The cheers were so loud you could practically hear them in Kent. After what felt like years of struggle in the face of an uncaring Westminster elite, the celebrations in central London kicked off in earnest as the moment of emancipation finally arrived. “What a day to be alive!” said one reveller, overcome with the communal rush of pride and freedom. “I never thought this day would ever come. It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but we’ve done it.”
Yes, on Wednesday January 29, 2020, The 100 Club was “permanently saved”. For at least a decade the oldest live music venue in the world – squeezing them in lengthways since 1942 – had struggled to stay afloat amid rocketing rents and taxes. Now, finally, Westminster Council has decided to give the venue a (checks very dry press release) 100 per cent business rate tax relief, securing its future for the generations of Clash wannabes and Radio X ‘favourites’ to come. The whip-round wouldn’t quite have stretched to getting Big Ben to bong, but would surely have been enough to get John Lydon to set his iPhone alarm tone to go off at midnight.
Just down the road, of course, thousands of heroic, flag-waving, barrel-bellied patriots gathered two evenings later to celebrate the future of Britain being permanently saved from accurately labelled bottled water, uncontaminated chicken and tax avoidance clampdowns. They clambered onto statues of Winston Churchill to celebrate our nation’s glorious independence day, despite the fact that Churchill was one of the first people to call for the creation of the EU.
They roared with relief at being cut loose from oppressive EU laws which, when quizzed on camera, they were too crammed with informed legislative detail to actually name. Factory closures? Economic stagnation? American healthcare vultures swooping onto the rotting carcass of the NHS? Shut it, ‘woke’ Remoaner snowflake! We stuck it to the Germans again! Can’t wait for them to close all pizza restaurants and make pinching women’s arses at work ‘harmless banter’ again. What time’s Morrissey on?
When the hangover from so many ironically French lagers wears off though, those same Brexiteers should take a cold, hard look at the 100 Club’s situation. The venue wasn’t acting in splendid isolation. It didn’t march up to the negotiating table with Westminster Council officials barking ‘you might have Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square but we’ve got The Rifles Unplugged – you need us more than we need you’. It didn’t get this concession purely due to its noble history in the punk wars. It was granted protected status following the announcement that business rates for all independent venues would be cut by 50 per cent, the result of lengthy campaigns by the Music Venue Trust, which set out to unite the UK’s grassroots clubs into a far more formidable collective. Essentially a kind of music ven-EU.
The lesson is one of strength in numbers. We saw only too often what happened when grassroots music venues took on large, faceless authorities on their own. New residents of flats built to cash in on the cultural cool of an area complain in relatively small numbers about the really annoying noise that cultural cool makes after 9pm. Then the council prioritises new money over old and the venue’s licence gets revoked faster than you can say ‘but The Fall played here in 1982’.
A report in 2015 revealed that the UK had lost 35 per cent of its live music venues in the previous eight years because, on its own, the venue is but a solitary minnow squaring up against a school of sharks – swallowed as easily as a British trade negotiator telling American big pharma that, if it’s alright with them, we’ll keep the NHS to ourselves, ta. But when their isolated individual voices combined with the help of the Music Venues Trust, they were saved.
Wielding a far bigger collective sway is a blindingly obvious benefit to EU membership, and it’s shameful to watch so many people delude themselves that we’re stronger smaller. As fans of alternative music we recognise the mentality, but also the small-minded folly of it. The alternative music world has long made a virtue of independence. Labels like Creation, Rough Trade and Domino thrived under maverick visionaries and many of the best bands are their own self-contained cottage industries.
But we also know that such independent endeavours only survive thanks to their own support networks of like-minded communities. Like sonic Brexiteers, we long to be free of the oppressive yoke of mainstream pap, to no longer have an unelected council of playlist compilers and algorithm programmers force their Tom Walkers and Lewis Capaldis on us like so many restrictive fishing quotas. But unlike them we have the means, imagination, drive and goodwill to create a self-sustained culture of our own, and everyone’s welcome.
So while we celebrate the communal campaigning that saved the 100 Club, it’s with a certain undercurrent of ironic dread, as our entire country is simultaneously reduced to the status of the back room of the Warrington Dogtodger when the bulldozers show up. And just like the venues that were crushed beneath the cold march of capitalism because they had no-one to fight their corner with them, our destiny is to become a 2.6 trillion square foot Starbucks.