Halifax indie rockers. They're touchy about their music venues.
No wonder. They keep losing them.
A fault in the business model is one thing. But what really stings is when a good venue---Cafe Ole, Birdland, The Blues Corner---is lost because of noise complaints.
Dimo Georgakakos is a somewhat expected champion of keeping indie rock healthy, since his family pub, Gus', is the indie rock venue du jour.
What's unlikely is his approach to the problem of four noise complaints his business has received since the spring.
"You can't bother your neighbours," says the manager. "It comes down to responsibility."
Now that's not what I expected to hear.
Gus' Pub has been on the corner of North and Agricola for 48 years. Its dark interior has hosted live music for 25 years and it's been the city's holy shrine of indie rock for going on five.
"With no complaints," Georgakakos says. "No one complained. Never. At all. We have the thinnest file in the Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Commission. Everything is done right here."
It's difficult to peg, because it's not public information, but the recent handful of complaints seems to be coming from tenants in a new mixed residential and commercial building diagonally across the street. It opened this spring.
There are shades of the 1998 Blues Corner debacle here---where a club tried its hand at live shows and did so successfully. Condo residents across the street didn't appreciate the music that floated so easily in their direction---despite that they chose housing smack-dab in the middle of the downtown bar scene.
Picture the space if you're unfamiliar with this saga: the Blues Corner was in what is today Opa, at Argyle and Blowers. The building that takes the blame for closing down live music there is Barrington Gate, at Barrington and Blowers.
In the case of Gus' Pub, the music pre-dates the residential quarters---which are a mixture of standard and low-income rental units---by a quarter-century. Let's talk sense here: when you pick a place to live, you consider neighbourhood noise, among other things, before you start screwing in curtain rods.
It's not just tenure that matters though. The councillor for Gus' Pub's district, Jerry Blumenthal, says he hasn't heard any complaints about Gus' noise. By last count he'd received seven or eight recent letters in support of the bar. Dawn Sloane, whose downtown district butts up against Gus', says she's only heard from folks in favour of the pub too.
It all adds up to righteous indignation (and---no surprise---that's a sentiment liberally spewed on this topic on the indie culture messageboard at halifaxlocals.com).
Georgakakos, for his part, isn't buying in.
He hasn't become a supplicant to Jerry Blumenthal because, he says, "I'm not going to wait around for someone else to fight my fight for me. I have to deal with it myself."
Likewise, he says, "I have been here a long time, [but] I can't use that."
"The bottom line is I have a license from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission and I have to abide by that and I have to make sure that the sound that comes out of my bar stays in my bar."
Georgakakos has made sound-insulating window panels that go up before the bands start. They went in three weekends ago when, he says, "We had a really loud show. We didn't get any complaints. I think that's solved a lot of it, but the sound still comes out when we open our doors."
He's also putting in sets of double doors, so less sound escapes onto Agricola.
Indie rock has bolstered the family business at Gus' Pub in the last half decade, but money isn't the only motivation here. It's about keeping a family business a family business.
"The pub is 48 and I am 46; my mother calls it her fourth child. Growing up in my family you washed dishes until you could subtract and then you got put on the cash. And you never got paid," Georgakakos says, laughing. "Ever!" (Georgakakos's almost two-year-old son hasn't made it to the kitchen yet.)
"I just want people to calm down a bit for me to make the changes needed and to make sure that we abide by the regulations," he says. "I have been here all my life and I'm not going anywhere."
I wonder if the complaining tenants will be there as long.