Malaysian live music venue Merdekarya shelves performances indefinitely over licensing woes

In a social media post, the Petaling Jaya establishment described a monthslong struggle to secure and keep a permit for live music, a process it says was marked by contradictory messaging

Malaysian live music venue Merdekarya has hit pause on performances indefinitely, citing an inability to secure the relevant permits and unclear messaging about COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The Petaling Jaya establishment first took to social media on Thursday (February 17) to announce the closure of their Live Bar and discontinuation of shows.

The venue promised a longer explanation after it had “[made] some sense of what is complete nonsense”, saying: “Right now we’re tired. Of this country, this state, this city, which celebrates and embraces its incompetence, its indifference, its apathy, and its cruelty.”

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The Live Bar will be closed indefinitely, starting tonight, and all live shows are cancelled. We realise a longer…

Posted by Merdekarya on Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The venue had a series of shows lined up last week, including performances by Merdekarya’s owner himself, Brian Gomez. Other artists such as Kirsten Long, Hey Jay! and Fazz were due to perform to limited audiences of 20 people. Merdekarya, which was founded in 2013, has a Live Bar with a capacity of 120 people.

Later that day, Merdekarya shared a lengthy post that claimed “the Live Bar has been shut down by MBPJ”, the Petaling Jaya City Council. The venue says it will wait to stage gigs until the National Security Council (NSC) “completely lifts all current restrictions”, as it faces a RM25,000 fine if it goes ahead with live music events.

In its post Merdekarya described a monthslong struggle to secure a permit for live music from local authorities, a process marked by red tape and contradictory messaging on whether live performances are allowed under current SOPs and under what license or permit.

“These bones have aged ten years in the last two,” the venue’s post read, “and I can’t bear the thought of having to appeal, and write more letters, and fill up more forms, and speak to this [officer (on leave)] and that [officer (attending courses)] and then go back to square one all over again in a few months, and risk getting shut down or fined because no one really knows what the hell is going on.”

The Petaling Jaya City Council has yet to respond to Merdekarya’s claims. NME has contacted MBPJ for comment.

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Malaysia live music venue Merdekarya shelves gigs indefinitely
Courtesy Merdekarya

Merdekarya said that when MBPJ visited its premises in early December, it was told by officers that it could apply to renew its entertainment license. The venue did so and was told on December 28 via email that it was approved. But Merdekarya says two weeks later, on January 13, it got a notice saying that the license was still pending MKN’s approval.

The venue then “proceeded to do what every other venue was doing” and sought an approval letter for “indoor busking” from MPBJ (as provisioned in NSC’s December 1 circular). Merdekarya says the council “seemed to have no idea that they were tasked with issuing this letter”.

A week later, the council purportedly told the venue that it could not issue the letter and that Merdekarya should apply for temporary permits for live performances, to be renewed monthly.

But on Wednesday (February 16), Merdekarya says it was informed that its application for that temporary permit was rejected as “busking activities in premises were a prohibited entertainment activity” – though the NSC’s latest circular for the creative industry on December 1 allows indoor and outdoor busking activities, including shows at hotel lounges, subject to venue capacity and “physical distancing”.

As most of you know by now, The Live Bar has been shut down by MBPJ. Dono till when.Here’s what happened:Sometime in…

Posted by Merdekarya on Thursday, February 17, 2022

Merdekarya was then inspected again on February 16 by MBPJ officers asking if there was an “individual busker” permit for the performance that night. The venue claims the officers were unclear about what type of permit was needed, and “had no idea” about the temporary monthly permit “even though it’s what their own licensing department told us to apply for”.

“Then they say we can only operate with a renewed hiburan [entertainment] license which they aren’t renewing, and then go on to mention that the only venues that can get their licenses renewed are the venues that have been paying continuously throughout these last two years, which is, again completely false, because their own licensing department had put a hold on renewals,” the venue wrote.

Merdekarya said that the officers allowed the venue to finish the performance, but “from today onwards, no more live music or they’ll fine us RM25k”.

The venue concluded by asking those who wished to support them to drop by for food and drink, and promising that live music would return to Merdekarya.

“We’re fine. Merdekarya regulars will know that we’ve survived worse. So we’ll survive.”

Additional reporting by Karen Gwee

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