Chandeliers and Rattlesnakes

When I was updating last week’s gig listing, it was striking how concentrated the shows were at just two venues, New River Studios, and the New Cross Inn.  Not a complaint by any means, both are admirable venues, and I’ve always particularly enjoyed shows at NRS.  It is just an observation of how the ecosystem of London’s venues has changed. Over the last 5 years, numerous venues have disappeared from London’s touring itinerary ranging from the DIY Space for London and T-Chances to The Camden Unicorn.

Several factors will have shaped this increasing concentration.  Crucially, soaring, exploitative rents in central London have made the economics of running an independent venue ever more challenging and the pandemic has made those pressures even worse.

I suspect that the number of DIY promoters, those tireless souls who get so little recognition for all their hard work, may also been temporarily whittled down by the dislocation of recent years, and every promoter inevitably has their preferred venues to work with.  And, of course, these preferences will reflect how happy a venue is to host a hardcore punk gig.  An art in and of itself, even if that art is often a question of doing less rather than more.

Because, as we all know, there is nothing worse than a gig at venue that doesn’t know how to handle a hardcore show.  And this got me thinking about venues that I have visited just the once.  Some of the spaces were actually pretty successful – Paint It Black in a tiny, sweaty basement called The Fly in 2009, and The Saddest Landscape in some dark, low cellar near King’s Cross in 2012 both proved cracking venues.

Others much less so.  For example, Incendiary were to prove rather less fortunate on their first two visits to these shores, both brilliant shows in less-than-ideal circumstances.  The first was at The Enterprise in Camden back in 2012.  As the evening progressed, an increasingly worried landlord kept popping up the stairs as the chandelier in the main bar below was apparently displaying signs of distress due to the energetic crowd above.  A plea came for there to be ‘no more dancing’ and as Incendiary took the stage the immortal lines (and I’m undoubtedly paraphrasing here) were uttered ‘This is going to be a short one, so let’s make it a good one!’.  A blistering set (and a very much mobile crowd!) lasted twenty minutes before time was called…

Then when Incendiary returned on tour with Mindset a year later, there was a last-minute venue switch to an American theme bar, The Rattlesnake in Islington.  A rather bright back room, surrounded by plastic Americana, and a sort of handrail around part of the stage did not bode well, but the gig itself was explosive.  The issue came with the security.  During Incendiary’s set, I could see that one of the security team was looking ever more agitated by the swirling dance floor.  After the set, I could hear him being calmed down by his colleagues – ‘It’s just the way they dance’ – but it’s fair to say that he looked utterly unconvinced.  When the crowd erupted again during Mindset’s set, he waded into the middle of the pit, and even ended up on the stage trying to grab the microphone, putting a temporary stop to the show.  His colleagues ushered him from the room, still slowly shaking his head at the madness of what he was seeing…

So, what is the moral of these tales?  Firstly, let’s make sure that we support the great venues that we do have.  And, secondly, never, ever host a gig in a theme bar.