Chicago’s Congress Theater has hosted a great number of EDM shows in the past before being shut down last year after losing its liquor license. Today, it’s been revealed that the venue will be banned from holding any EDM shows or events — even if it is under a new operator — based on an agreement signed on July 30 by the city and the Congress’ owner, Eddie Carranza.
The Congress, which was built as a historic movie palace in 1926, has featured EDM artists including Major Lazer, Flosstradamus, Dillon Francis, Porter Robinson, Hardwell, Zedd and more among other acts such as Marilyn Manson and country singer Easton Corbin. Despite a notable artist roster, however, the venue itself wasn’t ever considered a typical Chicagoan’s favorite spot for EDM shows due to its run-down (and potentially unsafe-looking) interior. In fact, the venue came under larger scrutiny last year when a lengthy list of safety violations was made public, with the city threatening the venue to shut down immediately.
EDM, as defined by the city, is “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.”
Local Alderman Joe Moreno, however, thinks the ban is harsh: “My position has always been that I think this is a little stronger than it needs to be.. I think it’s a blunt instrument but I do support [the plan of operation]. Hopefully there will be a time when we won’t need it.”
The city’s liquor commissioner Gregory Steadman also adds, “We’re not saying EDM are all bad but in venues of this size — 5,000 seats — we don’t feel this is appropriate for the Congress.” The ban addresses the “rising level of concern about these events and whether or not they’re safe.”
And Steadman has a point. It seems like this ban is not a means to condemn EDM, but is instead a “bandage” solution in response to the owner Carranza’s failure to resolve safety violations in the past. Moreno explains, “It’s not the genre, it’s the way the owner handles the genre… I don’t blame the genre or the artists, it’s the operator who has to be able to handle the crowd. Unfortunately, the Congress has a history of not being able to manage certain types of crowds.”
A few issues arise from Moreno’s statement. First, the alderman’s mention of “certain types of crowds” may spark debate as to whether an EDM crowd is rowdier than, say, concertogers for a rock or country show. If this ban is truly a reaction to poor management, then why shouldn’t this ban be on all other shows as well?
Second — and probably a larger issue — is the city’s definition of “EDM.” What constitutes a traditional instrument? For artists such as The Glitch Mob and Tycho who play their sets live but don’t necessarily use “traditional” instruments, do they fall under that ban? And for artists such as Big Gigantic, Pretty Lights and Grammatik who incorporate live bands with these so-called traditional instruments of drums and saxophones, would they be an exception to the ban?
Although the city may have issued this ban in good interest for the safety of concertgoers, it looks like a hunt for loopholes will be underway to bring back more EDM artists to Chicago.