First coronavirus, now media bashings: Perth nightlife culture can’t catch a break

First coronavirus, now media bashings: Perth nightlife culture can’t catch a break

Perth’s nightlife was completely destroyed by coronavirus, and is only just beginning to recover. Some people, however, think it should stay shut.

If there’s one thing that could put a damper on a nightlife culture reaching a new peak, it’d be a global pandemic. It feels like a tiny thing to complain about considering coronavirus’ impact on the world, but the 2019/2020 summer felt transformative for Perth’s nightlife culture, and as an offshoot of that, our city’s music and event cultures. 

For a long time, Perth has been considered the grunt of Australia’s cultural output. There are long-running jokes about how every national tour skips over the west coast due to its isolation from the eastern capital cities, and despite Perth offering some of the country’s biggest exports - Tame Impala an obvious example - we’re still often seen as giving nothing to Australia’s larger cultural output. We’re a cultural wasteland, according to some people - people who likely haven’t even travelled to Perth, nor know anyone from the west coast who would argue otherwise.

Recently, however, it feels like things have changed. WA-centric festivals such as Origin Fields have become world-renowned, and east-coast festivals - such as Falls Festival - have come over to tap into our growing music event culture. Pop-up events have emerged and offered experiences heavily posted across Instagram, but not without competition from several new venues that have all opened in the last twelve months, from clubs occupying genre-specific niches to full, multi-story venues including restaurants to rave pits all in one.

Obviously, coronavirus had a severe impact on our nightclub culture across the end of its busiest peak season, and while it’s difficult to see direct impacts because of it right now (many venues have reopened now, aided by Jobkeeper benefits), there’s no doubting that coronavirus will have a negative impact on nightlife cultures and venues, not just in Perth but across the country and beyond.

Now, things are starting to open up, and Perth’s nightlife and music cultures are beginning to proceed to repair themselves, and getting back on track ahead of another, looming peak period. Perth is in a unique position in being one of the only places in the world to have controlled coronavirus - something that will likely remain as long as our borders stay closed and people co-operarte - and because of that, we’re also unique in having a sense of culture once again. Clubs have re-opened - albeit to half-capacity, a lot of the time - and venues are operating to a degree, allowing the rehiring of everyone that makes that happen: bar staff, door staff, promotions companies, right down to the drag queens at our queer venues and cover bands at the local.

As you’d maybe expect after a long and unprecedented complete shut-down, people are thirsty - literally. Even weeks following the re-opening of venues, Perth’s nightlife distinct feels almost like peak summer. There are people out and about, wanting to see their first gig in months or even just to experience smashing a pint in a beer garden after a long time of being without. Some people haven’t seen anyone in months, you can’t blame them for wanting to get out a bit, and spend a bit of the money they couldn’t spend going out every weekend.

However, it’s been quick to turn into something dramatic by our state’s media; Northbridge being the centre of fear-mongering once again, as the media claim it’s a “CBD Pressure Cooker” - of what? People wanting to have a drink and relax with their friends for the first time in months? 

On several occasions since Northbridge has re-opened, dickhead behaviour has covered the front page of The West Australian. “Booze, uncertainty and lifted restrictions sees violence return to Northbridge,” posted The West Australian this weekend, alongside Police Minister Michelle Roberts, who claims that “coronavirus welfare payments” are contributing to Northbridge violence. “JobSeeker was put in place to help people … unfortunately though I think it has put extra cash into the hands of some young people who are disposing of that income by purchasing alcohol,” she says.

nightlife culture

If you're calling on Perth nightclubs to be shut down, think about the people that will be left jobless, just weeks after getting their jobs back again for the first time in months - the bar staff, the security, the performers, the promoters. So many people are crucial in making venues run on a weekly basis.

You’d be stupid to say there’s no violence in Northbridge, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Violence in Northbridge has been around - and the target of media fear-mongering campaigns - long before coronavirus was something that even sounded real, and long before welfare payments to support people - not just young people - whose income had been displaced and reduced due to the pandemic. The violence goes way beyond Northbridge too. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a fight while up in Joondalup, or down by The Como in South Perth, or on the streets of Fremantle even in the dead of the day.

As you’d expect, these articles draw comments on social media - Facebook comment sections are still the worst place in the world, even amongst a pandemic - from people who think that the behaviour of a tiny number of dickheads are representative of every single person going out, a lot of which are people - not even just young people - who are finally getting the chance to relax after the most stressful and strange periods they’re likely to ever have to live through, and have a beer with someone they haven’t seen in months because you know, global pandemic.

There are calls on social media to enact lockdown laws in Perth - despite constant proof that Sydney’s would not work - and despite the fact that I think lockout laws to that degree in Perth wouldn’t happen as a result of this, it’s still incredibly disheartening to hear. Imagine being a Perth-based venue owner whose income has been absolutely decimated by something well out of their control, only to be able to reopen under incredibly strict and vague guidelines for some boomers to tell you that you should shut forever because a bunch of dickheads spilled out from a nightclub three kilometres away and had a punch up over whatever.

And then to go on to say that all this fear and uncertainty and lack of safety comes down to long-overdue raises to welfare is digusting, and incredibly dismissive. Almost every single person I know went onto either Jobkeeper or Jobseeker because they 1) lost their job or 2) would’ve lost their job without it, and I doubt many of those - nor others I don’t know - are out punching people on the street and causing violence because they’re suddenly “flushed for cash”. That money went to rent, paying bills, life expenses - things that didn’t suddenly stop because of a pandemic - and now that people are back at work, earning money, and wanting to spend some of that money to relax and destress after - again - the global pandemic going on, suddenly the city is a pressure cooker of fear and venues which are only just rebuilding themselves have to close again?

It’s all sensationalising built to scare people about something that’s barely even there, and certainly something that hasn’t suddenly appeared because welfare payments temporarily increased. Perth’s hospitality and nightlife economies keep a lot of people - young people, old people, people from all different backgrounds and spectrums - employed and living, and to shut it down after one of the hardest periods for any of these people would be so incredibly damaging, especially as they’re just starting to rebuild themselves.

As long as coronavirus stays to people quarantining in hotels and community transmission remains at zero, it’s so crucially important to so many industries that we focus on building ourselves back up and recovering. Don’t let a bit of fearmongering from people who would rather it all shut up shop so they can build apartment complexes deter you from letting go and relaxing a little bit.

Sending it once or twice is the fucking least we deserve after surviving a god damn international pandemic unlike us or any of our living relatives are likely to have ever faced to this severity. Enjoy that god damn beer, just don’t be a dickhead - just like you wouldn’t before coronavirus either.