Central Sydney’s night economy has been in a dark place for some years. But a new dawn is coming.

Attendees at the Global Cities After Dark forum heard Tuesday as a line-up of international speakers shed light on their experiences and behind-the-scenes work on rebuilding after-hours economies, forging alliances and unwinding regulatory issues.

The second edition of Global Cities After Dark was staged at Sydney’s UTS Business School as some potentially important developments in the night space are primed to drop.

Just last week, the City of Sydney proposed to relax alcohol trading hours city-wide, and tomorrow will see a debate in the NSW Parliament on kicking the controversial lockout laws to the curb.

Global Cities After Dark forum crowd
Source: Electronic Music Conference

In an early afternoon keynote session, John Graham, member of NSW Parliament’s Upper House, revealed the results of the NSW Legislative Council music inquiry would be “published imminently.” The Council last November voted to establish the examination, which would report on the music and arts economy in Sydney and regional NSW.

Though Graham didn’t share any outcomes of the probe, which sparked 437 submissions, he did hint that it could contain some good news. To this stage, government has no plan for the music sector. “There is a plan on the way… we can’t succeed without one, it has to be delivered,” he said.

Graham didn’t mince his words. NSW is facing “a music venue crisis in a sector with huge potential” as he called on all levels of government to get involved. “The health of the venues is the best gauge of the heart of a cultural scene.” And right now, the touring circuit is broken.

Graham related a story from a Melbourne act who claimed the myriad of issues affecting Sydney’s grassroots venues community had made Canberra a more attractive stop off. “We need to organise and fight on those issues,” he warned. “We have to campaign for change.”

One of the answers pitched by Graham, Adrian Tonon (Night Time Economy Ambassador, City of Detroit) and others during the daylong session: build global alliances.

Adrian Tonon detroit
Adrian Tonon

Mirik Milan, the former Night Mayor of Amsterdam, was optimistic change is on the way. But it won’t be happen without collaboration and rolling up the sleeves.

“Let’s hope within a year the lockout laws will be repealed. We need to change the narrative”, explained the VibeLab chief. “Venues are what makes a city unique. Talent follows talent, not only money. You need cultural vibrancy”.

Sydney Lord mayor Clover Moore also used her morning keynote presentation to update guests on the city’s nightlife and creative sector advisory panel, which pools 16 industry experts tasked with feeding into the city’s policy.

Moore, who previously pitched the Agent of Change framework, remarked that the night culture represented more than just hard currency, something government struggles to understand. “To be involved and included, through music and nightlife, is important to social structure,” she enthused.

Speakers also identified gentrification and the battle for creative space as one of the big issues in years to come. “Affordability is one of the great issues for the global cities, because creatives get pushed out,” explained councillor Jess Scully. We’re at a tipping point now.

Jess-Scully councillor
Jess Scully

Global Cities After Dark, a precursor to the annual Electronic Music Conference, also welcomed presentations by Hayley Child (founder, Ask for Angela), Amanda Maxwell (She Said So board member) and more.

Collaboration was the theme of the 2018 summit, which featured a “NightCamp” group workshop and was established to explore “the pillars that are essential to supporting successful nightlife”.

Last year’s forum culminated in the publication of a 30-page analysis on the night culture.