Live music in small venues is in danger of extinction in the Spanish capital of Madrid, and urgent measures are necessary to save the sector. This is the message of the city's 45-venue La Noche En Vivo (Live Music At Night) campaign in an open letter to the city's mayor, published in the national press.

The letter, published Dec. 19, follows a press conference attended by dozens of small venue impresarios, musicians and others affected.

A complex licensing system is mostly to blame, says LNEV. The group's representatives also claim there is a general hostility by city hall functionaries to live music in small venues. "An atrocious fear seems to grip them when they hear the word 'music' or, worse, 'live music'," says LNEV president Javier Muniz, who runs the city center bar La Boca De Lobo.

LNEV representatives say the situation has not improved since LNEV was founded in 2004. There are now increased concerns following the November death of an 18-year-old fan, who was ejected by bouncers from a well-known discotheque.

Following public outcry, the city hall closed some 10 popular late-night venues for lacking one licence or another, including three key live music venues: jazz club Bogui Jazz, concert venue Sala Colonial Norte, and La Riviera.

The closure of the 2,500-capacity La Riviera is a major problem for the live pop and rock music scene in Madrid, as it is virtually the only mid-sized venue on the circuit. Just a week earlier, the venue staged gigs by Nick Lowe and Steve Winwood on consecutive nights. Among imminent concerts that have been suspended are two by well-known Romanian gypsy band Gogol Bordello.

"The city council has not done its homework in two fundamental areas that it promised to look at four years ago," says Muniz, "which are the cultural and urbanistic recognition of small live music venues. The consequences of the closure of the three live music venues this fall have been disastrous for us."

LNEV demands the creation by the Madrid city and regional governments of a "special category" to safeguard and recognize the value of small live music venues, in line with similar treatment received by theater associations. It also wants LNEV to be included as a consultant in the various culture councils that exist in each government.

LNEV treasurer David Novaes, who owns the long-running Sala Sirocco venue, says "We in Madrid are light years away from the situation that live venues enjoy in countries like France, Britain or Germany. Madrid is a candidate to stage the 2016 Olympic Games - how can the city hope to win that vote if it is destroying its once-famous nightlife?"

The open letter to the mayor points out that LNEV's 45 members put on 10,000 concerts a year, watched by one million people, and collaborate with institutions such as city hall itself in 25 cultural projects such as the Madrid Jazz Festival, or the Alternativas En Concierto which wrapped Dec. 21.

"If the present is obscure for live music in Madrid, the future is black," says the letter. "The closure of La Riviera has collapsed the cultural life of a city with a manifest deficit of mid-sized venues for live music, improper for a capital city with Olympic Games ambitions.

"This deficit is a consequence not only of a policy of zero incentives by your city council towards new music cultural projects, but of an authentic process whereby many of the officials who grant licences see live music as diabolical, and view live venues only as sources of conflicts, and not as a responsible and serious project for Madrid."

The letter ends with the acclamation: "Live music is good for Madrid's health."

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