Keeping the beat alive: The vital importance of music communities


Across Europe, the number of nightlife spaces is in decline. Recent figures reveal that in the UK, one-third of nightclubs have shut between the start of the pandemic and the end of 2022, with only 882 registered spaces remaining. In Germany, the number of clubs in Germany dropped from 1,948 to 1,067 between 2009 and 2020. Collectif Culture Bar Bars, a nightlife advocacy association based in Nantes, reported 210 club and concert hall closures in 2017 and 171 for the first seven months of 2018. In 2019, the number of clubs in Belgium had dropped to 371, a decrease of 134 from figures reported in 2011.

Nightlife is a key part of the music industry. According to the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), the music industry in Europe generated a total revenue of €7.5 billion in 2020. But nightlife frequently faces a slew of unique obstacles ranging in complexity, from rigid and early curfews to high amounts of bureaucratic paperwork and licensing regulations, making it difficult for new clubs to open and existing ones to stay afloat.

In Lewisham, South East London, Sister Midnight, a grassroots-owned venue, was offered the opportunity to bring a disused formed working men’s club back into use as an interim home after having to vacate their last space in 2021. “Lewisham Council owns the Building, and we have been able to negotiate a 10-year lease, with a minimum term of 7 years, at a peppercorn rent for the entire duration,” Sister Midnight said in a statement. Sister Midnight is ready to make a lasting impact on the city as a progressive, socially responsible creative space. Already they have managed to raise £260,000 to revamp a disused working men’s club in Lewisham. Now, the collective says it must fund the renovations needed to bring the site back into use in exchange for the rent-free lease they were granted, and ultimately, their goal is to secure a permanent, community-owned space.

In the face of a pandemic and skyrocketing living expenses, Sister Midnight argue that community-owned models are the way forward. “I honestly think not-for-profit, cooperative society models like ours are the future for cultural spaces because there’s so much more support and funding enabling venues to stay open,” co-founder Lenny Watson told RA.

Easing the administrative barriers and expenses faced by those who plan events is surely a move in the right direction. What is needed now is a shift in the direction of policy around nightlife from being rooted in its cultural importance to people, rather than focussing solely on its economic and marketing importance to cities as generators of economic activity and cultural cachet.

The music industry provides a sense of community, offers opportunities for artists to showcase their talents, contributes significantly to the economy, and promotes mental health and well-being. As such, we should do everything we can to support the music industry by attending live events, purchasing music, or advocating for policies that promote its growth and sustainability. By doing so, we are investing in the cultural fabric of our societies and ensuring that these benefits are available to everyone who needs them.