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Clubs in Basel become an endangered species

By Benjamin Spencer

Nightlife in Basel has enjoyed a heyday in recent years with big local clubs drawing in crowds that would have travelled to Zürich for a night of dancing in earlier times. Now it seems under threat.

The announcement that two of the biggest venues in the city, “Nordstern” and “Hinterhof”, would be closing within the next 12 months prompted widespread concern among club-owners and partygoers alike. Both clubs rent their premises from city departments. Similar news followed from “Garage” and “Lady Bar”, while it became clear that unless “Kuppel” could refurbish their premises before 2017 that location would close down, too.


Calls to action from the nightlife community rang out across social media, prompting the creation of a Facebook page – “Für ein junges, lebendiges Basel” (for a young, lively Basel) – which currently has over 6,000 likes and a lively community of supporters.


Temperatures rose in mid-May when “Kulturstadt Jetzt” (City of Culture Now), a committee with the goal of bringing culture and the city together, published a media release with the headline “Basel-Stadt wants to ban electronic music” – criticising an apparent change in the way noise levels are measured, specifically bass. This committee is citing fears that nightclubs would have to turn their volume down so far as to take any energy and enjoyment out of the music. The outcry was loud and critical, with many feeling that art was under attack. “Kulturstadt Jetzt” likened the regulation to a ban on the display of paintings with bright colours.


The topic became so hot that shortly afterwards the Basel newspaper “TagesWoche” hosted a panel discussion attended by over 300 ‘night owls’, as moderator Marc Krebs referred to them in his introduction. Among the panel members was Matthias Nabholz, head of the “Amt für Umwelt und Energie” (AUE, Environment and Energy Department), which is responsible for noise regulation. Nabholz stated that there has been no change in the regulations and that the document causing the fuss was simply a clarification of existing Switzerland-wide guidelines for engineers tasked with noise measurement. Nevertheless, the feeling in the room was that something was afoot and Nabholz’ politically charged statement that Basel-Stadt did not have a problem with noise, rather it was the problem of club owners, did not win him any friends in the room.


There followed a lengthy, heated and often technical debate about decibels and formulae during which it became clear that there was a lot of room for interpretation of the rules. Mirjam Ballmer (member of cantonal parliament for the Green Party and representative of “Kulturstadt Jetzt”), asked the AUE for a more liberal approach to noise regulation in clubs. Later discussions allowed Head of Culture Philippe Bischof to show a more conciliatory face of Basel Stadt, promising cooperation and support for nightlife and electronic music culture in Basel where it was in his power.


Opening the floor to the attendant night owls and young people of Basel raised yet more questions. How can new clubs, just finding their feet, afford the outlay for expensive soundproofing and the engineers for noise measurement? Should the city not help them? Are people like Matthias Nabholz not service providers, there to provide the people of Basel the support they need to build a lively and culturally diverse city that looks to the future and the youth that will create it? The main question still remains: what next for Basel’s clubs? It seems harder and harder to start up such a venture in the region.


Gregory Brunold from “Nordstern” recounted his experience of setting up a new club in Basel, and the difficulties in finding a new venue locally for the now world-renowned brand that started off as a small art project 15 years ago. Marco Schmutz from innovative new club “Kaschemme” spoke of multiple noise level measurements and demands for more soundproofing leading to costs of several thousand francs. “Kaschemme” has some neighbours across the road, and it’s clear that their comfort and the expectation of a good night’s sleep are important, but it was pointed out that these houses also neighbour a football stadium and the main motorway out of Basel – for which Nabholz’ AUE are not responsible.


The din of the meeting ended on a small high note as all parties agreed that cooperation was vital and that a step forward was required in order to further the development of Basel as a cultural city and a place that serves the needs of its citizens. Whatever happens in the coming year, Basel’s nightlife is thriving at the moment and there is all the more reason to enjoy what we have while we have it. “Es het, so lang’s het”, as the Baslers say. Because where else can you enjoy fine dining at “Lady Bar” and then party in the next room, visit the “Hinterhof” rooftop bar for the sunset view, leave “Nordstern” at 7am, walk two steps into a taxi home then dance all Sunday in “Kaschemme”?

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