Saturday, 20 December 2014

Is the party over in Brighton? Certainly sounds like it.

Here in Brighton, we are perceived by many,  a party destination.  Not just Hen and Stags, but also for more hedonistic and cultured nightlife. Music, sex, drugs, fashion, freedom and tolerance being an intrinsic part of what's made Brighton such an attractive place to visit or live.

We have had it good, we have enjoyed ourselves. Sometimes on a ridiculously grand scale - Big Beach Boutique and Fatboy attracting tens of thousands to Brighton, myself included and no doubt leading to people moving here off the back of it. The same can be said of Pride which has grown and expanded into a full on festival style production, with more attractions, bigger line ups, attendees and zones of the city organised as part of the event.

Late night music lead venues have held some excellent live gigs and club events for many years, giving us so much to choose from within a 3 mile radius, week in week out for decades.

We have some great restaurants and many pubs serve good quality organic or free range food that just isn't on offer as standard in the South East's provincial towns and villages.

So all in all we have it quite good. It's a lively and interesting city with a diverse and creative culture, sat beneath the 'tits and teeth' of the pier, pavilion and seafront.

Whats the problem?
This month I took a step back into some of the smaller venues I worked with as a DJ over the years. Pubs, bars and other little spaces that are popular for the company do's and Xmas get togethers we all look forward to at this time of year.

When I first came to Brighton, I set up lots of smaller gigs in pubs and bars so we could play disco and nu disco to our friends and try to carve out a niche off the back of it. Myself and Ali Back played many of these gigs along with various other local jocks - pretty good nights, without the hassle of having to install additional sound. We just used the in house systems which were adequate - decent jukebox level music, with enough room to pump it up a bit later so dancers could dance, chat and get pissed together with no real complaints to speak of.

Good fun, not a great deal of hassle or trouble really. The Pub sold the booze, we played the music, all had a bit of party and generally us DJ's bought more records with the money we earned.

Slowly but surely local residents (usually one single complainant) - would start to find that living near the pub didn't suit them and start to make noises about this to the council.  The Environmental Health Officers take this kind of thing very seriously, it's a health issue and human rights issue for this poor complainant. Their quality of life is being compromised and it can't be ignored. They are suffering as a result of music and high spirits of a weekend and it needs to be investigated.

The reality of this kind of action,  especially since the extended licensing laws were implemented is devastating for a business trying to operate fairly, and cater for it's customers.

I have witnessed reasonable complaints, where New Years Eve has been a bit OTT in terms of extra sound installed especially, as a one off and becoming a nuisance, too loud, too late. These complaints are usually met with the volume being turned down and a bit of an understanding that its once a year, sorry we got a bit carried away...

I have also been party to unreasonable neighbours complaining about what can barely be considered audible, let alone a nuisance. The most trivial of situations becoming the bedrock for an ongoing campaign and vendetta against a venue. Blind Tiger, Om Bar, Freebutt all paying the ultimate price for one nause of a neighbour.

One of Brick Lane's cornerstones, Vibe Bar has now become a casualty of this scenario. Closing down and making way for what exactly?

Council in cahoots with property developers?
The Blind Tiger was a popular live venue and pub, lots of fun and part of Brighton's make up. A tenant moved in with full knowledge of the venues business model, but found it unacceptable once living there and began to stalk its prey, finally leading to the demise of the tiger. It's owners shut the doors and walked away. SEE ARTICLE

It is now a squat. Excellent work from the council and a prime example of what one single complainant is capable of doing to a business, its staff (now unemployed), the building (now squatted) and it's clients. All with full support and assistance of the City council.

It's commonly used as a tactic for property development firms, these fuckers are taking council planning staff off to the South of France to plan there next developments and acquisitions on private yachts whilst plying them with free booze. Does that sound like we're in good hands? SEE ARTICLE

I am not in a position to go into major detail on political corruption, but its not a theory, there are numerous sources and findings giving further insight into where the council are actually working to an agenda that differs from what we would perhaps expect. Certainly not one that most would deem fair.

How does this affect me?
The result of the way the complaints are now dealt with are clearly evident in many of Brighton and Hove's venues. The council has installed sound limiters, locked down at a level usually set in the day time with an empty venue and then approved by the complainant. This sounds like a reasonable solution in theory. Assuming you were dealing with a reasonable person. Unlikely.

There is usually an agenda, or a list of demands or an unrealistic expectation of 'county living' and peace and quiet in the heart of a busy and vibrant city. These awkward fuckers usually want to hear a pin drop! Maybe get some earplugs or buy more your property more sensibly, what are you an idiot?

Gone are the easy nights, due to the levels being set at 10 am in an empty venue, the music is barely audible over busy bar room chatter, there are consistent and anguished requests for the DJ to turn it up - which has been made impossible by the over zealous limiter. Bar managers are constantly anxious over noise complaints and pretty soon the venue becomes a stressful and intense place to be, with staff and it's trade feeling the negative effects of the councils measures.

Why does one disgruntled person get to have so much power over so many people? People that were previously doing fine, enjoying the city, many getting on with the fact they live very near a music or drinking establishment and accepting that's where they live and what that means. Businesses are being ruined, our city is being restricted and limited to the mediocre.

I could only really hear peoples voices on numerous occasions this month whilst being paid good money for people to basically watch me play music they simply couldn't hear! It was painfully frustrating and unfair on everyone. We rubbed along as best we could but overall it was a crying shame. For the sake of a few extra decibels, we all got short changed, needing to put a brave face on what could of been a cracking night.

Smoking outside, mobile phones, conversations, laughter and conviviality are all pushing venues nearer to closure. Imaging trying to manage that. All due to ONE single complainant. They now have the volume control, and they have the power. Why??

Don't blame the venue, its Human Nature
Humans generally like to socialise in their free time, we enjoy a night out, we like to let loose once in a while and spend our hard earned cash on drinking, dining, having a late night. We get babysitters and go out late sometimes. We want the music up loud enough to dance to and we don't want to do this at home.

We don't mean a rave, we mean a night out where we have the choices we used to have, a bit of a laugh and a dance. Sadly there are only a few sacred places left in Brighton where this casual night out is an option. I won't name them for fear of EHO visits and another one biting the dust.

In short its become a Kingdom of Fear for venues and I think it's completely out of balance. We have rights and expectations, that are slowly but surely being eroded and dissolved, in pursuit of what? House prices? Keeping one person content? Or is it simply that we aren't complaining and they are?

I think the party is generally over in the settings I've described, but it needn't be - I have seen venues work in beautiful harmony with their neighbours, agreeing a music off policy of 12 - not bad for a boozer really. Party section is decent and then a wind down time from 12 - 1 am close.

I've seen venues offer to double glaze their neighbours homes, add sound proofing and acoustic treatments only to be snubbed and refused. There must be another agenda at play in these cases.

What can I do?
A sensible proposal for a Mandatory Noise Complaint Waiver, now seems to have all the more urgency. It's an online petition to protect live music venues against noise complaints the aim of the which, is to prevent people who knowingly move within earshot of a live music venue, then proceeding to file noise complaints against said venue.

The petition states: “It is extremely detrimental to the UK’s entertainment industry, particularly on a grassroots level, when all the music venues start disappearing. Music is a key British export and to endanger our strong national artist community is to endanger a key British industry.”

The petition follows the closure of beloved venues such as Brighton’s Blind Tiger club, Freebutt and Brick Lane's Vibe Bar.  Check out the petition for yourself and sign here.

I hope you all stand up for what you want to be available next time you go for a night out.

London / Soho - Left Foot Forward
East London Times 

Here's a bit of free music going begging right now coutesy of  DJ Steef!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Pictures are up from Friday night