THE CULTURAL TIGHTROPE
Don’t stop the music
I do empathise with local residents who do not want to be bothered by noise at unsociable hours
I recently went with a friend to talk to the owner of a music café in Barcelona about whether we could play there so that our friends and family could come along and enjoy some live music performed by their nearest and dearest. You see, in the middle of lockdown, this friend, who has his own band, and I decided to host a live music event for friends and family to alleviate the boredom that months of confinement had inflicted upon us. We found a bar in L’Eixample that was happy to let us play from lunchtime until early evening one Saturday (everyone had to be locked away at home by sundown at the time), and with a much reduced capacity of some 30 people we proceeded to have ourselves a live gig, with guests – my friend’s offspring and offspring of other friends – invited to play some of their music as well. It was a great success, mainly due to my hearty renditions of some Rod Stewart classics. The last part of that sentence was a joke – but it was a success, and we are looking to repeat it now that life is edging back to some kind of normality.
Having played live music in Barcelona sporadically over the years, I have always been aware of the tension between bar managers/owners and local residents, and the constant threat of police involvement and fines should the latter have any grievances about noise levels. One story I heard recently involved a family complaining of live music being played in a bar at 9 pm on a Friday night because the son was unable to do his homework. I pray it isn’t true. I would add here that, since I live above a bar myself and on certain nights hear every word people are saying out on the street until deep into the early hours, I do empathise with local residents who do not want to be bothered by noise at unsociable hours.
However, from what the owner of the music bar told us on our recent visit, the threat of fines for decibel levels is not the only issue they face when trying to host live music events, as she was recently fined for having musicians playing in her bar without a contract, all musicians supposedly being required either to be self-employed and present an invoice for their performance, or on a contract with the bar. For small music venues like hers, this makes no economic sense whatsoever, and she had simply collected money from customers to pass on to the musicians for their time and effort.
Anyway, to cut a very long story short, in contrast with other major cities I’ve lived in, where local bands are encouraged to play and paid to do so, and where the live music scene has always blossomed because of that, it seems that in Barcelona opportunities for small and upcoming bands and musicians to play in live music venues are sadly few and far between due to the various threats of legal action hanging over the heads of anyone crazy enough to want to host it.