DIY venues are currently in a state in flux. The tragic December fire at Oakland’s Ghost Ship has prompted cities across the US and Canada to reevaluate how they treat these venues.
The conclusion many municipalities have reached is that these venues need to either legitimize or be shut down. Thus cities have cracked down on DIY venues in New York, Toronto, Denver, and many other places. They’ve forced DIY venues to end events early and often them down temporarily or indefinitely (read: permanently).
Don’t think for a second this is overzealous police departments, fire departments, and city officials who just don’t understand what DIY venues are about. There is an ongoing online campaign to report violations at venues and get them shut down, not hosted by authorities.
The problems with DIY venues are well known and well publicized. The problem is that DIY venues don’t necessarily seem concerned with fixing these issues. In some cases, it can seem that DIY venues openly flout authorities.
And although internet vigilantism is problematic, there are legitimate community concerns that need to be addressed with DIY venues. Nightlife venues require more investment by municipalities and communities because they are areas of heightened interest when it comes to legal infractions. These can range from smaller issues, such as noise complaints and underage drinking, to more serious issues like drug distribution and health and safety violations. Many of these problems are amplified by the lax attitudes DIY venues take.
At Ghost Ship, there were 36 deaths that could have been, and likely would have been, prevented if the venue had complied with the city building code and health safety guidelines. Should we fault cities for not waiting around for another incident at a DIY venue and instead to take a proactive stance?
These venues are often lauded as a place for artistic expression and innovation in an industry that naturally tends towards homogeneity. This trend is driven by the economic realities of the music industry that make venues that host unknown bands looking for exposure unprofitable to run (or run on very thin margins).
And yes, capitalism doesn’t cover every need of society. But in all other places, what covers for the shortcomings of economics? Government. Cities can help DIY venues, but they need to partner with them, not treat them with animosity just because a city is performing its duties in public safety when the police or fire department roll up.
It’s also important for governments to protect the interests of its people, even against themselves. Incidents like the Ghost Ship have proven that DIY venues are ineffective at policing themselves and maintaining facilities that are up to the standard one would expect.
The motivation to act as one is there. Both the city of San Francisco and the city of Toronto have taken proactive steps to bridge the gap between music venues and communities and push back against the gentrification that many DIY venues feel justify their existence.
Here’s what can’t continue. DIY venues cannot continue to flout and dodge cities and communities laws. Already the additional scrutiny is leading to many of these venues’ premature demise. With a concerted push, cities can likely unilaterally stamp out DIY venues. It would be a shame to lose them because of the important culture that DIY venues have created and fostered, as well as the work that they do covering the shortcomings of the music industry. DIY venues, in their current form, cannot continue to exist.
Now read the case for DIY venues.