Defending Our Music Culture

At this point in time, the fate of London’s music venues may be at a critical crossroads. After staggering statistics confirmed the demise of the city’s pubs, bars, clubs and venues between 2005 and 2015, London mayor Sadiq Khan set up multiple new initiatives in an attempt to start to reverse the damage. Although progress reports earlier this year have shown some improvement, last month’s sharp hikes in business rates have dealt yet another heavy blow to the future of the capital’s small traders and businesses, including a fifth of our grassroots music venues now at risk of closure in the face of such severe financial challenges. 

In August 2015, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers revealed the number of nightclubs in the UK had nearly halved over the previous ten years. Of 136 grassroots music venues operating in London in 2007, almost half were closed by 2015. Since 2008, the capital has lost 50% of its nightclubs and 40% of its live music venues.

Our musical culture has been under attack. Trawl the internet for articles on venue closures in London alone, and you will find over a decade’s worth of stories lamenting the end of long-standing independent music institutions one by one. London's music scene has been perishing quite rapidly at the hands of greedy property developers, and the pressure and power they hold over our councils and legislators. From noise complaints to licensing laws, and ever-rising rent and business rates, it seems music venues are not welcome, and certainly not encouraged to thrive. 

Their long term value and benefit, however, are of huge potential to the UK as a whole. London’s music industry makes up around £3.8 billion of the £66 billion generated by the UK’s night time economy. A new study reported grassroots music spaces [like ours] contribute close to £100 million to London’s economy, supporting over 2000 full-time jobs, and bringing entertainment to nearly 14,000 punters per night. And maybe most importantly, it is venues like these investing £44 million per year in new and emerging talent, the legacy of which can never be valued in monetary terms. How can you put a price on going down in history?

With the alarming rate of London’s club closures, Sadiq Khan gathered a coalition of new and established organizations that made up The Mayor of London’s Music Venue Task Force. They launched the Rescue Plan for London’s Grassroots Music Venues in October 2015, a report on the economic impact of these venues and their contribution to the capital, along with recommendations to prevent more closure and encourage new openings.

The mayor also created the new position of Night Czar, modelled on similar initiatives in cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin to protect their nightlife economies by mediating between night time businesses, residents, and authorities. 

A progress update in January indicates these new initiatives may be having an impact, reporting that the number of grassroots music venues in the capital has remained stable for the first time in a decade. But there is a long way to go to restore London’s once uncontested reputation as a vibrant night time capital, birthing and nurturing unrivaled new world class music acts. 

Challenges for venues remain ever-present and powerful, but from regulation to gentrification, from the police to the property developers, most threats lie within two main issues: perception, and profits. The perception of music culture after dark is a bit of an anomaly in the UK, compared to the rest of the world. British night time culture is more often perceived in relation to its anti-social or criminal behavior than its valuable point of attraction. However, this was also the case in 1990s Amsterdam. The city’s Night Mayor, Mirik Milan told VICE: “If you were an organizer of dance events and house music parties, you were looked at more or less like a criminal. Nowadays it's a serious industry and the city benefits from its social, cultural and economic value.”

The issue of profits needs no explanation. The cycle of gentrification is age-old news. Perhaps with a change in perception, however, profit-makers will finally realize the thing they are killing is the very thing enabling them to make such a killing. 

Whatever happens, while the Mayor and his Night Czar are paying a little closer attention, now seems a good time to amplify the fight for our creative culture.

Come and hear from the people who have led campaigns to save our clubs and community spaces at Red Gallery/Kamio Presenting: In Defense of Our Culture this Wednesday, May 3rd from 6 pm.