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UK grassroots music venues ‘exponentially in decline’

Madame Jojo's in Soho, London, which was forced to close in 2014 after losing its licence. Photo: White Heat Madame Jojo's in Soho, London, which was forced to close in 2014 after losing its licence. Photo: White Heat
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The number of grassroots music venues in London dropped by 35% between 2007 and 2015, a new report has claimed.

The finding is contained in the first publication by the Music Venues Taskforce, which was set up by the Mayor of London earlier this year to preserve the UK’s small to medium-scale cultural venues. It found that the number of venues programming new artists in London has dropped from 136 in 2007 to 88 today.

Research undertaken by the taskforce included an audit of London’s music venues, which uncovered the loss of more than a third of grassroots venues in the capital. That decline in turn accounted for 41% of the total losses of music spaces between 2007 and 2015, the report claimed.

The publication, called London’s Grassroots Music Venues: A Rescue Plan, also claimed there has been a 30% drop in trading live music spaces overall in London. There are now 245 that remain open, it says.

High-profile closures in London include the Astoria, which closed in 2009, Soho’s 12 Bar Club, and nightclub and cabaret venue Madame Jojo’s, which was forced to shut its doors last year after losing its licence.

The taskforce described central London as an area that “has been historically synonymous with grassroots British music”, but said it had seen an “exponential decline in venues”.

“[The decline] is not mitigated by the emergence of an alternative ‘music zone’ to replace it,” the report said.

It cited external factors such as development, licensing, lack of investment and gentrification among the reasons for a drop in grassroots cultural venues, but said there were also signs of market failure within the music industry.

The report warned that a continuation of the decline could have major implications on the long-term future of the music industry as a whole in the UK, which is estimated to be worth £3.8 billion.

“The relationship between the recorded music business, large festivals and arenas and small grassroots music venues needs examining. As with all ecosystems, the success of the whole depends upon every part working well. Without a regular supply of new acts, all parts of the music industry will gradually wither,” it said.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who is supporting the campaign to protect live music venues, described grassroots settings as “incubators” for artists that later go on to global success.

“This timely report will shape our long-term action plan to safeguard and revive London’s vital network of live music venues,” he said.

The report also set out a number of measures to protect venues and safeguard the sector.

These include the creation of a culture and planning guide, focused on how the music and culture sectors can be protected through planning policy, and setting up a London Music Development Board to take forward an action plan.

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