Words: Yemi Abiade

In the ongoing battle with the state and the cultural buzzword ‘gentrification’, London’s nightlife scene is seeing more losses that threaten it to its very core. Just last week, the borough of Hackney said goodbye to two nightclubs that have gained cult status over the years: The Alibi and Visions Video Bar, both of which have now permanently closed their doors. This comes just over a month after Hackney Council passed a motion in which new live music venues were restricted to an 11pm weekday and 12am weekend curfew, effectively nullifying the areas of Shoreditch, Dalston, Hoxton and Hackney itself for the foreseeable future. The fact that the motion placed emphasis on new venues may have provided something of a saving grace, but that The Alibi and Visions—both landmarks in the clubbing circuit—are bowing out so soon after does not bode well for London as a whole.

Despite having a mandate to negotiate with local authorities and quell the ongoing closure of myriad venues, Night Czar Amy Lamé admitted the council’s decision was out of their hands, proving what a stellar job she’s doing to keep London nightlife alive. But perhaps—in a post-hipster age where gentrification shows no sign of stopping, property once inhabited by working class communities are being purchased by private associations and flipped into luxury housing, while its original inhabitants are priced out of the city, and local councils are ignoring the will of its residents who, in the case of Hackney Council’s decision, voted overwhelmingly against the curfew—there’s not a lot Lamé can do to overturn a wave that continues in earnest.

The people making these decisions are people who haven’t seen the colour, the excitement and the fluidity of nightlife in the area and have dismissed it as being rife with potential anti-social problems. The same reasoning that influenced the enactment of Form 696 in the mid-2000s. And despite pulling out the right slogans and instating the 24-hour Tube line—a ripple effect being the opening up of London even further to its nightlife destinations—Mayor Sadiq Khan is compliant in its impending shutdown, seemingly reluctant to overturn Hackney’s decision. The powers that be are openly ignoring the pleas of citizens, aiming to protect whatever image of the city they are working towards.

Recovering the status of these clubs is no mean feat. We’ve already bore witness to the mountain of a fight it was to reinstate Fabric after it lost its licence in 2016, before reopening late last year. Is this the type of fight we have to put in to save every club in London from now on? Who do we have to turn to if the Night Czar is powerless in her position to deliberate over the future of London nightlife? Live venues and event organisers are now going to need more help than ever in getting their nights off the ground, but with seemingly little support from local authorities and the Mayor it will be near-on impossible, especially if other councils decide to enact the same legislation.

📸: Hyperfrank @ The Alibi, 2010.

So where does this leave the issue of nightlife in the capital? One thing to note is its resiliency, because London has always reinvented itself in the midst of oppression and a state willing to shackle its nightlife. This is as true of our generation now as in our parents’ during the acid house, jungle and UK garage eras. This battle has never disappeared and nor will it, but for how long can we keep up the fight as the authorities become even more flagrant in its policing of clubs and live venues? The removal of Form 696 in November 2017, used to shut down many a black music rave, was supposed to usher in a new era for London nightlife, with more open and acceptable dialogue between event organisers and local councils and the healthy continuation of a scene we love and clubs we love to frequent. But, more importantly, the preserving of nightlife as it currently exists. Yet, in its absence, the state has gone harder and deeper, wiping away an entire borough—a mecca for nightlife among the youth—in one fell swoop.

I now worry about the future of my home, South London, and the day Southwark and Lambeth councils pass the same motion, and London becomes a monotonous playground for the super-rich and not the worldly, mesmeric landscape whose night spots many ravers from all walks of life enjoyed. Especially in 2018, where clubs are still very much a strong, fertile ground where the movers and shakers of our scene congregate, share ideas and build legacies. The loss of Visions especially, once one of the most vaunted destinations throughout the city, is an especially bitter pill to swallow and though they promise to hold events in different venues, their fate has effectively been sealed. Gentrification is well and truly putting nightlife in a chokehold and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the other corners of London and rid the city of one of the things that make it so great and attractive to tourists and general revellers.

Beyond the white-washed, generic tea-and-crumpets version of London that the authorities love to propagate, the city’s nightlife is its heartbeat. Through it, relationships and connections are established that last lifetimes and the city generates revenue and a reputation as a worldly metropolis. Hackney Council’s curfew and the closure of Alibi and Visions are just the first steps in stripping this away without a trace.

Posted on August 28, 2018