Noise complaints are one of the main challenges for live music venues everywhere in Europe. While live music participates to vibrant cities and dynamic rural areas, it is rarely included in the city planning. As a result, tensions can emerge when residents move next to a live music pub, club, venue or festival area. The nuisance felt by one person is often sufficient to initiate police interventions and administrative closures, even without proper sound measurement tools or methods. Although the venues and festivals do their best to operate in conformity with the local rules and regulations, local policy makers tend to stand with the complainers, tighten the rules and rarely take into account the needs of enjoyment of the hundreds of people who attend the live music activities. While people living next to live music venues have a right to enjoy the quiet of their own homes, it is unfortunate that so few mediation initiatives exist. Live music venues often have to bear alone the threats, the insulation costs and feel isolated.
Live DMA has been tackling this subject for a few years now: through a series of Working Groups, a White Paper addressed to the World Health Organisation, an overview of sound regulations in Europe, and a constant dialogue with Live DMA members on this topic, notably through a specialized taskforce.
“Live music organisers are experienced professionals who demonstrate a duty of care to their staff, artists, audience and neighbours. They work within existing national frameworks to protect the hearing of staff, performers and attendees, as well as avoiding nuisance to their neighbours. However, they also face many challenges when it comes to sound management: urbanization and densification, expensive soundproofing or audio technologies, unenforceable laws are some of the main factors.” – White Paper, Live DMA (2019)
A RAISE OF NOISE COMPLAINTS SINCE COVID-19 LOCKDOWNS
With restrictions related to Covid-19 such as lockdowns, and almost two years with no concerts and quiet nights, Live DMA members have seen an increase in noise complaints from next-door neighbours.
“If, on one hand, many music venues’ teams are renewing and recalling the importance of their mission towards audience engagement, especially at local level, reflecting on their own practices and will to develop their community building capacity, then on the other hand they also face a raise in complaints from neighbours since the end of lockdowns. The noise nuisance can come from the sound levels performed during the concerts, but mainly also from the audience when they leave the venues or clubs.” – Post COVID-19 Challenges of the Live Music Sector in Europe, Live DMA (2023)
WHY A WATCHTOWER ON MUSIC IS NOT NOISE?
In 2023, Live DMA decides to launch the Watchtower, which consists in an active watch of the cases in which venues are threatened by noise complaints. The aim of this Watchtower is to report on and archive the numerous cases in which venues are threatened by noise complaints, in order to shift the perception that they are isolated cases towards a perception of the global and systemic scale of this challenge. The primary goal is to be able to connect live music professionals of such venues, so they can talk to eachother about the solutions found and start a movement of solidarity in their fight for recognition, support and legitimacy.
Live DMA advocates for constant dialogue between local authorities and live music venues, as well as mediation with neighbours. We are in constant search for better community-building in venues and clubs.
SOME CASE STUDIES
FUSE (BRUSSELS, BE)
- Nightclub of 800 capacity
- Opened in 1994
- 10 people employed during the week, 80 people employed during the weekend
- Noise complaints from 1 neighbor who bought a house next to the club in 2011
- There has been some attempts to mitigate the issue (including soundproofing work), but they failed
- Brussel’s government has ordered Fuse to cap the music volume at 95dB and close its doors at 2am each night. This led Fuse to close their doors in mid-January 2023, as “it is impossible to open a club under these circumstances”, as Fuse team testifies.
- A petition by the Brussels By Night Federation to support Fuse gathered 65 000 signatures
- Brussel’s government went back on their decision in late January, and authorized Fuse to open until 7am two days per week, under very strict conditions: music levels during first and last hour of opening under 95dB; the club needs to move to a new location within no more than two years, unless the acoustic problems are entirely resolved within that time…
- As a result, a taskforce on nightlife, headed by the region’s Minister-President has been created, which will discuss solutions for Fuse and re-evaluate the current legal framework
- Fuse and Brussels Night Council suggest the creation of a roadmap to working towards a healthier climate for nightclubs
NIGHT & DAY CAFE (MANCHESTER, UK)
- Café bar and live music venue
- Opened in 1991. There was absolutely no residences, no neighbours in the venue’s surroundings at that time
- Regularly threatened of closure because of noise complaints since 2014
- There was a planning application to build an apartment right next-door to the venue; the property developer did not sound-proof the building as they were supposed to.
- Since then, the flat has seen a series of temporary residents, and was used as Airbnb for a while
- In November 2021, the venue was served with a noise abatement order from Manchester City Council, following ongoing complaints from a next-door neighbor who had moved in during COVID-19
- This case has been taken to court, and was due to be heard again for an appeal in January 2023, but this was postponed because Manchester City Council are trying to come to a solution privately with the venue
- Potentially, the venue could be prevented from doing early club nights, which would mean the closure of the venue as it will not be able to be financially viable
- A petition was launched to support Night & Day café and gathered 97 000 signatures
- Music Venue Trust is supporting Night & Day café, and the other 30 venues in the UK currently threatened by noise complaints, with the help of a legal team
MARSATAC FESTIVAL (MARSEILLE, FR)
- Festival of 40 000 visits over 3 days
- In 2023, it will be the 25th edition
- Festival of electronic music and hip-hop
- Festival changed location in 2020; it now takes place in a public parc. A lot of open air events are organised in this parc, especially in the summer. There are houses as close as 80m from the parc.
- The City of Marseille gave authorizations for the festival to be held in this parc
- The new location made the festival revise their time schedule: it now ends at 2am (before it was 6am)
- Still, local residents complain that the festival takes place until 2am. The accumulation of open-air events in the summer are difficult to bear for neighbours
- Local residents set up an association to support them in filing noise complaints to Marsatac and other event organisers
- Marsatac received a letter from a lawyer mandated by the local residents’ association
- Following this letter, they implemented sound mitigating measures: they followed French regulations and even more as they also worked on mitigating low frequencies (which is not part of the French regulations)
- They worked with a sound engineer and the festival’s technicians to change their sound-system
- They raised awareness on the subject among the sound engineers and sound technicians that they hire
- Some local residents thanked them for these mitigating measures, which were improving their comfort and tranquility Still, the festival regrets that the Municipality plays a double role: they defend the festival’s artistic project and at the same time local politicians are more alongside the local residents which complain
HOW TO PREVENT NOISE COMPLAINTS
Here is a list of articles and resources that can help you in your work against noise complaints.
- Meraki Nightclub – Painting their roof so as to be identified as nightclub and warn future flat buyers
- Club Kataster – Mapping live music venues to inform promoters and neighbours where live music places are in the city
- Music Cities Manual – Key Indicators to demonstrate the value of live music in cities
- Agent of Change – inscribing protection of music venues in regulations
- Open Club Day – Starting a dialogue with neighbours and local communities
- Nighttime – How to address noise complaints and other neighbourhood issues?