In an industry dominated by the very few, it comes as little surprise to learn that the closure of music venues is growing. However, stats show that over 40% of London’s grassroots venues have closed in just ten years and similar figures extend across the country; a truly daunting fact for small bands and music fans alike.
It is the shear volume of those stats which provide a significant cause for concern especially considering the sudden collapse of underground and grassroots venues in merely a decade. It casts even more doubt towards the future: who knows how many more venues will be lost over the next decade and beyond?
Closure come due to a variety of reasons. As with all business ventures, independent and smaller establishments will close due to a lack of funding and support. This is arguably the most natural of all closures as increasing rents become all the more common. However, industry dominance plays a huge role in this. Independent music venues are no longer able to attract bands of relative level considering many are coerced into the more lucrative venues owned by chains who’s business model allows losses. Unlike larger companies, the grassroots venue is unable to exist without making some sort of profit.
The recent closure of world famous London club Fabric reignited the issue, in a sense the clubbing and music scene follow similar trends. The issue of gentrification arose during the debate which followed Fabrics closure. Many music venues have paved way for large blocks of housing or office space, especially in cities. Nottingham’s former ‘Junktion 7 bar’ (later known as seven) was closed down following a number of renovations once played host to bands such as The Maccabees but is now under demolition to make way for a nine story student accommodation. Events like this are common across the country.
The closure of venues present significant dangers, not only for the industry but more importantly for upcoming bands. Over the past decades the UK have lost iconic venues such as London’s Astoria, Marquee and Hammersmith Palais, Sheffield’s Ropewalk, Leeds’ Duchess, Manchester’s Hacienda and Edinburgh’s Picture House. On the difficult but natural path to stardom small venues are a necessity for developing skills and nurturing talent. It is where an artists discover their sound and develops personas. If they have the ability to progress to the next level, eventually they would grow into playing larger venues but only after a few years of relentless effort in the smaller circuit.
It is interesting to see the vast amount of bands who have recently claimed success, but only after years of hard work and determination. They range from the 1975 and Catfish and the Bottlemen to Blossoms and Wolf Alice. Though to the distant onlooker it may appear that these bands came to the forefront of British music relatively quickly, not many people realise the vast amount of determination and relentless gigging which allows them to get to the point of relative success. However, with the amount of venues declining the true worry is that less breakthrough groups such as these will appear, and the quality of the British music scene would gradually decline. Notably, this would also ironically limit the powers of larger music establishment thus confirming that it is in everyones best interest to maintain the existence of smaller venues.
The most prominent organisation securing the long-term future of grassroots music venues is the Music Venue Trust (MVT.) Their work brings recognition towards the role of the smaller venue, whether it be in major cities or small towns. Though currently they are campaigning for recognition, the eventual goal is to acquire freeholds for as many threatened venues as possible. Events such as Camden’s “Fightback!” help to give MVT vital recognition and funding.
It is clear that the music industry favours the few, whether it be in terms of record deals, band exposure or venues. Such an attitude will render popular music culture as redundant. Clearly it is within everyones best interest to protect and secure the long term survival of music venues in order to nurture bands, to ultimately create a thriving music scene.
Words by Charlie Barnes