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Supporting youth music in Byron Bay

 

How BUDDI CDAT and Byron Bay youth services have run the YACROCKCAFE for the past 8 years, as shared with us by Nicqui Yazdi.

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The problem

Byron Bay had become a hot spot for young tourists and backpackers who were bringing a lifestyle of year round, day long drinking and partying, and seemed willing to supply alcohol to underage kids in Byron – despite New South Wales secondary supply laws. Nicqui Yazdi could see that this role-modelling was giving local young people the belief that this was the ‘cultural norm’ in relation to the overuse of alcohol and other drugs. On top of that there was very little for young people to do, especially at night, and it seemed many were turning to alcohol and drugs for entertainment.

Nicqui was concerned – but she did not just sit on the sidelines and let this happen to her town and its kids.

Following a drug and alcohol youth forum, Nicqui helped found a new CDAT that decided to call itself BUDDI – Byron Underage Drinking and Drug Initiative. The new CDAT linked up with the Byron Youth Service, and they began to tackle some of the problems they saw emerging in their community. They wanted to get kids off the streets and address the growing problem of underage drinking.

Initial idea: youth activities drop-in

Byron Youth Service provided the space to start a drop-in ‘Friday nights @ the YAC’ (Youth Activities Centre) which ran from 5-10pm.

They collected some items through donations, and were able to provide:

  • Free food
  • Pool table
  • Video game consoles
  • Ping-pong table
  • Movie projector + bean bag chairs
  • Art table with different creative media
  • A music room for kids to jam in

The music room took off! Young people really got into playing music together and started to form bands.

But the program had some initial growing pains. At first, activities were geared towards 11-14 year olds from local high schools but the event struggled to maintain its alcohol and drug free policy. Kids might show up and leave again to go into town and drink, having told their parents they would be at the YAC. They might also be picked up by intoxicated parents – or not at all. This continued to frustrate the organisers for the first couple of years.

Birth of the YACROCKCAFE

Focus on music

They decided to change up the program a bit of Friday nights @ the YAC, and focused on the interest the young people were showing in music. They asked their community for donations, and applied for grants that provided instruments and equipment for the program. For youth week they invited bands and other performers to showcase their talents. They gave a ‘rebrand’ to the program, calling it YACROCKCAFE and inviting bands to play for a live audience. They formed a partnership with the SAE (school of audio engineering) institute and local high schools, who provided students to volunteer on internships and work placements to manage the sound setup. . That help turned YACROCKCAFE into a great venue for gigs, and bands started coming out to play. Most of the events were promoted through social media pages and groups, BUDDI managed to amass thousands of followers on their pages.

New demographic

The demographic of the program changed, with more 14-24 year olds coming out. Many of these young people were interested in ‘hardcore’ music. The alcohol and drug free nature of the program received perhaps unexpected support from the popularity of this music style, because many hardcore bands and their fans are ‘straightedge’ – they don’t drink, smoke, or take other drugs. Nicqui credits this subculture with positively influencing kids at the YACROCKCAFE, as older young people role-modelled that lifestyle and positively influenced their younger peers to follow suit.

The hardcore music scene has strong roots in Byron, and is the home of two internationally acclaimed hardcore bands Parkway Drive and In Hearts Wake. Parkway Drive got their start playing at the YAC as teens and have since recorded five full-length studio albums, regularly tour internationally, and still often return to their home-stage at the YAC for concerts.

Growing popularity

Kids from surrounding towns like Tweed Heads, Kingscliff, Lismore, Ballina, Casino and Evans Head started asking if they could come to the YAC and play shows, too. They started driving to Byron Bay to go to the YACROCKCAFE. BUDDI were seeing on average upwards of 70 kids every Friday show up for the live music, and at times up to 500 for special events that included an album launch for ‘In Hearts Wake’.

Keeping kids busy

Not only were these young people occupied on Friday nights but they were also occupied at other times, holding practices to get ready for the shows and enjoying the music they were making together. It also meant that they were choosing to spend their limited money on instruments and equipment instead of on alcohol and drugs.

Wrapping up YACROCKCAFE and focussing on schoolies

After 8 years of spending her Friday nights at the YAC, Nicqui has hung up her hat. Ongoing renovations at the YAC and struggles to access funding, like their youth worker funding being pulled, as well as 8 years of personal commitment helped Nicqui make the decision – but as she still runs the massive Byron Schoolies Safety Response and Schoolies HUB in Byron Bay, she clearly isn’t done helping the young people in her community.

Advice from Nicqui

On successful programs: 

  • Look for partnerships (such as with local youth services) for you CDAT to secure more funding.
  • Look out for and apply for other grants – this is vital to success.
  • Communities generally like to support initiatives like music programs, so let them know what you’re doing through things like media releases.
  • Ask the community for donations of things like instruments, subwoofers, and p.a. systems – but specify that they be in working order!
  • Think of local community halls when looking for a venue, because many can be underutilized and inexpensive.

On young people:

  • Give young people the respect you would ask for.
  • Don’t finger wag or talk down to them, and then expect them to take notice of you.
  • Harm minimisation is the key – and it’s about talking, educating, and respecting.
  • If you give them the chance to make a good choice, they often will.
  • Remember what it felt like when you were their age. They’re just kids, and we’ve got to look after them.

YACROCKCAFE – a primary prevention win!

This music program ticks our boxes by meeting the best practice criteria for a great youth event. It was:

  • Regular: every week.
  • Timed to reduce harms: Friday nights.
  • Provided positive role modelling: Nicqui and her CDAT members, the Byron Bay youth workers, and the older young people who are straight-edge.
  • Was ‘in-touch’ with them: responded to the interest in music, and specifically the hardcore genre, so popular with local Byron youth.
  • Provides links to other services: involvement of Byron Youth Service.
  • Drug and alcohol-free: but puts the music front and centre as the main attraction.

Nicqui and her community have had many other wins, from keeping Dan Murphy’s and ALDI from obtaining liquor licenses in Byron Bay to working with the Liquor Accord to promote NSW’s secondary supply laws through their local bottle shops.

The Byron Bay community is a great inspiration for imagining what can be accomplished when we work together to address the harms of alcohol and other drugs.