Late last week, as reported by DNAinfo Chicago, the City of Chicago local liquor commissioner Gregory Steadman and Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza signed a six-page plan of operation that will allow the concert hall to obtain a liquor license and reopen. The Logan Square venue lost its liquor license in May 2013 after several legal incidents and shut down shortly thereafter.
Now, there's one funny condition in that lengthy, freshly inked document. The Congress "shall not allow any EDM shows/events at the premises." Which means the City of Chicago had to define what the hell "EDM" means. That's relieving in a way, as the genre tag has been rather nebulous and inane, as most electronic subgenre names tend to be. Though I'm not sure we wanted a local liquor commissioner drawing the line between, say, Kid Koala and Zedd.
Here's how the contract defines EDM: "…music created by a DJ or multiple DJs primarily using specialized equipment and software instead of traditional instruments…. And an EDM performance shall be defined as a performance of Electronic Dance Music or any performance by a DJ or multiple DJs featured the playing of prerecorded music. Performers that incorporate electronic beats or prerecorded music in their acts shall be allowed, provided those performers either sing vocals or play an instrument(s) (or do both) during their performance."
There are a couple of immediately ridiculous things about this definition. Take Krewella and Big Gigantic as two examples. Krewella features live vocal performance (two of them, technically). It is a pop band with EDM beats. (In a way, you could almost make this argument for Kesha or Rihanna.) Yet the Krewella audience and crowd experience are no different than that of Dillon Francis. Should Krewella be allowed to play and not Dillon Francis? Big Gigantic has a live drummer and the occasional blast of saxophone. So they're cool? What about a performer like Purity Ring, where a dude is playing a machine, but with drumsticks? Is an Akai MPC an "instrument"? If not, how is pushing buttons on an MPC any different from pushing buttons on a clarinet? Does human breathing matter? If so, what if there were an act that played dance music on a melodica?
You can see how stupid this is, or can become. The City of Chicago defining what a "traditional instrument" is comes off as terribly grandparenty. DJs can start adding a guitarist and play at the Congress. Avicii is already on that path. I went clubbing in Australia, and it is quite popular to have some rando blaring a trumpet or sax while the DJ does her thing. Musical semantics is played on a muddy, murky gray field. This also hardly addresses the underlying problems with the Congress Theater. Punk, metal, hip-hop and country shows can be just as rowdy (or, I should say, just as tame). I don't want to live in a world where the Insane Clown Posse can legally be deemed more authentically musical than Autechre.