For those about to rock, turn the amp off and go home

Noise complaints are threatening the future of live music

Chris Beanland
Wednesday 21 November 2012 01:00

You never forget your first time – but do you remember your worst time? Maybe it was Blur at Hyde Park in August? Or Friendly Fires at Lovebox? If the speakers are too quiet, it ruins a gig. You may as well go home for a cuppa. We don't expect to go to a gallery and peer at paintings through greasy Perspex – yet stricter noise enforcement is making some live music as much as fun as having your teeth pulled out by Graham Coxon.

Gigs, clubs and festivals are the new battleground in the noise war that has swept Britain, pitting city-dwellers against one another – and threatening the survival of live music and clubs alike. Criticism of strict noise restrictions in Hyde Park this summer was widespread. The number of concerts in next year's programme has been slashed. Many wonder whether Hyde Park can ever be a viable venue; previous promoter Live Nation has walked away in a huff. The Mayfair Residents Group were particularly active in opposing concerts. But with the average local property price clocking in at £2.9 million, sympathy for residents is perhaps in short supply.

Noise levels in east London's Victoria Park have suffered similar restrictions. Muffled sound ruined successive festivals here: Caribou are exceptional, yet their show at Field Day 2010 sounded like a tin can rattling around in next door's washing machine. In Belfast, Tennent's Vital in August provoked 120 complaints from residents.

It's not just festivals in the firing line. This week Islington Council indicated it is likely to approve plans for 90 flats behind the 125 year-old Union Chapel. The music venue was voted London's best by Time Out readers. Fans fear that if the flats are built it could be curtains for live music – as incoming residents won't tolerate the din.

There's a sad precedent. Brighton's Freebutt called a moratorium on live music after being served with a noise abatement order. The same fate befell The Point in Cardiff. Yet in both cases, the cause was just a single complaint.

The news isn't all bad. Liverpool's Static Gallery was forced to suspend its live music programme due to a noise abatement order – but has since managed to negotiate a reprieve, and Scouse post-punk band Clinic celebrated by playing a set there last Saturday.

Conflict has been rife in Digbeth, Birmingham – home to a cluster of pubs and clubs, but also, in recent times to a crop of new apartments. The Rainbow, the Spotted Dog and the Custard Factory all faced the threat of having to curtail their live music after complaints. The situation has improved, with the venues reaching an agreement with Birmingham City Council and residents. Could the seeds of this conflict have been sown when "noise" was lumped in with the antisocial behaviour crusade waged by politicians? The Yorkshire Post reported this week that noise complaints to Leeds City Council have doubled in one year since an out-of-hours telephone line was set up last year. Of these complaints, 70 per cent were about loud music.

No one should have to endure Skrillex coming through the walls at 4am. But our eclectic live music and clubbing scene – so tightly woven into the fabric of British cultural life – can't be allowed to wither because of a few complaints.

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