The British Music Venue:
The fabric of Society
IN a digital age where music is commonly available through a variety of…
PHOTO COURTESY OF NICK ENSING
platforms and sites: what places for the physical side of music? Vinyl is seeing a revival but in an ironic sense. Most people I know (who buy vinyl) never play them and keep them as memorabilia and artwork – how many D.J.s still use vinyl as part of their sets today? I am buoyed to learn C.D.s are starting to gain a foothold against the digital download market. It is a shame to think we are losing what music is all about: something physical, tangible and real. Given the change in the method we buy music, something troubling is happening in our high streets. At the beginning of this year, an Independent article revealed 27 U.K. pubs are closing each week. Alongside our bars, there is a similarly alarming thing happening with music bars and clubs. Is this a sign of things to come and what can we do?
“I am committed to using the influence of my office to overcome the numerous challenges facing the night time economy. However, it is important to note that City Hall does not have the power to intervene in licensing cases like the current situation with Fabric.”
The following was a statement by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan following the closure of the nightclub fabric. At present, at the time of this feature, the petition to save fabric had reached 94,609 supporters – 55,391 more signatories needed so the issue can be debated in parliament. You can put your name to the petition here. It is worrying to see an icon and institution of the London club scene threatened and targeted: not only denying loyal patrons and new faces the chance to revel in its environment but jeopardise the economy of the local area. It is unsurprising the club drew criticism following drug-related deaths at the venue in recent months. Mayor Khan went on to say:
“My team have spoken to all involved in the current situation and I am urging them to find a common sense solution that ensures the club remains open while protecting the safety of those who want to enjoy London’s clubbing scene”.
As part of his plan for the capital: Mayor Khan plays on appointing a ‘Night Czar’ who would be a champion and voice responsible for not only promoting the wonderful nightclub and music scene in London – helping to preserve clubs whose safety and existence is in danger. In response to the incidents at the club; a spokesperson from fabric explained in a statement:
“The safety of all our customers has always been at the core of what we do, so right now we’re working with the relevant authorities and looking at everything we can to make sure that we can continue to operate after the 6th September”.
Farringdon itself (where fabric is located) is one of the most varied and popular areas for nightlife in the capital. Wine bar Vinoteca reappraises the stuffy image we all have and offers the customer over 275 different wines at very affordable prices. Pubs such as The Jerusalem Tavern and Café Kick are just the tip of the iceberg. Fabric hardly sits outside the sphere; conversely, it is at the beating heart; part of the tapestry of Farringdon and London. It is always tragic and regrettable when you see drug-related deaths or similar incidents at any club or pub. Whilst part of modern life (unfortunately) there has to be awareness raised and repercussions. It seems like fabric has been a sacrificial lamb: not given a fighting chance and tarred with a bad reputation. If you look on search engines and type in the words ‘Incidents at fabric nightclub’ the results returned pertain to the two deaths there. It is not like the club is a problem child who has not rehabilitated and is a constant burden of the community. I have heard of pubs near me who have seen drug-related deaths and continue to trade – a fine might be levied or a stern slap on the wrist. If there were a fire or safety breach at the club then a temporary closure would be appropriate – to ensure they get their act together and comply with legislation.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NICK ENSING
Unless you frisk everyone who goes through the door and watch them with eagle eyes: how are you going to prevent this sort of thing?
The deaths that occurred are apparitions and are not the norm. of the club and London night scene.
The government is becoming a middle-aged, finger-wagging parent who sees a couple of bad boys throwing punches in the street and decides (their son/daughter) is so precious and fragile they should not be left outside. What does it say, in 2016, when fabric’s closure is seen as acceptable and justified? The club did not allow a mass fight to erupt and it is not violating noise abatement protocols (or polluting Farringdon). It is an established and legendary spot that has seen musicians, D.J.s and public figures come out in force to save its doors – making sure it is not closed for good.
An article on the BBC last year highlighted how 40% of London’s small venues have closed in the year (prior to that report). It is startling to think this is a sign of things to come but is not a London-centric issue. Nottingham student favourite The Forum is to close according to the Nottingham Post. How harrowing it is to find so many venues going out of business by the week. The small clubs and music venues are a vital part of the British economy and responsible for £3.5 billion in revenue. A recent article in The Independent cut to the core of the debate:
“It isn’t just about the artists, either. These venues provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of people, from bar staff to promoters and technicians. To snatch away the livelihoods of so many for the benefit of some bourgeois group of property developers is a disgrace at a time when unemployment and poverty levels are so high. In fact, spaces for live music and culture can be great community adhesives in times of socioeconomic hardship”.
The only way for musicians and new artists to get their work heard is for these venues and clubs to continue. If we lose our club culture and small venues then we threaten the security and liberty of the music industry. Can you picture a scenario where bands and acts are forced to premiere their wares via YouTube or town halls? The large arenas and venues continue to thrive but the smaller localities are looking over their shoulders. They are the staple of the music industry and the platform on which the hottest and hungriest musicians enthrall crowds and lay down their gauntlets. The legendary, unforgettable gig is a shared experience and right-of-passage. A new generation faces approaching adolescence without access to these venues. What of their future?
Large parts of London are becoming gentrified which is part of the problems. In tandem to the public need for cleaner, brighter and more refined surroundings: the small music venues and clubs do not fit with the facelift and want to remain authentic and pure. If you start putting wine bars and coffee shops into the entrance to fabric, then what the hell will music become? Perhaps there are sectors of London who want to turn everything middle-class and trendy but there is a fervent and loyal group of music-lovers who share no such view. If we overhaul venues in order to appease the gentrification crowds and, not offend the eye, then we are denying music-goers the fundamental right to live music and freedom. There are plenty of bars and venues who experience fights and aggravation on a nightly basis: why are they not open to criticism, reprimand, and controversy? Fabric is a sacrificial lamb that has not caused any major sin or crime. As I said earlier: this is not a London problem and is happening all around the country.
Living in an area with easy access and proximity to venues like Boileroom (Guildford) and Green Door Store (Brighton): I can see what great work they do and how important they are to the local communities. It is not just live music that brings people through the doors. Small music venues and clubs work to engage the community and public and are often multi-denominational and multi-tier. Norfolk’s The Owl Sanctuary ran the Norwich Soup Movement – a D.I.Y., not-for-profit incentive that provided food and shelter for the city’s homeless. A lot of ignorant people assume music venues are about trouble, drugs, and loud music: they cause trouble and offend the ear; no conscience or maturity. The truth couldn’t be further from that assumption. Most small venues and clubs run programmes and incentives for charity and underprivileged sectors. These places engage with charities and the lesser-off and have a deep-rooted sense of mortality and activism – helping multiple sectors through the pulpit and universality of music. Deny the public of these places – this is starting to sound like Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from The Great Dictator – and you threaten the very fabric of our society – an apt choice of words given the fate of London’s current whipping boy. Politicians and authority figures are not the ones who rely on these places and understand the wider implications. They sit in their offices and three-piece suits and are ignorant and clueless with regards these places – I doubt they have even been within 500 feet of any of them. If you are never more than 6ft from a rat (not sure if that is an urban legend) then you know a politician is more than 500 feet from a small music venue. They are so closed-off from the public and real life and this has to stop.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DANNY SEATON
It may sound like I am having a rant but my views and substantiated and supported by the majority. Every county of the U.K. is fearful and there are no guarantees in the modern climate. When you close a club or music venue you do not just create cultural and social dents – the economic ramifications are significant. Clubs employ a lot of people and the trickle-down effects of their unemployment cannot be underestimated. Shine the spotlight out at a 90-degree angle and what of the musician who relies on these venues as their bread and butter? You rob them of a live setting and you threaten their very existence.
Take it out another 90 degrees and the state of modern music will be harshly affected. In the same way as the death of cassette and vinyl is a product of the modern age: is the dying away of the small clubs and music venues a natural evolution and after-effect?
We cannot sit by idly and allow this to happen: will we ever see fabric’s doors reopen and stay open? Make sure you sign the petition and ensure it is not another casualty of the overly-protective and hysterical nature of British politics. Mayor Khan is someone who understands the importance of the London music scene and nightlife but you feel there is a certain sense of inevitability and helplessness. Our nation is synonymous with its wonderful, rich and indefatigable music scene. Music brings people together and bonds communities: this is exemplified and evident in our clubs and minor venues. Without these stalwarts and bastions of live music then future stars and mainstream acts will take years to hit their strides. Artists like Foals, Wolf Alice and Coldplay (a trio among thousands) who began their careers playing the charming and wonderful clubs around the country – many of whom have closed since. We need to act and ensure our wonderful music scene…
PHOTO COURTESY OF GOOGLE STREET VIEW
IS not threatened and damaged forever…