One of the founders of The Social has spoken of the need to save the venue, as well as the grave threat of gentrification that threatens other spaces throughout the UK.
Yesterday, it was announced that the West London venue needs to raise £95,000 in just two weeks or face threat of closure – with developers planning to turn the space into a chain cocktail bar. As the venue’s 20th anniversary approaches, they’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign to urgently raise money to prevent redevelopment.
Following a long-running and successful club night by Heavenly Records in the ’90s, the label opened The Social on Little Portland Street in 1999. Since then, they’ve played host to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Florence & The Machine, Beck, Jack White, Vampire Weekend, The Horrors, Doves, Lily Allen, Aphex Twin, Super Furry Animals, Shame and many, many more.
Robin Turner was one of the people behind the original Sunday Social at the Albany in 1994. “I was the Chemical Brothers’ PR and used to hear them DJ all the time, but I couldn’t believe they didn’t have their own night,” said Turner. “We ran that for 13 weeks, then 18 months later we took over Saturday nights at Turnmills for three years. When that came to an end, we set up The Social up in Little Portland Street, because we figured we weren’t getting out enough.”
As supporters gradually help The Social” edge closer to their £90,000 target, Turner explained to NME how it will prove “a real test of whether people give a shit about the venue or not”.
“We then spent a few months trying to raise investment in various ways, none of which worked out in the timescale we had,” he continued. “So over the last week we’ve been desperately putting this together. We’re hopefully going to be adding extra rewards in the coming days from bands and artists we’re associated with – the main thing was to actually get started and work it out from there.”
How would you describe the atmosphere at The Social? What sets it apart from other London bars and venues?
“I think the place has something very special about it; it’s in the woodwork upstairs and the concrete downstairs. A good night in the upstairs bar sees people dancing on tables to New Order records against all better judgement, while a good night downstairs is spent in the company of anyone from the Chemicals to Bon Iver, Fatboy Slim to Edna O’ Brien, Jarvis Cocker to James Dean Bradfield, Black Country New Road to Black Midi.”
What have been some of your favourite memories there?
“My best memory is my first date with my partner in there (and subsequently taking our kids there for chips 13 years later). Also, Beck playing a secret gig in the there was mind-blowing. I’ve also seen the Super Furries cramped on to the stage, James Dean Bradfield from Manic Street Preachers playing ‘Ifwhiteamerica…’ to a crowd of dumbstruck fans, Chemical Brothers playing a New Year’s Eve party in there, the first ever Avalanches DJ gig in the UK and a charity party that featured Caitlin Moran and John Niven, Jeremy Deller, Joe Goddard and ended with Kevin Rowland DJing, playing Odyssey’s ‘Native New Yorker’ while singing over the top.
“New band-wise, I really remember watching Fat White Family and thinking, ‘Fuck me, that guy’s naked and they’ve only played one number’. Amazing show.”
How great a threat do you feel that gentrification is posing to grassroots indie venues?
“It’s huge. When we opened there were tonnes of venues in the West End – now I think there’s three left (us, the 100 Club and Ronnie Scott’s). No one is replacing these spaces; it’s almost impossible to replicate the feel of a lived-in live room or a bar that’s seen night after night of action. When these rooms go, they’re gone forever.”
What changes will we see at the venue if you stay open?
“There will be a better viewing area downstairs, we’ll also add a dressing room, improve the PA massively and expand the beer line as much as possible (that’s my own personal mission, if I’m honest). The downstairs room was never specifically designed for gigs, which is crazy when you look at who’s played. We’d like to improve the experience for bands and audience alike and we know how we’d do it.”
The campaign mentions a plan to open more venues if you stay open. What will this involve?
“One of the things this whole process has given us is momentum. We are determined to save The Social and that drive has made us think about moving out of town too. Anywhere else we opened would have to be run out of and sensitive to the local environment. Weirdly, the pub at the end of my road in Bristol just shut down…”
What message would you like to give to music fans about supporting smaller venues?
“Give these venues some love now because they won’t be there forever and you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Going to gigs, buying a couple of pints and feeding frantic energy into venues…that’s what makes these places tick.”
Speaking to NME, a City Hall spokesman on behalf of the Mayor of London said: “Venues like The Social are a vital part of London’s culture and night life – but it’s no secret that rising rates, rents and increased development have been putting real pressure on venues.
“The Mayor’s Culture at Risk team is in touch with The Social to offer support including access to business advice through Mayor’s London Growth Hub and has put the venue’s owners in touch with Westminster Council about business rates relief.
They added: “The Mayor has no powers over commercial issues but through his Culture at Risk Office and with Night Czar, Amy Lamé, he has already supported more than 350 spaces at risk of closure, for example through his planning policies he has ensured that music venues like Corsica Studios and the George Tavern stay open. After a decade of decline, the number of grassroots music venues has remained stable but more work needs to be done to ensure every Londoner can enjoy a thriving nightlife.”
This comes after beloved Oxford venue The Cellar announced this week that they too would be closing down following a rent battle.