Music by VICE

Chicago Official Says Dance Music Clubs Should Pay More Tax Than Opera Houses

They say rap music, country music, rock, electronic music, and DJs do not authentically count as "culture."

by Alexander Iadarola
Aug 24 2016, 6:58pm

Photo of the Chicago Civic Opera House by Eric Allix Rogers

At an administrative meeting on Monday, an official for Illinois' Cook County told attorneys for two small Chicago clubs that the music they play does not count as "culture," and as a result, they each owe approximately $200,000 in taxes, interest, and penalties dating back at least six years. Beauty Bar and Evil Olive are just two of a number of small venues the county is currently attempting to retroactively collect "amusement tax" from, reports the Chicago Reader.

In the county,clubs with a capacity of 750 or fewer are exempt from a 3% tax on cover and ticket charges if they present "live theatrical, live musical or other live cultural performances." The code defines those terms very strictly though, stipulating that those performances must involve "any of the disciplines ... of the fine arts, such as live theater, music, opera, drama, comedy, ballet, modern or traditional dance, and book or poetry readings." Music and art that does not fit these criteria is described as "amusement," and thus eligible for the tax.

Cook County commissioner John Fritchey hopes to rally his colleagues to amend the county's ordinance so it reflects amusement-tax exemptions for live DJ and other musical performances at small venues. In an interview with the Reader, he said that the county's language "harkened back to the 1950s." He also added, "No pun intended, but I think the county is being tone deaf to recognize opera as a form of cultural art but not Skrillex."

Beauty Bar attorney Matt Ryan and Evil Olive attorney Sean Mulroney said that on October 17 the two establishments will present evidence, including live music and testimony from a musicologist, in an attempt to prove their case to the hearing officer.

A number of DJs and industry professionals have spoken out about the situation.

Follow Alexander on Twitter.