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Clubbing in the Capital

November 9, 2010

It only took me five years (since my week’s stint there on work experience) but I finally got a proper story in Mixmag, so I thought I’d treat you all to some of the bits that I couldn’t squeeze into my 350-word brief.

The subject of my story – in the year end issue out next month – is a round-up of a turbulent year in London clubbing. With losses of legendary clubs like The End, Turnmills, and the Kings Cross trio all fresh in the memory, February then saw the closure of SeOne, while property developers threatened Ministry of Sound and the police forced Plastic People into temporary shut down. Then the well documented debts racked up by Fabric’s sister club Matter forced my favourite club to the brink of administration, but thankfully a new consortium stepped in and saved Fabric, although apparently at the cost of Matter which is still listed as ‘in liquidation’ by Companies House.

This is The End

It’s not all been doom and gloom in the capital though, as the autumn has brought lots more activity down my way round London Bridge; to complement early adopters, Cable. The re-development The Arches as London’s new biggest club Pulse/Arcadia, the reopening of previous title holder SeOne as Debut, and the 99-day run of The Counter Culture Project. Up in trendy Shoreditch and Dalston there have also been several exciting new developments to make up for the re-opening and closing of the beloved T Bar earlier in the year; namely XOYOThe Nest, and The City Arts & Music Project (CAMP).

Whilst researching the piece I got to talk to the people behind all of the above, so here’s a few of the choice quotes:

Ally Wolf, Promotions Manager for 350 capacity quality-over-quantity venue, The Nest, had some interesting opinions on the drivers for bigger clubs struggling in recent years. “I think also people’s tastes changed and that kind of 2,000 capacity night out maybe just wasn’t what people wanted on a regular basis any more. There’s also a lot more pressure on promoters if they’re filling a space as big as that Matter or Turnmills; you’ve got to spend a lot more on your acts, and looking at it from the point of view of a drop of sales in actual product – records – it means that the income artists are looking to get from their live performances and DJ sets is that much more. So as the fees go up, you spend a lot more on your acts and you don’t get as much exclusivity as you used to get either, because DJ’s are doing more shows to increase their live turnover, and it just means that ticket prices go up and your audience suffer, or you don’t put prices up and you suffer.”

“So if your venue’s just an events space that people go to purely for the headliner, you’re always having to get a headline act, and what we’re trying to do with The Nest is obviously to get great names in, but also trying to make a great venue to go – no overcharging on the door or drinks.”

Outside Counter Culture on Crucfix Lane

This rejection of the need for high cover charges and expensive drinks to cover the cost of big line-ups and large venue overheads, is something shared by Hannah Cox, in charge of marketing and management at the pop-up music and arts space Counter Culture Project. “It easy to blame the loss of clubs on the recession – and to the most part this is true. But I think customers are now more in tune with what they want.  Once bars could open later and started putting on DJs and bands a lot of clubs lost their purpose as they were unable or unwilling to move with the times.”

Mark Ames, owner of the whopping 4,500 capacity Pulse and 1,700 capacity Arcadia in Southwark, believes that while the rug was pulled from under many debt ridden and well located clubs, ultimately the recession has been a blessing in disguise. “I really think hard times are good for clubbing, in the sense they make us all rethink and reinvent and revalue what and why we do something. The people that jump into clubbing for money never last for long, I feel many clubs that closed had ether lost that passion and drive, and if they still have the passion they will be back for sure.”

This would certainly appear to be the case for Layo+Bushwacka!, whose Shake It! warehouse parties have emerged victorious from the ashes of The End; part of a wider trend towards temporary licenses and illegal raves, culminating in the recent Scumoween party which made national news. “You have to keep the police, the council and the local community happy at all times, as well as your punters, and that’s no easy feat,” adds Ames.

“I think the trend we’ve seen over the last few years is the move towards more sporadic temporary locations – warehouses or anywhere – I think that’s really damaged traditional clubs, and it will only continue,” says Secretsundaze stalwart James Priestley, who has been instrumental in putting together the CAMP London. The difficulties in setting up a permanent space are still prohibitive for many, with things like the smoking ban making it ever harder.

“We only have a temporary lease and had quite bit of difficulty getting the license in the first place, at our first license hearing we had a lot of objections from local residents and we couldn’t open the basement to start with, which meant we only had a 1 o’clock license on Fridays and Saturdays which was pretty useless in terms of a space which acts as a club. Once we got the full license earlier this year it then took us a few months to finish all the work that the council forced us to do, so it wasn’t until March/April time that we managed to properly open up.

So from the start there’s been problems with the council, and then more recently in the summer we had the problem that there’s one block of luxury flats across the road, where a few quite high up legal people live, who got in touch. We don’t have any problem with sound leaking from the venue, but with the smoking laws, us not having an internal smoking area it means that people will be out on the street and inevitably they can be a bit noisy and take up pavement space. So they were lobbying the planning department of the council, and got quite a serious action brought against us. So we had to make a new application during the summer, which meant that during the process we had to completely stop and cancel some events which was difficult. And I think those kinds of things have been troublesome for many in the last few years.”

The dancefloor at CAMP during the Stag & Dagger festival

Another phoenix from the flames of The End has been Bugged Out’s new clubbing venture, XOYO on Old Street. DJ and promoter Johnno Burgess thinks that the city lost a generation of clubbers after the 2008 closures. “The closures were all unrelated even though people generally think a load of clubs closed because of the recession or dwindling numbers, when in fact The End, Turnmills, Canvas, The Cross and The Key all closed for other reasons. I do think a section of older clubbers hung up their clubbing caps when some of these much loved clubs closed though.”

One of the problems Burgess sees is the apparent lull in dance music at the moment, “I suppose this year has lacked a tribal scene to unite a large section of clubbers. It’s been four years since new rave and a few since the disco revival. Last year dub step reached new heights but then seemed to explode into several different mutations. Perhaps old rave may be the next big thing; I certainly keep hearing records from 20 years ago being dropped in some DJs sets!”

One Comment leave one →
  1. Murray permalink
    December 1, 2010 11:30 am

    Since the smoking ban, psychedelic trance nights have moved away from clubs and into squats. Pretty much every weekend there will be at least one psy trance squat party. The best parties, such as Acid Monkey, have excellent production values, providing excellent sound systems – Funktion 1 or Opus, mindblowing decor and reasonable bar prices. You can smoke, the vibe is very friendly and the parties go on well into Sunday. Though they can sometimes be hit & miss, with dodge venue accoustics and toilets for example, generally they are much better value for money than anything you can achieve at a purpose built club. The last Acid Monkey NYE party had a water feature on the main dance floor, amazing decor and attracted some 3,500 ppl. Your average psy trance squat party generally attract at least 500 ppl with very little trouble in the way of violence. The smoking ban makes legal venues a real showstopper for psy trance parties because everyone wants to smoke spliffs on the dancefloor. The likes of Pulse and other legal venues are constrained by the law and unless the police clamp down heavily on squat parties, their future is assured.

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