Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Music Industry Wanted: Dead NOT Alive

 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?


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.


At the beginning of this year it seemed that music fans were getting what they asked for- a resurrection of Unit11, except better.  Now it was a little further down the road, it went by the name LIVE TheVenue and it was a lot more equipped to host big bands. Month after month fans poured into the bouncer-protected doors of LIVE; happily paying their entrance fee to enjoy some good quality music and a night out. The nightlife had been quite stagnant in Durban since Unit 11 closed down but now it felt as if things were going back to normal. The music industry had a chance again.

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.


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.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Change and Control.

Change is scary.

Actually, it's ridiculously scary. Change means that for a period of time, we are not in control. We will never know how change is going to affect our lives, I mean, we may have an idea, but we can never know for certain. So, we feel like suddenly our lives are not safe and familiar. Suddenly we are out of our comfort zones.Suddenly we have no control over what this change means for our lives.

And humans HATE not being in control. Every bit of humanness in us yearns for control. Yearns to know what the future looks like.

But then Jesus comes. And he tells us that in order to follow him, we must deny our old life, pick up our crosses and follow him. Romans 12:2 says it quite straightforwardly: " Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind ". So, firstly, we must change the way live. For salvation we are called to repent and agree that God's way is better than our way. So, secondly,we have to hand over the control to Him. uh oh. Ya, nobody should ever say Christianity is easy.

The thing that I have noticed ( in my own life especially) is that although most people are willing to say they will give God control, they are still hesitant to actually allow it to happen; to allow that change to occur. Like I said; change is scary.

The problem is that as followers of Christ, a halfhearted commitment is not what we are called to. We are called to GIVE UP OUR LIVES and walk in the purpose that God has for us.

What does that purpose look like? Why should we allow this change to occur?

All around me-  in newspapers, on television,at my university, in my street, in my house - I see poverty, war, brokenness and people searching for something, anything to fill the void in their lives. Every day I am reminded of just how many people there are in the world who need Jesus.
 And everyday, I choose to not let it break my heart.

Wait, what?

Well, if I let it break my heart then that means I have to do something about it. And to do something about it will mean that some sort of change will need to take place in my life - whether it means parting with finances, joining a new ministry, moving to a different country to do mission work -and,  at some point, I will have to leave my comfort zone. And that is scary. Right?

Well, the thing is, I cannot claim to be  lover of Jesus and to want to walk in his footsteps without wanting my heart to break for the broken. This world can only be changed if we are willing to be changed. If we are willing to live the way Jesus lived. Which was miles out of the comfort zone.

We love Jesus because he loved without condition, he was humble, generous, he cared about the poor, he healed the sick and he befriended the broken. Then he endured agony on a cross so that we may be forgiven
for our sins and ultimately carry on His ministry for Him. He died so that we may understand what love really means. He died so we would understand sacrifice, and what it means to allow God to be in control. He died so we could see that although  change is painful, it brings new life.

So then, the way for me to "be the change that [I ]want to see in the world " (Gandhi), will mean setting aside my own agenda, setting aside my personal goals and dreams, and saying " God, you gave me this life; show me how you want me to live it".

Allow your heart to break for the broken people of this world. Your love for them will flow out as a result of that willingness to step out of a comfort zone. Your life was never yours to begin with, so don't just give God the passenger seat, let him drive the car.
He will take you on a journey that will be greater than any comfort zone ever was.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It's not goodbye, it's until we meet again.

So this is going to be the last post I write for a while because I am putting all my focus and energy into a new blog that I have developed for my  Honours Project. It's called This City is Music and you should definitely go check it out!

Anyway so that's the reason I have been quiet for a while. So far this year has been crazy- a rollercoaster ride of emotions and memories and university work. So much change, so much growth and so much that I have learnt. Allow me to share with you.

 Friends are everything.

It's so very important to surround yourself with people who are going to build you up, encourage you and motivate you to keep going when things get overwhelming. I have made an amazing bunch of mates here in Cape Town who welcomed me instantly, included me and loved me...they are probably the reason why I am still sane.

 Life's to short to think ahead.

You always hear that saying "take one day at a time" but I don't think I have ever taken it seriously. Until this year, when I realised I had to. I made a to do list of tasks I needed to accomplish every day of the week and then on each of those days I would only focus on those tasks and not worry about what assignment was due next month or whose birthday party it was the following week. It really works, day by day, getting through. I often found I then had so much time left in my days to just relax.

Go out and have a jol.

It's so important to get out of the house or the library or wherever you are holed up and just go have a night on the town with mates. Especially living in Cape Town, there are so many wonderful things to do here and if I just did varsity work all day, I would  never actually get to enjoy this place. So I make a point of making sure that I get my work done so I can go out at least once on the weekend.

 Sometimes WANTS trump NEEDS.

I need a car. I need to get a job. I need to pass Honours. I need to be able to pay rent next year. I need to figure out where I am going to live next year. Thinking about what I need to do literally only brought more stress into my life and so I took a moment, took a deep breath,  pushed all those needs to the back of mind and focussed on what I actually wanted.

I want to be on holiday. I want to travel. I want to graduate Cum Laude. I want to tick as many things as I can off my bucketlist. These things make me happy and motivate me to work hard. This is what's more important...do what makes you happy. Life is far too short to spend all your time stressing about cars and jobs and rent. That stuff will work out if you are happy and motivated.

Jesus is everything.

The most important thing I have learned this year is that without God, I would probably just be a crying mess, curled up on the floor. I would probably have just quit Honors and gone back to Durban. Without God fighting for me every step of the way, I am pretty sure I would have just given up. He's constantly just showing me how blessed I am to be here and that this is where I am meant to be. Sure, I still have days when I want to pack my bags and go home, I have days when I cry for hours, I have days when all I want is for time to slow down....but Jesus is right there through it all, holding my tears, holding every fearful thought and silently whispering to me that it will be alright. That's how I got through this year. Living in my own house, away from home, tackling a degree that overwhelmed me was never going to be easy, but if this entire journey has brought me to a deeper and more intimate place with God, then it was all worth it.

So that's it for the next 6 months or so, unless I find a spare minute to write something else.

peace and love

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Quote of the day...

“ For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here, in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world. It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get”

 - Frederick Beuchner in The Magnificent Defeat.