In case you hadn’t heard, Melbourne has placed a temporary ban on amplified busking on a stretch of the CBD’s iconic Swanston Street, a mecca for buskers from around Australia due to its high volume walking traffic.
The ban could potentially become permanent as Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, who considers loud buskers a personal pet hate, has taken it upon himself to see to it that Melbourne’s popular Swanston Street buskers are silenced.
“I ring up our street trading people and tell them to go down and shut them up,” he was quoted as saying in June. According to the Lord Mayor, the council received 264 official noise-related complaints about buskers between January 2013 and 30th June 2016.
The ban, which is currently in place and will continue until the trial concludes at the end of the month, has already inspired several petitions and a protest, which took place last month on the steps of Town Hall.
Meanwhile, others are saying the ban could affect Melbourne’s reputation as a world-class music city and are calling on Melburnians and those in government to understand that busking is more than just a novelty – for many, it’s a living.
“It was the most important thing to happen in beginning my career,” Melbourne musician Tash Sultana tells Tone Deaf. “I was on a bit of a rocky and questionable path in my life when I decided to hit the streets. It kind of saved me.”
Busking took Tash from a questionable path to a sold-out world tour, including three sold-out shows at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel. But now the swiftly rising muso is watching the rare opportunity busking provides be snatched away from the hands of others.
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“Busking is like street rehearsal,” she says. “It’s an open rehearsal space where people will stop and vibe with you if they’re feeling it. It can change people’s whole day just by adding a little bit of sunshine into the concrete jungle.”
“It’s ridiculous that a minority of people are trying to impose a law that doesn’t affect them whatsoever,” Tash says of the new amplified busking ban. “But it affects so many musicians, especially aspiring musicians, from seizing a good opportunity.”
And she’s not sold on the idea that Melbourne buskers are simply being ‘too loud’. “It’s a massive copout,” she says. “There’s a limit of 85dB in Bourke street. A tram ding is 79dB, that’s a six-dB difference.”
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“It’s just to regulate a system so that they can have control over maybe the select few people dishing out an opinion about how loud the music’s playing. There’s a select few shops that don’t dig it. But the majority love it.”
“I used to busk for six hours a day,” she adds, “and the shops I busked next to would turn their music off and listen to me jamming all day. Same with many other buskers out there too. It’s respect for our artistry.”
Instead of placing a ban on amplified busking, Tash reckons the Lord Mayor would be better off “growing a pair and fixing real life issues and not a noise complaint”. Although she isn’t concerned about an outright busking ban.
“Our community is too strong and too strongly willed for anything to stop us,” she says. “Even if they banned it I’d go and bring a sub and full PA speaker, tune it up to the max, and lay down some music ’cause I’m not letting them ruin it for anyone.”
Melbourne duo Pierce Brothers recently threw their support behind a petition to see the temporary ban lifted. “Without amplification there’s no chance buskers will be heard over the trams or foot traffic,” they wrote on Facebook. “So much for being the musician’s city.”
The brotherly duo got their start busking in Melbourne’s iconic Bourke Street Mall and now routinely sell out 800-capacity rooms and play to massive crowds across Europe, recently rounding out a European trek with a huge show in Holland.
“Busking is the new radio,” Lemon Tree Music Management’s Regan Lethbridge, who manages both Tash and Pierce Brothers and was a member of fellow buskers-turned-worldbeaters BONJAH, tells Tone Deaf.
But if the powers that be are allowed to continue their clampdown on busking, this beloved staple of Melbourne’s streets will be snuffed out and it will take the livelihoods and careers of countless musicians with it.