Regulating scenes

police helmet

© Bettini

Music scenes are created by musicians, fans and entrepreneurs and enabled by a broad range of physical and virtual sites, but this process is shaped and constrained in various ways.

Did you know, for example, that music scenes are affected by noise legislation and that in Liverpool and other British cities noise pollution has become a top public health issue? Or that a Liverpool club (Cream) became the first dance club in Britain to employ an in-house doctor following government concerns about connections between dance scenes and illegal drug-taking?

Whilst people are free to make or listen to music in many different ways their musical activities and the musical sounds they produce are nevertheless regulated by a wide range of laws and policies. Censorship laws, for example, are commonly applied to music by government and music industry corporations. In fact the governing bodies of many countries have associated certain music groups and styles with deviance and resistance. They have subsequently banned particular music instruments and music scenes and sanctioned the torture and the murder of musicians.

In Britain, media corporations have routinely censored particular songs and music styles and there have also been instances of government censorship. 1994 saw the launch of a Criminal Justice Act by Britain's Central Government, which included legislation targeted at dance events known as 'raves'. By prohibiting the broadcasting of amplified music characterised by a "succession of repetitive beats" at outdoor gatherings of one hundred or more people, this became the first piece of British legislation to specifically refer to music. Concerns about contemporary dance or rave had been fuelled by British tabloid headlines associating it with ecstasy-fuelled public disorder. This is explored further in the section on tabloid newspapers.

In Britain music scenes are more commonly and routinely affected by other kinds of legislation. Intellectual property laws, for example, govern ownership rights in music compositions as well as the performance and broadcasting of music. At the same time performers and promoters of live music have to comply with rules governing crowd safety, noise levels and the sale of alcohol.

In addition, licensing policies place restrictions on the kinds of performance venues and events that are allowed to operate. They also constrain the everyday routes and performances of musicians - street musicians for example. Sometimes such policies are supposed to be there to preserve social control and public order but they also operate in a way that discriminates against particular music scenes, excluding them from certain places and preventing their involvement in particular activities. Rather than restrict and marginalise scenes the effect may instead be the reverse, with such policies actually encouraging and enabling scene activities and identities and driving scenes underground. In Liverpool and other British cities local licensing policies have led to the creation of new scenes based around music performances in private homes or illegal venues, as described on the Neighbourhoods page.

Follow these links to find out more about regulations and their impact on music scenes in Liverpool and elsewhere.