March 2017 marked the 15th anniversary of The Street’s debut album Original Pirate Material. In some ways, the album was an ode to the UK house DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rambling, who helped define UK rave culture in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s when the Government made it illegal for ten or more people to gather on public property and listen to “repetitive beats”. As Skinner says in Weak Become Heroes: ‘to the Government I stick my middle finger up with regard to the Criminal Justice Bill’.
This week, Theresa May has called a snap general election. This seemed to me to be as good a time as any to evaluate what the Government have been up to recently with regard to the music industry. In short: is there anything that we, as music lovers, should be sticking our middle fingers up to?
In 2010, London’s The 100 Club was at risk of closure due to the revaluation of business rates. One of the world’s longest running independent venues, it was saved thanks to a high-profile campaign and partnership with Converse. However, this month every commercial property in the UK will have its business rates re-evaluated again and The 100 Club is now facing a further 50% rates hike.
However, another battle to fight for the Oxford Street club is just the tip of the iceberg for grassroots venues in London. In new research commissioned by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, it was found that 18 of London’s grassroots venues are at risk of closure due to the hike in business rates, with serious financial difficulties looking likely for a further 18 venues.
Venues where values are set to rise include fabric, Ronnie Scott’s and The Underworld, with Islington venues the Lexington and the Macbeth being most at risk due to rates rising by nearly 800%. In an interview with Vice, Stacey Thomas who runs The Lexington stated that, having just spent two years battling a large rise in rent, the potential rate increase of 200% means that they “can’t take as many risks with grassroots artists”. Earlier this year, I wrote about Independent Venue Week, BBC 6 Music’s celebration of local venues. I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you of the importance of these venues to communities and, above all, the artists.
Though this will affect venues across the country, rises are likely to be most severe in London. The Mayor has called on the Valuation Office Agency to review its valuation policy for grassroots music venues. He is also asking the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to hold meetings with his Night Czar Amy Lamé and the music industry to discuss how best to ensure the survival of cultural businesses across the city.
The Music Venue Trust has written to music fans and venue owners, asking us all to address the Business Rates Review 2017 “with urgency”. So what action can we take if the politicians are not doing enough? The MVT has the answer…
As the Government promises to make Britain’s creative industries a priority within their Industrial Strategy, the Music Venue Trust has announced a five-year strategic plan to Re-launch, Reinvigorate and Re-energise the UK’s Grassroots Music Venues. In a plan “laid out in 3 achievable steps”, the MVT is offering the Government the opportunity to join them in making a dramatic change. This change would include a regulatory review removing “excessive licensing, poor guidance, unnecessary and unhelpful taxation”.
As MPs battle for their seats, take this opportunity to make your voice heard. Write to them about the importance of your local venue, your local music scene and your local artists, Tweet them, using MVT’s hashtags: #GetYourActTogether #SeedTheGrassroots #NoMoreToiletTours and even send them letters if that’s your style.
They are going to need your vote, so make this the condition on which they get it.