Is this the end of Australia’s summer music season as we know it? [op-ed]
It’s exactly 40 years since the Village People proclaimed “Nobody can stop the music”.
A true child of the ‘80s, I lived by this anthem, dancing away the blues through three successive decades. But this devastating bushfire season has shaken my belief.
Summer is not yet over, but already five music festivals have been cancelled due to extreme weather, concerts and sporting events are being shut down due to unsafe air quality and the awful smoke choking our major cities is chasing people out of our entertainment precincts and into their homes.
This New Year’s Eve was one that we’ll never forget. Our country’s famous firework parties were cancelled across New South Wales and the ACT as eerily orange skies, thick blankets of smoke and falling ash made it impossible to celebrate with such widespread devastation and a feeling of impending doom hanging heavy over our heads.
And let’s not forget that it’s not just the fire and extreme heat that’s killing our summer music, but flash floods, like those that spelled the end of festivals like Playground Weekender in 2012. Then there’s the loss of income, increasingly sky-high insurance claims and the risk assessments that make everyone think – ‘Is it really worth it?’
What does this all mean for the future of our music industry and the iconic Australian summer festival season? Is climate change inevitably going to spell the end of the beloved bush doof? Will all music festivals be pushed away from the country into the city, further damaging regional economies, or held in cooler months? Will international artists stay away, not wanting to risk our sunburnt shores?
The industry’s capacity to create, perform and publish depends upon safe weather, clean air and clean water. It’s such a given that we barely spare it any thought. That is until the evidence is literally shoved under our noses and into our lungs. Much the same as when someone we love gets sick, the climate crisis we face is both terrifying and filled with the transformational potential to bring into focus what matters most. For many of us, that’s our health and that of our friends and family. This is an invitation to extend that prayer further. To the whole biosphere. Because there’s no life, or music, on a dead planet.
So what can we do, as an industry, as music fans, as citizens of earth, to help the music industry adapt and reduce the pressure on our suffering country?
We need to take action. Collectively. There are concrete things we can do, right now, to start the healing. Here’s some suggestions to start making a real difference:
You are the storytellers of our generation with the ability to connect with audiences at a deep visceral level, something our politicians could only dream of doing. Write the truth of our times. The problems we face are hundreds, if not thousands of years in the making. It’s rooted in a story we tell ourselves about being separate from, rather than belonging to, the planet we inhabit. Make the link between climate change and the severity of these fires and help our culture let go of the need to perpetually grow and compete.
Also, wherever possible, lead by example. Regurgitator’s committed to cease touring by plane. Billie Eilish has created Eco-Villages at her concerts for fans to learn more about climate change. Everyone can reduce waste streams, use more public transport or cycle more, and harness our clout as performers to demand venues and festivals use clean, renewable energy.
Hats off to all you wonderful people who have already donated huge sums of money and are hosting bushfire benefit gigs in the coming weeks and months. No mean feat at such short notice. What else can you do in the longer term? Use your event or festival as a laboratory. Explore new ideas, test theories, push limits and transform what people believe is achievable. If we stick to business as usual, we’re screwed.
2019 showed us the capacity of the music scene to ditch disposables and join the reusable revolution. Now’s the time to go beyond. Think planting parties to create wildlife corridors, food trucks dedicated to serving regenerative agricultural products, worn wear fashion parades and solar powered stages. The sky’s the limit. Here’s some inspiration to get you started.
Party with the planet, not against it. When visiting your favourite festivals and music events this year, remember these four simple steps to keep the sites as pristine as when you first arrived:
- Be a caretaker – look after the site like it’s your own backyard.
- Buy less – seek new experiences over more stuff.
- Choose better – borrow, hire or buy with the future in mind.
- Take it home – clean it up and pack it away ready for next time.
Check out Party With The Planet for more information and inspiration.
Firstly, join in solidarity with First Nations struggles. They’ve been protecting this land for millennia and have the knowledge and culture to guide us back home. As Yorta Yorta poet, musician and radio host Neil Morris puts it: “Indigeneity needs to be central to the next steps in this conversation. It has not been one of the broader topics at hand at the moment of the ‘Australian’ consciousness. News have spent more time reporting on losses of wealthy resorts/ tourist business, exotic animal farms and anything but Indigenous stories. What a deep shame that truly is.”
Secondly, don’t shy away from political action – our government controls the economic levers (using our tax money!) and writes the laws that we are compelled to abide by, even when they’re patently unjust. Join Green Music Australia or another activist group and speak up. People listen to their mates more than anyone else. Use your sphere of influence to grow the environmental movement. Th
Thirdly, make a commitment to reduce your personal impact. #BYOBottle and keepcup, eat less meat and more local produce and of course, fly less wherever possible. Don’t aim for perfection, because it’s not possible in our current system (check out this New York Times article for more). Like Radiohead, accept that you’re a hypocrite. We all are. But don’t stop trying.
If we don’t change course, Mother Earth can, and indeed will, stop the music.
Let’s all make it our mission to start this new decade with a commitment to getting active and doing things differently. Let’s not lose our summer festival season and our passion for partying in the great Australian outdoors.
With hope and solidarity.
Berish Bilander is the co-CEO of Green Music Australia, a not-for-profit organisation and registered charity that harnesses the cultural power of music and musicians to lead the way to a greener world.