Urban Village spoke to Kali about ten years of Picnic, Maximum Joy and the clouds lifting above Sydney’s club scene. 

The state of Sydney’s nightlife has been turbulent over the last decade, to say the least. The 2014 lockout laws had devastating effects on our city, leaving many formerly iconic venues destitute, and many promoters and partygoers in despair.

The City of Sydney continues to advocate to the NSW Government to relax the laws, improve late night transport and investigate licensing reform to support late night trade.

“Our live music action plan, funding for late-night safety ambassadors and grants for businesses to improve or diversify their evening activities all support a more interesting and successful night-time economy,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who last month introduced a Creative Sector and Advisory Panel comprised of 15 experts from across the nightlife and creative sectors.

The Panel encompasses experts and professionals from across the hospitality, live music and performance, theatre, festivals, retail business and public safety sectors.

Local members include The Record Store owner and Darlinghurst Business Partnership president Stefan Gyory and James Winter, director of Brand X in Darlinghurst.

For Kali, the brain behind Picnic Touring and Events, widely known as Sydney music’s saving grace, the last decade has been a lesson in adaptation and focussing on what we do have to work with, rather than dwelling on what is lacking.

Kali, aka Carly Roberts, has been a fixture of Sydney’s club scene since her move up from our Capital in the early nineties. The Picnic empire comprises an event series, touring company, venue booker, music curator and the Kali-hosted FBi radio show. She began her DJ career at 18 and continues to appear regularly in the booth.

Image supplied.

Originally formed with Vi Hermens of Motorik, Kali now runs Picnic solo, as well as curating and directing music for establishments across Sydney, from Harpoon Harry’s and the Dolphin, to Da Orazio and Icebergs.

“When I was in my early thirties I was trying to work out what I wanted to do with my life, so I went on a soul searching mission to London,” recalls Kali, who chose to pursue music over fashion, her second love.

“I spent three weeks working at Phonica Records and immersed myself completely. Walking into clubs like Fabric and T Bar, I’d never been hit in the stomach with a sound system before.”

Picnic was born in 2008 and has been the driving force behind some of the most memorable parties Sydney has seen.

“I remember the first weekend I started Picnic on my own, we put on Maurice Fulton (and joint venture with Niche) on a Saturday night and on the Sunday I had Derrick May do a five hour set at 202 Broadway. I just had this feeling of synergy and real focus. It felt like something you spend your whole life working towards.”

In 2014 the NSW Government introduced the lock out laws, requiring venues to refuse entry from 1:30am and to stop drink service at 3am.

“I felt like I was just starting to hit a stride with Picnic,” says Kali. “A real sense of doom set in and I think it affected people going out in general straight away.”

“Then a few years in there were so few venues left that they were often booked out and you had to use alternate spaces. If you wanted to survive as a promoter in Sydney, you had to be agile.”

Four years on from the lockout laws and the clouds are starting to lift. While many venues fell casualty to the restrictions, many have adapted and grown in strength.

The City of Sydney’s Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel has been tasked with re-invigorating the city after dark. The panel will be modelled off those already in place in London, Berlin, Amsterdam and New York.

“We are doing everything we can as a local government to revitalise Sydney’s nightlife,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

Harpoon Harry’s is hosting its second Vivid program this year, with Kali behind the carefully curated music nights. And while Picnic parties in other spaces have taken a backseat behind her role as music director, the company is about to put on its biggest party yet: a whole day Sunday event.

Maximum Joy festival will be held on July 1 at the Kings Cross Hotel across all six floors, with different local and international promoters running each one.

“I think it’s amazing to go into an area that people think is lifeless and put on this huge event. I actually can’t wait,” says Kali.

This is hopefully the first of many festival endeavours for Picnic, whose events have always put an emphasis on the local scene as well as bringing in international heavy hitters.

Sydney is teeming with local producers, artists, bands and creative talent that are thriving despite the difficult circumstances.

“If you think about Freda’s, Harry’s, Cake Wines, the Heavenly and Rimbombo parties, Mad Racket who’s still going after twenty years, we have some of the most cultured, deeply thought about music programming in the world. Everyone is still having a good time,” muses Kali.

Sydney dance floors have come a long way from the free flowing 24-hour club raves of the early nineties. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to having the majority of Sydney open at least till early morning. I don’t know if that’s the end of the world.”

“I try to spend my time focussing on what we have. And I think if everyone does that we’re going to have a pretty great place to dance and get schooled on some great music.”