This is an article I wrote for Honours on the recent shutting down of LIVE The Venue. Thought it would be an important story to share. It's fairly long, but try push through it:)
People start ambling in to LIVE TheVenue, paying their entrance fee, getting their arms stamped and grabbing a drink while they wait for the band to come on stage. It’s Newtown Knife Gang all the way from Jozi and their Durban fans have been excited to hear them play a live performance. Quite a big crowd has gathered tonight and the bands are waiting back stage, ready to show Durban what they’ve got to offer.
But before the lead singer can say “Testing, one, two, three” a policeman walks into the venue. And another one. And some other people that also look pretty scary.
Before the crowd knows it, they are being ushered out of the venue, into their cars parked on Stamford Hill road, and back to their houses with the stamps still on their arms and their wallets forty rand lighter.
What the hell just happened?
THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
Since the Soccer World Cup of 2012, Durban has been steadily growing and developing - attracting more tourists to the East Coast with the Moses Mabhida Stadium Swing, Golden Mile beach promenade and Ushaka Marine World. Earlier this year it was rated in CNN’s Top Ten Most Underrated Cities in the World, which is really saying something.
However, there is an area where it falls short, and this is with its music industry. Andrew Loubser, production manager of a popular gig venue reckons that “Durban is at least three or four years behind when it comes to the music industry”. According to the Final Report on the Micro-Economic Development Strategy for the Music Industry in the Western Cape there is an economic potential in live music or performance because it “creates an opportunity for a recording career as well as being a tool used to promote an already recorded product”. There is no reason why this same logic should not apply to KZN and its music industry. The province is exploding with musical talent with artists like The Arrows, John Ellis, and more recently, Gangs of Ballet emerging onto the scene. But there is definitely a problem when musicians find it easier to secure gigs in places like Johannesburg than in the province that birthed them.
Over the last two years Durban, in comparison to Cape Town and Johannesburg, has had minimal live music venues running. Sure, there are the occasional restaurants, cafes and nightclubs which may play host to local musicians, but in terms of venues which cater specifically for live music entertainment, there have only been a handful of places that managed to fight their way through the badly run system and poor governance of the city.
These places can be understood and defined as spaces which are permanently configured with a stage, PA system, core backline, monitors and lights. Venues like this also have a management staff and operational mode that is specialized and accustomed to dealing with and presenting live music.
Towards the close of 2010, a gig venue opened up on Stamford Hill Road that went by the name, Unit 11. Frustrated with the lack of live music venues in Durban, Unit 11 sought to bring change by turning an old warehouse into a performance space, complete with stage, lighting, a sound desk, a bar, wheelchair access and a smoking area. Needless to say, the people of Durban, itching for something to spice up the nightlife, went wild over ‘Unit’. It wasn’t long before the venue became a popular hangout for supporters of the various music genres – from acoustic Thursdays, to punk-night Fridays, to big band Saturdays, Unit 11 was always the place to be, and for many, it took Durban to a whole new level socially.
Out of nowhere, in December 2011, the popular gig venue announced that it would be closing d
own, due to the huge amounts of debt it owed. After speaking recently to partial owner of Unit 11, Daniel Hampton, it was revealed that Unit 11 had been operating illegally the entire year because in order to get the entertainment licence needed to obtain a liquor licence and have a live music space, they would have to pay around R60 000 in legal fees.
In Hampton’s words, “You basically have to sue the local council for not giving you the necessary business licence (because it’s illegal for them not to if you have all the correct measures in place and have made the right applications). The problem is you can only do that once they have rejected you three or four times for no good reason, and then it takes several different layers of court applications. So it’s not cheap, it takes a long time, and there are no guarantees”. This process was something that the owners of the venue just couldn’t afford especially given the money they already owed.
Now all that remains of the ‘coolest gig venue in Durbs’ is an empty building and a dead Facebook page full of comments from supporters, begging for a resurrection.
Recently, at the Moshito Music Conference, a survey done in 2012 on the live music venues in South Africa, revealed that less than forty venues are legally run. It also revealed KZN to be significantly lacking in venues in comparison to the Western Cape and Gauteng. Out of the sixty-three venues they looked at, only four belonged to KZN while fifteen and seventeen belonged to Gauteng and the Western Cape respectively.
Unit 11 is not the only venue that struggled to get established in Durban. Places like Thunder Road, Burn, and the Slingshot Sessions at Society are among the many that tried and failed.
Until on Saturday the 25th August , LIVE TheVenue faced similar consequences to the beloved Unit 11 when the Durban Council and metro police stormed in just before a gig and shut the place down on the grounds that LIVE was operating illegally without a business licence. The Rolling Stone magazine recently did a feature on the article and quoted one of LIVE’s owners as saying, that they "were legal on the night as we had a temporary consent to operate which one department at the municipality says is legitimate and another department says it is not valid. We had the relevant liquor and health safety licenses. We were intimidated into closing by fifteen people from various local authorities and were told to close or they would arrest us, subsequently our lawyers have informed us that they did not have the right to enforce such an action."
LIVE had been previously told by authorities that they could operate provided that every week, for every gig, they acquired a temporary liquor licence – a procedure that they took very seriously and made sure was held to.
Upon establishing the premises in September 2010, the owners of LIVE expected a four month wait for the business licence they applied for. They are now twenty-two months into that process and still do not have the licence. This begs the question as to how a venue with a million rand sound rig and one of the best stage and lighting setups in South Africa ends up getting shut down because of illegal operations.
After being shown a document issued officially by the owners of LIVE, which is a timeline of the events that have happened since 2010, a much clearer view of the event is painted and the issues involving the Durban Council are brought to light. It all has to do with a little something called Clause 6(28). The timeline shows us how LIVE spent fifty thousand rand in application fees to the city as well as having to pay just over a million rand for fifteen months rent, even though they had still not been awarded the business licence.
Although LIVE maintains that the City of Durban is still trying to do whatever they can to rectify this situation of inconsistency and lack of cooperation, throughout the timeline, the unwillingness of the city functionaries is very evident.
The main reasoning behind this whole debacle is that the category, “Other Music/Night Club” – which is the category that LIVE applied for their licence under- is no longer operating in Durban. The clause for special consent in this category, Clause 6(28) has therefore been suspended.
According to Lekha Allopi, the Manager of Land Use Management at Town Planning, the reason behind the suspension of this clause is that the City doesn’t want any new nightclubs in Durban and the surrounding area. LIVE attempted to reason with her by informing her that they were not a night club but in fact a venue aiming at “creating a professional platform for all genres of music.”
After a lengthy, year long, backwards and forwards process, a Joint Advisory Committee released minutes on the 11 October 2011 which stated that it was “ recommended that the Applicant lodge a Scheme of Amendment to introduce Place of Amusement as a Special Consent application in a Light Industrial Area, and following which the Special Consent application could be adjudicated”. In layman’s terms, they would have to apply under a different category for the licence.
Finally, maybe things were going to work out.
But then this application, which was lodged with the Joint Advisory Committee, was declined...again. On the advice of Lekha Allopi, LIVE had to do another Scheme of Amendment and Special Consent application for a “Performing Arts Venue” because to apply under “Place of Amusement” was apparently not suitable.
The only real breakthrough they had was receiving Temporary Authority to operate, which allowed them to hold 28 events in a calendar year while they waited for the Scheme of Amendment and Special Consent application to be sorted out. They were promised that Temporary Authority would be given to them by
November 2011 and they only ended up receiving it on the 26th January – once again an indication of the Councils inconsistency and lack of cooperation.
The list of the Durban Councils failings to provide LIVE with a business licence can go on forever, but the main problem is that they seem to be finding whatever excuse they can to not have to provide a licence to gig venues. This is a huge problem as by stinting the growth of the live music industry in KZN, they are stinting the growth in its economy.
THE TOURIST ATTRACTION
Durban, especially, is a tourist city. It has spent copious amounts of money on restructuring the beachfront promenade as well keeping the Moses Mabhida Stadium as a place of tourist entertainment. However, what the City does not seem to realise, is that music plays a huge part in attracting these tourists. People want to be able to do something at night other than eat at a restaurant. The sad truth is that the same City which has dedicated time and money to making itself more ‘travel friendly’, is not prioritising its live music potential, and is not showing appreciation for the musical talent that Durban has to offer.
Acts like Die Antwoord and The Parlotones – which export internationally and build up the country’s economy through this- are not coming out of Durban, because there is no space for bands like this to grow. There is also the issue of not being able to host big bands like the above mentioned because there are no decent-sixed, spacious, or appropriate venues. The Rolling Stones Magazine said it well on their recent coverage of the KZN music situation: “If bands from other cities don't come and see the music Durban has to offer, via support acts, then Durban bands remain unknown in national music circles, which results in them not being able to tour or get festival slots outside of KZN”.
Dean Macpherson, Durban Councillor for the DA party couldn’t agree more. After an interview with him, he clarified what would need to be done, and what should be done about the music industry in KwaZulu Natal. In his professional opinion, there should be a “one stop shop” which allows businesses to apply for licences and provides them with the correct forms. By doing things this way, the application process will run a whole lot smoother, be more efficient and cost less. At the moment in Durban, business’s are required to go to a number of different departments , all requiring different documents which often get lost or are incorrect, thus delaying the process. Dean refers to this situation as an issue of bureaucracy and the inability of officials to do their job.
“What the Council should be doing is creating a policy that guides the city in providing entertainment to people and incubating up-and-coming music through establishments like LIVE”.
The Durban Council, when asked to provide a response or explanation did not reply, which is symbolic of the way they have treated Durban’s music industry – they just don’t seem to give a damn.
LIVE has been in discussion with them since the incident on the 25 August, and for the moment have been allowed to continue holding events provided they acquire a liquor licence every week. Who knows how long it will be before this venue receives permission to legally operate, or if that day will ever come.
The fact of the matter remains that if the Council continues to send people home from gigs, and take away any hope for the Durban music industry to develop, they must not complain when the musicians and tourists choose to support Cape Town’s economy instead.