Durban has long been known for its lack of music venues and general audience apathy. The simple fact of the matter is that Durban in general struggles to maintain a viable live music scene. Credible venues open and close like so many Morning Glory bushes harvested for cheap thrills and then abandoned. Thunder Road, Unit 11, Burn, the Slingshot Sessions at Society, the list goes on.
On Saturday 25th of August another venue was closed down for operating illegally. LIVE's owners state 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 15 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."
How did Live, a venue with probably the best sound rig (at a cost of just over a million rand) and one of the most band friendly stages in the country, a venue that works with the Audio Visual department of Durban University of Technology in training up new technicians, allegedly come to be operating illegally? This is the real question. Why do venues in Durban close down so frequently? Why do people attempt to work in the live music performance scene in Durban get so discouraged so often?
It must be said upfront that many of the punters in Durban feel that the management at LIVE got what they deserved, that the bouncers at LIVE were unprofessional and heavy handed, that there was a generally shitty attitude on Saturday night when the police closed the venue down, that no one was refunded. These issues all deserve discussion. This is not that article. This article is about a bigger issue.
Rolling Stone has seen a document authored by the management of Live that sets out a timeline of their 21-month attempt to get the correct licensing from the Durban City Council. An attempt that has not only set them back fifty thousand rands in application fees to the city, but also over half a million rand in rent for the 15 months they could not open their doors.
It is a heart-breaking document, a comedy of bureaucratic indifference and lack of enthusiasm. LIVE has asked us not to make this document public for fear of damaging their relationship with the City Of Durban, who, LIVE contends, are doing their best to find the correct vehicle to licence the venue.
The problem is not only that the city functionaries are unwilling to help, but mostly because there is no longer a provision for businesses in the category "Other Music / Night Club" to obtain a license to operate in Durban. The clause for special consent in this category, clause 6(28) has been suspended and has not been replaced with an alternative option. Finding out why from city functionaries has proved to be extremely difficult for us, our telephone calls were not returned, or in most cases even answered.
Let's reiterate. Durban is a tourist city, it has spent a considerable amount of money upgrading its promenade along the Golden Mile, and it maintains a PR effort to promote Durban as a tourist destination. Yet for these same tourists to sample music of the region is not seen as a priority. Nor is the training of sound technicians, or the nurturing of Durban's music talent. This is not an issue around LIVE only, this is something that has been legislated.
Durban City Council does not want any growth in the live or electronic music industry. Is it any surprise that Durban has yet to produce an act like Spoek Mathambo, Haezer, Die Antwoord, BLK JKS or Parlotones? Acts that export internationally, that result in positive PR for South Africa, that then translates into interest as South Africa as a tourist destination.
But even more than that by not having viable mid sized venues a city loses out on the cultural conversation that emerging and mid sized touring bands fosters. 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. Essentially the suspension of Clause 6(28) removes Durban musicians from the national map, and severely hinders their chances of finding an audience, or making a career out of their art.
The events leading up to LIVE's closure speak of a City that is unaware of the value of artistic expression, of the economic value to tourism of local live music, and more than that indifferent to the aspirations of it's young people. The suspension of Clause 6(28) is yet another example of government's lack of care for it's young people, its dreamers, its artists and it's indifference to the soul of Durban.