Thursday, April 28, 2011

How many licences do you need?

How many roads must a man walk down?

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

How many grains of sand can you hold in the palm of your hand?

The number is not necessarily infinite, nor even that large - but it is bothersomely indefinite.

I gather Yugong Yishan has been closed down by the authorities - after some weeks of mounting harassment - for not having a 'licence to sell tickets'. (Well, that was what I heard last weekend. But they're still putting out their weekly schedule by e-mail, so perhaps they're still soldiering on - as they have for much of the past few weeks - by dispensing with their door fees.)

Ha! Who knew such a thing existed? You probably also need a licence to serve ice cubes and swizzle-sticks, or to sell cocktails with English names - but luckily nobody on high has yet dredged up these obscure regulations.

Or perhaps there's not really any such requirement at all. It could just be a routine shakedown from the local police or whatever. I found it rather baffling that leading rival music venue MAO Live House got closed down for a while last year (at exactly this time - hmm) for alleged contraventions of fire regulations. Since the place was almost unique among Beijing venues (of any kind) in having two doors - at opposite ends of its main room - I had thought that it was conspicuously less death-trappy than anywhere else. It is still fairly routine here for fire doors, where they are present at all, to be chained shut with bicycle locks (nothing has been learnt from periodic tragedies like Karamay). And MAO had been operating for nearly three years in this "unsafe" condition before anyone took any notice. Smells like a shakedown to me.

This year, though, I can't help but wonder if the harassment of the city's leading live rock music venue is part of the wider crackdown on potential dissent that's going on. Artists are going into hiding for fear of being arrested for having consorted with Ai Weiwei. Rock musicians are going into hiding for fear of being arrested for occasional consumption of marijuana. Liberal lawyers are being bundled into vans and taken who-knows-where, to make sure that stoner musos and irreverent modern artists can't get any representation in court. And open air music seems to be banned within Beijing (just as it was for the whole of 2008 and 2009; although it looks as though the very modest Ditan Folk Festival is to be allowed to go ahead next weekend, and there are hopes that 2 Kolegas might be able to get away with having a few events on its lawn.... but no big festivals will get permits, it seems).

These are miserable times to be living in Beijing. I don't even like YGYS... but it sucks that the city's most prominent rock club is - three-and-a-half years after it opened - suddenly getting shit over the lack of a licence that no-one knew existed.

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