Saturday, June 19, 2010

Venuewatch: Save the Freebutt

Thanks to @electroweb for pointing me in the direction of the Save The Freebutt campaign site, which has a full explanation of what's going on behind the headline of the story.

According to the venue, the resident complaining about the noise - just the one resident - is refusing to allow anyone in to their building to verify their claims, and the Environmental Health Offices of Brighton And Hove Council have not exactly handled the case well.

The Butt's statement in full:

Internationally renowned and locally loved music venue and cultural hub, The Freebutt, is under threat of closure for apparent “audio nuisance”.

The owners have instigated a campaign to save the Brighton institution and save the South Coast from loosing one of it's main musical attractions, after Brighton and Hove City Council warned that they could enforce a current noise abatement order on the venue any day now; ending the hope of ever putting on any live music in the venue again.

Despite constant attempts to fix the problems and come to an agreement on how to move forward, owners now appear to have reached a dead end with council officials, after asking for some reasonable time to sort out the alleged sound issues which they had previously been told to do nothing about. This could lead not only to the closing of a historic venue but the loss of 15 creative jobs in the city and a dent in tourism figures after what owners believe to be a series of Environmental Health Department blunders.

When the music venue was taken over in 2009 by four young Brighton entrepreneurs, they were aware of the historic problems with sound bleed that the venue had previously suffered but were also very aware of the vast amount of sound proofing work that the previous tenants had undertaken. Prior to take over they had contacted the Environment Health Department of Brighton and Hove Council (herein referred to as EHO) who informed them that not only did The Freebutt have no currently outstanding noise abatement notices, it had also not suffered from any sound complaints for over 6 months.

In good faith their first key job as new owners was to re-instigate the volume limiter (which is a device that will cut off mains electricity to the plugs on the stage should the volume sustain above the maximum set level for 15 seconds) at a self imposed yet council agreed level of 105dBA. Unfortunately in February 2010, even
though nothing had changed to either the volume limiter or the physical construction of the building, the Freebutt were served a noise abatement notice upon them requesting them to cease causing a public audio nuisance by 10th May 2010.

Upon advice from EHO and their recommended audio consultant they undertook works within the first seven days of their notice period in attempts to eradicate the sound frequencies bleeding out into the complainant’s home. Upon completion of these works the Freebutt requested that EHO make a further site visit to the complainant’s during operating hours to establish if the volume of music being performed in the Freebutt was still causing a problem. Unfortunately at no point during this process would the complainants personally allow Freebutt managers access to their home, even under the supervision of EHO.

Despite constant chasing of EHO to visit the complainant's home and assess the works that had been carried out, it took them until 29th April 2010 to arrange a site visit, during that time EHO directly recommended that the Freebutt do not waste money on any further works as they had received no further complaints for a number of weeks, it was even said that the case may be dropped altogether.

When EHO did finally visit the complainants on 29th April 2010 it was decided that there was still a continuing problem of sound bleed from The Freebutt into the complainants home. Yet again the owners were told to cease causing an audio nuisance before 10th May 2010, which was by that point just 10 days away. By now, EHO and the complainants had sat on this case for over two months yet the Freebutt had just ten days to solve a problem which they still knew practically nothing about or how to fix.

Incorrectly believing that the sound issue was caused by a fault within the Freebutt volume limiter, EHO then incorrectly reduced the venue's set level to 105dBL (approximately 95dBA), effectively shutting all business down due to it's completely inappropriate and unworkably low volume for live music in a venue of the Freebutt's size. Fortunately this problem was resolved the following Monday, with the limiter returned to the jointly agreed level of 105dBA. EHO requested that the Freebutt remove a number of electrical sockets that could in theory bypass the volume limiter, these were isolated and removed within four working days of their request.

During the following week the owners discussed further with EHO and their contracted audio consultant on how the Freebutt could move forward to resolve this continued problem. The first step to be undertaken by the Freebutt management was to self impose a further limit of 1dBA upon the volume limiter, making the audio levels in the Freebutt quieter than they have been for a number of years, if not ever. Unfortunately EHO’s recommended audio consultant did not feel that he himself had enough audio expertise to provide any form of educated analysis of the frequencies bleeding through or where exactly in the building the Freebutt would require further sound proofing. In fact EHO informed the Freebutt owners that not only was the noise bleed still a problem but that it was worse than ever before.

The Freebutt made the decision to contact the audio specialist company ‘24 Acoustics’ on 11th May 2010 who recently and successfully tackled the audio bleed problems and sound proofing of the Boileroom venue in Guildford. Their audio expertise does not come cheap by any means but the Freebutt agreed with EHO that the Freebutt would hire them as to provide a much more detailed analysis of the problem and would undertake
any work that they recommended to rectify this issue once and for all.

The Freebutt forwarded a proposal to EHO as the owners believe that to truly solve this problem the Freebutt need to finally establish where exactly in the buildings structure the sound was bleeding from and at what frequencies. Unfortunately EHO do not have the technical expertise to provide this crucial information, the only
audio analysis received to date is a series of noise diaries from the complainants which simply say "sound heard: drums" as well as an EHO provided single set of dBA levels recorded on one single night which no members of the Freebutt management or third party impartial audio specialists were allowed to attend the recording of.

EHO contacted the complainants to arrange a time which they would be available to allow access for ‘24 Acoustics’ to establish the sound bleed on their side, the Freebutt accepted a long time ago that the complainants will not allow the Freebutt management access to their property but hoped that they would allow inside impartial audio specialists who would have been chaperoned at all times by council officials.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the case and the complainants refused access to not only ‘24 Acoustics’ but also anybody at all that wasn’t a council official. This obviously very quickly rendered any possibility the Freebutt may have had of sound proofing the building completely redundant. However, EHO still demand that the sound bleed problem be eradicated, with their next step being to reduce the volume limiter to a level that their untrained ears deem appropriate and thus undoubtedly crippling and shutting the independent business all together.

From day one, the Freebutt have worked openly in conjunction with EHO to try and locate and remove any and all sound bleed issues, unfortunately due to a lack of support from both the complainants and EHO, the Freebutt have no remaining avenues to pursue in sound proofing the building. If EHO do reduce the venue's volume limiter by even just 1 or 2 more dBA the Freebutt will be unable to function as a live music venue as nearly all amplified instruments as well as un-amplified drums will ‘trip’ the limiter, thus cutting the performance. The business would obviously have to close, causing the unemployment of 15 people, all but 2 of whom are under the age of 30.

The four managers of the Freebutt are key pillars Brighton's music scene and local community, two having spoken at an open discussion on Noise Abatement issues at this year’s Great Escape music festival and conference and regularly attending local resident meetings to discuss ways that the Freebutt can help improve the local community. The Freebutt are also in discussion with local residents to have ‘open days’ where the local children can learn new skills such as how to play an instrument and the basic workings of how a music venue works. The Freebutt certainly does more for Brighton than just pay its rates.

Co-owner Tom Denney said, “The Freebutt is without a doubt a Brighton institution, having played host to some of the most important local, national and international acts of the past two decades. The Freebutt puts on upwards of 800 local musicians every year, giving them the opportunity to perform for an increasingly growing local community of music lovers, as well as putting on international touring artists and bringing in tourism trade from places as far away as Israel.”

Co-owner John Fisher said, “Our venue is a key part of the fabric of the Brighton creative community, not only does it provide a creative outlet for Brighton’s local musicians but has also served as a learning space putting for drum classes, art exhibitions, live performance art, and even University lectures.”

Co-owner Andy Rossiter said, “We are in no way saying that the Freebutt is a perfectly sound proofed building but as section 7.1 of the Brighton and Hove licensing policy 2008 states, not only should the council recognise the need to encourage live music, dancing and theatre for the wider cultural benefits of the community generally it should also be aware of the need to avoid measures which deter live music, dancing
and theatre – such as imposing indirect costs out of proportion to the income of the licence holder and to the risks presented. Only necessary, proportionate and reasonable licensing conditions should impose any restrictions on such events.”

Co-owner Alex Murray said, “What we want is the opportunity for not only a reasonable period of time in which to carry out any necessary work but also the cooperation of both EHO and the complainants in helping establish where exactly the sound bleed problem is originating from. Without some educated analysis of the frequencies bleeding and the structure of both buildings there is absolutely no way that we will ever be able to eradicate this sound issue and will thus force the closure of a historic Brighton music venue and loss of a huge number of music industry jobs."

Obviously, having peace and quiet in your own home is important, and nobody would deny that. But the resident's refusal to help solve the problem suggests that this isn't about sound or noise at all, but more about trying to close down the Freebutt by other means.

There are petitions circulating in Brighton - Resident Records and Rounder Records have both got copies for local people to drop by and sign.


Anonymous said...

For the second time in two days this website has published a story which is incomplete.

This statement is from the Freebutt, where is the statement from the council? You know the one that says they aren't trying to close the Freebutt (which incidentally would make this whole campaign a farce).

And also what about the complainants side of the story. The Freebutt's word is NOT law and also I strongly suspect not completely accurate.

Unless you know the FULL story why bother to stir up a ridiculously one sided campaign?

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

I suspect you'd be closer to about the 27,000th time in around ten years, Anonymous.

The report was on the Freebutt issuing a statement and letting people know there's a petition they can sign if they'd like.

You seem to have some trouble following the nuts and bolts of the story - perhaps you're responding to the 'incompleteness' by only reading half of it? - but while the council doesn't want to close down the venue, if the sound has to be limited to a lower level than currently allowed, it will make the venue inoperable. It's a bit like saying you're not going to force butchers shops to close, but that in future they can't sell meat.

Yes, I realise that the Freebutt aren't exactly impartial in this story, which is why I've flagged up that the statement is their statement. Most adults are capable of processing that one side's view of events is going to be one-sided.

By the way, thanks for the link to the council statement, which contains the quote that somehow I managed to use in yesterday's piece despite not having any balance.

What interests me, though, is that almost as soon as this post appeared you were leaping on it - now, it's possible that you're a regular reader who comes for the odd posting of 1990s indiepop video and the odd jibe at EMI management. But I'm not so sure. Care to shed your anonymity and reveal to us why you're so interested in the case? After all, you're very keen for us to know the full story. Care to help out with that?

Anonymous said...

Actually I'm just a Brighton music fan who's heard lots of gigs at The Freebutt and someone sent me a link to this story which I've been following for the past couple of days.

But I'd also like to think I'm a fair human being who wants to hear both sides of the story.

I assume you put up these stories because you want people to comment on them but perhaps I'm wrong.

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

No, obviously, if comments weren't welcome I'd just switch the comments off. It'd save getting the grief from the people in comment farms who just dump link after link after link to World Of Warcraft or Witchywar or whatever it is.

But commenting is a dialogue, so I'm going to respond to interesting comments.

It's strange, you describe yourself as "a fair human being", and yet in your earlier post, you called the Freebutt campaign "a farce" and "ridiculously one sided", rejected their claims that they were going to be forced to close if they had to drop their sound levels, called their word "NOT law" and cast doubt on the veracity of their claims. For someone portraying themselves as being fair-minded, you seem to have already made up yours.

Obviously, you don't have to give up your anonymity, but it seems curious that you've chosen not to.

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