can the night tube help revive london nightlife?

Since a 24 hour tube was first proposed, London’s nightlife has suffered years of cuts and closures. Now that the tracks are finally in place, will it help us be 24 hour party people?

by Jake Hall
25 May 2016, 3:15pm

Nightclubs have always been an integral part of British culture, they've launched subculture after subculture, music scene after music scene, they've birthed fashion trends and new sounds and, more prosaically (but just as importantly) friendships, loves, romances, flings, passions. They're the cradle of our modern civilisation. But they're also in peril, strict licensing laws, soaring rents, and gentrification have pushed independent spaces to margins or forced them to close down entirely. The reasons behind these closures are varied - they range from small-scale drug busts to residential noise complaints - but the fact is that something needs to be done to revive British nightlife.

Incidentally, London's new mayor Sadiq Khan could be the man to do so. Khan's electoral campaign repeatedly focused on nightlife and, ever since being elected two weeks ago, he has already come good on a number of his promises. Firstly, he announced the creation of a new role; a 'Night Czar', whose job would be to patrol and protect the capital's nightclubs. Then, just two days ago, Khan announced that the fabled 24-hour tube service would finally come to fruition after almost a year of delays, beginning with the Central and Victoria lines on August 19th. It's undoubtedly a step in the right direction; if nothing else, it will help ease ease the financial strain of extortionate Uber fares for those not fortunate enough to live in Zone 1. But, after so many years of cuts and closures, can the Night Tube really revive the capital's nightlife?

According to Lyall Hakaraia, the creative maverick behind Dalston's still-thriving VFD (formerly Vogue Fabrics), the Night Tube can only solve so many problems. "Yes, the Night Tube will mean that more people will travel and make the effort to go out later," he explains. "The problem is there may be nothing when they get there due to punitive licensing laws and the new breed of whining residents joining forces to close venues down."

It's undoubtedly a step in the right direction; if nothing else, it will help ease ease the financial strain of extortionate Uber fares for those not fortunate enough to live in Zone 1. 

It's worth mentioning that Sadiq Khan has touched upon plans to tackle these issues in the past, stating that the onus should be on homeowners to research local nightlife before moving in. He also outlined plans to shift responsibility for sound-proofing away from clubs and on to local houses, but community reactions are still yet to be seen. Incidentally, Hakaraia believes that nightlife has already shifted away from Zone 1's extortionate rent prices, resulting in blossoming new scenes in Zones 2 and 3. "This is where the pulse of the new really is; there are cheaper rents, bigger venues and more people looking to make their 'local' the centre of attention. Let's hope Zone 1 and its creeping fungus of the dull doesn't spread too quickly!"

Jack Cullen, nightlife publicist behind venues such as Tottenham's Styx Bar and Haggerston's The Glory shares the sentiment that any venue's core clientele are its locals, but states excitement that "the warehouse scenes in Manor House and Tottenham will have all to play for now too, which is exciting!" Cullen also name-checks Vauxhall in particular as one area that will benefit from the new changes, specifically legendary gay venue The Royal Vauxhall Tavern which has come under fire in the past. Despite general optimism, Cullen admits he is curious to see "what conflicts may lie in store with this new drunken subterranean melting pot that the Night Tube presents - let's hope we don't find out the hard way."

Crucially, it's not just the nightclub industry that has been affected by the closures seen in the last decade. Live music venues have suffered equally, with many being either shut down or forced to comply with harsh curfews in order to survive. Club gigs are declining, yet club culture is integral to the music industry that we know and love. Seb Burford, founder of Worldwide Friendly Society Communications - the PR agency behind talents such as Abra and Kelela - states that London is its own worst enemy, trapped in a cycle of gentrification.

It's not just the nightclub industry that has been affected. Live music venues have suffered equally, with many being either shut down or forced to comply with harsh curfews in order to survive.

"Clubbing here is a victim of its own success. Clubs make areas desirable, then the rents in those areas rise, making club spaces harder to rent. Then, when certain locations get super busy, the Council has to balance the needs of the clubs with the needs of the residents". His argument highlights an important fact - there is basically nowhere in Central London that hasn't yet been gentrified, therefore creativity needs to find a way to thrive within this framework. Burford does acknowledge that the new Night Tube will make the capital easier to navigate, but argues "I wouldn't use the word revive, because London's nightlife is always creating things from nothing. I don't subscribe to that narrative of decline. I do, however, think it will be a nice 'plus' for people going out as we create in the context of other hyper-inflated living costs.

It's undeniable that Khan's 24-hour tube service will open up nightclubs to new customers, meaning that small venues can finally appeal to an audience wider than their core locals. However, it will take time before the system rolls out to see whether or not it will solely benefit big establishments on the Central Line; establishments which, as Hakaraia states, may not be the most innovative offerings within the capital. Cullen's concerns surrounding the Night Tube are also justified - after all, it's hard to start a fight alone in an Uber but far easier in a confined space with a host of equally-drunk passengers. However, it is refreshing to see a politician finally recognising the economic potential of nightlife culture - a report published last year stated that London's 'night-time economy' is worth around £66billion in total, that the 24-hour tube will support 2000 permanent jobs and that it will boost the UK economy by £360 million. The Night Tube may not spark a nightlife revolution, but it at least demonstrates an intention to protect youth culture in Britain.


Text Jake Hall
Photography courtesy of Fabric

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