Guide #44: Club closures leave the scene grim – is there hope on the horizon? | Clubbing

OWhat’s that ringing in your ears? Maybe a broken car alarm after this week’s infernal heat? Or just the same old tinnitus? No: it’s the death knell for another of Britain’s beleaguered nightclubs. This week we learned that Printworks, a former print shop-turned-6,000-seat venue in Wapping, London, is set to close after just five years. Clubbers heaved a familiar sigh and begged London’s ‘night czar’ Amy Lamé to do something about it, but Printworks’ fate was sealed.

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However, behind the high-profile closure was the news that Space 289, a 200-seat capacity rail arch in Bethnal Green, would also be closed this month. The venue made the decision after the ark’s new owners – US investment bank Blackstone, which bought it from Transport for London in 2019 – decided to more than double the cost of rent.

Printworks and 289 could hardly be more different. One is a vast maze of high quality lights and sounds attracting international artists like Peggy Gou, Aphex Twin and Bicep. The other is a rambling neighborhood spot made for rising stars and rowdy underground mavericks. But their closures are part of the same dismal trend in nightlife that is helping to make club culture feel more and more empty.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on venues and nightclubs, but lockdown losses aren’t the reason these two spots are closing. Clubs are dropping like flies long before the pandemic. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of nightclubs in the UK is said to have halved. Now it looks like the audience is also shrinking. Since the stilted return to dancefloors after 18 months of confinement, promoters have been in dire straits, faced with poor sales and low attendance. No one wants to be the first to say their party isn’t selling out, but ask around privately and the mood is dark.

Still, Printworks and 289 are not closing due to lack of interest from punters. Nor was that the case when The Cause shut down six months ago. This vast warehouse was born in a brownfield site in Tottenham in 2018, along with its neighbor Grow, a community garden club. Like Printworks, The Cause was set up on a so-called “pending use” license – a temporary agreement whereby the local council allowed the former car mechanics warehouse to be used as a nightclub, while de Shiny new apartment towers exploded like beanstalks in the surrounding streets. But a noisy club means unhappy neighbors.

Printworks was also meant to be revamped from the start. Meanwhile, its own user agreement with the council was designed to add some sparkle to the drab plains of Canada Water while property developers British Land figured out what to do with the area. The idea was that putting a club inside the old printing house would increase the chances that the site would have permanent cultural use. Eventually they said it was going to be turned into offices and stores.

Meanwhile, other user spaces are also likely to disappear in the coming years, including E1 London – a hangar-like club in Wapping – and Pop Brixton, SW9’s controversial shipping container group.

Increasingly, new clubs are just temporary spaces, loaned out by councils for short-term contracts or crammed into ill-suited industrial buildings on a shoestring budget. They’re great fun while they last, providing a short-term boost in noise, color, jobs, and vibrancy for neglected parts of town. But at the end of the day, it feels like club cultivation is just a convenient way to plant a flag in the ground while an area is “regenerated.” Cash-strapped councils are desperate for investment from property developers to balance their books, and developers have joined this cycle, supporting clubs and community centers until new residents have moved in, then unplugging the socket. Call it art washing, even.

The long-term outlook may be miserable, but there are some bright spots on the horizon. While purpose-built clubs like Fabric or the Haçienda are extremely rare these days, London is about to have its first new superclub in decades. Four floors below Denmark Street – right in the center of London, of all people – a vast new venue is being built. ICI is going to be huge – 25,000 square feet, according to the owners – and with a focus on fun and friendly queues (Hercules and Love Affair and Annie Mac are among the first bookings), it could be the injection of vibe that Soho so desperately needed when it opened in September.

In the meantime, the team behind Printworks hopes to create another huge rave destination at The Beams, a 55,000 square foot warehouse near City Airport. If you really want to dance, there are plenty of places to do it. But none of these large halls can flourish without a rich floor of popular halls and small stages in tight spaces. The idea of ​​using pending shows that councils think clubbing has value, even if it’s purely in terms of ‘night economy’. We now need a common reflection to move from short-term gains to long-term perspectives.

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James C. Tibbs