This Independent Venue Week, we’re running a series of features looking into the highs and lows of some of London’s most important small venues.
Independent Venue Week, which runs this year from the 29th January – 4th February, acts as a seven day celebration of small venues and those who own, run and work in them.
Each day this week, we’ll be interviewing the people behind the day-to-day running of some of London’s most loved independent venues and delving into the highs and lows of running them. We’ll also be asking how best they feel they can be supported, both by those who go to gigs and by organisations, and looking into the challenges they face.
First up, we talk to Ryan De Freitas from The Dome about his favourite shows at the venue, what more we could be doing to support live music and his hopes for the future of independent venues.
Hi Ryan. What’s your favourite thing about The Dome?
Having worked at a few chain-owned venues, I have to say that the independence of The Dome and [sister venue] Boston Music Room is definitely my favourite thing about it. For better or worse, we get to sort of make our own rules for the way we do things and that allows us to be way more accommodating and flexible than we might be otherwise. That, and Fugazi played here once. That’s always cool to think about.
What’s been your standout show?
Personally, the night we had The Wonder Years here was huge. Not only was it one of my favourite bands, put on by the venue team themselves and playing a brilliant show, but Soupy, their singer, also clocked one of our security guards singing along to every song at the side of the stage and ended up bringing him out to do the last chorus of the encore with the band. That was so wicked. Outside of my personal preference though, The 1975 played here right after doing arena shows early last year. I’m still working through our social media notifications from that one.
It’s been pretty tough for a lot of venues over the past few years with rising business rates, threats of closure and more, but what would you say has been your biggest challenge?
Being a venue in a largely residential area, there are always concerns about balancing a vibrant (read: loud) venue against being respectful for our neighbours. To try and solve this, we do our best to meet with local residents and hear their thoughts. When we did a refurbishment last summer, we made sure to soundproof everything as best we could and – so far, at least – that seems to have helped. It’s also super important that external promoters use venues like ours. We can’t do it all ourselves and, actually, we rarely have to because we do get a lot of outside bookings. We’re very appreciative of that.
Is there anything you think we should be doing as an industry to help music venues survive?
With all the money that’s gone out of the industry, you see a lot of defeatist attitudes crying about how ‘things just ain’t like they used to be’ and I don’t think that helps anyone. The industry-at-large has to dig deep, rebuild, and re-focus on building artists right from the start, making sure that every single time they visit a territory or a city, they’ve drawn more people than last time. At the end of the day, none of us are here without the artists themselves, and we’d all do very well to remember that and make sure that we’re building for a future with their best interests in mind.
Agent of Change is obviously a very positive thing and could go a long way to safeguarding what we already have in the UK at the very least. It’s a big step in the right direction. While we haven’t been affected too much by this ourselves, it’s a fabulous result for smaller venues being bullied by landlords. Shoutout to Sadiq Khan, too. Having him in charge of London and making all the right noises about art and culture is incredibly reassuring.
Besides just turning up to gigs, is there anything your average gig-goer can do to support local venues?
Buy drinks. Buy tickets in advance. Show up for every band on the bill. The more successful a show is, financially, the more reason everyone on the industry side will have to get behind that band next time around. The more people on that side that has a band’s back, the more chance it’ll get the push it needs to be heard by more people. The more people that hear it, the more people that will turn up for the next show. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle and everyone plays a part.
“The industry-at-large has to dig deep, rebuild, and re-focus on building artists right from the start…”
Not including your own obviously, what’s your favourite London venue?
I’m a huge fan of church shows, so Union Chapel down the road from us is pretty special to me. I saw Julien Baker there at the end of last year and hearing that voice and those songs in a setting as grand as that just elevated the whole experience to another level. Shoutout to churches and any other creative space that gives a show its own unique feel.
Are there any common mistakes you feel venue owners make that hurt business?
Trying to please everyone and pleasing no one. You see time and time again that venues sacrifice their soul and character in an effort to tick more boxes. And while that might make life easier in some ways, gig goers notice when a place they’ve had so many good memories completely loses its charm. It’s super sad to see.
Any stories of terrible bands over the years? Or are the 70’s cliches of rock’n’roll band behaviour extinct?
Hmm. I don’t want to say anything that’ll get us in trouble, but I can tell you that we’ve had some properly bizarre riders that, while not ’terrible’, have made us laugh in the office. Not naming names, but one big UK artist seems to exist solely on a diet of Courvoisier, crispy M&Ms and tuna sandwiches. Gotta respect that. Oh, and there was one time when a band literally broke up on our stage. What do you do in that situation?
What are your biggest hopes for the future of independent venues and live music?
I just hope that the world recognises the value and beauty of independence. And that independent venues themselves don’t lose sight of that either. These places are where the stars of tomorrow take their first steps, and the importance of that can’t be overlooked.