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EDM ban at Congress Theater gets city officials talking

In the wake of a ban on electronic dance music at the troubled Congress Theater, city officials are discussing the future of EDM in Chicago—but are tight-lipped about the exact nature of those discussions.

In a move that drew comparisons to "Footloose," EDM shows are banned indefinitely from the Congress under a deal filed with the city and signed July 30th by owner Eddie Carranza and city Liquor Control Commissioner Gregory Steadman.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) called the blanket ban a "blunt instrument" but said it was necessary to ensure safety at the theater, where he said EDM shows have gotten out of hand.

"Historically, at these shows, they haven't been able to handle the crowds they get," he said, citing incidents of heavy drug use, loitering and inadequate security at the Congress, which is in his ward.

In one high-profile incident in 2011, an 18-year-old woman was raped near the theater after she could not get into a DJ show at the Congress.
What does the ban mean for the future of local EDM shows? After three days of phone calls and emails to city officials in several departments, all RedEye could confirm is that they are talking about the issue on some level.

Two spokeswomen for city hall declined to comment, directing questions to the city's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection department, which oversees liquor licensing. The EDM ban signed by Carranza was filed with Business Affairs.

A spokeswoman for Business Affairs initially agreed to answer questions about the ban, but then declined, saying that discussions still were ongoing within multiple city departments. She also declined to say what exactly was being discussed, and would not answer questions about the Congress' agreement to ban EDM shows—a document that is a matter of public record.

Moreno said city officials assured him the city has banned certain styles of music from specific venues before, though they did not provide further details. The city has targeted dance music before: In 2000, an ordinance was passed fining DJs and promoters up to $10,000 if they did not register their raves with the city.

Representatives of the team behind Lollapalooza, whose phenomenally popular Perry's Stage features EDM, declined to comment.

The Congress Theater was built in the mid-1920s as a "movie palace" and earned landmark status in 2002.  The theater closed last year after a long string of code violations and a legal battle with the city, which alleged on several occasions that the building is unsafe.  Rumors have swirled since the closing that owner Eddie Carranza plans to sell; Carranza declined to comment for this story.

Other cities have had problems with EDM shows. The genre's popularity has exploded in recent years, and concerts can draw large, energetic crowds. Drug use—especially use of MDMA, or Molly—reportedly is widespread.

Toronto briefly banned EDM shows from certain city-owned venues this year, citing safety concerns about drug and alcohol use by underage kids. The ruling was reversed just a few weeks later, with one city councillor calling the original ban a "rash decision." Promoters for a festival in New York City reportedly banned items ranging from markers to unsealed tampons in an attempt to curb drug use.

Two people died earlier this month in Columbia, Md., after attending the Mad Decent Block Party festival.  Two others died at the Veld Music Festival in Toronto the same weekend. The deaths all were apparently connected to drug use.

Moreno was quick to mention that local venues besides the Congress are capable of hosting EDM shows safely.

"I'm a big fan of Girl Talk," Moreno said. "I saw him at the Congress and I saw him at the Empty Bottle. ... They were able to handle it. The Congress was not at the time."

Moreno also said the Congress had hosted other styles of music without serious incident.

"There weren't problems when we had a few country shows," he said. "When it was traditional Latino music, there weren't those problems."

The Congress was being punished, he said, for "allowing for that kind of culture to exist and not having that security in place."

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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