As you may well have heard London club Cable was closed down last week, having lost a lengthy legal battle with Network Rail who own the arches the venue was situated in. It’s a real shame as it was a great club and more importantly one of the last few decent mid-sized venues in the capital. Cable is the latest in a long line of venues that have closed and slowly torn the heart of the London dance music scene.
I admit that personally I only went to Cable a handful of times in the last few years, I’m too old for regular clubbing these days and I can’t handle it too often. But it was lovely little venue that was a big enough to have a decent sized crowd but not so big as to lose the charm and intimacy you get in small clubs. It also had an excellent sound system, good staff and most importantly had great lineups – a mix of genres from week to week and decent headliners at each one. The sort of events you used to get a dozen of every Friday and Saturday in the city ten years ago but now it’s the exception – there’s just no where to host them! I almost forget the full list but casualties have included a trio of classic venues in King’s Cross; the iconic End; Turnmills in Farringdon; a host of venues around London Bridge (with Cable the last to go); Herbal and several other decent small clubs around Shoreditch and on and on. As with Cable in nine out of ten of the cases they’ve shut down as property developers have moved in with their eyes on the property’s value and nothing else.
Obviously London isn’t totally devoid of clubs but the range is now much more limited both in number and style. We have two world class superclubs with Fabric and Ministry of Sound, but how much they appeal to you depends on you ability to tolerate tourists, students and those with a more casual interest in the music not to mention ability to afford the entrance fee and bar prices. Whatever your personal views though you can’t deny both have amazing lineups and regularly appear in list of top clubs in the world.
Yet after those two big hitters the list of proper full time clubs becomes very short – XOYO and Village Underground in Shoreditch; a couple in Brixton; the mostly awful Egg near King’s Cross; Corsica Studios and a few other places in the Elephant & Castle orbit of MoS; a handful of venues that have as many live acts as DJs like Heaven or the Rhythm Factory and the odd smaller venue dotted around like The Nest in Dalston. It might sound like a lot but for one of the biggest cities in the world that is meant to be a global cultural centre it’s pretty poor. The list has got so short that a number of previously gay clubs such as Fire in Vauxhall have been putting on more and more mainstream nights as they’ve seen the huge gap in the market.
This lack of available places to host events has meant that promoters have been increasingly turning to other solutions. A favourite, especially for events aimed at the more youthful crowd, are warehouse parties. Such spaces often provide the area to hold the thousands of clubbers needed to host very impressive lineups but just as often come with pretty basic facilities, rubbish sound, pricey tickets and the risk that the council won’t grant the licence at the last minute leaving the clubber out of pocket and a weekend ruined.
To avoid such risks other promoters, especially those with a brand they don’t want to tarnish, have been using more traditional rock venues such as Koko or Brixton Academy. It makes sense – there’s no good new rock bands so they may as well take their space. Yet it often doesn’t work that well. The venues are designed for one big crowd to stand and watch a band for an hour without moving around. Clubs however last for much longer and have a crowd that is constantly in flux and moving around so you end up spending most of the night in queues to get from one place to another.
Further down the promoting scale people have been trying to get nights going in bar venues or Dalston basements. Some work on some occasions but the fact no venue has really made a name for itself shows it’s a pretty hit and miss affair. You’ll note that we’ve not hosted a Glue for over a year, the lack of decent venues has been a major factor in that and we’re not the only promoters either stuck or simply giving up due to having no space, I’ve talked to several over the last year or two in exactly the same position. It’s really having a negative impact in the number and range of good, small club nights in London – the big named DJs just about get away with it with Fabric, MoS, warehouses and rock venues but the less marquee names that should act as a supporting community to those events and nurture new talents and sounds just are’t there. Over the last fifty years London has created or contributed to dozens of new scenes and sounds, most recently world conquering dubstep, but as things stand now I can’t see that happening again soon.
Boris and his ridiculous little administration should know that London’s culture is as important, if not more so, than its economy. He should not only find a way to protect key musical venues from property developers but ensure that new ones can be built in the right areas too. It should be a key electoral pledge for any mayoral candidate that they will protect the city’s culture as much as anything else. To start let’s get three or four new mid-sized clubs (500-750 capacity) built in the next year. That might just stabilise the situation enough to stop total disaster. Of course it isn’t going to happen so perhaps time we all have to think about moving to Berlin, I hear they still know how to do clubbing.