City Spaces: Control and the Contemporary Music Venue

Exclusion from the political arena, i.e. the denial of participation in decision making, can alienate individuals and social groups. In the cultural arena, exclusion from common channels of cultural communication and integration can have similar effects.

– Ali Madanipour, Social Exclusion in European Cities: Processes, Experiences, and Responses (1998)

Most of today’s music venues are tightly regulated private spaces. Although the degree of regulation varies, the spaces in which such events take place are often characterized by high levels of planning and coordination. The “experience” is meticulously crafted, complemented by light shows, beverages, and merchandise. Boston’s Bank of America Pavilion is the go-to venue for all the big names around the world, offering high-end, international spectacles.

Bank of America Pavilion

These spaces cater to segments of the public who have enough disposable income. Attendees are spatially sorted into separate tiers within the venue, based on how much was spent on tickets. For this industry, demand determines geographic location, and while more prominent acts require larger venues to meet demand and maximize profit, smaller spaces with relaxed spatial regulation allow for lesser-known entertainers to attract a crowd. Although attracting widely-known musicians, Paradise Rock Club exemplifies this specific niche.

Paradise Rock Club

These smaller, private spaces allow for a more intimate experience and enforce no spatial hierarchies. Although necessitating some disposable income, these venues generally offer equal access to musicians. Regardless, the structure of access and exclusion characterizing the contemporary music venue depends on the social networks that constitute the industry. By definition, the venue is a platform for contemporary musicians, although the Internet as a digital space is confusing its function. Thus, such platforms depend on musicians’ degree of attachment to particular social networks to merit spatial inclusion.

Basement show in Mission Hill, a neighborhood of Boston

Basement show in Mission Hill, a neighborhood of Boston

In major cities, house shows are organized inside certain residential spaces, access to which depends on one’s position in the social network. Sometimes running on donations only, these spaces are based on rules that are irrelevant to the market structures characterizing “legitimate” venues. Largely urban, the house show allows access depending on interest and awareness.

Regulation of these spaces is enforced from both within and without. Typically renter-occupied, these spaces’ lessees enforce social codes for basic protection of property. The degree of this enforcement varies from city to city and largely depends on the behavior of city police. As noted by one performer and resident of Jamaica Plain’s Whitehaus, availability of space for house shows in the neighborhood relies on the leniency of the Boston Police, who have notably taken a special interest in the house. Acting on noise complaints and other statues, police have entangled Whitehaus occupants with the municipal court system, limiting the frequency and scope of musicality taking place within the House.

BDExv4TCIAAVI87.jpg_largeFrom the perspective of law enforcement, control of space – and residential venues specifically – depends on the demographic makeup of the neighborhood. Although home to many students, Jamaica Plain is relatively less student-occupied than Allston, another neighborhood in Boston. Often home to students at Boston University, Allston is home to a large student population who make these spaces more difficult to manage. This neighborhood is typically host to numerous spaces for residential house shows in addition to the lively array of commercial venues in the area.

Boston’s recent blizzard tested this theory in some ways. Naturally, blizzards act as experiments in terms of the regulation of public and private spaces. By limiting road access, the storm forced city police to prioritize services. Noise complaints hardly registered in this respect. Understanding this, musicians took refuge inside the Whitehaus, using the temporary freedom of this public space to create and perform.

Artists at the Whitehaus

Artists at the Whitehaus

Visit Whitehaus Records: