Magazine article Artforum International

Taja Cheek on Cabaret Laws

Magazine article Artforum International

Taja Cheek on Cabaret Laws

Article excerpt

NEW YORK CITY has been haunted by its cabaret laws for more than ninety years: An artifact from Prohibition-era Harlem, these regulations targeted black and interracial jazz clubs by requiring venues to jump demanding bureaucratic hurdles in order to both sell alcohol and host dancing. Today, only a fraction of the city's music venues have managed to secure cabaret licenses. And in the wake of last year's Ghost Ship tragedy, in which thirty-six people died in a fire at the Oakland, California, warehouse, clubs continue to get shut down for being too loud, too gay, or too black under the guise of not complying with legislation.

But "underground" music venues, made hysterical by fears of police raids, surveillance, and infrastructural decay, also perpetuate the violence of gentrification and surveillance in their everyday operation through reactionary measures taken in the service of self-preservation. This past summer, for instance, a Queens club posted ads for expensive, newly renovated apartments next door, promising tenants guest-list access to shows. In the fall, during a police raid of a popular venue in Brooklyn, a young black woman working the bar was arrested and later fired for unsuccessfully keeping the cops at bay. …

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