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SUBCULTURE

We Will Gig Again

Words by Scarlett O’Malley

As a DJ and events promoter, I have of course felt the pang the coronavirus has left on the nightlife industry and the recent news that the British government is to aid the arts sector with £1.57 billion has given me a torch to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have gone from DJing at least twice a week, running events every couple of months, and most importantly, partying, to barely making it out of the house twice a week.

My last night of gigs had been on the 14th of March for Disco Disco at 93 Feet East and I Feel Love at Brixton Jamm, and there was an essence of saving the last dance. We’d been told that this was the last weekend venues would be open as the virus has started to grip the UK. The next morning, hangover in tow, I felt that shift of… well, what do I do now?

It really hit home for me that next day how venues, in particular grassroots venues, were a part of my life; they were my whole livelihood. It had never crossed my mind that the whole world would be shutting for four months-plus, and it made me realise how important being able to go out meant to me.

My night, The Soul Exchange was started in a grassroots venue in West London and was supposed to have its second birthday at the Horse and Groom in East. However, without the ability to put on events, I felt stuck with how to maintain my platform. I adapted by creating The Soul Exchange Set over quarantine: a mix series bringing to light young DJs across the UK with a vested interest in soul music, records and subculture. The connections I’ve made and the responses I’ve had have cemented just how important the music community is.

A lot of the DJs I collaborated with as part of the mix series I had met through the soul scene. Most notably at the 100 Club’s 6Ts Rhythm and Soul all-nighters; and now a lot of these people I call best friends.

I’ve been going to that all-nighter for in excess of seven years now, and what first started out as a trip with my mum, or a solo trip if I needed my fix, has now turned into a family affair. So, when the 100 Club was ‘permanently saved’ by Westminster council with the promise they could ‘benefit from up to 100% relief on its business rates’ in January of this year, I was happy to say the least.

I had a similar relationship with a club called Junk whilst I was at university in Southampton. I spent every Saturday night in there until - to my own embarrassment - the bouncers and bar staff knew me by name. Junk wasn’t so lucky in the curse of rising rents, and it’s often only once these venues have gone that you realise how much of a big part they play in your life.

Grassroots venues were how I got into the music industry. I became a gig promoter whilst I was at university, and then went on to become a production manager for UK-wide university event tours. Places like Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff, Studio 24 in Edinburgh and Thekla in Bristol soon became second homes for me; places I got to DJ and get down to the nitty gritty of running parties with. The real start of how I am, where I am today. This is the case for many people, from all corners of the industry.

Now things have started to swing back towards reality, we’ve seen a new dawning of nightlife. I’ve been booked to support Norman Jay at The Brixton Courtyard for a socially distanced affair, whilst also receiving instagram messages and Whatsapps about illegal raves here and there. One even being shut down the day before it was planned to go ahead due to numbers looking as though they were going to be in the thousands. Every day we get closer to a reimagining of how to party. Which is exciting as it’s all within the knowledge and ease of our arts industry getting the much-needed support from the government that it deserves.

I spoke to the independent music community about the importance of live music, what they did during lock-down and their hopes for the future.

"We've always depended on grassroots venues and festivals to provide us with new audiences, and the income from smaller shows enables us to record and release our music.  Whether you're talking about live performances or studio recordings, grassroots venues are crucial to our operation.

We really hope as many venues as possible can reopen as quickly and safely as they can, and people aren't starved of live music for any longer than they need to be. We'll dance away our problems on the other side of this, together!” Kioko

“It’s pretty safe to say that without grassroots venues there’d be no So Young Magazine. We’ve always wanted to champion brand new and exciting artists and bands, many of whom are yet to release a proper single or go on their first tour. This means they’ve had to cause a stir in our precious small venues and without them we wouldn’t be inspired to go and talk about the brilliant sounds that come from those stages.” Sam Ford from So Young magazine

“We put together a sixteen-track Bandcamp compilation during lockdown featuring some big names: Fontaines DC, black midi; cult figures The Rebel and Scotti Brain, and newcomers Paddywak and Folly Group. The money was split equally between saving the venue and Brixton Soup Kitchen. We also got into the clothing game with a range of t-shirts and a tote bag. We’re currently working on new designs.” Tim Perry from Windmill Brixton

“A huge highlight for me at the Green Door Store was celebrating our 7th Birthday in 2018, which featured Crows, Hotel Lux, Madonnatron, LICE, Desire and GURU. Aside from the music being great, the whole audience was just in the best mood. They were fully appreciating each live set and having a great time socialising in between. When you have shows like that it reminds you why working in live music is one of the best jobs in the world.

I hope that we will be able to return to live gigs this side of Christmas, but if we can't then my hopes are that live music will come back bigger and better than ever next year, with some real support and appreciation for grassroots venues.” Toni Coe of the Green Door Store

“We were involved in a virtual charity/fundraiser gig we did online ‘at’ Windmill Brixton during lockdown.  We had loads of amazing acts playing including Tiña, PVA, Teleman, Kate Tempest etc. which we ran via Twitch and then side by side we had a Zoom platform set up which ran the social side of things – where we could break off into virtual areas of the Windmill (even the toilets!) and chat with friends while the bands were playing. It was so much fun – probably the closest to the real thing we could get! Definitely the closest thing to a hangover the next day.” Pierre Hall from Speedy Wunderground

“I’m looking forward to seeing that live connection again at intimate gigs with the best undiscovered local music back in full force. I hope the general music community is tighter, balanced and fair. Along with COVID there has been a lot of issues in music to be addressed and I hope we start back on a clean slate.” Ian Crawford, Booker in Glasgow

Music Venue Trust

Created in 2014, Music Venue Trust is a registered charity which sets out to protect, secure and improve the UK’s grassroots music venues. Working on behalf of 800 venues across the UK, they provide sector support, lobbying, fundraising, networking and crisis support services. With an emphasis on the vital relationship between independent venues and the artists they nurture, the trust work tirelessly to protect the future of our favourite local venues and up-and-coming artists. Their work is needed now more than ever.

We donated 5% of the first month of net sales in our re-opened UK shops to the Music Venue Trust. This is just the start of what we hope will be a long-term relationship with them.

Visit musicvenuetrust.com and saveourvenues.co.uk