Not a lost cause: Why you should keep fighting Sydney’s lockout laws

If you live in Sydney, by now you’re probably sick of hearing the word “lockouts”. The NSW government’s controversial legislation was introduced over three years ago, setting off a series of venue closures, Facebook rants and Keep Sydney Open protests.

After more than 36 months of railing against the lockout laws, you might be starting to feel like it’s a lost cause. It’s no fun staying angry at anything for three years, but getting complacent isn’t any good either.

So, while it’s tempting to throw up your hands and accept Sydney’s status quo, let us present the counter-argument: that the city is still full of talented DJs, bookers and agents who are keeping up the fight for Sydney’s nightlife, and inspiring the public to do the same.

For this feature, we gave the floor to four trusted voices who know the city’s nightlife inside out. We asked our experts to recount a high point in Sydney’s clubbing history, and got their thoughts on how we could keep that spirit alive. From DJs to promoters to artist bookers, everyone here agrees you should keep up the fight, particularly so that emerging talent gets a chance to shine.

There’s no doubt about it: bringing back the vibrant nightlife of Sydney’s yesteryear is something worth working towards.


Photo credit: Halfway Crooks/Facebook

Captain Franco and Levins, Halfway Crooks

Sydney nightlife authorities Captain Franco and Levins started their dream rap party Halfway Crooks eight years ago, and it’s still going strong. The DJs are committed supporters of the Keep Sydney Open campaign.

Sydney’s lockout laws have now been in place for over three years. Is it still important that people keep fighting the legislation?

Wow, time flies when you’re not having fun! Jokes aside, we definitely need to keep fighting to get these laws abolished. They were not put in place to protect the community, so it’s important these laws are replaced with well thought-out safety measures.

These laws have not only damaged the trade of nightclubs and live music venues, but hospitality and entertainment sectors across the board have also been financially penalised. This could all have been avoided had the powers that be just implemented stronger policing, 24/7 transport options and worked more closely with nightlife communities to ensure safer conditions inside and outside venues.

What’s one of your fondest Sydney party memories?

I keep reminiscing back to when Halfway Crooks was at Phoenix on Oxford Street, under Spectrum in the Exchange Hotel. If these don’t sound familiar to you, that’s because none of these venues exist anymore.

Our monthly party would usually start to wrap up by 4am, but one night the crowd were really up for it and we continued to play on till sometime after 5am, when patrons of Phoenix’s Sunday day club started to roll in. It was a beautiful sight to see the crossover of our hip-hop crowd and one of Sydney’s premiere LGBTI parties under the same roof running in tandem.


Photo credit: Ministry of Sound

Pat Ward, Ministry of Sound Australia

Pat Ward is one of the all-rounders at Ministry Of Sound Australia, working behind the scenes on artist bookings, Pacha Sydney at ivy and the sell-out MOS Reunion shows.

Sydney’s lockout laws have now been in place for over three years. Is it still important that people keep fighting the legislation?

We do need to continue fighting the legislation. It’s completely unjust and it has affected so many people’s careers and businesses. I’d absolutely be in a different career right now if this had come about ten years ago. We are a global city – we need a thriving nightlife on display. It makes no sense to me that cocktail bars are closing down but pokie dens are exempt from lockouts.

“It makes no sense that cocktail bars are closing down but pokie dens are exempt from lockouts”

I also think it’s just as important for promoters to adapt to this new climate as it is to continue to fight the legislation. There are so many promoters passionate about what they are doing here. They needed to adapt to survive and the number of quality day events, hard ticket events and boutique events in Sydney right now is really strong.

What’s one of your fondest Sydney party memories?

Before working in dance music I started my nightlife career in Sydney venues as a bar manager. Often we’d finish work late and club or bar hop until the early hours of the morning. Many Sunday mornings post-work were spent on the terrace at the Bourbon in Kings Cross for Spice. Nothing remotely close to that is possible these days.

I used to book DJs like Alison Wonderland and Hayden James (back then DJ Hansom) at a few of the bars I managed like Cargo and Kit & Kaboodle, and we’d be gig one of four or five they would play a night within walking distance. DJs like this are now left with one or two options a weekend if they are lucky. Spice was a Sydney clubbing institution, and gig hopping for DJs was instrumental in setting up careers.


Photo credit: Sophie Ingleton

Sophie Ingleton, Maker Agency

Sophie Ingleton keeps things running like clockwork as Operations and Communications Manager at Sydney’s Maker Agency, which represents artists including Tame Impala, Wave Racer, What So Not and Anna Lunoe.

Sydney’s lockout laws have now been in place for over three years. Is it still important that people keep fighting the legislation?

Wow, three years? Feels like yesterday to me. It still infuriates me the same way it did back then. It’s more important than ever to keep fighting back. So much of our nightlife has been destroyed and if we lose that momentum now, then where will it be in the future?

The people need to be able to go out and experience culture. The music industry is synonymous with nightlife, and I don’t think the general public realise just how important that late night trade is to clubs and pubs, or just how vibrant and brilliant Sydney’s music scene was at the time before we were locked out.

Simply put, there just aren’t enough small capacity venues operating. Every single artist is trying to book the same venue, so we’re missing out on some amazing talent. Also, if we don’t fight back then what’s to say that the government won’t impose some other ridiculous curfew on us?

What’s one of your fondest Sydney party memories?

I really reminisce about the nights where you could go back and forth between every single club in Sydney – not just in Kings Cross, but all across the CBD. I’d have mates playing all night between Soho, The World Bar, Hugos, Backroom, ivy, OAF… and I’d be able to support them all. You wouldn’t have to choose!

It’s a real shame that the kids of today will never get to rock up to Spice at 4.30am and walk out the next day when people are having brunch or going to work. Some of my best memories happened at that time in that club.


Photo: The Bunk3r/Facebook

Dave Stuart, Something Else

Dave Stuart is well-known to Sydney’s house and techno heads. An in-demand DJ and staunch advocate for the city’s underground scene, Dave also heads up the monthly party Something Else at The Bunk3r Sydney.

Sydney’s lockout laws have now been in place for over three years. Is it still important that people keep fighting the legislation?

It’s been three years of constant fighting and complaining about the lockout laws, and what’s happened? A couple of venues have an extra 30 minutes of trade? To be honest, I’m finding it really tough to stay positive about it at the moment.

I don’t understand how Sydney can have big festivals with tens of thousands of attendees, yet we struggle to get a couple of thousand to a protest. How are we not engaging these people? People are tired of talking and thinking about the lockout laws. We’ve had the same discussions and complaints for three years with no real effect, so something needs to change and fast or people are just going to give up.

What’s one of your fondest Sydney party memories?

Parties now don’t run their own course. As we only have such a short amount of time to enjoy our night, everything runs to a strict schedule.

I’ve noticed a major change in how a crowd acts in a club because of this. Generally, they pre-drink before they head out, arrive at a club around midnight, expect it to be pumping straight away and go nuts for three hours, then go home at 3am. A DJ set should be three hours, not the whole peak of a club night.

“A DJ set should be three hours, not the whole peak of a club night”

And then there’s my old favourite: DJ closing sets. I used to love seeing a set time of 3am-close. Being given that challenge of seeing how long you can keep a dance floor moving into the morning is something very special. A lot of Sydney DJs and clubbers might not ever experience that now.

I’m pretty fortunate to play in Europe regularly now and playing morning/closing sets there is a magical experience. I’ll never forget playing a set there that was billed as 6am-close. Close ended up being 3pm.

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Family owned, BACARDI has stood the test of time for over 155 years, through civil wars and revolutions. They’re no stranger to causes worth standing up for: that’s why they’re determined to support Sydney’s nightlife and the people who make it happen. Learn more about Sydney’s nightlife here.