club closures

You’re Either in or Out: Mr G Talks About the 'Demise of British Clubs’ and Staying Positive

by Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
18 September 2015, 10:51am

Although Saturday's Labour leadership results mean the UK press is now more concerned with a 'terrorist' heading up the only real opposition to the Tories, in recent months plenty has been written about the state of the nation's nightlife. Nearly half the country's clubs have closed their doors in the last ten years, venue owners from London to Glasgow can't move for licensing issues, and — for those old enough to remember — things are beginning to sound like post-millennial rhetoric all over again.

For those who weren't there, that went something like: 'It's all over'.

When situations like this arise it makes sense to call on the veterans. As such we turn our attention to the decade-spanning Colin McBean, AKA Mr G.

Photo by Daddy's Got Sweets

Growing up amongst the soundsystem culture of the 1970s, he cemented his status as a bonafide British techno pioneer as one half of The Advent in the early-90s. Between then and now this Derby-native has held rank and file in the underground, largely through work on his own Phoenix G imprint, which released his impressive LP of dirty, dark, locked grooves, A Night On The Town, this month. All of which misses a hell of a lot out, but you get the point. At 54, he knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Having just come back to his house outside Leicester following a trip to South America we asked him to talk about what's happening on home turf, and if it's time for everyone to panic, rip each other's heads off and feast on the goo inside.

"Sometimes, in my heart of hearts, I think we're spoiled more than anything in terms of British cities. Every DJ comes through our doors during the course of a year. Somewhere like Bogota, in comparison, the costs are much more restrictive," he says. "The price of getting people out there, putting them up, it's hard. But that means clubbers appreciate when someone is there. It's like 'Whatever you're going to give us, we'll take it and try to understand'. I mean, the night I played at was in an old writer's house that's now a three-storey club and bar, and it was one of the best of my life."

Talking to any UK DJ or producer in 2015 is going to involve talking about clubs and more pertinently, club closures. McBean seems slightly sanguine on the matter. " In terms of talk of UK club closures, I think there's two parts that form my opinion. Firstly, I only really do two gigs every month, and I pick very carefully which they are. So I don't necessarily see what people are talking about — the stuff I'm at is strong," he says.

"But I read, and go out clubbing myself when I can. And that's why I think there's this air of being spoilt, particularly in the bigger cities. I've seen things struggle before, and we may be in more trouble this time due to the recession and what's going on elsewhere in the world. To top it all we seem to have loads of festivals. I mean, you can see the lineup of your life for a reasonable fee. If I was choosing what to do, I might be thinking of the places where you see everyone in one go, rather than paying to see them individually."

It's an opinion that seems at odds with a guy whose career has largely been about playing select parties, and a name that's very rarely seen on festival line ups. So are there enough good alternatives to these big business parties?

"There are a few places, particularly London, where crews are doing it right. They have amazing line ups, good venues, the right attitudes. But then there are a lot that don't. A clubbing demise, though? I'm not sure about that."

"I've seen many places come and go. When The End closed in London it was the end of the world. Then something else came along and took its place. If you have a great club, interesting bookings — not just the hit parade — then you'll get a good crowd and good support. There are plenty of places like that in the world, and we need more in Britain again.

"Don't get me wrong, there are some. Mint in Leeds, Aberdeen's The Tunnels, Just Jack in Bristol. I love Corsica Studios for example. There are some amazing crews in Britain, so I can't say there's a real demise as the people I'm with are genuinely rocking it."

There's no denying UK clubbers are still privileged in terms of what's on offer. Yet the fact remains venues are closing at an alarming rate, which makes you wonder if the cause is attendances or external pressures.

"So long as you can go online and download said set from said DJ then there's one problem. You're less likely to go out and see them. When I was young that just wasn't possible. When Earth, Wind & Fire came to town I saved my money, sorted transport, went to experience it, and got the last train back or whatever. Now you're more likely to see who's playing, download something they've mixed and make a judgement from that. But there's so much about the sound on the night, the ambience and the camaraderie that can be lost. We seem to be a bit of a throwaway generation."

Clubs aren't the only cultural institutions under threat in Britain right now. The value of culture itself — from techno in warehouses to independent art galleries — appears to be overshadowed by the value of property. The conversation moves towards conservative attitudes replacing a brief spell of liberalism many lament the passing of the 1990s for.

"I agree, to an extent, but here's how I see things... Look at Plastic People in London. When it first opened nobody went near that part of town. It was a bit of a weird area. Then clubbers started turning up, having great nights, and week in week out it was happening. People considered moving close by, they bought a flat. But then they grow older. They stop going out, and that same club becomes a nuisance to them.

"The same happened with Ministry. Once something is picked out as a place to go it immediately starts getting noticed by a lot of different types. The police, local council, and the public. That makes it hard for something to continue once problems are beginning to emerge because it's known."

The idea that yesterday's revellers may themselves be part of the issue currently facing the British scene hits like a curveball, despite noise complaints being so audibly rife. We ask if there's anything that can be done to stop this perennial wind of change.

"I remember putting a party on in an old vicarage behind the BBC in London. People were coming in at 6AM, the system was crazy. There's no way you could do that now with all the posh homes around there. Look at Milk Bar. It's laughable to think of where that was and what that area is like now in London. But it was drum 'n' bass central, house central, year after year. Then suddenly the developers decided they needed the space and boom — a whole part of history disappears.

"But that's part of life," McBean says. "It's important to stay positive. You're either in or out. And if you're in, shut up and get on with it. The in-between is just wasting time. If you don't like something don't talk about it. If I don't like you I won't talk about you. Let's not dwell on this thing closing or that thing struggling. Let's look to the people in your part of town who are trying to do something interesting in a nice little 200 capacity space, and give them the support they deserve."

A Night On the Town is out now on Phoenix G

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