Have Anyone Else's Ear Drums Gone M.I.A.?
I was at the M.I.A./Datarock/Holyfuck show as photo support for Paul's review of the show, and we both noticed something odd. Right after The Carps finished their easily forgotten set, the DJ turned up his filler music to somewhere between 15-20 on a mixer where the volume shouldn't be able to go higher than 10, and left it there for the duration of M.I.A.'s set. I was wearing earplugs and I still had to leave early because of the volume levels.
It felt like my brain was necrotizing from the inside out.
I wasn't the only one. A few people left comments on Paul's post about it, and we also recently received a very earnest open letter to Red Bull Music Academy and the music community of Toronto. Hit the jump to read Andrew Chiu's account of the evening in full.
Note: I've added paragraph breaks where they kinda-sorta fit. The form we receive these letters in nullifies paragraph breaks and whatnot, but otherwise the letter has been left unedited. His concerns expressed are not necessarily representative of the writers and editors of blogTO.
An Open Letter to the Music Community of Toronto
Oct 23, 2007
Dear Red Bull Music Academy and the music community of toronto,
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Holy Fuck/DataRock/The Carps/M.I.A. show at the Kool Haus. amazing talent packed into one evening. But, one thing became a large source of displeasure - the audio level pumped into the crowd. Holy Fuck put on a great set, followed by Datarock who knocked the socks off the crowd, belting out a big rock show on a relatively small stage. Then, somewhere in between The Carps and the DJ set before M.I.A., the levels went up to a level that disturbed myself, as well as other attendees. I'd like to make known that I am not a newbie concert going that just didn't know any better. My history with concerts has been a long one. I went to my first one at the age of six, to see my favourite artist before I immigrated to Canada. My first concert in Canada was in grade nine (a New Years show with the Ghandarvas, Holly McNarland and Treble Charger). I've been going to gigs for the past 10 years, in many venues in Toronto (including the Kool Haus), with much harder/louder bands that I watched tonight...but I've never experienced anything quite like this.
The levels were too high for me right from the start of the DJ set. Every hi-hat, clap, or sample with lots of treble would make me cringe. At first, I thought I was just being sensitive, until during one break a sample pierced through the crowd and a large number (at least a dozen people around me) covered their ears for about a minute. Several strangers next to me complained to their friends about how loud things had gotten, so I knew I wasn't alone anymore. A girl even went up to the VJ booth to see if they had any earplugs. The levels stayed the same (me and my friend covering our ears often) until the set was over, at which time I exchanged serious remarks about this with a couple behind me. I thought things would be fixed with M.I.A., but they were not. I guess none of the audio technicians noticed a large number of people covering their ears for shelter 15 minutes earlier. During M.I.A. it sounded like the vocals were being clipped (she and her backup are very energetic). It was particularly bad during "Jimmy" and "Galang" (due to the treble-laced sample and the claps of "Galang") two of my favourite songs. I could not dance because I wasn't physically enjoying what was happening anymore.
By the end of M.I.A.'s set, I saw that the couple I talked to earlier was still covering their ears. So I wonder - and have to ask - what happened here tonight? I've been going to gigs for almost half my life, but I've never felt like I had to start physically protecting myself. Do we have regulations that monitor the output at gig venues and clubs? It doesn't seem to be in the best interest of the venues/promoters to have their customers going deaf. DataRock able to put a huge live show without distorting our ears - so what changed? Who's in charge of making sure appropriate levels are coming from the speakers? Are there regulations? I don't have the answers. I'm not an audio technician or a doctor. I just know my body was telling me that what was happening to me wasn't right and when I looked around, lots of other people's bodies were saying the same thing.
Three nights have now passed and I wake up every morning to a ringing in my ears. This is not the regular concert experience. I love reading books, especially when alone at home, in silence - but I haven't experienced silence in almost four days. I know now I should've told whoever was in charge of the Kool Haus, but I didn't. I thought someone would be on top of this and an obvious problem would be rectified. But I can only assume whoever was in charge detected no problem, despite the clear reaction from the audience I witnessed. I should've been more proactive, but i'm trying to make up for it now. I didn't realize how bad the problem was until i couldn't even enjoy M.I.A. closing with "Galang." Now that's when you know it's serious. It surprised me during the sets that a large group of girls and boys kept dancing, with no reaction to the audio assault that seemed to affect many people around them. That gave me hope...until I realized their hearing loss is probably worse than mine.
Thanks to those yellow cheapies (THONKS again Carrie!) I haven't had any consistent ringing or tinnitus since the show, but I'd wager a great many people left the show completely fucking deaf. Whoever was in charge of the volume had to know that it was set to dangerous levels and either didn't give a shit about the health of the people who paid money for the show, or bowed to pressure from someone in M.I.A.'s camp that wanted her set be louder than the openers'. Either way, it was a stupid move, plain and simple, and whoever turned the knob should have their ass canned and tossed with the trash.
Concerts always have and always will be venues where fans can listen to dangerously loud music. At ANY concert, a listener really should be wearing some sort of protection for their ear drums, preferably a decent pair of ear plugs on sale at places like Carbon Computing (instead of the cheapie yellow's that I always catch myself reaching for). For about $15 you'll prevent yourself from becoming one of those seemingly senile old farts who's always saying "What?!?" to their grand children.
Photo: "Portugese John" by ariehsinger as posted to the blogTO Flickr Pool
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