“Y know that My Bloody Valentine gig last year,” said my friend Mike the other week over some pre-gig beers, wincing at his chronic case of The Hum. “My ears are still fucked from that.”
Too right! Welcome to Rocksville, population ‘EH?’. No pain no Mudvayne. No tinnitus no ‘You Love Us’. My girlfriend still hasn’t forgiven me for the permanent hearing damage she sustained at MBV’s Roundhouse gig, where the volume at the mixing desk was the equivalent of a 747 taking off or an affectionate greeting from Brian Blessed.
But I, after many years of having my cochlea beaten to a mushy pudding by the feedback spiked God-hammers of alternative rock, am not satisfied unless a gig’s PA is loud enough to burst passing pigeons with a single top E. When I saw MBV sticking to a Madrid festival’s volume limits last year, I raced to the front and tried to claw my way inside the speakers.
Then, the bombshell. “I actually wrote in to complain about it,” Mike admitted, blowing his cover as a double agent of the deaf-defying brigade. The Complainers had taken another scalp, after a year in which the Noise Nazis have struck ever more draconian blows on our loud liberties. Police this week gave away an entire live set of equipment that was confiscated from Babyshambles for playing too loud at midnight at the Duke Of Clarence in 2005 – admittedly to a pretty good cause, the EC1 Music Project, but it’d be a hell of a blow to a band who could less afford to lose it.
Noise complaints against Dublin’s The Point ultimately led to the venue’s closure as its sound-proofing costs drove it into administration and then there were the complaints about the power-chord pandemonium from AC/DC’s Olympic Stadium gig in Munich from up to 12 miles away, making the perfect spot to watch the gig a biker pub car park halfway to Dachau.
The AC/DC complaints I can understand – I feel like eating my own ears if someone plays an AC/DC record within 12 miles of me and it’s nothing to do with the volume. It’s the water torture agony of hearing the same song played over and over with a different name. No, the fact is if it’d been Keane playing the stadium at the same volume it would have kept no-one awake; to the Greater Munich area it would’ve been a million decibels of aural Temazepam.
And that’s my concern for any future clamp-downs on noise pollution, that it’ll be based on genre rather than any official meter reading. I’d guess that a relatively quiet rendition of Donkey Arse Rape’s ‘Sanitorium Slaughterhouse’ is still going to get more complaints than Susan Boyle blaring out ‘Memories’.
Now I’m no vociferous volume campaigner. You won’t find me storming every stage in order to turn the amps up to 11. I only wander the streets at 3am shouting drunken obscenities, at most, once a fortnight. I respect that there should be mid-week late limits for live music and venues must consider the inconvenience they cause to sleeping infants, the elderly, early risers and Bobby Gillespie.
So what’s the best compromise? There’s been much rumour of legislation forcing venues to install noise limiters, the equivalent of castration devices to most bands, as the harder they rock the quieter they get. But I’d argue that for the average complainer any noise at all is too much noise, so where will such devices set their lower limits? Will they be programmed to drop the volume relative to the number of complaints registered? Then the loudest bands will have to play the quietest; Gallows will be forced to play inaudibly, then acoustic, then express their socio-political fury through the medium of mime. There’ll be quiet riots.
The Silent Disco approach might seem a better option: each gig-goer gets a pair of headphones wired up to the stage on the way in and pays for any mosh-damage to them on the way out. But what will The Complainer ring up to complain about then? The 70,000 tuneless drunks gargling ‘Rock’N’Roll Star’ at the top of their lungs and then apparently giving themselves four encores. Come back ‘Back In Black’, all is forgiven. With the festival season fast approaching and the spectre of another inaudible Pyramid Stage hanging over us, I only hope noise-reducing headphones technology can be expanded to fit around the entire superfence. Because right now it looks like we’re at risk of being drowned out by the local councils’ whinelines.
What I’ve Been Listening To: