We have to admit that as we sent last August’s issue to the printers, we panicked. Did anyone else care? Was anyone as worried about Brighton & Hove as us? Should we have just kept to pointing people to the best parties? But as soon as it hit the street it was obvious our Broken Brighton issue hit a nerve. Emails, Facebook messages and tweets flooded in – you weren’t happy about how things were panning out either. Supermarkets and chain coffee shops were opening as fast as music venues were shutting. Brighton’s unique quirkiness looked to be disappearing. It looked like we had a year before we turned into Milton Keynes. So, what’s changed?
Thankfully, pretty much everything. The first beacon of hope was the Green Door Store. Early on in the building work (not long after the Broken Brighton issue) we took a little tour and our hearts skipped a beat. At that point we didn’t know what sort of music would be going into it but we loved the look of the place so much we shot our November cover there. The stripped-back industrial look had a feel of the places we loved in New York’s Williamsburg district. When Ed Lilo came on board to program the nights we knew we were going to spend a lot of time there. Already Greedos has settled into its own niche of great underground nights and bands you read about the more obscure blogs.
It took some more bad news to get to the good news of The Haunt. The team running New Hero were ejected in a whirlwind of rumours. After a short while on the run from the wrong elements (we’d love to tell you the full story) they found a much better home in Pool Valley. Formerly KuKu, it had long suffered from a lack of good nights. In fact we were surprised to hear that it was still open. An insane new sound system and some great new lighting and we didn’t just have a brand new club – with It’s Still 1985 providing Saturday nights – but also an excellent new live music venue. Who knew it was under our noses all that time?
Meanwhile InnBrighton wasn’t resting on its laurels and decided to have a revamp of all its small clubs. Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar has gone from a venue with a killer soundsystem but no character to one of the most interesting clubs in town. Sidestepping dance music, Dynamite Sal and Iain ‘Hold Up’ Huddy have drafted in pretty much every good leftfield pop and indie night going. The Funky Buddha Lounge got rid of that terrible 90s name and emerged as The Tube, a cohesive line-up of underground dance music nights that are as cool as the name. Riki Tik is about to come into its own too, becoming an always-free-entry micro club. Dubstep legend Roska has been persuaded to play this month so we’ve got high hopes.
But it hasn’t all been good news. Despite a spirited fight for survival The Freebutt couldn’t afford to put in the £20,000 of soundproofing needed. Now run by previous owners The Joiners it’s still not open, despite always seeming a month away from putting on live music.
Work has, however, started on The Hippodrome, which has been through a range of hands but seems settled with über-promoters Live Nation. By all accounts it’s going to cost a lot more money than was originally thought but the current owners seem committed to what could be a great large venue. The Barfly’s doors remain closed though. We heard rumours that one of Brighton’s biggest club night promoters was offered the place but turned it down. File this one under ‘we’ll keep you posted’.
Another venue that’s heading out of action is The Providence, this time for definite and for good. It will become a supermarket, though not a Tesco as we predicted last year. Instead Co-op have grabbed the space. It’s been a mixed bag for supermarkets over the last 12 months. The Lewes Road Community Garden protestors heroically turned opinion sufficiently to stop Tesco opening but couldn’t keep the place as a space for locals – instead apartments and shops are being built on the land.
Less successful, but just as spirited, was the campaign to stop Sainsbury’s opening in the space left when Taj closed down on The Old Steine. With banner branding that would make most multinationals jealous, SaboTaj occupied the much-loved ethnic supermarket, turning it into an art gallery, but the police arrived early one morning and it was all over. Despite Morrisons being just a few doors up, Kemptown had another new supermarket. Before it could even open, graffiti saying ‘Burn Council Burn’ expressed the anger local people felt, but it was outside of their powers to stop national businesses opening where local ones had once stood. They gave Sainsbury a slap by refusing them an alcohol licence elsewhere at the North Street site. Little victories…
After the failure of SaboTaj, The Mound looked like being ‘Lewes Road Part Two’ as community gardeners took their spades to the space near the Earth & Stars which had been rubble and weeds for a shocking 25 years. Despite being hugely popular with the local residents the owners kicked the gentle protesters out and bulldozed the place back to rubble. That there are still no plans to use the space – apparently other than as collateral for loans for other building work – seems almost criminal in such a built up city.
Why doesn’t the council do something about it, you might ask. Again it seems there are limits to its powers. Just as they can’t stop supermarkets opening they can’t stop people not using their land or preventing community decoration of urban wasteland. But they are looking at making use of the empty buildings around the city. That’s progress at least.
The current council is one of the things that gives us the most hope. Finally free of the Tories, the Greens – lead by Bill Randall (see interview on page 42) – are determined to get Brighton back on track and have already proved themselves to be hardworking, ethical and sensible. That last characteristic has been proved in their attitude towards protesting. They announced a few months ago that they believed that people had the right to have their voices heard in non-violent action. That’s never been so important and it also gives the police – who support the idea – a solid framework to work within.
Another positive move is that the culture department has organised a six-weekly meeting of some of the key parts of the music industry to talk about any problems they are having and how the council might be able to help. This dialogue will help awareness on both sides of issues like noise complaints and shows how supportive the authorities can be about what they understand to be an important part of the city’s make-up. SOURCE was invited to be a part of it and we make sure we’re always in attendance.
So what’s changed in a year? Primarily it’s that people want to fight, and they’d rather fight and lose than not fight at all. That’s amazing progress, especially with a council that understands that protesting doesn’t make you a criminal. And with successes under our belts like Lewes Road there’s a belief that it’s all worthwhile. There’s still a need to be on our guard with the encroachment of chain shops and supermarkets and while the odds are very much stacked against us – and the apathetic masses aren’t helping either – there’s a glimmer of hope that keeps us going.
In terms of music venues we’ve probably got more really great venues now than we’ve had for years. Noise will continue to be an issue, especially as the need for new housing pushes town planning to its limits and existing venues find themselves with new neighbours. This remains our biggest concern. But while we were right to worry, Brighton & Hove is in great shape. Let’s keep our eye on the ball to make sure it stays that way.
WORDS BY JAMES KENDALL
PHOTO BY KEVIN MEREDITH