One year on: How grassroots venues have been keeping the scene alive
It’s been a tough year for the grassroots music sector: venues were the amongst the first businesses to close their doors due to COVID-19, and will be the last to reopen. The initial lack of income hit the industry hard, but was further exacerbated by insufficient relief funding and additional tariffs for online streams. But through it all, grassroots venues’ focus on community has persevered. Alongside the ongoing work of cancelling and rescheduling physical gigs, independent venues have continued to support the scene through livestreams, podcasts and more. Here are just a few examples of how the grassroots scene has kept the music alive during a year where everything changed…
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow
Livestreams can never replace the thrill and excitement of a real gig, but they’ve become an incredibly important way for venues and bands to continue connecting with fans during lockdown. For their King Tut’s Wah Wah Hoose livestreams, the iconic Scottish venue booked various local artists to play sets, live from their homes to yours, which is pretty much the next best thing to stumbling across your new favourite band in real life. The livestreams also included quizzes, playlists and throwbacks to past gigs at the venue, creating a space for local music fans to connect, despite not being able to meet in person.
The Boileroom in Guildford
Also making the most of livestreams, The Boileroom’s IGTV feed has come to life during lockdown. Not only have the venue been spotlighting local music through virtual gigs, their feed has also featured candid interviews with bands on how they’re finding lockdown, plus chats with music industry professionals, and a celebration of Independent Venue Week. Grassroots venues are an important entry point into the music industry, not only for bands but also for sound engineers and photographers. By providing insight into the industry through interviews with local professionals, The Boileroom are not only demystifying the music industry but providing an access point for these careers.
Brudenell Social Club in Leeds
As well as ensuring live music lovers had plenty of virtual gigs and workshops to enjoy with their Brudenell Social Distancing Club, the venue have also compiled and shared a spreadsheet of local musicians to accompany their regularly updated playlists. It’s colour-coded and includes links to each bands’ music, making it easy to navigate and get your local music discovery fix until they can be out gigging again.
Thekla in Bristol
Thekla turned to Twitch for their livestreamed events, hosting a weekly music quiz with prizes followed by a music request hour – Twitch’s chat function is ideal for hosting discussions and taking requests. As well as this, the venue launched their Isolation Discs podcast, chatting to musicians like Frank Turner and Arlo Parks about the music getting them through lockdown; giving us even more music to check out until gigs are back.
Le Pub in Newport
Also getting involved in the podcast scene, Newport’s Le Pub launched their aptly named Le Pod, where host Ben Jones invites guests to share stories about the venue. We can’t go down to our local and catch up with friends at the bar between sets, but this podcast goes a long way to offering a nice stop-gap until we can; not only to keep up with goings-on in the local music community but to hear from bands and the venue staff themselves.
The Forum in Tunbridge Wells
As well as livestreams and a podcast, The Forum provided a socially distanced meeting space for locals too. In a usual year, the green space outside the venue is full of music fans lounging in the sun, meeting with friends as they flit in and out of the building. In 2020, it remained a community hub. Thanks to a collaboration between The Forum and local coffee shop Fine Grind, last summer was full of socially distanced hangouts outside the venue, providing a place for fans and the wider community to connect despite the venue’s doors being locked.
Windmill Brixton in London
In the brief window of time last summer when socially distanced, seated shows were possible, 77 shows were booked in at Windmill Brixton. Transforming real-life gigs into the digital, 13 of the musicians who performed at these gigs donated the live recordings to the compilation In Between The Lockdowns, with all proceeds from the album being split between the venue and the charity Brixton Soup Kitchen. Some of those musicians, like Sorry, took this a step further, releasing a recording of their full socially distanced set on limited edition vinyl with all proceeds going to the venue.
The Leadmill in Sheffield
The Leadmill celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2020. Whilst a milestone like this would usually be accompanied by a live music celebration, this year the venue released their landmark compilation album Forty. Featuring tracks from Enter Shikari, The Orielles and October Drift, and with artwork designed by a local artist, the sell-out release succeeded in celebrating the venue’s legacy as well as providing a fun piece of local music history for fans in lieu of gig-going.
The Sugarmill in Stoke
With live music a no-go, merch has become the main source of income for many bands, but Stoke’s Sugarmill has also launched a collaboration with local visual artists and screen-printing companies. Throughout lockdown, the venue has released a wide variety of apparel and merchandise, in conjunction with a different local artist, giving fans a range of designs to choose from when representing the venue.
The Hope & Ruin in Brighton
Band tees are an important and instant way to support the music you love, and while we can’t show off our finest garms at gigs, The Hope & Ruin is continuing this tradition online. The venue is inviting fans to send in photos of themselves wearing their favourite band merch, which are then showcased on the venue’s socials. Tuesday Takeover has also been a regular feature on the venue’s Instagram, inviting local bands to share what they’re up to in lockdown. So far it’s featured home-made recipes, book recommendations and favourite films, providing a relatable distraction during the weirdest time of our lives.
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