Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ring the alarm

Montreal has seen a wave of gentrification in the past couple of years in the traditionally low-rent, artist-friendly neighbourhoods of the Plateau and Mile-End. This influx of new affluence has led to the closures, either temporary or permanent, of such lynchpin venues as Main Hall (still closed, though its sister venue Green Room has re-opened), Casa del Popolo (sans music for many months, including during last year's edition of their June festival, Suoni per il popolo), and Zoobizarre. These closures stem from noise complaints filed by neighbours, which lead to investigations into the liquor licenses of said establishments, most of which did not have the proper permit to have live music in an establishment serving alcohol. I don't know what the exact language of the by-law is, sorry.

Recently, it has taken on a whole other level of stupidity, moving its sights towards venues right in the heart of downtown Montreal. First, L'Escalier (which existed as Cafe L'Utopik, and before that Cafe Ludik, a hub for Francophone progressives, alternative jazzers and singer-songwriters, and some pretty decent veggie food) was busted for not having a proper license. Now, via Karnival don and recent RBMA alum Ghislain Poirier, comes a brilliant open letter to our mayor concerning an incident at the Société d'Arts et Technologies (SAT). The letter is in French (EDIT: English translation here); I will briefly summarize. (Incidentally, the SAT was supposed to be a major partner in the Biennale Montreal 2009 until Stephen Harper's first round of arts funding cuts decimated its operating budget. Sigh.)

During the anniversary mini-festival of electro promoters I Love Neon on March 25, someone filed a noise complaint against the SAT, located on Saint-Laurent and Rene-Levesque: the gateway into Chinatown, a stone's throw from the eastern edge of the Jazz Fest site, and smack in the middle of what the city is building up as "le Quartier des spectacles." When the cops showed up, the SAT complied with the request to turn down, but I Love Neon has moved its events elsewhere. As much as I advocate protecting one's hearing and sensible volume levels, the electro and dubstep that I Love Neon were likely rocking that night is meant to be played loud (I wasn't there)!

The SAT is not really a residential neighbourhood; bordered by other huge clubs such as Metropolis and Club Soda, as well as the legendary strip bar Cleopatra's across the street, it's not like there's a rave going down in the middle of a placid suburb. I'm sorry, but if you want peace and quiet, live in the West Island. If you file a noise complaint against a club at the intersection of two of the most important streets in the city, you should have a psych evaluation. What's next - someone who buys one of the condos going up around the renovated Place des Arts filing a noise complaint against an outdoor show at Jazz Fest or Francofolies (edit: which at least director Pierre Fortin agrees is a bit much)? Someone calling the cops on Divers/Cité or Nuits D'Afrique? And at what point will this administration ever listen to the residents of the city it's supposedly governing - how many failed projects must Mayor Tremblay launch without public consultation?

One of my most vivid memories of New York City was walking to the subway with Darcy James Argue and David Adler after the 2007 Vision Festival. We passed the freshly boarded-up ruins of Tonic, and stood for a moment lamenting its loss. (Hat tip to Steve Smith for re-tweeting this article about the inflation on the Tonic block.) I knew in that moment if clubs like CBGB's and Tonic were being demolished in New York, it would only be a matter of time before such things happened in Montreal. And sure enough, shortly thereafter we had the aforementioned clubs silenced, not to mention the sucker-punch of losing the Spectrum.

It is vital that we protect all elements of culture, not only that which condo developers and public servants deem suitable and palatable. Especially in a city that prides itself on being a thriving artistic metropolis, in a city where arts and culture account for much of its tourism revenue. For anyone that gives a damn about any festival, venue, promoter, or musician in Montreal, it is imperative that we make our voices heard. In the next municipal election, this should become a talking point.

1 comment:

jenn said...

"I'm sorry, but if you want peace and quiet, live in the West Island. If you file a noise complaint against a club at the intersection of two of the most important streets in the city, you should have a psych evaluation."

Right on!

I used to live in Edinburgh, Scotland. For a while they banned bagpipes off the Royal Mile (Main touristy strip) because of noise complaints from neighbours.

I am no fan of the bagpipes--I'd go as far as to say after a year of living in Scotland I hate the sound of them--but I was annoyed at the ban nonetheless.

Why would you choose to live on the high street in Edinburgh or downtown Montreal if you were looking for the silence that only the suburbs can offer?

Thank you for not just shrugging this off, David.