Live music organizers and performers in Montreal are voicing their concerns over new rules they say could worsen the experience at live music events at Parc Jean-Drapeau.
An agreement was announced earlier this week by the City of Saint-Lambert, which had been due to commence court proceedings against the Société Parc Jean-Drapeau and Evenko, the events promoter that owns most major music venues in the region, including the recently-opened amphitheatre at Jean-Drapeau.
The five-year agreement will restrict the number of days that can host a “major event”, defined as any event with more than 20,000 spectators, at no more than 19 each summer. Until COVID-19 restrictions shuttered the summer festival season, Evenko alone had planned to hold eight days of such events in the park.
The agreement will require park administrators to send weekly sound records to Saint-Lambert. Sound emanating from the park will be recorded from a “control point” located within the park, approximately equidistant between the city’s shores and the amphitheatre.
Under the agreement, the sound collected by that control point may not exceed 65dB(a) over any given 15-minute period, or 15dB(a) for low frequencies.
It is regulating those low frequency sounds that will prove more difficult, especially for music at events like Piknic Électronik, the weekly electronic music festival in the park. Electronic music, along with other genres like rock, feature lots of low-frequency sounds.
Since the event moved from where the amphitheatre is now located to its current location in 2017, Piknic’s organizers have taken steps each year to reposition their stage, dance floor and speakers to minimize the sound that reaches Saint-Lambert. The amphitheatre a few hundred metres away in the park, which debuted in 2019, similarly makes use of directional speakers and other technologies to minimize the noise that reaches the south shore suburb.
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“There’s great technologies, and honestly they did an amazing job last year” Pycke said of efforts to keep ambient noise from escaping the park.
Last year, Osheaga never breached the new sound limits set by the agreement. But local anti-noise advocacy organization Silence Saint-Lambert said it received over 1,000 noise complaints during the weekend of Osheaga 2019 alone.
That leaves some worried the new restrictions won’t be enough to stop the never-ending battle over noise.
“They will never be satistifed, and I always draw it back to the case of people moving in above established venues,” said Michelle Ayoub, the co-owner of Turbo Haüs on Saint-Denis Street in the Quartier Latin.
“No matter what, they’re going to be annoyed.”
Music venues in Montreal, who have only been allowed to hold strictly limited events since the pandemic began earlier this year, are worried about the long-term economic effects to them, should the agreement dent the quality of, and attendance at, the big summer festivals across the river.
“Local businesses like mine, via these summer festivals, get tons more customers, put on events and are really promoting Montreal nightlife and culture,” Ayoub said.
The element of the agreement that has caused the most outrage among musicians in Montreal is the fact that the Grand Prix du Canada, by far the loudest event that takes place in the park each summer, and one that is located on Île Notre-Dame, the part of Parc Jean-Drapeau that is significantly closer to the south shore, is completely excluded from any of the agreement’s restrictions.
“I think the Grand Prix being exempt is an obvious example of a lack of attention to something that brings an enormous amount of value to Montreal’s reputation,” Anthony D’Urbano, the founder of online dance-music community FrontRite, told Global News.
He said the fact that Grand Prix was exempt from the rules because of the economic contribution it brings to the region ignores the similar boost that live music performances bring.
“Live music, even in COVID times, is essential,” D’Urbano added.
The Mayor of Saint-Lambert, Pierre Brodeur, declined an interview for this story. However, in a statement, he said the agreement “makes it possible to put an end to the legal proceedings which were in progress between the parties relating to this issue.”
Despite the new rules over noise, musicians like Pycke say they just hope they’ll get to perform at Jean-Drapeau’s renowned music festivals again, someday after the pandemic has passed.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “It’s been too long.”