

In a very eloquent speech, the Jezabels’ Hayley Mary also affirmed that she prefers the current struggle in Sydney over whatever cultural benefits Melbourne offers. She told attendees that, “the lockouts are part of a longer narrative of war of attrition in the culture of city”, with a vibrant music and cultural scene fighting against the “dystopian” model of centralised entertainment and gambling districts. She predicted a golden age is on the way for Sydney, and that it would be led by Indigenous Australians, incorporating storytelling traditions and respect for the environment. “We need to keep Sydney open because we owe it the future to have a culture of storytelling.”

The rally was notably supported from afar by Jimmy Barnes of Cold Chisel, who released a video in which he talked about how Sydney’s live-music scene nurtured his career. Other prominent Sydney musicians to officially support the KSO clause have also included Flume, Flight Facilities and Alison Wonderland.

The overriding theme of the day among both the speakers and the crowd was the stake that young people, artists and musicians have in the life of Sydney, and the unfairness of the city’s agenda being dictated by a conservative state government and suburban or rural voters. As Koh said, “This is our city, and they will not take it away from us.”

The rally ended on a melancholy note with Ariane playing Cut Copy’s Going Nowhere – an all-too-fitting anthem for the current state of things in Sydney. But yesterday’s rally showed that the city’s residents are more than willing to fight for change.

(Lead image: Lee Tran Lam/Keep Sydney Open)