In a new series of articles Geoff Cowart examines the agony and ecstasy of London’s under pressure live music venues.
Featuring: Fabric, Printworks, Dance Tunnel, Passing Clouds, Sebright Arms, Bedroom Bar, Thousand Island, Silver Bullet and the Lexington.
London gig venues and clubs were once renowned for their devil-may-care ways and genuinely gritty atmosphere. For better or worse.
But now a potent cocktail of sky-high rents, nannying police, licensing red tape and even the Treasury are creating a perfect storm for the capital’s venues. The effect has been devastating. The London Assembly believes that of the 430 venues trading in London between 2007 and 2015, only 245 are still open.
One of those plucky survivors – after spending some hard time on the naughty step – is Fabric. The Mayor of London had to step in, and the new security and ID rituals make Terminal 5 look slapdash. But the capital’s electronic music scene would have been much poorer without the Farringdon club.
Dalston’s Dance Tunnel was not so fortunate. It shut its doors last August saying: “Sadly the licensing climate in Hackney has made it impossible for us to get the hours we need to make Dance Tunnel sustainable in the long term.” Not long after, nearby club and oddball purveyor of cosmic vibes Passing Clouds was also forced to shut its doors after losing a protracted battle with property developers.
If nothing else, the arrival of Printworks in Surrey Quays could represent a rare piece of good news for dancefloors. It’s not exactly central, but as the printing industry suffers its own inglorious decline it is now allowing for the 5,000-capacity to now make its own headlines.
Arranged over multiple levels with a maze of corridors and rooms, the 120,00 sq ft of fully soundproofed space will now embark on a temporary series of shows featuring Daphni and Nina Kraviz, among others.
The building sat empty since autumn 2013 after the Daily Mail’s owner moved their printing to Essex. Now British Land and Southwark Council are working together to redevelop a large swathe of the local area.
ROCK OR ROLL OVER?
If guitars are more your thing, it’s all change at the Sebright Arms in Hackney. The popular dive bar in Hackney has been gobbled up by the media behemoths Vice and the Old Blue Last team to take over the space. The increased firepower has already resulted in some high-profile gigs announced in the same breath. These will include artists such as Traams, Gengahr and Spring King.
No such luck at the Bedroom Bar in Rivington Street. Citing ‘aggressive and unwanted property-related shenanigans’ the Shoreditch venue shut its doors in December. “We are not particularly happy about this as we had no intention of leaving,” said its owners.
Meanwhile, the dingy vibe of The Garage in Islington has been fully transformed after a dramatic revamp. Buckle up and enjoy the roadside Americana setting and sprucing up of the upstairs venue which has been renamed, urm, Thousand Island. Given that the folks at DHP nailed the transformation of Oslo in Hackney, we can only assume their new café and cocktail bar-cum-sandwich adventure will hit the spot. Who would ever think you could get your snacks at The Garage?
Meanwhile the Silver Bullet in Finsbury Park departed the scene early last year, the big-spending bosses at Goodman Restaurant Group – the company that owns the Burger and Lobster chain – have announced their new Zelman Drinks venue will be putting on gigs ‘three nights a week’. Watch this space.
If your local has been lucky enough to avoid being fucked by any of the horrific issues listed above, lucky you. Thankfully, the Treasury is on hand to dish out the final kick in the teeth.
Recently the Islington Tribune spoke to the owners of the legendary Lexington in Pentonville Road about what the five-year review of business rates will mean. A cool £15,000 a year handed over to the taxman from April, it turns out. Or a mere increase of 200% from their 2016 bill.
So can we all agree? If there’s one thing threatening the world of independent live music venues, it may be a Prime Minister who chose Frankie Vallie & The Four Seasons as one of her Desert Island Discs.
Our seasonal advice for Theresa is to ditch the business rates revaluation – or face many more winters of discontent.
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