The relentless and uncompromising demise of small music venues

In the last 10 years it has been estimated that 40% of London’s music venues have been closed. The British government has cut £42.8 million from the British Arts Council in the last six years as the constant and relentless demise of music venues continues.

Independent and small music venues have become a vital part of not only the music industry, but also; our culture. They are imperative, indispensable and irrevocably important to so many. Not only are they a grassroots foundation and infrastructure for talent to be nurtured, discovered and savored; they further provide hundreds of thousands of jobs. Bar staff, technicians, bouncers and promoters depend on these venues for their incomes. Beyond this, they exist at the very core and essence of music. They embody and personify an industry that is integral to our culture. However, the very ground that the music industry is built upon is being stripped from piece to piece.

In 1976, The Sex Pistols took to perform in front of a baying pub; which would later go on to become the Sheffield Boardwalk. The night however was overshadowed by the support act – The Clash. The Clash were discovered and unearthed in this very venue. Through the years the Sheffield Boardwalk would be the surroundings and backdrop to many more emerging talents. However, the venue recently closed its doors, as it was unsuccessful in contending with the uncompromising collapse of UK nightlife.

the clash
The Clash

Further, the likes of Oasis, The Beatles, Kate Bush, Radiohead and many more were all discovered in small venues. In 1997 Daft Punk graced the UK with their first ever headline tour of Britain. They stopped off in Glasgow to appear at the prestigious and esteemed venue The Arches. The Arches was renown for breaking exciting and contemporary talents and provided many with the opportunity to witness talent they had never seen before. It was a warm and prominent spot for youth providing escapism from a monotonous and saturated society. The venue sadly closed in 2014 as a result of drug regulation enforcements. Some have labelled the treatment of the venue as unfair and unwarranted as many were helpless to the police officers and dogs that were one night ordered to unearth and expose any illegal substances they could find.

Venues such as The Point and The Barfly in Cardiff, The Picture House in Edinburgh, and The Cockpit in Leeds have also closed their doors recently. The Astoria, The Buffalo Bar and Madam Jojo’s in London have all fallen to the unremitting collapse of London’s music venues. Gentrification can also be detrimental to small venues with Soho’s 17 venues diminishing to just 6.

The Clause are an emerging talent from Birmingham. While just teenagers their rise has been rapid with sold-out shows at the O2 Institute already under their belts. However, they are notably conscious in the importance that small venues have played in their development, telling us; “Without those venues the upcoming music scene would crumble.” Paying homage to their own music scene in Birmingham the boys noted; “If we didn’t have venues like Rainbows and The Sunflower Lounge we’d be on our arse really.”

Small music venues not only provide jobs and platforms for talent but they can provide community adhesives and activism during sociocultural and economic uncertainty. In Norwich, The Owl Sanctuary venue is also home to the Norwich soup movement, which provides food and support for the homeless.

Underfunding is a prominent issue within the demise of small music venues along with much more, such as; greedy property owners, unfair licensing scrutiny and ascending rent prices. Underfunding, however, is amiably the most crippling and destructive factor in the small music venue crisis.

The UK music industry is currently valued at £3.5 billion and British nightlife generates £66 billion annual revenue while employing 8% of the population. The funding is there, but it is not being spent. Licensing restrictions and spending cuts have been resoundingly detrimental to small music venues in recent years. If the Conservative government continue to neglect such an important asset to an industry that is at the heart of any sociocultural foundations, these venues will continue to shut its doors at an even more instantaneous pace. Safe places for our escapism, expressionism and enjoyment are being relentlessly torn away from us at an alarming rate.

To find out more about small music venues and what you can do to help click here.

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