14.01.16 - No. 12

The survival of alternative culture

I’m not so sure I qualify as ‘youth’ anymore, as younger me I headed to the local youth centre, Heatham House, to get my induction into things I’d only really seen on MTV2 and concert footage of favourite bands. Moshing. Loud raw music. Being surrounded by an alternative mass that seemingly only existed on this one perfectly brilliant night. And then again the next week. It was like slipping down the rabbit hole and then school happened inbetween.

Around the same time I went to a pub in Hounslow to support my friend’s band, more moshing, more fun. And importantly for them, they had a captive audience in a grimy back room of a sawdust floored pub.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been at the pub. Not sure on the rules of that one.

The point is, at an early age me and my rag tag friends had found solutions to get that experience of the complete rush of a live gig. And nothing beats it. We’d seen it existed and we wanted it for ourselves, so we found it.

Flash forward to today and I’m still thinking about live music. Right now, there’s there’s a decline in small to medium size music venues in the UK.

So what happens when the venues go (worst case scenario)? Will the future of young musicians suffer? Will music influenced culture suffer? Absolutely. Fewer entry level music venues implies a lack of willing audience. With fewer people taking a punt on going to gigs venue managers aren’t going to be inclined to take risks. Which leads to a cultivation of safe acts, safe music.

Does that mean bands are shit compared with 20 years ago? No. It just means people aren’t as inclined to go to see them.   

There’ll be an exhaustive list somewhere on the internet but here’re a few of my ideas, add your own on our facebook or twitter:
  • small venues and the back rooms of pubs have a stereotypical reputation as grimy
  • beer is overpriced and low quality
  • music discovery is so much easier on the internet
  • it’s too noisy, it’s cold and you’ve defrosted dinner already
  • quality can’t be guaranteed
I’ve been working with promoters and putting on nights on and off for years, always to unpredictable and varied success. So what can we do to bring audiences back into venues?  A few quick/silly ideas:
  • Raise the quality of the nights
  • Mop the floors
  • Drop the drink prices/up the quality
  • Be upfront about the values of the venue, and the quality of the night - didn’t enjoy it? Free ticket to next week…
It’s difficult to get gigs. Preciptoman doesn't pull big crowds. We’ve lost nights to stand up comedy and student club nights - audience guaranteed.

But what happens to the counter-culture with no venues? Does it curl up and die? No, of course not. It finds a way, take living-room gigs, it’s almost so popular now it’s common. At the close of 2014 Preciptoman took over a portacabin arts space in South Kilburn and put on one of our best nights of all our time doing this. People came, it was different, the bill was great, there was a story behind it, it was interesting.

This means work, and becoming a promoter. We’ve worked with tons of shitty promotors, who are nothing but a guy with a facebook account and an in with a venue, but absolutely no pull on audience, sway with press, or any ounce of giving a small fuck. Those gigs can sometimes be especially hard to find value in. We’ve also worked with a handful of absolutely brilliant, hardworking and passionate promotors - hold onto these ones and make them feel special! 

So here’s the round up:

Small music venues are closing their doors because demand isn’t supporting them. Do what you can to enjoy them and encourage them to take risks.

The strangers, weirdos and artists will find a way to present their music. To get together, to jump, raise their hands, mosh, play loud. And perhaps the harder they push, the more interesting, and niche they become, the more likely their audience will find them and follow them back into those precious small to medium sized venues.

Bernard James


More info | Preciptoman 2013