Venues, Regeneration and Identity

Something approximately current this time, I’m sorry about the lack of recent updates but university’s been getting in the way slightly.

The recent opening of the Victoria Gate shopping centre shopping centre has prompted fresh concerns over the future of artists who make their living there. This is certainly not a unique phenomenon to Leeds, indeed it’s a story that’s being repeated up and down the country (Not to mention elsewhere around the world). Everywhere you look, gentrification is the word on people’s lips.

The cycle usually goes something like this: Up and coming artists/writers/musicians/students, etc. move to areas in a city  where rents are cheap and there is plentiful space available to paint/write/rehearse/drink, etc. and to develop ideas and concepts. If they are reasonably successful, they begin to attract interest and footfall and they begin to give the area a reputation for creativity and excitement. This draws more people to live there, attracts investment and retailers keen to take advantage of this atmosphere, pushing rents ever higher. The council may even step in and attempt to develop the area. The increasing rents drive all of the people who worked to give the area its reputation away and the cycle begins anew.

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Artist’s impression of Tottenham Court Road Underground Station development, Soho

This is a scene being played out everywhere from Shoreditch to Manchester’s Northern Quarter to Soho to Mabgate and the Victoria Gate in Leeds. The amount that’s being written on gentrification is amazing and far more eloquent writers than I have written volumes on it. What I want to talk about here is how music as a badge of identity factors into this.

Because venues often find themselves to be at the front line in arguments surrounding gentrification. In January 2014 the Night and Day Cafe in Manchester was given a noise abatement notice that risked the removal of the venue’s license to play live music. The petition created to prevent that attracted over 74,000 signatures and even drew the attention of Johnny Marr of the Smiths and Guy Garvey of Elbow. The strength of feeling even resulted in the resident whose complaint was linked to the abatement notice receiving death threats. In a similar vein, the threats of closure of Tin Pan Alley venues in London due to the Crossrail development have inspired petitions and interventions from musicians to attempt to prevent it.

So how does this happen? As I have already discussed on this blog, venues are tied to personal identity through the music they’ve hosted. Between this, the increasing threats to music venues from council noise abatement notices and the tensions felt about gentrification and it’s easy to see how feelings become strained. In this light the signing of petitions to try and halt development are as much declarations of identity and solidarity with the musical heritage of a place as they are calls for political action.

A bit of a stretch? Possibly. Please let me know you thoughts on anything I’ve discussed here in the comments below and I will be happy to discuss them.

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