It’s no secret that London’s nightlife is under fire. Factors such as high property prices and increasing rent costs, drug abuse in clubs and local councils imposing stringent or impossible-to-meet restrictions have all contributed to a nightlife scene which is either bubble-wrapped or slowly fading.
This affects clubs but also bars and events venues, with closures across the board: Public Life had its license revoked by Tower Hamlets in 2012, the local community failed to save the club. Plastic People closed in 2015 after 20 years of influencing and supporting club culture. Dance Tunnel was hit economically after it couldn’t get the later permanent license it needed and closed in 2016. Then, of course, we have Fabric, everyone knows what happened there, although bleak at first, the community’s revival spelt a relapse for London nightlife.
Since that incident, a spotlight was blasted onto the scene. #SaveFabric brought the media attention that this industry needed so desperately. This incited government action to turn London into a city of the future. The only way to really achieve this would be to have a truly 24-hour city. Sadiq Kahn told The Morning Advisor: “I’ve pledged to make London’s culture a core priority, and our cities night-time economy, is a key part of this. Building a vibrant 24-hour city is curtail for London to remain a cultural and economic powerhouse.”
Often overlooked is the economic aspect of the closures. The growing night-time economy is worth £26bn, creating one in eight jobs in the capital. Positive steps are being made to keep these jobs safe. Amy Lamé, the Londons Night Czar, believes: “Saving all venues is a priority. But we keep a really sharp eye on LGBTQ spaces, in particular.” Also, his opening of the tube to run 24 hours at weekends shows monumental steps in preserving nightlife in London.
It’s not all doom and gloom. London’s still got some really special nights and dances going on. There’s a lot of venues still holding onto the individuality that culturally makes London the city that it is. Artefact visited two venues that are fighting to keep subcultures alive, giving London’s artists space and freedom to play the music they love.
First up, Ghost Notes, which recently found its home in Peckham’s newest complex, Peckham Levels, a previously unused multi-story car park situated right next to Peckham Rye station. Despite setting up camp just ten weeks ago, the venue has already hosted a collection of respected jazz musicians from South London and beyond, such as Alfa Mist, Yussef Dayes and so on. We found ourselves at Theon Cross’s night, the renowned Brockley Born tuba player who has recently ventured out on his own after playing as a session musician for big names like Emelie Sande and Kano.
The aesthetic of this venue is one of a kind. Neon lights that change colour have been fitted to the metallic rafters on the ceiling, replicating the original carpark feel. The smoking area doesn’t disappoint, still sheltered, with the overground trains running past in the distance.
Artefact spoke to the owner of the venue, Russell Porter, about what venues like this mean to London’s music culture: “I think venues shut down for a lot of reasons, but it’s mainly just money. London’s an expensive city and it’s getting more expensive. A lot of the people who are coming to play here are from South, but that’s because it’s people we know who are easy to reach out to.”
Ghost Notes is providing South London’s jazz musicians with a platform to play and socialise, ensuring the existence of their community. They’ve managed to secure the location for the next six years, giving up and coming musicians the time to thrive. The venue also operates as a restaurant during the day, serving up top quality food and drink.
This is all to make ends meet, as Russell told us: “You go to a nightclub and sometimes people only buy two bottles of water at three quid the whole night since they’ve brought their own ‘party packs’. We’re a bit different, people will have a couple of pints and cocktails, but the food during the day helps to get in that extra cash that’s needed to survive.”
Later, we find ourselves in Brixton’s finest rock establishment, The Windmill. The venue has a history dating back to 1971, and they claim to be the last pub in London that still has a dog on the roof, which was apparently quite common back in the day to stop burglars, until the death of the rottweiler back in 2015. The Windmill was voted as one of the UK’s top ten venues by The Guardian and it’s clear why. You feel an instant sense of community as soon you walk through the doors.
This place is served straight up. No bullshit. No fancy decor. Just an individual, quality pub playing quality music. There’s live music practically every night of the week, according to their booking agent Tim Perry: “We put on a fairly eclectic range of bands, there’s been an explosion of bands in South London and we’ve been the venue that people have been based from. It’s the type of venue that has bands that sell the place out, but also the place for bands to have their first gig.”
The sense of community is what puts The Windmill in a different league compared to others. All the bands playing know each other in some way or another through hanging out at the venue.
Artefact caught The Midnight Itch and headliners, Pregoblin before they took to the stage. Lincoln, lead singer from The Midnight Itch told us: “As far as the future is concerned in keeping this place alive is the councils understanding that just because you get rich people from abroad wanting to develop high rise apartments or whatever, you can’t get rid of the heart of areas, the things that make the areas important.”
Alex Selby, lead singer from Pregoblin said: “I haven’t been this excited about the current groups in London for a number of years, there was a lot of shit for a long time. Venues like this matter for these groups and if people don’t appreciate what they have then they’re going to lose it.”
This city still has venues that care about the cities’ culture and music, and aren’t just in the game to make money. These are just some of the few that are keeping the cities nightlife alive, not the big clubs and gig venues, and they’re here to stay. Every night we checked out was massively attended and not one was on a Friday or Saturday. The future of London’s nightlife is in safe hands.
All images and video by Pavel Troughton.