Another weekend, another venue cancellation, another promoter desperately trying to find a last minute new home for their party they’ve worked so hard to create. Us devotees of electronic music have been slow to realise just quite how much control and increasing power you, the authorities, have over the music we adore and the nights and days that we love to dance through. The changes you have brought in, apparently for our own safety and to clamp down on our ‘anti-social behaviour’ have been creeping and sneaky, so much so that it’s only recently that most of us are only just waking up to the fact that the dancefloors we pound through every weekend are becoming endangered, or at the very least being slowly changed out of all recognition.
You, the local councils, and the police, have been nibbling around the edges of club culture for years. Venues in Brixton and events on the grime scene were the first experiments in increased control, with licenses being pulled if DJs designated ‘troublemakers’ were manning the decks, although your definition of a troublemaker was apparently anyone who had played at a party where there had previously been any sort of problem. In the last few weeks I personally have had computerised mugshots taken I hope you enjoyed the sunglasses and the raspberry I blew just to go dancing of a weekend. My bankcard was swiped for “ID” purposes. The whole experience was something akin to attempting to enter the US, albeit with far politer security. This time, anyway. Because, let’s be honest, to gain entry to some big clubs these days involves intimate breast squeezing and ball cupping that would probably be defined as sexual assault if it was done by a random in a street.
The thing is, we all know that a lot of the time it’s not even the venues’ fault, you guys have them over a barrel. Most well-established clubs have a full time employee who deals solely with licensing issues, as the clubs know damn well that if there is slightest problem with health and safety, environmental health, drugs or the merest hint of violence, their business will be shut down and then the music stops. Licenses are getting tougher and tougher to obtain, with ID scanners often forced on promoters and venues if they want their events to go ahead. Or maybe the music can’t be turned up too loud, because one complaint from a neighbour about noise (who often has moved in a long time after the venue had opened) could mean shutdown. And, of course, many of these people who run our best-loved parties are scared to speak out publicly and criticise the police and the councils and landlords that own these temporary spaces, because they fear that if they do, their names can be trashed and their license could be arbitrarily taken away. Not just one time, but forever.
But here is the thing, we understand that there needs to be regulation and licensing and all that boring stuff, because it’s important that a party is as safe as possible. For anyone who has been in a vastly overcrowded club or festival, the risks are all too visible. And we understand it’s important to check for weapons, because, well, you never know, and it’s far better to be safe than sorry. And yes, although some might think the law is an ass, we get that recreational drugs are illegal and there are concerns about their usage at electronic music events. But hasn’t it all gone a bit too far? Is this assumption of crime and disorder and bad behaviour really borne out by the facts, these things called crime statistics? I know in your eyes that an electronic music event is just the same as a getting drunk in a trashy bar, but more suspect as our parties go on all night, which to you just seems dodgy. But for us, it’s a flourishing culture, a way of life, and it involves listening and dancing to music that can be just as beautiful as the Rolling Stones or Paganini or Miles Davis, all of whom were once considered malign influences on public life.
And you’re getting stricter and stricter and making it harder and harder for promoters and venues to put on parties. You say it’s for our own sake, and that of local residents, but I am beginning to think it’s because you just don’t want these types of events to happen at all. In recent months several reputable and well-organised parties had licenses revoked on their venues, on several occasions on the actual day of the event. Other parties have been pre-emptively shut down because it was thought there MAY be problems, based on the flimsiest of evidence. In fact, looking down my Facebook feed, these days it’s rarer to find a party that doesn’t have to change their venue at the last minute, and sometimes the organisers aren’t lucky enough or don’t have the extra cash to find a replacement venue. Have you any idea how devastating that is for the promoters? How much money and time and effort and passion they put in to making that party? How, especially for smaller promoters, you may have essentially put them out of business, at least for the short term, as they will have spent thousands on flights, security, sound systems, DJs, bar staff and all the other things that make their night so wonderful. And that’s not even beginning to mention the amount that is lost on reimbursing ticket sales and the damage to reputations. But it’s not about the cash, it’s about the love, and that’s why it hurts us so much. And it seems like however much we seem to bend to your increasingly tough demands, it’s never enough. And it’s not fair.
We are not the enemy. We realise a balance has to be struck, as ultimately if the worst happens, it’s the police, the local councils, the venue owners, as well as the promoters who carry the can, who bear responsibility if a party gets out of control and people get hurt. But this very rarely happens, so why is there felt to be a need to pile on yet more legislation on our heads? Licensing special policy zones are a good example of this. Currently, if your business resides in the Shoreditch triangle or on a certain part of Kingsland Road, it’s now pretty much impossible to get any sort of late license. Yes, these areas have seen an explosion in nightlife in recent years, but lest we forget, you, the authorities, granted the permission for all these places to exist. If you had turned a few down, been a bit more selective before you handed licenses out like sweets, then anti-social behaviour could have been kept at a minimum. The situation we have now is that longstanding venues and promoters with excellent track records are being unfairly punished for the transgressions of a few.
To be honest, we are scared about what your next move will be. Rumours abound that these special policy areas are just a mere trial run for what will be a London-wide, Sydney-style restrictive licensing clampdown. Apparently you’re thinking about forcing all venues to prohibit people from coming to the party past 1 am, to stop serving alcohol by 3 am and to close the doors at 6 am. This will kill our scene, because it will be the nail in the coffin of what electronic music is all about the freedom to commune on a dancefloor, with like-minded people, to get our rocks off to beautiful music. Freedom, that’s what is important, and that’s what you are taking away.
In these times of austerity and blanket surveillance, it’s becoming increasingly easy to feel that all of this is a form of societal control, smuggled in under the blanket of “keeping us safe”, and an attempt to clamp down on movements and subcultures that appear threatening to the status quo. London is already has the most CCTV cameras of any city in the world, and it seems, that before long it will be impossible to go into any venue without providing personal details and having your picture taken, a bit like when you get arrested and charged for a crime.
And these increasingly tight regulations will have the opposite effect that you, the authorities intend. Already we are seeing an explosion of “illegal raves”, and that’s because people can’t afford to jump through all the hoops you keep introducing, and punters don’t want to feel like they are clubbing in a police state, so they make their own events, under the radar, to create a space where they feel free, without your interference, and away from prying eyes. Because you see, we are not stupid. We have been to parties in Barcelona and Berlin and Bucharest, and these parties are far wilder, go on far longer, with the minimum amount of problems, with far lighter touch regulation. We know what the atmosphere at these parties feels like, and we want the same for the city we love so much, that has for so long produced some of the best music in the world, across all genres. If these places can manage it without disasters occurring, then why can’t London?
Written by Peggy Whitfield