Governments against dance music

14 October 2005

With legislation and brutal police raids, governments worldwide attempt to stop young people from making open air dance parties. Official motivations for the crack-down are drugs and noise disturbances; but the organisers experience it as an attack on dance-music culture and governmental abuse of the rights of music fans

According to News Editor Claire Hughes from DJ Magazine, laws are in place all over Europe, the USA and Asia, aimed at stifling dance-music culture. Recently, Czech officials have issued legislation which is, more or less, a copy of the British Criminal Justice Bill from 1994 – a many-claused law which bans, among other things, “groups of ten or more people” from having “the right to assemble on private land if the gathering is for the express purpose of listening to music typified by the excessive repetition of a number of beats”.

In an article published by both DJ Magazine and The Independent in September 2005, Claire Hughes looks back on how it all began in the UK, during 1988, with the dawning of “acid house” which prompted a wave of public panic, exacerbated by the British press. Government response to the ensuing drug fear, fuelled by press coverage of rave parties, paved the way for the “1994 Criminal Justice Bill.” Never before had legislation been brought in so quickly by any government, states Claire Hughes. The same happened in Ottawa in USA when the city was clamping down on parties in 2000.

With the threat of heavy fines, prison sentences and the confiscation of sound systems, the underground scene moved to the clubs. Dance music responded accordingly, and acts such as Orbital, Underworld, The Prodigy and The Shamen sprang up, thundered into the charts and spearheaded the rave movement.

Today, countries all over the world have their own dance scenes, and what started out as a youth movement has become a way of life for people of all ages and races. But still authorities kick against it.

Below are some recent examples of what has happened in Czech, USA, and India.

DJ Magazine / The Independent, 30 September 2005:

‘Can dance music and politics really mix?’

The Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund:

‘Laws – Legislation – Legal Cases’


Czech police brutality

On July 30, 2005, the ‘Czechtek Festival’ – a Czech open air international and multicultural music festival with a 12 year tradition – was closed down with what an eye-witness described as “extreme brutality”.

According to this source, the festival was attacked by 1.000 policemen, water cannons, tear gas, disorientation grenades, and even armoured tanks and a low-flying helicopter. The organisers said there was no indication that there should be anything illegal about the festival. All official permissions were in place, every aspect of the arrangement was done according to Czech Republic law.
Czech Police, however, stated that the reason for the attack was that there was “threat of damaging the surrounding private pieces of land.”
“It is true that there were people on the surrounding land, but this was because the police had blocked all roads, and the police action was not directed towards these people,” comments one of the participants.According to the report from this participant, “a woman from a near-by village, owner of neighbouring land, said she had been woken up by police Friday morning, long before the festival attendees began to arrive, was taken to the police station and encouraged to sign a complaint.”
“All people were beaten up, including teenage girls who cried in pain. There were hundreds of injuries, including cuts, bruises, burnings, broken arms, shock. Many people were in shock still in the afternoon of the next day – with red faces from tear gas.”

Click to see enlarged
The ‘Czechtek Festival’ on July 30, 2005, phographed by T-rex,

More photos from the raided Czech party

Music Versus Guns: / Oklahoma Independent Media Center:
‘EUROPE: Police KILL raver at CzechTek-Festival!’

American dance party broken up by police

An outdoor dance event about an hour drive outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, in a valley surrounded by tall mountains, had a similar experience of being closed down with camouflage-uniformed soldiers, assault rifles, tear gas, and helicopters.

700 tickets had been sold in advance for this event on August 21, 2005, and around midnight, approximately 1,500 people had arrived. A total of 3,000 people were expected.
Of the event, an eye-witness says, “I was standing behind the stage talking with someone when I noticed a helicopter pulling over one of the mountain tops. I jokingly said ‘Oh look, here comes Big Brother’ to the person I was with. I wasn’t far off. The helicopter dipped lower and lower and started shining its lights on the crowd. I was kind of in awe and just sat and watched this thing circle us for a minute.”
As he looked back towards the crowd he saw a man dressed in army camouflage uniform walking by, toting an assault rifle. At this point, everyone was fully aware of what was going on. A couple of soldiers rushed the stage, cut the sound off, and started yelling that everyone “Get the fuck out of here or go to jail!”
They were looking for drugs and were going through the crowd with police dogs. Quote from one of the participants:“Next thing I know, a can of tear gas is launched into the crowd. People are running and screaming at this point. Girls are crying, guys are cussing… bad scene.
People were trying to document what was happening, but police confiscated video tapes.
The police were rounding up the staff of the party and the main promoter went up to them with the permit for the show and said, ‘Here, I have the permit!’
The police then said, ‘No you don’t!’ and ripped the permit out of his hand. They put an assault rifle to his forehead and said: ‘Get the fuck out of here right now!’
“This was a gross violation of our civil liberties. The police wanted this party shut down, so they made it happen. Even though everything about this event was legal. The promoters spent over US$ 20,000 on this show and did everything they had to make it legitimate. When we’re losing the right to gather peacefully, we’re also letting the police set a standard of what they can get away with.”

Click on photo to watch video clip

Wikinews, August 22, 2005:

‘Dance party broken up by police in Utah, USA’

Fox News’ coverage:

Video clip

Amateur video from the scene:

American Civil Liberties Union, 26 September, 2005:
‘ACLU Joins Lawsuit Challenging Raids of Concerts and Violation of Free Speech’

Banned from attending public dance

In Marchall, USA, Rebecca Willis has been banned from dancing at the local gathering spot because her dance moves are too “provocative”


In October 2005, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, decided that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not apply in the case of Rebecca Willis, a resident of Marshall, who had been banned from attending public dances at ‘Marshall Depot’, a refurbished train station that serves as a local gathering spot and community centre. Rebecca Willis claimed the town of Marshall violated her First Amendment rights by banning her.

“Most forms of dance, whether ballet or striptease, when performed for the benefit of an audience, are considered expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment,” Judge William Traxler wrote for the panel, affirming a lower court’s decision.
“Willis, however, was not a performer in any meaningful sense — she was simply dancing for her own enjoyment.”

Willis’ dancing style included gyrations and “simulated sexual intercourse” with a partner, and was “sexually provocative,” lawyers for the town said in court documents.
Rebecca Willis admitted her dancing was “exuberant and flamboyant,” but argued the town had no right to throw her out of the community centre.

However, the judged stated that Willis cannot challenge the ban on First Amendment grounds.

The Charlotte Observer, 7 October, 2005:
‘Federal appeals court upholds ban on woman’s dancing’

The Charlotte Observer, 8 October, 2005:

‘Judge says only pros allowed to dance dirty’


Indian ban on dance

You can’t dance to modern dance music in the hi-tech Indian city of Bangalore. Nightclubs there have been told to play classical music and are not allowed to play music that “provokes dancing.”

“Early Saturday evening in Bangalore. Advertising executive Matthew Thomas has just stepped into Enigma, a nightclub in the city. As the evening unfolds, jostling bodies and craning necks crowd the bar, and hip-hop booms from the DJ console. Just as Thomas and his friends start grooving, a bouncer swoops in on them and sits them down. The DJ is asked to change tracks.
‘You can be arrested for dancing,’ says the bouncer. Cops in plain clothes spy from strategic corners to ensure the crowd sits and behaves.”
The scene above is described in an article in the Indian newspaper Sunday Express in October, 2005.
Under the guise of regulating dance bars, the Bangalore police have introduced a new law that has virtually banned discotheques and live music, clamping down even on snooker parlours. Forty-nine establishments have sought licenses for dancing and live music under the Licensing and Controlling of Public Entertainment (Bangalore City) Order, 2005, but none have been granted the permission.
According to the article in Sunday Express, Mumbai was the first metro to clamp down on every form of individual expression. In the mid-1990s authorities put a ban on rock shows, and there was burning of film posters.
“Yet, moral policing has never marched so deep into cosmopolitan Mumbai like it has over the last year,” writes the reporters from Sunday Express, mentioning the recent rather unpopular initiative to ban dance bars.

Dancing on the street during the Shivarati festival
Dancing on the street during the Shivaratri festival. Photo © Kurt van Aert –

Musicians rendered jobless by the ruling
From Thiruvananthapuram in the state Kerala on the south-western tip of the Indian subcontinent, Daily News & Analysis India reports that a Supreme Court order of July 18, 2005, banning the use of loudspeakers and musical instruments in residential areas from 10 PM to 6 AM curtails some of Kerala’s famed and ancient art forms, such as Kathakali which are performed well into the wee hours.
As police began a crackdown on musical performances after 10 PM, artists have formed an association to contest the ruling. They complain of high-handedness by the police:
“We are rendered jobless by the ruling. Even before 10 PM, police force us to wind up and seize our equipment. Sometimes they detain artistes for three-four hours. It is an infringement on our right to expression and right to livelihood,” said Ahwan Sebastian, general convener of Performing Artistes Coordination Kerala (PACK) to DNA India.
“It will also affect traditional art forms. How can Kathakali be performed without the accompaniment of chenda (the traditional drum)? The famed fireworks during Thrissur pooram start only after midnight. For centuries Kerala has been enjoying art at night. Can we celebrate Shivaratri at daytime or Christmas at 12 noon?” he argued.
The organization for the performing artists, PACK, argues that as a result of the ban, cops are now demanding bribes from performers and organizers whenever they need to perform after 10 PM.
“Malabar has a tradition of enjoying Saturday nights with musical performances. Now drums, trumpet and such instruments are not allowed. Police had even interrupted a school youth festival last year. We are not against controlling noise pollution. But is music polluting?” asked Sebastian.

The Sunday Express, India – 9 October, 2005:
‘How Kolkata Became India’s Coolest City’

Daily News & Analysis, DNA India – 10 October, 2005:
‘Supreme Court noise curfew threaten to kill tradition and livelihoods’

The Japan Times – 5 November, 2005:
‘ ‘Morality police’ on a rampage in India’

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