Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Club Closures in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv has a small but active club scene. Major pop acts like Madonna and Paul McCartney might get all the press and all the namedrops when someone wants to write a story about the flourishing of the local live music scene, but the world's top DJ's have been coming here a lot longer and with a lot more frequency. Sure, it's a lot easier to fly in one person and a box of records (and/or laptop) than to transport Madonna's live rig across Europe, but that's basically the point: in a geographically isolated location, developing a healthy dance music scene is a lot more straightforward than developing an international live music scene.

Many clubs used to be located in older, run-down areas in the southern part of the city. But like all cities, Tel Aviv's neighbourhoods are continuously evolving, and the waves of rebuilding/renovation/re-zoning/etc. slowly pushed the clubs from the south to the eastern sections of the city, about equal in distance from the city centre but further removed from T.A.'s cultural and social hubs. Until recently, a trip to clubland involved stepping around groups of drunken kids in their teens and early twenties who were drinking on the sidewalks and on the steps of buildings, to say nothing of the need to hop over the puddles of broken glass they left behind. The streets weren't violent, and going to a club never felt like a dangerous excursion into a bad neighbourhood. But it made for an ugly sight, and fortunately, an increased police presence in the area largely put a stop to that sort of public behaviour.

On New Year's Eve, the police overstepped their bounds, bringing their form of tough love from the streets outside the clubs, right into the clubs themselves. Ostensibly citing maximum occupancy laws, the police shut down a number of popular clubs, some of which remain shut even a week later. Gigs that were advertised weeks in advance are being postponed or canceled. The mayor, who seemingly had nothing better to do on NYE, came by to personally survey the atmosphere in the clubs before the police initiated their glorified sting operations.

I'm all in favour of the city protecting the safety of its citizens, but I'm more in favour of the law being applied in a reasonable, consistent manner. Maximum occupancy of one customer per square metre is laughable, nobody would be caught dead at a housewarming party with such sparse attendance, let alone a major dance club, let alone a major dance club on New Year's Eve. If that's the law, then virtually every halfway popular bar in the city is breaking the law too. Obviously the police aren't going to shut down 75% of the bars in the city, I guess that clubs make for a more convenient target without putting too much of a strain on time and resources.

By and large, the clubs are not at all overcrowded. Compared to virtually every other city I've visited, the crowd management and ventilation inside the club is impeccable. If they are expecting a larger than normal crowd (due to a particularly high profile guest act), clubs like The Block and Barzilay will open a second room or a patio in order to accommodate more people -- and they will advertise this ahead of time. That's not reckless endangerment, that's quality organizing and promotion.

Strangling the club culture of an entire city on the basis of unrealistic and antiquated by-laws is simply stupid. There's a protest happening this Friday, and although protests are usually not my thing, I won't miss this one, this cause is too important to me.

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