The State Of The City
Two years ago Brighton looked like it was falling off a cliff, culturally. Venues were closing, supermarkets were opening…anyway, you know all this. Twelve months ago things looked much better, the Green Door Store had opened, The Haunt was taking tentative steps and Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar had just been born. All good, we thought. Then after a year of contentment Rounder shut (see page 40) and Brighton’s music fans went into panic mode again. If such a cornerstone of the music scene could fail, what next? Well, we have to say that although we’re sad about Rounder, we’re generally pretty optimistic about the city.
One of the most exciting developments is that the Duke Of York’s has bought the top floor of the Komedia and is opening a two-screen cinema right in the centre of the North Laine. The screens will be smaller than than what we’re gonna start calling Big Duke’s, which we think will be perfect for supporting local filmmakers. It promises to become a real hub for the scene, one developing every day thanks to the easy availability of DSLR cameras for filming.
Although it won’t be open for Cine-City this year (it ought to be finished in December), expect Duke’s At Komedia to push that festival up a notch in the future. Unfortunately it means we lose a venue space, but the benefits far outweigh that downside in our eyes. We might see promoters who had put on the more grown up gigs upstairs at the Komedia use The Old Market, which is no bad thing as it’s become an excellent arts venue.
Generally things are looking positive on the venue front, certainly concerning clubs. On the site of the scuzzy old Core Club, FunFair’s opening party showed how much work they’d put into making something a little bit special. A ball pit, a bed of nails, lots of little hideaway rooms and an entrance through an old school gypsy caravan all give a feeling of a club bursting with ideas. Unfortunately the opening party wasn’t followed with an actual opening thanks to boring red tape issues but we’re looking forward to you all experiencing a little adventure down there when it opens on the first weekend of this month.
Next up on the club front is a secretly-named venue from Matt Dimmock, who’s turned The Haunt into a cracking venue in the last few months. Picking up lots of gigs from the combustion of The Hydrant as a live venue (we’ll leave you to find out about this online – we’re staying well out of it), the booking by One Inch Badge’s Ade Dovey is making The Haunt a regular stop off for fans of live music. Club nights like Nowhere To Run, It Is Still 1985 and Moody Disco mean it’s as good for dancing in as watching bands.
It’s good that Henron and Dani settled into The Haunt so well as their former venue New Hero is now a live action horror maze called Fear, “a daring journey of pure terror and unspeakable horrors.” The place uses special effects and trained actors to really fuck you up. We’ve certainly seen some dark things in there over the years. And been fucked up.
But we were talking about secretly-named venues. Mr Dimmock has bought what used to be Pasha on the corner of West Street and Boyce’s Street and aims to turn it into a 80s NYC squat party. He says they are going to do “some shocking things” to the place. It’s certainly not going to be your average West Street club.
Already a success on West Street is Hed Kandi, for those that like their clubbing with a touch more glam. It seems they got in just before Tru owners Luminar imploded and have turned what could have easily become an empty space into a unique clubbing bar that people are genuinely excited to go to. The proposed 900 capacity venue Project, that would have been above it, hasn’t appeared, while work on the Hippodrome also seems to have been sidelined.
Another phoenix from the flames has been Psychosocial, taking over the old Ocean Rooms and already hanging around longer than The Yard managed. There are big changes afoot though, including a wise name change to Bloc1. They’re balancing top comedy from the likes of Roisin Conaty with serious dance nights like We Are Skint.
Meanwhile Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar has just celebrated a year in existence and we have to say that Sally Oakenfold has managed to turn the venue into a place with real character. She and the InnBrighton team are really thinking outside the box with regards to its future and backing it up with solid bookings, something echoed by Dave Richards over at Coalition and Paulos Gibson at Life. Similarly to Sticky Mike’s, The Green Door Store has lived up to its potential using the great space for progressive music, never dropping that rather spikey ball. The Blind Tiger has also more than delivered on its promise with the Playgroup boys providing a great, off-kilter musical line up for the unique pub/cafe/venue/club set up.
Just down the road The Gloucester – aka The Barfly – is back, but as a boozer rather than a club. You might think it’d be a bit gloomy to drink in but actually the place has beautiful windows that have been hidden for more than thirty years. Now owned by InnBrighton, the company is pouring money into turning it into a gateway to the North Laines. At the very least it’s great to have an abandoned building returned to use, but we are rather excited about this. We should see the fruits of their labour at the start of September.
More positive pub news sees former club promoter Ian Huddy move to the West Hill, the boozer above Brighton station. He’s bringing his excellent indie night Hold Up there on Saturdays, with Born Bad and The Big Itch taking over Fridays. There’s also an Irish night on Sundays, a curry night on Thursdays and a pop quiz (see New In Town). Will we see more promoters try the pub game?
The Freebutt appears no closer to opening, although some people are enjoying the venue. Squatters have settled in and are apparently making a bit of noise. We hear that, with some irony, the complaints to the council are being knocked back as the council can’t do anything about them, since the squatters don’t have a licence to revoke. It’s a perfect example of the saying ‘be careful what you wish for’.
Elsewhere the relentless noise complaints seem to have dropped away somewhat, possibly due to support of the night entertainment industry being in the Greens’ manifesto. We’re still concerned about what will happen to The Druid’s Arms now that they’re face to face with a new housing development but we haven’t heard much from venues in danger from a lone complainer.
One thing that does seem to have taken a back seat is obvious, large scale protesting. There’s some debate in the SOURCE office about whether this is due to fear of heavy-handed police tactics like kettling or if there’s not so much to protest about on a local level. One success was the shutting down of the EDL march, and it was impressive to see our MP Caroline Lucas and the mayor, Bill Randall, on the counter-protest, unphased as things got a little aggressive. Other than that, and some work by UK Uncut, things seem to have gone online with 38 Degrees and Avaaz, two organisations that are beginning to have serious political power.
One real world campaign that’s had a win is the saving of Saltdean Lido. The council negotiated to buy the pool back and the future is now assured. If you want to go and celebrate with a bit of live ska, the Fat Belly Jones are playing the community centre behind it on Saturday 4th and we hope the gigs continue.
So, despite empty shops in the North Laine for the first time in memory, Brighton is still the best city in Britain – better than it was 12 months ago and much less of a worry than two years previously. Sure we’ll moan every now and again – how many coffee shops do we need! – but we’re very lucky to have everything we’ve got. So let’s keep on supporting it.