How to turn Sydney back into a world-class party city

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Vi Hermens is a vocal figure in Sydney’s dance music community – as a veteran DJ, ever-enthusiastic party promoter and bossman at Sydney techno crew Motorik – with an interesting perspective about the way forward for our scene.

He covers a lot of different angles – from managing artists to throwing left-of-centre parties and hosting a radio show on FBi Click with his labelmates – so it’s no surprise that he sees the problems with Australia’s clubs through multiple prisms.

The Motorik parties he helps organise have built a powerful, word-of-mouth reputation by staying slightly under the radar, throwing events in unusual locations, and always keeping the focus on incredible music and good vibes.

We spoke with Hermens to find out what he thinks are the major challenges facing Australia’s party scene, and how Motorik has managed to thrive in a tough environment for club culture. It’s not just lockouts, Hermens says: there’s a lot that we can do to make Sydney fun again. [Article images by Voena]

When did you first throw your own party?

It was an indie rock event at the Jubilee Hotel in Brisbane many moons ago when I was a teenager. After that I put on some goth/alternative parties in Sydney for a little bit. Nothing particularly exciting, I was just learning how to do the promoter thing. This is before MySpace and Facebook, so it was a completely different paradigm; when you started out with no money it was really hard.

Everything picked up when I started going to the [famous Sydney electro] Bang Gang parties at 19 – it opened my eyes up to a whole new world. I remember some random girl coming up to me and pashing me, and realising that I was definitely on another planet…me in my knee-length t-shirt and bright pink hair.

Everybody around us – especially the Motorik crew – really can point to the Bang Gang as being the point that everything changed for us. The energy, the vibe, the sense of community and comradeship amongst all the fashionistas, nerds, no-hopers and future corporate leaders of Australia, it was amazing. It was so f*cking cool man, it was a total blessing.

[Photo by Voena]

What’s changed for you since those halcyon late-00s days?

The environment in Sydney is completely different now – there are a lot more rules, a lot more regulations, and there’s been a massive change in the way that people in Sydney go out partying. People started going out later and later, and then the lock-out laws came in, but people haven’t really adjusted their ways of doing things to get around that – they just complain about it and don’t go out.

And if you look at it in a macro sense, the cost of living in Sydney has gone up so dramatically. In 2006/7, the cost of rent dropped by like 10% or something – everything was cheaper, so you could go out and afford to rave rather than spending a million dollars on just trying to survive.

Whereas right now we’re back in a similar time to 2003/4, where it’s so expensive to rent a place in the city or Bondi – all the places that are desirable, and where the majority of the clubs are. There’s less money in people’s pockets, which means they’re less likely to catch a taxi to a nightclub and buy expensive drinks.

Then you’ve got the flow-on impact of the lockouts, which is further restricting people’s choices, and you’ve basically got a complete shift in the culture. It makes it very hard for promoters to competitively offer a high-quality, fun experience.

What do you think the way forward is then?

I think it’s probably going to get more and more expensive [to live in Sydney], so we’re probably going to see a boom in less expensive locations. There’s a whole variety of factors pointing people out to the Marrickville area, and I know the Marrickville Council has been focused on activating a big chunk of their space there. They’re trying to turn it into “the new Brooklyn”, so I reckon that could be a future artistic and entertainment hub for Sydney and I look forward to seeing that happening.

I would love to see the government come onboard and make it easier for us to put on more interesting things in our city. For example, Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour is an amazing venue for a festival, but it costs an absolute fortune to go and put a party on there.

It seems like, with the decline in recorded music sales, having a thriving party scene is more important than ever?

That’s yet another piece of the puzzle making it harder for us: the complete destruction of recorded music sales. You can’t really make money from merchandise in dance music either – people aren’t all rushing to spend $30 on a t-shirt. Some people do, but it’s not on that level.

Spotify, Rdio, even Apple Music all pay sweet-FA to the actual artists, which especially affects independent labels like Future Classic, Motorik, etc. We see very little money, it’s all going to the major labels. Even people like Peking Duk and Nicky Night Time – they’re on independent labels not majors, and we’re all cut out of the majority of revenue that comes from those streaming services.

[Photo by Voena]

Live performance is the lifeblood of artists. And it’s not just musicians: it’s dancers, it’s designers, it’s set builders, and we employ all these people. Bus drivers, boat owners, security guards, independent sniffer dog companies, all that stuff. It feels like the local, state and federal governments do not understand how much this all means to a large chunk of people.

The Motorik parties have built an enviable reputation off word of mouth, though: what’s your secret?

I think one thing we all need to be wary of is – one thing that I hate particularly – is people imploring others to support their local scene. This is going to be kind of controversial, but I feel that if your product is good enough, then you’ve got no problems.

If you’re offering amazing artists with amazing production at a fair price, then people will come and support you. I think the only people who complain are the ones who aren’t offering anything interesting and want it to go back to being as easy as it used to be, y’know?

Do something innovative, support really interesting local people, grow artists, nurture them and encourage them. Get people with talent – don’t go to DJs and artists with gigantic guest lists to carry your party; you need to put that work in. Our job is to find amazing local talent, showcase it as well as possible, and from truly inspiring art will come truly inspiring parties. We are true believers in that.