As some of you may or may not know, Belgium’s got a lot of great bands. Just think about dEUS, The Black Box Revelation, Hooverphonic, Millionaire, etc. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you should definitely check them out (not that I’m advertising over here, just exchanging tips). Now these bands are already pretty well-known, here in our small country. But a lot of other equally great bands that are just starting out as artists, haven’t earned their named yet in the musicbizz. And that’s why a lot of people are pretty angry about the soon-to-be new regulation regarding the volume during concerts and festivals. The Flemish Minister of Cultural Affairs, Joke Schauvliege (Christian Democrate party), decided to restrict the maximum sound level to a hundred decibels, in local pubs, concert venues and during festivals, in order to limit hearing loss. A rule that pisses off almost any Belgian musician.
You would think these musicians ought to be glad that their ears are being taken care off. Still, there was a lot of controversy a couple of months ago, when the rule was approved by the government. Petitions were signed, an Antwerp hip hop band made a satirical song and local drummers in the city of Ghent even took it to the streets and drummed away at Schauvlieges doorstep. By now, people hardly talk about it anymore, but I bet on January 1st of next year –when the standard sets in-, musicians will pick up the drumsticks and set their guitar strings yet again, to show Schauvliege what it’s all about.
Now, what’s all the fuzz really about? I guess not everybody got straight A’s during physics class, but you should understand that a hundred decibels is not that loud, looking at it from a musician’s point of view. In fact, it’s pretty damn soft. This decision mostly affects the live music industry. The small business concert organizers will pull out of arrangements, because of the risk of getting fined. But sadly, these people are the only ones to whom freshly-made, still enthusiastic young bands can turn to. But not only the little ones suffer: Clubs with a decent PA –installation are stuck on the decibel limit, whilst an acoustic (!) drum kit already produces a hundred of them on its own. And if you’re not some travelling Stomp!-like band that only uses drumsticks and garbage cans to entertain your audience, well, you’re probably nothing without some other instruments to play a great live gig. On top of that, when you set the same standards for, let’s say the vocals or guitars, the drums will drown out all other sounds. And we can all honestly admit that nobody wants to pay for a concert of which you cannot even hear that sexy guitar solo or some passionate vocal chords.
But okay, Joke Schauvlieges intentions are good. A great amount of people do suffer from hearing loss, and that’s a crying shame. I guess the only thing that bothers most musicians is that she doesn’t even seem to grasp the effect of her restriction. “She’s not a musician, she will never understand,” is what most of them claim. Schauvliege tried to compromise, by offering solutions such as the usage of more earplugs or -and this one really got everyone in a rage- setting up plexiglass around the drum kit. Plexiglass, a very expensive alternative, with a cost price of 700 euros or 900 dollars. Not to mention the fact that drummers will have to play in a plastic bubble of their own making. And where will groupies have to throw their bras and panties to then?
Basically, it’s pure censorship. Because of the regulation, some genres will simply have to go. At one point, the words “Simply adapt the genre to the room you’re playing in” were spoken. Which means metal will have to disappear. Or punk music. Or hardcore. Or any other kind of music that doesn’t fit in the 100-decibel-rule. Schauvliege not only takes away a couple of inches of the general sound level. No, she snatches away people’s lives and passion and love for the music. But I guess that falls on deaf ears. And this time, those ears belong to you, Mrs. Schauvliege.