On Saturday, Londoners marched through Hackney to shout about the city's dying nightlife. The protest was organised by the staff of Passing Clouds, the Dalston venue that was recently shut down after developers bought the building in a "secret deal", evicting the ten-year-old club and putting 100 people out of work.
Saturday's demo – "The March for London's Dying Culture and Nightlife" – was a protest against the loss of this particular space, and the slow bleeding out of clubs and music venues across London. According to the Music Venues Trust, London has lost 35 percent of its grassroots venues since 2007, due mostly to increased rent princes. And, of course, Fabric – the city's most iconic club – was shut down a couple of weeks ago, ostensibly because of drug deaths in the venue, but allegedly because the hard-up local council thought it could make a bit of cash out of the process.
When marchers gathered in Hoxton Square they looked as much like a gang of people preparing for a night out as they did a gaggle of political protesters. Activists dressed in multi-coloured pinstripe shirts and unicorn horns daubed people's faces with glitter; others in heart-shaped glasses got their placards ready, writing slogans like "KEEP LONDON ALIVE" and "COMMUNITY OVER CORPORATE".
From Hoxton Square, hundreds of people marched towards Dalston, following samba drums, painted saxophones and a punk band dancing half naked on a truck. At what was once the colourful Passing Clouds building – and is now a repossessed shell of its former self, its doors and shutters painted gentrification-grey and spray-painted with protest slogans – the crowd was greeted by a gospel singer and a bonfire. They then headed up to Gillett Square, where speeches were given by the Night Time Industries Association, Fabric staff and a couple of Passing Clouds' regular performers.
Speakers impressed the importance of preserving London's nightlife, pointing out that venues like Passing Clouds aren't just settings for drinking and dancing, but important community spaces. MC Angel, who started the Lyrically Challenged nights at Passing Clouds, said during her speech: "Passing Clouds gave me hope when I didn't believe in my life any more. I was mentored by the community as an artist and went on to have many successes in the music industry."
Founder of the Night Time Industries Association, Alan Miller, expressed his concern about the future of London without these communities. "Britain used to be a sexist, racist society where people would fight on a Friday – we changed that," he said, about the power of clubs to bring people together. The Fabric crew reminded the crowd that 250 people had lost their jobs because of the club's closure, and said it was likely to have a "knock-on effect on all businesses around".
The speeches also touched regularly on the over-valuation of profit and the undervaluing of culture. As poet Disraeli put it: "We are Donny Hathaway, we are Miles Davis; We are bad sleepers, good neighbours; Triumph in our small dark spaces, while you walk around like bank statements."
A similar sentiment was expressed by Dele Sosimi, who began playing music with Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti in Egypt in the 1980s. He said: "They asked me to play for 45 minutes at the Royal Albert Hall and then pause so they could sell drinks in the interval, and then play for another 45 minutes. I said no. When I play, I carry on playing. At Passing Clouds we would jam until 6 in the morning."
The speeches weren't only criticisms of capitalism, but food for thought on how one can prevent rent prices from affecting cultural communities; how big business and grassroots venues can coexist.
Eleanor Wilson, owner of Passing Clouds, explained that the venue is currently in the process of applying to be recognised as an Asset of Community Value, which would allow it to be subject to protection from development based on its services to the community. The club is also lobbying Hackney Council to enact Article 4, which would prevent landlords from changing the use of certain venues.
The speeches at Gillett Square ended with the spokesman from the Music Venues Association asking a question of the developers and councils currently decimating London's nightlife: "Can we not find a compromise?"
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