Another day, another closure.
The news for Edinburgh’s gig and club scene never seems to be good. Late last night social media timelines started to fill with the announcement that Studio 24 on Calton Road is to shut its doors, meaning a lot of people woke up today with the polar opposite of a #FridayFeeling.
It isn’t an isolated incident, either. Electric Circus, Citrus Club, Port of Leith, Leith Depot… all within the last few months have pulled their last pint or announced they’re under threat. The circumstances around each is different, but they all add to the same cumulative effect – slowly, Edinburgh is being cleansed of its scuzziest, and therefore best, nightspots. People haven’t yet stopped mourning previous departures – the old Bongo Club, the Venue – and now they’re being given new absent friends to cry over.
It’s hard not to read this as part of a bigger picture in Edinburgh. The Cowgate gap site, bequeathed to the city, will become a hotel. The Royal High School, could become a music school, but may just become a hotel. The new St James’ – lifestyle brands… and a hotel. The owners of St Andrew’s Square are turfing out the Fringe. Over half the city centre is set to be holiday lets within 30 years. There are forces that want rid of Edinburgh’s underbelly (but not Underbelly – they’re needed for Hogmanay). Like that other, inferior capital down south, Edinburgh is being socially sanitized for profit.
Recent discussions about Edinburgh appointing a “night mayor” to combat venue closures and noise complaints are welcome, but the rot is already well under way. Residents have no faith in a cash-strapped council to stand up to developers. The money always appears to win. So what to do?
First, support what we still do have. Get down to Sketchy Beats Cafe in Leith – BYOB gigs, hip-hop nights – a proper DIY place that keeps it real. Back Hidden Door Festival next week – promoting local artists AND helping restore the old Leith Theatre in the process. Come along to Edinburgh Soup where we support grassroots community projects and local musicians. When the Fringe comes, spend your nights at Banshee Labyrinth or Heroes @ The Hive or the Caves, free venues with honest promoters giving performers a break. Put your money in their pockets.
Secondly, sign all the petitions you can. They don’t change anything, we know. But people fighting closures or making business cases need all the ammo they can get, and for the second it takes, it’s extra evidence that people care. Studio 24’s is here. A group is hoping to save London Road Church for community use, including arts events, so get your squiggle on their list too.
Thirdly, remember this. Culture is an eco-system. The developers are just the predators at the top of the food chain. The scuzzy places and the lowlife that frequent them (us) are the creepy-crawlies under their feet. And we all know what happens when the creepy-crawlies die out – the eco-system collapses.
Similarly, without the old Bongo Club, there’d be no Young Fathers. Without the Young Fathers, the Edinburgh International Festival would have missed out on this. Without interesting culture like EIF, Edinburgh becomes less appealing. If developers devour everything, eventually they’ll kill off what it is that sustains them. And when those dinosaurs drop dead, who’ll be left to reclaim Edinburgh and the white elephant buildings they leave behind? Us cockroaches.