Magazine London is intent on entering 2019 with a big bang. The new Greenwich-based event space, named after the gunpowder magazine which used to sit on the site, is marketing itself as being so much more than just a simple music venue. Conceived by Venue Lab – a company owned by the Vibration Group, who are behind East London’s Printworks – the venue’s ambitious combined indoor and outdoor space will be home to an array of events, from exhibitions to theatre productions – and, yup, the odd gig and festival, too.
NME spoke to Vibration Group’s CEO and creative director Simeon Aldred this week about what exactly the new venue will bring to the capital, and why Magazine London most definitely isn’t a nightclub.
Magazine London has already been described as “revolutionary”, “groundbreaking” and “innovative”. How will the venue justify those kind of buzzwords?
“I think I prefer to call it bold, because opening another huge capacity venue in London, you might question, ‘Why?’ We’re really confident about the London market, and we’re super-confident about post-Brexit Britain. We think that there’s a place for a neutral space in London that’s open to everyone and is way more democratic in terms of promoters: we’re open to any kind of culture to go in there.
It’s not a nightclub – I know we’re famous because of Printworks, but this venue isn’t a nightclub, it’s a blank canvas, really. There are two big rooms [in Magazine] giving us a 3000-capacity, and then the Showground, which gives us a 7000-capacity, so a 10,000-capacity overall across the two spaces. What that allows is all of the different curators and programmers of London [have] a great, blank canvas to work on, as opposed to some venues which are locked down with lots of complex deals with promoters and global players – this venue is open. We want to share it and work with everyone, really.”
Magazine has been touted as a multi-purpose cultural venue. Aside from live music, what else can people expect to find there?
“We’ll probably open next summer with some sort of really, really beautiful kids activation [event] for a couple of weeks. Then we’ll do a number of electronic shows, and then into the autumn we’ve got some beautiful exhibitions and awards ceremonies coming in. As opposed to some other venues which have a title under them – theatre, club or whatever – we’re hoping to create another space, a bit like Printworks in terms of [how] it’s open. I think that this is a new thing for London, as well. Y’know, you’ve got places that do street food, you’ve got places that do film, and we’re kind of leading the trend for these sorts of places needing to be multi-purpose [in order] for them to really operate intelligently in London now.”
Printworks punters will already be familiar with your work – can they expect to find similar events and nights being put on at Magazine?
“One of our programming partners at Printworks is The Hydra, and I know that the Hydra guys have got some aspirations to do some cultural co-productions with various museums and galleries. For example, at Printworks we’re just about to announce something with the V&A. I can see Magazine London being way more collaborative: and while we’re hoping to not culture-clash, there’s going to be some arts organisations meeting electronic music, or there might be live music working with a museum.
We’re seeing these new promoters realising that modern audiences are way more sophisticated than a couple of beers and a two-dimensional performance – people want way more interaction. A lot of the shows that we’ll put on at Magazine London will be building on what we’ve learned at Printworks, like daytime shows: like at Printworks, some of the shows will be 10-12 hours. We’re going to program more of those dip-in, dip-out type of experiences.”
Magazine is said to also be about to “change the face of live music events and culture”. Will there be a broader approach to booking bands and organising live events?
“It’s not a nightclub, so electronic music will be used really sparingly there. We’re in deep conversations with some theatre companies, a ballet company, a couple of orchestras. So that’s definitely the message I want to get out to the market: it’s not Printworks, it’s the opposite. The local community have spoken to us and they know what I’m famous for, and they want me to make sure that we’re bringing a venue which reflects what the borough wants – and that’s not another nightclub.”
Magazine’s USP is its ‘Showground’ venue, which can hold another 7000 people – what will that bring to the London landscape of events?
“There’s lots of brands that want to come to London that can’t – maybe they’re not big enough, or can’t afford to showcase at a big exhibition centre, or they want something more intimate. So [we’re here] for those who want to curate indoor and outdoor pieces – whether that’s culture, or a brand event, a product launch or hospitality. We’re in very active talks with a number of tourists companies that want to do things in London that reflect their countries, and the indoor/outdoor thing is such a massive USP especially with such a big space to activate, so people are designing big pieces – like multi-storey things they can build, as well as big structures and sculptures. On the site of the Showground, we already have this pylon sculpture which is 100ft high and upside-down [pictured below] – it’s quite a thing, right? So we’ve basically got a giant black box [Magazine London] with a giant, upside-down pylon in front of it – so it’s quite a dynamic combo.
Are there any early plans to hold music festivals and big gigs at the Showground?
“Look, year one we’re going to test it. I don’t want to go in there and start throwing in massive festivals initially, I just wanna test it. We are talking to a number of live music shows which will predominantly be indoors initially, but then maybe summer 2020 we’ll look at outdoors shows. And they’ll be diverse – I know it’s not for everyone, but country and western, blues, jazz festivals are all talking to us at the moment. What we’re not doing is creating a big, Finsbury Park-type space – it’s gonna be way more welcoming, if you know what I mean.”
It must be tempting though to enter into that growing market of inner-city festivals and one-day gigs, especially in a city where the likes of BST Hyde Park, Wireless and All Points East are all thriving?
“Yeah, they’re a big deal but they can also have a big impact. One of the things we’ve learned from Printworks is that the license is everything, and the neighbours are everything. So we as an organisation are also bringing forward a new site in Tottenham, which is huge and will have a big outdoor festival site – that’ll be our big festival site story, and Magazine is gonna be more kind of boutique.
We’re in really detailed talks with artists who want to have their own name on the bill [at Magazine] – so instead of them playing at festivals, they want to have their own ‘Curated By’ shows. So ‘X Person Curates At Magazine’. If I can pull it all off, that is!”
How will Magazine benefit the local area of Greenwich, which is already a hub of live culture?
“We’re working with the landlord Knight Dragon on the place-making strategy. The landlord are brilliant in the way they look at things, so one of the reasons that they’ve given us this spot is because we want to do something alternative to The O2 and do something that they feel is totally accessible. So kids’ programming, seasonal programming, and things like the jazz and world music shows, [all of] which will appeal to a different audience.
In terms of price point, one of our learnings from Printworks is to make sure that we have a big and varied ticket pricing strategy. So you’re going to have some expensive tickets at Magazine, absolutely, but there’s also going to be some shows that are free, plus some £5 or £10 shows. So I think those really simple things as a promoter and a venue owner are really going to help [the local people], whether you live in a council estate or a posh flat in Greenwich, you can come to Magazine and enjoy something.”
Have you had any opposition from locals?
“None at all, actually. We’ve had great communication with the local people. We’ve obviously had to go through numerous licensing meetings and planning meetings – but, if I’m honest, we’ve not had even one objection. It’s quite unusual, but we’ve got a decent reputation I hope as Vibration Group – and they see our work and realise that we’re not going to do a club [in Greenwich]. If we were doing a club, then it would be an entirely different conversation because I think there’s a number of clubs in the area which have caused issues. But we’re not going to be one.”
Construction on Magazine London is set to begin next month – is it all on schedule?
“Yup, we’re absolutely on target. We’re on site at the moment, and in the next few weeks they’ll actually be making holes in the ground. We’re super excited.”