On Saturday the 17th March, Antwerp Mansion in Manchester opened its doors for ‘One Last Rave’. The early Victorian gothic-style mansion hosted a grassroots venue, relying on those passionate about nightlife to keep on its feet. Unfortunately, Manchester City Council announced its closing in late February, giving the place only a few weeks left to go out on a high. In recent years, we’ve witnessed the closure of iconic venues all around the UK: from Glasgow’s own Arches having its licence revoked, and Fabric’s threatened closure, luckily saved due to the solidarity from other clubs and nightlife enthusiasts. Despite this close shave, most other venues aren’t so lucky. In the last 10 years, the UK has lost 50% of its clubs which begs the question: what is happening to nightlife in the UK, and what is the future?
Now not every club closure is a cause for concern. The majority of clubs close and re-open under a new name and theme frequently to keep up with changing trends – however the threatening of the cult clubs of the UK are more worrying. Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK doesn’t exploit the full profits available through nightlife culture. Amsterdam and Berlin benefit greatly 24-hour licences and ‘techno tourism’ respectively. However, in the UK, clubs don’t pay tax to local councils, making fighting their closure an issue that is sometimes not worth the hassle, particularly when constantly facing drug issues and noise complaints.
Antwerp Mansion’s closure is due to ‘failure to comply with basic rules and regulations’, a vague statement open to interpretation. From questioning why the clubs being targeted by authorities appear to be disproportionately on the alternative side, the first conclusion you’re likely to come to is the use of illegal drugs on the premises. I’m not denying that this activity may occur at these places, but it’s hardly new, and the idea that it is unique to one specific type of place is ludicrous. The assumption that drug use is isolated to one type of genre of night out is laughable. The decision to close theses venues implies authorities are more interested in appearing to tackle drug use than to address the underlying causes of the issue. The first step in this is to demonise a specific group and close the venues associated with them for the appearance of change instead of any revolutionary policy.
Furthermore, the assumption that a venue’s closure will end all disruptive activity is, again, a juvenile and short-term solution. When the Arches shut its doors, dealers and users didn’t hang their hats on the peg and call it a day, they vacated to other venues. When alternative nightlife is threatened, and venues are closing, the result is for other, perhaps illegal, spaces to fill the gap in the market. This is hardly a safer alternative, in these scenarios the risk is increased by the lack of security keeping a watchful eye on attendees. Licenced clubs are one of the safest places to be: if something were to go wrong in an illegal space where there’s no security, it’s harder to seek help, and there’s more chance for it to go wrong. You would think this result is the opposite of what authorities would desire. By not addressing the issues at hand only drives them deeper underground, putting more people at risk.
The fact that this is the likely conclusion from the closure of more alternative venues shows that nightlife isn’t really dead, but that the nature of it might be changing. The failure to recognise nightlife as a form of cultural activity results in a disservice to a city’s cultural capital. Mainstream clubs may be harder to challenge than smaller, alternative places that rely on the support of party goers, but they lack the community that only exists in the small places. Cult clubs maintain their legacy and survive because they are a place for reinvention – offering people more than just the opportunity to get off your face. These venues, and the culture surrounding them, are important because they carry the history of trendsetting. Every cool DJ and new sound that eventually makes its way into the popular canon originates in venues like these, and there’s a palpable excitement in them when you feel a collective excitement that you could be witnessing the next big thing about to take off.
In 2015, the NTIA (Night Time Industries Association) was launched as a body designed to protest the UK’s club culture. The association works with club owners, promoters, and councils to recognise the cultural impact of nightlife, and to fight for clubs where the incentives for local councils keeping them open seem non-existent. So far, this association has fought for the prioritisation of nightlife as a valid form of cultural capital, and hopefully will be successful in preventing further closures.
Closures showcase a dismissive attitude to a generation looking for subvert the status quo, re-affirming their point. These council orders as attempts to stamp out drug use or anti-social behaviour are superficial and fundamentally flawed. By not recognising this alternative nightlife as a valuable culture, the drive to invent other ways to keep what’s important to them alive, legal or not. Closures only put more people at risk, and further paint the authorities to be beige, outdated and square for the sake of it, images of both groups would be improved from more communication and legislation that attempts to truly help, rather than cover up existing issues.
[Stacey Anderson – @staceyanders0n]