The art of busking as it is known, is a centuries long tradition. It sits alongside the street trading traditions that we have in our cities. Where it differs now is that street performance/busking, as it is now known, is totally unregulated and therefore unmanageable and ungovernable. More and more street performers are engaged on our streets which is a good thing and now a world renowned practice. So much so, that the likes of the Edinburgh festival and the Sydney Fringe festival thrive as a result of the outstanding standard of street performance and busking. Those standards and achievements were made because of the making of strong regulation and bylaws that Edinburgh and indeed Sydney were able to rely on to ensure public enjoyment of the performances and indeed enjoyment of the public domain. They go hand in hand so to speak, like Estragon and Vladimir. Not so in Dublin at present.
The villain here is the amplifier. And amplification that totally dominates voice and acoustic instruments and bombards the publics sensibility as they try and go about their business in some of Dublin’s most iconic and busiest streets. The amplifier in busking and street performance is like a virus. It has the same effect as foot and mouth. It kills creativity and wards off other artistic individuals who wish to use our public streets as a cultural platform.
The current campaign to retain amplification is largely being orchestrated by one outfit. A managed band that uses excessive amplification and in my opinion (and those of the many citizens who have written to me on this issue) dominates the atmosphere in certain streets with amplified noise. It is easy for many of their supporters to walk up these streets and out of these streets. However, if you live and work in these areas you don’t really have that choice at all. The pro-amplification supporters don’t have to put up with the constant noise day in day out, hour in hour out. It is rather selfish and indeed arrogant for certain street performers/buskers to be insisting that they have more rights than any one else in the public domain. This is not in keeping with artists and arts practice. And is certainly not in keeping with cultural democracy and cultural participation.
The Glen Hansard’s of this world and the Hot House Flowers, Paddy Casey etc all used acoustic instruments to great effect back in the day. And went on to be the successful world artists that they are today. Nobody is trying to stop busking or street performance but it can only thrive through proper legislation and management of the public domain for the public good. Indeed, many of our finest traditional street performers who use non amplified instruments cannot compete and are moving elsewhere to quieter places. It is many of those buskers that I have personally spoken to who believe that the amplifier is the death knell of the tradition of busking.
The set of bylaws that are at present before the City Council regarding street performance are extremely generous to buskers and performers but they are not so generous to residents, workers and indeed citizens who are sick and tired of the noise and obstruction that is an almost daily occurrence on certain Dublin streets.
We are inundated now as Councillors with hundreds of emails of concerned individuals who are confused and misunderstand what’s actually happening at City Council regarding the new bylaws this evening. Again most of these emails are visitors to Dublin or people who do not live within constant earshot of the amplified noise and repetitive sound of the same songs being played over and over again like bad karaoke.
The stage is to be shared after all, it is the public domain. You share the stage with your fellow artists, with your audience and your public. No fellow artist or act should continuously upstage or dominate the atmosphere by persistent indifference to others.
I feel it is time for certain buskers and indeed Dublin City Council to turn off the volume and listen. Tonight I will be proposing a temporary ban on all amplification for buskers and street performers for 12 months. In 12 months time the whole street performance bylaws will be reviewed and amendments made if necessary. Equally if there is a strong case presented or made for the use of amplification in certain areas where it won’t be a noise nuisance to residents and others, so be it.
For too long certain buskers and street performers have had it all their way regarding issues of noise. It is not today nor yesterday that citizens became annoyed at the lack of consideration due to amplification in busking and street performance. There was an attempt some time back at a voluntary code for street performers. It didn’t work. These new bylaws are coming as a result of what was learned in trying to implement the voluntary code.
The best performance now that certain buskers and street performers could do, is to support this temporary suspension/ban. That would certainly enshrine them in the eyes of all the public, of all the workers and all the residents in the city.
Graciousness, humility and serenity as well as dignity and a sense of purpose to society is the hallmark of any would be artist in any art form. And excellence is the marker. But none of them compare to the respect that you afford your audience or your would be audience of society as a whole. This city, Dublin, is a landscape of conflict. An urban space full of hustle and bustle, trespass and forgiveness where we all rub up against each other, sometimes in the wrong way. But we usually beg pardon and as Samuel Beckett would say ‘we are obliged to each other’ and we move along in good fashion.
A city can only thrive as a result of tolerance. It can never progress with intolerance or anti social behavior. Certain buskers and street performers need to become more aware of the need of others for quietness, for balance so that everybody can enjoy what is theirs. The public domain. The present bylaws are primarily driven to ensure an equal playing pitch for all. If we continue with the present regime it can only erode public admiration for the art of busking and street performance.
To ensure that this does not happen, I’m calling on all my colleagues to support the public’s call and the many acoustic playing street performers and give us back our friendly noise free streets from loud noisy amplified busking/street performance. Enough is enough.