running out of places to dance

This was an article I started writing before the whole Covid-19 debacle – something I was already worried about and something that is only going to get worse. This unprecedented time is going to change a lot, getting back to ‘normal’ isn’t gonna be an overnight thing and a lot of stuff may change forever. We need to stick together in the knowledge that the after-party is going to be bloody brilliant. And we need to hope the places we party at manage to get through it.

My worries surrounding the disappearance of music venues and nightclubs could just be a part of growing old. A false nostalgia, wondering what the kids these days do without the luxury’s of my teenage years. Like my parents telling stories about the Paradox club in Liverpool and me thinking “bloody hell you’re old.” Maybe this is just the natural cycle of how things go; people move on and things shut down.

But surely it couldn’t have happened at this alarming rate back then. Pubs were the centre of communities and music venues were on every corner. This just isn’t the case any more and I’m worried this disease could be the final nail in the coffin.

Throughout university I worked at a lot of the nightclubs in Leeds. I was the prick with the clipboard who said you were too drunks and took your ticket. A lot of those clubs aren’t there any more, cast aside for some kind of development and I can’t see them being replaced any time soon.

During my time in Leeds: Canal Mills, Mint Club, The Cockpit, Control (formerly Evolution) and Church all shut their doors. In the same time period, my home city of Liverpool lost the legendary Nation and Kazimir amongst others.

The last comprehensive report we have estimated that in 2015 there was 1733 nightclubs in the UK, in comparison to 3144 in 2005. That’s almost half as many in a ten year period and that was before it even became big news. Since then the numbers are a little bit more patchy and a lot of the closures may not be counted as a “club” or “venue” but a new count is needed desperately. All I know, though, is I’m seeing a lot more goodbyes to places we loved than rave reviews for the new places to party.

The scene here isn’t as good as it used to be

Different cities will have genres they specialise in, different venues will have a variety of off-shots in which they thrive. Variety is key and variety is what is dying.

As people turn from teenagers to young adults they need these areas to truly express who they are. Unfortunately the artistic powers in the ‘adult world’ do not place these activities in the upper spectrum. Would an art gallery in Kensington be demolished as easily as a techno club in Bradford? A sense of snobbery looks down on these venues as not important, even if the sweaty nightclub brings in thousands more punters.

And that is the big problem really. The nightlife ‘scene’ simply isn’t respected. It’s a fad and a phase that most people go through but are almost entirely expected to grow out of. This temporary expectation means that the foundations of music venues aren’t protected in the same way the sun shines out of wine bars’ arses. But for some, these connections aren’t temporary and for many they are a part of who they become if they do decide to change their lifestyle. More than bricks and mortar.

Why don’t people care?

There are many reasons why nightlife venues don’t get much protection: noise complaints, drug abuse, sexual assault complaints. All valid and horrible misgivings that come hand in hand with this industry. They are big problems that need to be treated seriously – the case at Fabric being a perfect example.

Unfortunately, I honestly don’t believe they are ever the real reason these historic buildings disappear. The real answer is, of course, money.

Leeds is again the perfect case study when these things are concerned. Over the past couple of years it has cemented itself as the fastest growing big city in the UK. It’s location makes it a prime HQ for big businesses that want to escape expensive rent, being easy to reach from both Manchester and London but nowhere near as expensive just yet. It is also a city ran by students, creating a steady income from retail and hospitality which transforms into a qualified workforce once they graduate.

This all sounds great and in the grand scheme of things it is. Big business improving a city that has not always been as lucky is brilliant. However, as these corporate giants gain more influence, the money talks, and it can easily silence the things that make a community sing.

The larger, more established institutions get the funding first, like the ongoing renovation of Leeds Playhouse. But to make space for those wanting their piece of the pie the less respected sites of culture get the boot. The alarming trend in the UK at the moment is that music venues are the first business to get the cut when developers move in. They are the brands that society says can go first, no matter how much love they have from those in the area.

Development of Liverpool’s Wolstenhome Square is almost over. (Credit: The Liverpool Echo)
Kazimier and Cream

Dance ourselves away

So when you take into account the property battles, legal disputes and ongoing drug problems, the nightlife industry is pretty fucked already. Add into that mix a pandemic that forcibly stops everyone going out, there’s not much to be positive about. And that’s what we need to change.

I know I might be coming across a bit hippy-ish, wanting us all to just rave the night away and ignore what the ‘man’ says but you really do need to open your eyes to this reality. Question how the world would be if these places were totally taken away and don’t let the dollar bill signs blind us from what is really important. Having a laugh and learning who we are.

I understand that as people grow their preferences change, I would never go to some of the places I visited in my first year of university. The difference is I do wonder where does the new crop of young people visit or is everyone shepherded into the same room due to lack of choice? If there’s one thing this lock down can bring us is an appreciation of the simple things. A re-ignition of love through music and socialising, something worth fighting for.

Credit: Canal Mills Twitter

The government’s economic plan to protect workers wages will be a welcomed help to this industry throughout the break but some will need a whole lot more than that. I’m not expecting the government to do much more, it’s a sad reality that they can’t help everyone, and this unfortunately puts the responsibility with the public to step up in any way they can.

Resident Advisor are leading the charge on this movement, setting up the Save Our Scene movement for electronic music venues but more must be done. These places have earned our protection and they deserve support against higher powers. We feel a deep sense of gratitude for being part of this community and want to do everything we can at this moment to help it survive this existential threat.” – Resident Advisor.

Nightclubs will always be rejected by big corporations and the media. They will never be as respected as the high arts because they are framed as drug fuelled rave machines. But for the majority, those for which the idea of going the opera is on the same level as visiting the Moon, these venues are the birthplaces of culture.

Don’t let the magic die.

YZ 🙂

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