Brighton’s music venues haven’t been having such a good time of it these last couple of years. We’ve lost the Barfly, Pressure Point and now the Engine Room. So it’s with heightened alarm that we learn of the problems facing the Freebutt at the moment. It’s a fast-moving saga so by the time you read this things may have progressed, but here’s the state of play at time of going to press.The venue’s collective takeover last year looked like a promising move – it seemed a sensible way of protecting the venue’s live music integrity. But lurking in the background was a history of noise leakage, perhaps inevitable where a venue is situated within the heart of a resolutely residential area. And here, for us, is the dilemna.
The Freebutt hasn’t exactly spring up from nowhere in the middle of a leafy avenue – anyone living in the area will pretty much know what to expect. We spoke to Andy Rossiter from the venue about the problems.
You’ve only had one complaint this year compared with four or five a year previously – why do you think the noise abatement order has come now?
The council are basically Deputy Dawgs, if they receive a complaint they have to follow it up whether there’s one or 200 complaints. I don’t really know what will happen, certainly the council are slightly more open to getting us into the house – I think if we can we can resolve the issue once and for all.
But there’s no suggestion the council have an agenda for the closedown?
I certainly wouldn’t want to point the finger at that. We’ve never heard any evidence of problems in the house because we’ve never been inside, apparently there’s a leakage problem so we just want to get someone in the property so we can figure out what the problem is.
There was a report saying you’d voluntarily disconnected some power supplies – does this mean the decibel limiter was being bypassed?
It eliminates the possibility of it being bypassed. We don’t think it was, but there was evidence that one of the other plug sockets had been used. Certainly none of our engineers would have bypassed it.
Is it literally the case that their living room is the other side of a wall with a PA on it?
We don’t want to say who the complainant is, we’re very aware we don’t want to turn it into a witch-hunt. I know if I were the complainant I’d be saying ‘why the hell are the Freebutt still putting on shows?’ It is very annoying that sound is leaking into their property but at the same time we should be pressurising them into letting us in so the problem can be resolved.
Does part of you think, we’ve been a live music venue here for 20-odd years and you moved in around 2003 – what did you expect? You don’t move in close to a live music venue and expect to hear a pin drop at 10pm?
That’s a perfectly valid point but it’s certainly not part of our defence. This management team has only been here since last year. It doesn’t hold a legal argument when it comes to this kind of situation. The council line is that noise is leaking into this property and it needs to be sorted out. So while unfortunately to every levelheaded person it holds true, when it comes to local government it doesn’t basically.
So if the worst comes to the worst now what happens to the Freebutt now?
The worst would be that the limiter gets lowered to the point where we can’t put on gigs. The council have said, why don’t you put folk gigs on, but that’s totally missing the point. If it gets any lower it will basically mean we can’t have live drums, and I think there’s been three gigs this year here that would have fitted that. It would mean the Freebutt would hardly ever get used. We have the Penthouse but that doesn’t make enough money to pay the rent. The four directors would have to cover the bar shifts at the Penthouse but everyone else would be unemployed.
So what happens next?
The council are coming round and are going to check inside the house and reset the limiter accordingly. They’re allowed access inside but nobody else is. Our argument is that their analysis isn’t expert enough, we wanted to get an independent company in who knows the area inside out, a company called 24 Acoustics who sorted out a virtually identical problem for all parties at the Boileroom in Guildford. They’d be perfect to get involved, but that hasn’t been the case. By the time you go to print it might well all be OK, we just don’t know yet. The campaign has shown there’s a lot of support for the venue though.
Keep up to date with The Freebutt’s campaign here:
WORDS BY NICK COQUET