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Culture, Music

Sorry for the Other Day

by Roger Young & Andy Davis / 30.10.2009

The Levi’s Vintage Sundays featuring 340ml and Avatar at La Scarpetta in Durban this last Sunday outlined some major concerns about Durban’s live music scene as well as the organizational minds behind these free to the public Vintage Sunday sessions.

La Scarpetta is a venue that can hold, legally, about 250 people. It’s situated on Florida Rd, which is known as the entertainment district of Durban. I arrived and was in the venue waiting by seven thirty, at seven forty five, fifteen minutes before Avatar was due to start I went out to use the bathroom. Upon returning I was informed by the bouncer that I would have to wait until people came out because the venue was too full. And so I waited. For forty-five minutes, while streams of people came out and the bouncer let streams of women in. Then I watched as a couple were separated and spent the rest of their evening talking to each other through a metal fence, she was not allowed to come out for reasons unexplained. When I heatedly raise the question with the bouncer, I was politely told, “If you are going to use that sort of language, I can’t let you in.” 
Obviously using the phrase, “fucking moron” is not allowed. No matter, I wait and am finally let in as 340ml start. And then they stop. Three songs in and 340ml are asked to stop by the venue or organizers because there have been noise complaints in the area.

“Look Nothing special happened. Let’s try not to be sensationalist.” Says Tiago C. Paulo, 340ml’s guitar maestro. “As soon we finished the first song we were told by the powers that be to stop because the cops were on their way. Apparently neighbors were complaining. The venue people got scared because there’s something wrong with their license.
We were asked to stop but we decided to still play another 2 songs. It was really full and it was difficult to stop playing, specially because the stage was surrounded by people and it wasn’t easy to get out.”
Nice. So the band did their best to give the crowd something for their trouble. But who was responsible for the stuff up?
“Someone, not us. I think the people who run the venue panicked and pulled the plug on the show.”

In recent months one venue has been closed down and another has been told that it cannot host live music on this same stretch of road. First off, in the run up to 2010, the closing down of live music venues seems counter intuitive, unless of course there are other factors at play. But that’s a story for another day. The real issue here is that the venue must have been aware of the situation. And the organizers should have been aware of it too. Or maybe the organizer’s attitude is evident in the fact that a free gig with a popular band is held in a venue that is way under capacity for the expected demand. After all it is a sponsored free gig, everybody involved still got paid, the only people who lose out are the audience who didn’t get to see the band either because they didn’t get in or because the band themselves got shut down. They must have been bummed.
“Most of them were,” Says Tiago. “But I got the feeling they understood really well what happened. This sort of thing must happen often in Durban.”
And was the band upset?
“Not much. It would’ve been nice to play the whole set, but it also gives us a chance to play there again in the near future. Our performance was kind of like a movie trailer. Coming soon… ”

At the end of the day this kind of fiasco just ends up making the sponsor look bad. And really they’re trying to do a good thing by supporting live music. And the audience is trying to do the same. But they’ve both been thwarted by the organisers and the venue. At very least the venue could have their licenses in order and the organizer could have done a bit of research. And maybe it’s OK that a whole bunch of people were left out of the free gig because it was too full, but is it okay that the people who did come in at the advertised time of 6pm, and spent money on food and drinks while waiting, were denied the gig that they had taken the trouble to attend?

Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that this is exactly the sort of circumstance that does the very opposite of building confidence in live, original music. And it can only have had a detrimental effect on the perception of the brand. And if that happens South African music stands to lose one of it’s most loyal and longstanding patrons.

Image © and courtesy Tiago C. Paulo

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