Words by Robin Ward.
London’s nightlife is renowned globally for its vast, cutting-edge selection of clubs. The city’s vibrant and myriad community, eclectically spanning indie-rockers to grime and garage heads, pack the likes of Phonox and Ministry every weekend. Even if nights spent flailing around in a smoky room and spilling your beer over your newly-made friends evoke memories you would rather forget. For many, iconic destinations such as Fabric remain undeniably stitched into the city’s culture. However, as you may have noticed, this culture is wavering. Over half of London’s clubs are now closed. Amongst these, a large proportion of gay clubs and bars have shut their doors, which doesn’t just impact on having a great night out, but has wider, and more worrying, cultural significance..
So, why is this happening? The reasons are deeply rooted, both socially and economically. Perhaps the most obvious and widely covered by the media is that of drug use – an often controversial and contested issue yet not necessarily related to LGBT spaces. It was several drug-related deaths that recently brought about the closure of Fabric. And while the club now successfully reopened due to public pressure and petitions, new restrictions constantly regulate the venue.
We must remember clubs are businesses. Dramatic increases in rent prices and council-imposed regulations have damaged venues financially – specifically those already swamped by the capital’s seemingly insatiable appetite for gentrification. For struggling owners, property developers wanting to buy their space offer a rosy and legitimate option. Once bought, the clubs are usually converted into blocks of luxury flats, meaning the nightlife once unique to that area dissipates. To add insult to injury, those living in recently built flats also complain of the noise. Even the historical Ministry of Sound was close to closure when a 41-storey development was built near the club in 2014.
Ok, so fun is almost getting harder to come than reasonably priced housing, but what does this mean for the LGBTQI community? Well, first off a narrowing of choice and a straight-jacketing of London’s diversity. According to The Gay UK, in just 16 years 151 of London’s gay clubs and bars were shut down. Even the most valuable of these community spaces such as the Black Cap pub in Camden have disappeared despite being labelled as ‘a community centre for the local LGBT people in the absence of such a dedicated facility’.
Depressingly, a simple Google search will leave you with lists and lists of recently closed LGBT clubs. However there is a growing resistance. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan announced plans last year to invest thousands into researching the disappearance of these spaces and, more recently, Pride In London 2017 highlighted many of the related cultural issues. Worryingly an extensive study beginning in 2016 by UCL’s Urban Labs, revealed that among all the closures, those that have been long-standing and intersectionally cater for women, ethnic minorities, and LGBTQI combined were among the most affected. Understanding this reveals how important it is that already marginalised groups have available safe spaces.
With the general closure of London’s most famous clubs it can be easy to overlook issues greatly affecting the community, and protests against such closures can be drowned-out and forgotten. Even research in these areas is sparse, and few have gained immediate attention, meaning identifying the causes is itself a struggle. In order to preserve London’s distinctive community, efforts must be made to address this nightlife decimation.
It can be hard to know where to start when protecting a city’s culture, especially when the issues are left to news-outlets and politicians to raise awareness. Yet, just as Berlin’s clubs banded together to defend their cultural space, London too has shown its public potential with Fabric. It shouldn’t stop there. No less importantly we should celebrate our diversity. Don’t let a community drown, and for those that already are, keep fighting for your spaces.
These venues are close to my own heart, they’re more than clubs, they’re sanctuaries, communities, they’re a home away from home. For those of us who spend our weeks excited for Friday, and the break from reality we know these clubs have in store, its essential we take the power into our own hands. But how, you ask. Well here’s how, actually:
1) If you’re a regular party animal and London is your nightlife jungle, then choose a minority safe space for the evening’s watering hole! Tiger Tiger might be king, but lesser known venues need your support! Take an evening off from your regular and give smaller business your custom.
2) Join the demonstration! Don’t scroll past and leave it to someone else, use your voice to help save London’s Nightlife and sign the petitions, retweet the outrage, update your status with complaint. Take an active role in saving our community.
3) DON’T HATE, DONATE! Even if clubbing isn’t your thing, you can show your support without leaving your living room. If everyone you know donated the price of a coffee, together, you could help keep Minority Safe Spaces open.