ON THE RECORD
A report on London’s music venues has plenty to say about their soft power benefits
I never thought Boris Johnson would show up in the rogues’ gallery of characters who have featured in this column over the years. This week, though, the London mayor gets a mention because of a report from his Music Venues Taskforce.
One-third of London’s grassroots venues have closed in the past few years, so Johnson and his mandarins sought to find out what was going on – and what effect it was having on London’s culture and economy.
The resulting report makes some interesting findings about the deterioration of the city’s venue ecosystem. Everything from the increased residential nature of streets around venues to “market failure” within the music industry are cited.
One of the interesting conclusions has to do with how these small-scale venues contribute to London’s desirability as a place to live, work and visit.
Elizabeth Currid explored the same subject in her book
The Warhol Economy (2008), which looked at how New York’s fashion, art and music scenes were a big pull for non-arts companies to locate in the city.
One of Currid’s conclusions was that the push by property owners and developers to replace low-yielding cultural tenants with conventional businesses and offices changed a city. Manhattan’s once thriving downtown artistic zones were destroyed by property developers, she argued, forcing artists to flee to Brooklyn or Jersey City.
Sorting this out requires an enlightened approach by city fathers to such issues as nightclub licensing, rent subsidies and tenancy protection. The problem is that these are often not popular issues, either with those who vote for or who donate to political parties. Hence the lack of gumption and failure to do anything about them.
Johnson’s Music Venues Taskforce has sought to demonstrate how small music venues contribute to a city’s soft power. Most economic indicators look at the increased rents and rates that a space housing a venue will earn under more commercial uses. But the fact that a city is home to vibrant venues and scenes can be just as valuable, if often intangible, in establishing a city as a creative hub.
This problem is not London’s or New York’s. Irish cities have seen their stock of live music venues and clubs decrease over the past decade or so. There are many reasons why venues disappear, but there’s no doubt that many owners and landlords are swayed by opportunities to do something with their buildings more lucrative than housing young, new, untried bands.
However, as the London report makes clear, you need these venues to provide the superstars of tomorrow with somewhere to start out. There are quotes within from Ed Sheeran and Frank Turner showing just how valuable grassroots venues were for them, long before Wembley Stadium or Wembley Arena were options.
Without such spaces, it will be harder and harder for new acts to learn the ropes. Time for various city bosses to do something about this before they all disappear.
YOU’VE GOT TO HEAR THIS
Jamie Woon, Making Time
Breezy, jazzy electro-soul beauts for movers, shakers and groovers in the audience from the London soulboy on his second album.
Mr Ties is coming to town. The Italian-born spinner behind Berlin’s acclaimed Homopatik club plays Out to Lunch at Dublin’s Bar Tengu on December 11th. If Homopatik is any guide to what’s ahead, expect hedonistic good times, with Mr Ties rocking the house with large helpings of disco, house, techno, jazz and soul.
As the report makes clear, you need these venues to provide the superstars of tomorrow with somewhere to start out