Mirik Milan is Amsterdam’s first nachtburgemeester, or Night Mayor. Elected in 2012, the former club promoter is in change of looking after the Dutch capital’s £66bn nightlife economy. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently announced that he is looking for a ‘Night Czar’ who will perform the same role in London (at £35,000 a year for two-and-a-half days’ work per week, it’s a pretty sweet gig). Lord knows we need a Night Czar in right now, as nightlife is on its arse in London, with Fabric recently having been closed by the local council in the wake of two drug deaths.
Yesterday (September 20), NME attended a panel discussion about the future of UK nightlife. Mirik was on the panel (alongside the DJ Goldie and Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry), so we grabbed him for a quick chat about his advice for the incoming Night Czar, whoever they may be.
What credentials should London’s night mayor have?
“It should be somebody who has respect from the nightlife scene but also speaks the language of the people in City Hall from those boroughs. You need to build up this bridge of trust between the municipality – the clubbers, residents and councilors. It will be positive if it’s not somebody who has a nightclub, a festival or [anything else invested] in the business at that point. The Night Czar must have the role of the rebel and the role of the negotiator.”
That’s a tall order!
“I’ve realised that doing it by myself is really difficult. This year in Amsterdam we are installing an advisory board of 12 people, three people from clubs, three people from festivals, three people from the gay scene and three people from legislation in Amsterdam. We’re calling it the Night Board and we’re installing it because you need all these roles.”
What should the new Night Czar’s very first steps be?
“Create a manifesto or create something in which everyone joins in and say, “Ok, this is what our nightlife should look like.” There are four lines: the council, nightlife, the Mayor and city residents. You need to unify these parties and try to create something that everyone will get behind. Changing nightlife in one week or one year will not happen. It’s about small steps. In Amsterdam it took us four years to get to the level we are at now. It was a tough battle but now people know nightlife is not bad and they can invest in it. I’ve been invited all around the world and people are adopting the idea [of installing a Night Czar] but it was never my goal to start an international movement.”
Should the Night Czar have the final decision about whether to close a specific club?
“Yeah, that would be much better than having a council make the final decision. I really hope that we really empower the Night Czar to be a figure who can do something. But I think the whole system should change. In Amsterdam, the budget for the police comes from central government. So for a council thinking, “Ok, how can we make sure we don’t have holes in our budget?”, they would look at the venue and say, “This costs us money, there’s the policing – it’s a headache for us. If we close it and sell it for property, that will make sure our budget for the end of the year is ok.” So, from their point of view, there’s logic to closing the venue, but there’s no integrity whatsoever.”
This whole situation has highlighted the fractured relationships between local councils, local authorities and venues in the UK. What’s it like over in Amsterdam?
“The situation is also difficult [in Amsterdam] because when there are a lot of complaints coming in about one venue, then of course you have a difficult talk with the municipality. The thing is that in Amsterdam, we are not so big, so actually you can’t really have a nightclub if it’s not soundproofed. If people can’t sleep because you’re open, you can’t really get the license for it. I know people don’t like I say that, but I think it’s a good thing.”
“The problem people had with Amsterdam was that it was not gritty enough. It was all too clean and polished. And that’s why we came up with the 24-hour license, moving more outside of the city centre where, although there’s more room, these venues still have to be soundproofed.”
Why are clubs important to culture?
“Cities benefit from having a vibrant nightlife from a social, cultural and economic perspective. The nightlife is a place where creative people, where they can express themselves.”
“From a social point of view, think about what the 1980s club culture scene had to offer the LGBT community. This is where they found their homes. Voguing was introduced and club culture became their family. On dancefloors all around the world you have DJs, VJs, photographers, filmmakers, art directors, graphic designers, web developers. They all are attracted to this creative scene. Maybe because they are creative they have this feeling that they want to express themselves more. And art and nightlife have been going hand-in-hand for at least 400 years.”
“Culturally, there’s a lot of talent developing in nightlife for these creative industries. There are people [such as DJs] who make their money [in clubs]. It’s their job; it’s what they do. And when there’s a lot of creative people in the city you also attract creative industries. And the creative industry is an engine for local economic growth. London has always had a strong creative industry and strong nightlife. No-one is moving to London for the weather!”