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Rock'n'roll ain't noise pollution

Rock concert

Following last year’s successful inaugural event, the Music Cities Convention is back to further explore the links between planning, music and vibrant cities. David Blackman talks to founder Shain Shapiro

About this time last year, Shain Shapiro’s life changed.

For the previous 15 years, he had worked in the music business, latterly with the government on how to promote its export potential.

But while showing the flag for the UK music industry on trade missions abroad, Shapiro was becoming increasingly concerned that the industry’s seedbed was dying.

Over the past five years, 90 music venues have closed in London alone, representing a third of the places where bands could play in the capital.

“We are losing our incubator spaces, the places where bands go to fail and test themselves. The big earners in this country all started in these small venues,” says Shapiro.

He realised that much of the blame for loss of venues has arisen from the changing planning and property development landscape.

Shapiro organised a panel debate at The Great Escape music festival in Brighton to discuss these issues. It sparked so much interest that he turned the debate into a day-long conference, which he called the Brighton Music City Convention, on the festival’s fringe.

Following the success of the Brighton event, which broke new ground by bringing the music business under the same roof as the planning and development industry, Shapiro took the idea across the Atlantic, holding a second convention in Washington DC.

In addition, Shapiro joined a London mayoral task force that drew up a rescue plan for the capital’s live music venues, which focused on three areas: planning policy, licensing and business rates. He also helped to get the loss of music venues debated by the House of Lords.

"Music venues are often the 'jewels in the crown' of the local economy"

Music City Convention is back in Brighton on 18 May. The aim, like last year, is to break down what Shapiro describes as the “blind ignorance” planners and the music business have about one another’s activities. The issue is a pressing one because the tide of venue closures hasn’t slowed down since last year’s event. Up to a dozen venues are under threat of closure in London, ranging from venerable places like the Half Moon in Herne Hill to more cutting-edge clubs like Dalston’s Passing Clouds.

The relaxation of permitted development rules means that it is now much easier to convert music venues into housing.

And the increasingly residential nature of town centres means there is a greater chance that venues will face complaints about noise.

“People often move to places because of culture and entertainment, but if there is noise after 11pm at night they will often be less happy about it,” says Shapiro, who wishes that councils could take a more malleable approach towards licensing. Some will take enforcement action after just one complaint, he claims.

“Obviously we don’t want noise complaints to happen at all but the law is often weighted in favour of enforcement.”

Policy-makers often like to use music to promote their localities, such as by holding festivals. But overall, he argues, councils need to take a more wide-angled view of the economic benefits that can be delivered by what he feels are often the ‘jewels in the crown’ of the local economy.

“We should look not only at the direct economic output that a venue brings in terms of the number of people it employs or the tax it pays, but also the indirect economic impact of all the people going to and from it, where they are eating, how they are getting there and so on. These places that people go to for recreation are the places we are losing.”

"We are losing our incubator spaces, the places where bands go to fail and test themselves"

Shapiro hopes to assemble representatives from up to 75 cities in 20 different countries at the convention, providing plenty of opportunities to cross-pollinate ideas about how the planning process can facilitate musical creativity.  

British creative cities guru Charles Landry will be one of the speakers. The programme also includes contributions from representatives of music festivals from cities as diverse as Denver, Vladivostok and Sheffield, together with the ‘Busk in London’ project, which has used performance to animate the capital’s public spaces. Another feature of the programme is a presentation of research being carried out by Brighton University to map the city’s musical life.

And Shapiro has no regrets about the turn that his life has taken. “I’ve spent 14 years working with bands and there’s only so much you can do to help them. If we fix the structural issues it will benefit everybody.”


Thank you for the music


What: Music Cities Convention

When: Wednesday 18 May 2016, 9.30am-6.30pm

Where: Sally Benney Theatre, Brighton

Find out more and book: www.musiccitiesconvention.com