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Durban: Sorry for the Other Day

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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  1. T. says:

    flashbacks to our Captain Stu gig, also a sunday, also florida road,
    however, we started on time, at 6pm!

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  2. tara says:

    florida road just seems a domino of unlicensed, cop-frisked venues.
    the licensing process seems to have done everbody’s head in – as in no-one (allegedly) can clarify what licenses are needed and how long they will take to get. thunder road rock diner has a license that doesnt include “dancing”. for true.

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  3. death to interior decorators says:

    Do the ‘sponsors’ actually know what they’re doing when they organise things like this?? A FREE gig for a popular band in a town hard-up for live music organised at a small venue near a residential area. Do the math. Looks like the bouncer wasn’t the only moron in the neighbourhood.

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  4. ubuntu bob says:

    So I’m reading a lot of second-hand, speculative organizer-bashing. What do the organizers say? Did you even bother to ask them? Or did you just interview Tiago because he happened to be standing next to you. This isn’t even journalism… it smacks of laziness and think long and hard about whether La Scarpetta has grounds for a lawsuit.

    Get off your asses and do the diligence.

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  5. tara says:

    uncle ubuntu. the bummer is that florida road is a hub of culture.
    if you choose to live there, that is the grounds you are doing so on.
    so without blame being pinned on any individual – we are still left with the heart-ache of never having enough venues in this sweet lil seaside town. for as they rise, the people with the TV’s and remote controls bring them down again. the problem may be one of society having been socialized out of supporting live culture or at least having a tolerance for it.

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  6. Carol Reed says:

    Whatever the reasons are for the band playing a short set, they band played a short set. That’s disrespectful, if a sponsor is supporting live music it doesn’t look good when the bands and audience are seemingly treated with disrespect. Hopefully this is the start of a conversation between all the concerned parties.

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  7. Beeekaay says:

    A free 340ml gig in 250 people capacity venue. Cum on. Lets get real about these things. Organizers should know what they are getting themselves into before they sign on the dotted line. Too bad for the peeps, that is some F up.

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  8. G says:

    @Carol Reed
    Read the article again….the band were asked to stop by the organiser/venue owner and played on for 2 more songs. It’s got nothing to do with the band being disrespectful.

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  9. A2K says:

    The Joy Police are out in full force on Florida Road.

    So much for fostering culture.

    It’s time we took a stand against the underhanded stifling of what little space there’s left where we can meet, dance and enjoy ourselves.

    Otherwise, soon enough, our cities will offer only two options for nocturnal fun: sterilised venues where you can’t smoke, you can only drink in plastic cups, and the music is enough to make you wish deafness upon yourself, or in ekasi, where the rules don’t apply and everybody’s free to feel good.

    Is this Africa, or has Mike Sutcliffe decided to turn us into a darker version of Australia and the USA?

    Doesn’t bode well for 2010 when every joint in town features uptight bouncers and paranoid venue owners.

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  10. Carol Reed says:


    Um, maybe I phrased that incorrectly, I mean that, whether it be venue or organiser,forcing the band to stop their set is disrespectful to the band and the audience.

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  11. G says:

    Got you, and I agree.

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  12. tara says:

    i was just getting into this new venue and then the experience ended abruptly. granted i went home to do other things, but i am sad that there are fewer good venues than it takes one hand to count.

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  13. Linda says:

    Hey Tara,

    Jo’burg isn’t much better at all. I think there are more venues in Durban than Jo’burg.

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  14. drunken monk says:

    firstly…. we finally have a sponsor and a venue willing to invest in durban and the propagation of live music… is the consensus here that these guys have messed up? what does this say for other venues willing to skirt the draconian law to bring live music to durban. and what of sponsors who agree to put durban on their circuit…. are we asking them to stop this??

    the blame lies squarely on the audience, for not exercising their power in numbers and demanding better service from band,brand,authorities and venue owners.

    all of these forces are working for us, not the other way round. think about ‘Super Size me’… a simple documentree that forced a giant multi-national poison-food outlet to alter its menu… brands (thats also the band, venue, municiplaity, department arts/culture) have an obligation to the people…

    so why does this system break down/ becos nobody cares enough to go out of their way, or to exercise the systems and loops designed to deal with things like this. basically, the public sits on their fat asses, drinks labels and complains more. and all this time, the people that sell us remote controls are sitting smug at home, two doors down from satan…

    and thats the bottom line. people in durban are passionate, but enough to get off their asses and in the streets…..hmmmmmmm

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  15. death to interior decorators says:

    The beverage has started to attack the Drunken Monk’s braincells. What the fuck do you think this posting and comment space is if not a voice for the people who are pissed of with the state of affairs? The question that matters has nothing to do with if punters get off their fat arses – you can remain seated and complain far more effectively via mahala than kicking up a fuss in front of the cops in the early hours of the morning. What’s missing here is comment from the venue and from those cheapskates at Levi’s who want to get as much brand promotion they can for as little expenditure as possible.

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  16. brand power says:

    @death-to-whatever. I’m only going to say this once. Put down the megaphone and step off your crappy little soapbox. Our omnipotent fashion industry is inifinitely more powerful and influential than your little band scene will ever be. Whatever we grant you to keep you going you will like and it will be defined entirely on our terms. We reserve the right to convince you and your friends that ridiculously overpriced low-rise, pre-stressed jeans are the centre of your existence, even if they actually make you look like a prison-bitch. This becomes all the more poetic when we herd you like cattle into a tiny unsafe venue because you’re too hard-up to afford comfortable recreational activities.

    And Andy Davis, before you post a smart response, know that I have close friends in sports apparel.

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  17. Andy says:

    Goddam you’re good. Want to write for us?

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  18. brand power says:

    I don’t come cheap. Only the most depraved and mercenary souls can afford my services. However, if your flattery persists I may be able to persuade my superiors to go easy on you.

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  19. drunken monk says:

    yes i am sitting on myy ass, no i havent battled cops inna while, and yes, i am to myself when i address this issue,

    all i am asking is…. what are we gonna do about it/

    an interview is not gonna change anything, this will happen again next week or year.what needs to be fostered is a working relationship between the main players, brands, musicians,venue owners, municipality and the national and provincial structures.

    and more unity amongst patrons themselves..

    i am glad for this forum same time, i dont think that one of its responsibilities is to solve this situation, it does create the headspace to move it forward..

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  20. Reverse Order says:

    the problem with this particular gig was not the venue but the egos of the organisers. avatar have played durban to death and everyone is sick to the bone of their unbearable hippie warblings yet the band insist on inflicting themselves on audiences week in and week out. along come 340ml, a brilliant band of NATIONAL stature who play this city once in a blue moon, half of durban turns out to see them but have to endure over 45 minutes of avatar’s self-indulgent slop only for 340ml, the only band anyone there is interested in, told to get off after 2 songs. someone should’ve seen this coming and put 340ml on first. whoever wants to watch avatar can check them out at one of the four hundred thousand gigs they undoubtedly have scheduled over the next 12 minutes. florida road is a burial ground for pathetic wannabe hipsters anyway. if its 40-year-old coke-snorting yuppies you want at your gig book your band there but the likes of 340ml deserve far better.

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  21. Tara says:

    thats really sweet that you think 340ml should have opened for us.
    it would have been great to have inflicted ourselves upon that uninterested colourful audience at some bigger better venue. now reverse order, if you could just point us in the right direction, finding that venue before the next twelve minutes is up would be awesome.

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  22. Supply and Demand says:

    Reverse Order, here’s a thought.

    Maybe Avatar play so many gigs because so many people come to watch them at every gig. I mean they’re obviously making a living out of doing it or they wouldn’t be. Perhaps. Also didn’t 340ml play Jubilee Hall a few weeks back and only get like 300 people (Where the Mizers got 600) ? Durban is notorious for stubbornly sticking to certain venues and areas, even if the police is trying to shut them down.

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