Rising noise punks Benefits have spoken to NME about supporting Independent Venue Week – and why these places should be seen as much more than “stepping stones”.
Independent Venue Week 2023 runs through to February 5 and will mark the initiative’s 10th anniversary. More than 300 UK venues will host hundreds of gigs and events this week to celebrate and support the country’s independent live music spaces, as well as the people that own, run and work in them.
The Teesside band, whose 2022 UK tour received a five-star review from NME at their London date, will be playing three special shows for IVW this week – a cause they said that they are “grateful to be associated with”.
“But,” continued frontman Kingsley Hall, “you’ll hear the line about independent venues being the breeding ground for the next big thing over and over. They’re stepping stones. It’s the place where you’ll see the stars of the future! Woo! Everyone says it – venues, bands, promoters – all trying to entice you in on the off chance that ten years down the line you’re going to be saying, ‘Well I saw them when they played to no one in my hometown’.
“I get why people push it, it’s marketing, a cute soundbite, and you’ve got to get people into these venues by any means necessary so that they can keep ticking over. It’s fine; you be you. It just irks me a little, that’s all. It’s overly romanticised rock star mythology and stinks a little of humblebrags.”
After Music Venue Trust stated that these venues are the “research and development” arm of the music industry where talent is allowed to breed and develop, Hall said that he agreed but more respect was due from the wider media for the acts who continue to play them regularly.
“There’s an insinuation in it that suggests you’re not seeing the finished product in these places; that all you’re going to see is a work in progress, the acts haven’t ‘made it‘ yet,” Hall told NME. “What the hell is ‘it’ anyway? Does ‘it‘ have to be being the next Ed Sheeran or U2? They both worked hard to get where they are and bravo – but it’s not everyone’s marker. Not everyone wants to play arenas.
“What if your version of ‘it‘ is that you really fucking enjoy playing independent venues? This isn’t amateur hour; the venue owner doesn’t just pick four lads off the street clutching Telecasters and tell them bash out something that sounds like early Arctic Monkeys b-sides. Getting gigs isn’t easy. Getting plays on your local BBC Introducing show isn’t easy. The template that is constantly bleated out by industry experts doesn’t always work.”
He added: “All artists, whether they’re selling out The O2 or begging for a show at the local indie club work hard at what they do. Acting like the audience isn’t watching something of worth ‘yet’ undermines the whole process in my opinion. It cheapens the act and cheapens the venue.”
Hall claimed that to “truly celebrate independent venues”, music fans need to “get away from the mentality that you’re going to see the next big thing”.
“Just go out and enjoy it,” he argued. “Live for the moment, appreciate these amazing institutions and acts. That indie band that sounds a bit like The Fall but with their tops off may well become the next big thing, but they probably won’t. Does it matter? No, not at all! For many bands, this is our Wembley. We appreciate every single venue and promoter that puts us on, and – like every band out there, big or small – we try our hardest to put on the best show we possibly can for you. We are the finished article. We are not the next big thing.”
Hall added: “Ultimately, however, it means nothing. If the lure of maybe seeing the next big thing gets people through the door, then great. I’m griping at a marketing strategy. Don’t get me started on calling it ‘the toilet circuit’ though…”
It’s a sentiment shared by Frank Turner, who made the same point when speaking at the launch of Music Venue Trust’s annual report in Parliament last week.
“There is an awful lot of art and culture that exists in these spaces but isn’t going on its way to be a stadium act,” said Turner. “It’s just art that is worthy of our consideration, our support and our belief.
“Let’s believe in every band who plays in a grassroots music venue, or at least who gives it a go.”
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Independent Venue Week ambassador and Radiohead drummer Philip Selway agreed, telling NME: “To be able to go out and have this network of venues and be able to hone our performances and make a connection with people around the UK to allow us that immediate feedback, that all moved us along as a band in an incredible way.
“You see that happen over and over again, but they’re also great places to play in and of themselves. They don’t need to be a stepping stone.”
He added: “There are so many vital ways in which they support the industry. They train up technical people who then go on to become road crew. There’s a wealth of knowledge built up over decades. When you’re heading out as a band, the people in these venues make the road feel like a less lonely place. You start to build up a network of familiar faces.”
Benefits will play three shows for Independent Venue Week at Firebug in Leicester tonight (Wednesday February 1), Craufurd Arms in Milton Keynes tomorrow (Thursday February 2) and The Empire in Middlesbrough on Friday (February 3). They’ll then head out on a full UK tour in April. Visit here for tickets and more information.
Beabadoobee, who is also an ambassador for IVW 2023, recently spoke to NME about what grassroots venues mean to her and her upcoming shows with Taylor Swift. You can find out more about this year’s Independent Venue Week here.
This comes after the Music Venue Trust released their annual report – revealing that gig attendance is lower than pre-pandemic levels, and calling for urgent government action and investment from large arenas to prevent them from “going over a cliff”.
Last year, MVT also launched its ‘Own Our Venues’ campaign aimed at providing ownership to grassroots music venues across the country.
The scheme, which was backed recently by Ed Sheeran, aims to secure the long-term futures of these venues by directly tackling the issue of ownership. The scheme has been likened to “The National Trust, but for venues”.