If you’ve ever been holed up in a small, sweaty room and discovered an amazing new band, DJ or amateur interpretive dance troupe and had one of the best Tuesday nights of your life, you’ve been to an independent music venue. They smell of beer, teenage dreams and toilet bleach, and are wonderful, wonderful places. They are homes away from home, where love affairs begin and end, where people discover not just new music, but themselves. They’re an intimate, human response to the corporate gig venues that can be found in most major cities and this week they’re getting the congratulations they deserve.
Much has been made of the threat UK nightlife faces, with outrage at sites closing up and down the country, but the Arts Council England-backed Independent Venue Week – which is currently taking place – shines a light on the smaller spaces that are standing tall against the troubling tide. Last weekend I was in Yorkshire, at Hebden Bridge’s legendary Trades Club, watching a packed out show by hard riffing psych-pop gang Toy. It was loud and lovely and proved that a couple of hundred people partying in a dark room can be loads of bloody fun. Built in 1923, with funding from union members from the local cotton industry, the spot now acts as a members co-operative and has seen shows from Patti Smith, Laura Marling, Temples and Sleaford Mods. It’s even been shortlisted for NME’s Small Venue Of The Year award.
A community hub as well as a place to get twatted and dance, there are hundreds of places just like the Trades Club around the UK. There are the more established spots, like Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club, Norwich Arts Centre, Glasgow’s Stereo and Dublin Castle in Camden, London, but newer venues are still popping up, with London’s New River Studios and Ramsgate Music Hall proving that, despite all the gloomy talk, there are still people committed to providing places where artists can hone their craft and subcultures can thrive. If it wasn’t for the 100 Club and the long departed Roxy in the 1970s, the clattering sonics and vibrant politics of punk wouldn’t have had a home. The Arctic Monkeys might have a been a very different proposition were it not for the support of the now-defunct Sheffield Boardwalk, while The Libertines owe a serious debt to the likes of Rhythm Factory, Nambucca, The Boogaloo and the Duke of Clarence – only two of which are still in operation.
Special gigs have been happening all over for Independent Venue Week, but we should be celebrating small venues all year long, not just as a way to distract us from the dying embers of Dry January. This weekend, go to your nearest independent venue, order a pint, buy some merch and have an experience.