Every committed fan and connoisseur of music will have a collection of memories from small, independent venues that they can roll off the top of their head. Their first gig, their messiest gig, that one gig years ago where you saw today’s biggest band for the first time in a room with 100 people in. In a world where ‘bigger is better’ in regards to just about everything: TVs, companies, houses, among other things… music venues represent an important and timeless exception.
Why are small indie venues so important?
For me – and I reckon a lot of other people – it’s about the unique experiences you get with them. Instead of a polished, overly uniformed arena with structured seating, anonymous crowds and lacking personality, you have a room small enough where you can meet people, chat to the bar staff about mutual tastes in music, try an obscure craft beer, and be close enough to the band that a real connection can be made between you and the artist(s). You don’t have to pay an extra fortune to get close enough to the stage to actually see someone’s face, you just have to be committed enough to get in there early. It’s all about what you put into the night, not how much you pay for it.
Lydia from the Boileroom, Guildford, agrees. “Each one is different, and is ran by people passionate about music and the artists that come through and play within their hallowed walls.”
So it’s quite evident that independent venues have been suffering from a collective, nationwide struggle for some time now. Suddenly you find yourself more interested in saving up to go to one big gig at the o2 arena instead of four intimate gigs at the tiny club at the end of your street, and becoming increasingly less interested in the leaflets going round going on about who you should be seeing and listening to.
And why is this?
Well, as always, the government has its role in this game.With funding for the arts on an annual decline. Ambivalence for the creative arts often spreads from the top down, just as enthusiasm grows from the bottom up. The ongoing battles between indie venues and unwelcoming neighbours, staggering property values, and difficult laws that see great places being shut down nationwide seems to be a rarely discussed, unsurprising reality rather than a devastating misfortune in recent times. As towns are becoming more heavily populated, and reactive licensing regulations and environmental health agencies are putting on more pressure, it’s only getting harder. Indeed, of the 430 music venues that operated within London between 2007 and 2015, only 245 are still open, according to the trust.
So has all hope been lost?
Definitely not. There have been several developments in the last few years in terms of safeguarding music venues across the country. Lydia from the Boileroom, Guildford explains “Music Venues Trust have set up trade union TAMVA, and have been making headway with regards to PRS licensing fees…reducing business rates…as well as giving general advice and creating a network of grassroots venues that can support each other”. And that is when needs to continue to happen, networking and support.
There is something special about small indie venues that people still cherish, consumers and artists alike. Many bands still take the opportunity to play the smaller town venues when they could easily get 10 times the amount of customers in a bigger venue. For instance, last year youmeatsix played the Boileroom for Independent Venue Week (and it was an awesome night), and Wolf Alice stated in an interview for the guide2surrey that they will always remember playing the smaller venues before hitting it big with the likes of Glasto Festival.
So what I’m mainly trying to say is that small indie venues and grassroots venues are still as important to the music industry today as they ever were. They often represent the community in an all-inclusive, welcoming way and are a place to make incredible memories. They are the places that hosted today’s biggest headline bands way back in the beginning when they were still growing and developing as artists – just as we are still developing.
And they will continue to do this, if we are still committed to supporting them.