Gentrification and Government Regulations Are Eroding European Nightlife

Gentrification and Government Regulations Are Eroding European Nightlife

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A panel of promoters from Sonar, Primavera, Arma17, and Village Underground, as well as Amsterdam's Night Mayor, discuss the challenges facing clubs on the continent.

Everyone likes to consider themselves club scene prognosticators, especially in a confusing era where venues are closing left and right while electronic music remains culturally dominant. But last month, as part of an event in Madrid called Boiler Room True Music, the venerable live-streaming platform convened some people who might actually know where things are headed for a panel called "What Is the Future of European Nightlife?" The conversation featured a variety of leading lights from across Europe, including Amsterdam's night mayor and major promoters from cities like Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon, and Moscow.

Over the course of an hour, they dove into an illuminating conversation on some of the challenges and opportunities currently facing clubs, promoters, and dancers across the continent. They covered gentrification, government obstacles, and the ways in which the explosion of festivals has changed the business of club promotion, their conversation enlivened by the distinct perspectives they've gained from throwing parties in such different environments. The panel showed the many ways that European nightlife is in transition, facing threats and opportunities in equal measure. Read our edited transcript of the highlights below, and watch the conversation here. You can also check out our conversation with local Madrid promoters about how these issues have played out in their city here.

Moderator: Please quickly introduce yourself, and tell us what connects you with the European nightlife and its potential future, or past.
Georgia Taglietti: Hello, I'm Georgia Taglietti, I've been working for Sonar Festival in Barcelona for the last 22 years. I'm the head of communications there. I'm also a member of 'She Said So' a female, women in music platform.

Mariana Duarte Silva: Hi I'm Mariana Duarte Silva, I'm the co-founder of Village Underground in Lisbon. It's a coworking space but also a venue for multicultural events. We run a lot of parties. And before that I was also a manager for DJs and some electronic acts. And I'm also part of She Said So.

Fra Soler: Hi I'm Fra Soler. I'm the head of booking of Primavera sound festival in Barcelona. I also do the bookings for Nitza club in Barcelona among several other projects.

Mirik Milan: Hello my name is Mirik Milan. I'm the nighttime mayor of Amsterdam. I've been a club promoter all of my working life, even before I became the night mayor. And I'm a big supporter of club culture everywhere in the world.

Zhenia Sobol: My name is Zhena Sobol and I'm representing Arma 17 club from Moscow. I started to do events in 2011 in Minsk where I'm from. And then a few years later moved to Moscow and joined Arma 17 crew.

For you know for example just in London nearly half of the nightclubs of the last decade have closed. So from about 3,100 clubs there's only 1,700 left. Similar is happening in Netherlands, for example. But before we dive into the status quo, let's look into the past. Maybe share a few memories how we came to the current situation and how this all developed from the early warehouse rave days.
Soler: Well, it was much more naive I would say. I suppose that I see it with different eyes because at that time I was much younger and I could share the enthusiasm that the public was having. Also it was an era with no internet or stuff like that. Well it was the early days of that. So the information was still not so available to everybody.

Zhenia, I'm pretty sure that a lot of our viewers are aware of the quite blossoming and growing electronic music community in Russia. Can you give us a little bit like a brief overview of how the Russians came to rave?
Sobol: Well, when that happened I was pretty young still. I was not allowed to go to such events, I was in Minsk. But there is some well known facts about first raves in Russia. One of them called Garden Party, it happened in 91 in a big exhibition center. It was around 1,000 visitors for the first. They did only two I think. And second one around 2,000 people came. I know that it was sponsored by Coca Cola. The entry cost $15.

How did a club like Arma 17 grow out of that?
Sobol: After I finished school I came to Moscow for one year and just was going around to clubs and dancing and watching how everything's organized. How the flier's done, what promoters do to surprise people. At that time Moscow nightlife was pretty fancy and most of the clubs were even not about the music but more about the show. Some promoters would do things like bring an elephant inside of the club. And nowadays I think it's again much more underground than it was at the time when I joined Moscow nightflie. It was the project of Arma 17. We started to do our events at some beautiful old factory. It was almost every weekend. But then we realized that it's easier and more interesting to do it less often, but more special. And also the parties were going longer and longer, nowadays it's 30 hours long event. So we need at least 1 month to prepare the next one.

So Mariana, you opened up recently Village Underground Lisbon. Could you maybe explain to us first of all what your project is about, where you're at right now?
Duarte Silva: It is a center for arts, not only music but theater and cinema and other kinds of performances. So that's what we want to do this year and the following years. In terms of Lisbon, yes we are living in a golden era. We have lived this in the 90s before, I was very young to go to raves but I remember one of the first times I went out it was straight to a rave party, one of the last ones that happened in Lisbon. In '98 or '99.

I also understand that it's due to city policy and a certain strategy that the authorities applied to turn Lisbon into a city for the creative industry.
Duarte Silva: Yes. It was only in 2011 when the mayor decided that he would create a department within the principality that would help in a very simple way, and very open way, it will help flourish creative hubs. And that's why Village Underground came to life. It was literally an email I got from the woman running that department saying "Hey, we want to sit down with you and we want to help with your project."

And then they created an incubator for start-ups and digital start ups started to flourish. So it was actually a political decision of the mayor of Lisbon to make Lisbon a creative global city. But gentrification is a huge problem. Something that I'm a bit concerned about, but there are already some groups in Lisbon that are trying to advise the mayor and people in politics to tackle the problem. Because we've seen that happening in Barcelona and in London and in other cities and we don't want that to happen in Lisbon. Which is already happening but I think we are still on time to do something on it.

Speaking on advising the local authorities, and cities that might have been a little bit smarter about using nightlife as a resource, Mirik, you are the Nachtburgemeester of Amsterdam, the night mayor. So could you give us an overview of your role and why Amsterdam decided that they need a night mayor?
Milan: So the night mayor is an independent non-profit foundation which helps ensure that the city of Amsterdam has a dynamic nightlife. We really want to bridge the gap between the municipalities, small business owners, like nightclubs and festivals, but also city residents. We always say by having a dialogue you can change the rules of the game. And it's really important. At night, creative people meet. This is why nightclubs are so important. And this is something, when you have to explain this to the municipality or to the city counselors, you really have to take them on a journey and explain to them why this is important for their city.

What do you think was the biggest success so far of this conversation process?
Milan: Of course our biggest accomplishment was the introduction of 24-hour license venues. And what was really radical about this process is that for the first time, when giving out licenses, the municipality also looked at the quality of the content of the venue. And this is a really radical thing because normally, legislators would say, "Ok do you have four walls, a roof, and a bouncer in front of the door? Yeah, you can get a license." So now I was part of a commission that laid down a vision and said, "We want to have nightclubs that elevate the Amsterdam scene," and we said, "We want to have multi-disciplinary venues."

Zhenia, could you imagine that in Moscow you would sit together with the municipality talking about your needs, and those needs being taken into account in city planning and legislation?
Sobol: No I sadly cannot imagine it, but I'm very happy to hear about what's happening in your countries. And for us, situation in Moscow for our project is pretty hard right now. We actually have to stop our activities now, because we just cannot get necessary licenses for our project. It became too big to make it legal, and it's just not working. We're applying but we are getting rejected. So we're not allowed to do what we would love to do anymore. So three of our events was canceled in a row.

Milan: And it's because local government doesn't understand the value of the events you host?

Sobol: Yeah, they see it as something more dangerous than important for the culture. And yeah, at the moment a possible way of communication is not clear, but hopefully it will change soon because we have a lot of ideas.

When I looked at the numbers in the music industry and entertainment industry, one thing that stuck out is even though there are less and less venues, there are way more festivals at the moment, worldwide. And the point that we were discussing a little bit controversially was: are festivals killing club life?
Milan: Amsterdam has a really strong festival scene, and this has a huge impact on club culture. But I think it's really important to have them both, and what you said, it works together. Because in the chain of talent development from your producer in your bedroom making your first track to the world stage, you need to have festivals, you need to have clubs, and you need to have all these sides.

Taglietti: Well, first of all I just want to tip a little bit into the tourist thing. The tourist thing that also causes some sort of gentrification of culture all over the place. I mean, these tourists are cultural tourists, don't forget that. They don't fly to see Amsterdam, they fly for a purpose which is cultural. They have also hubs and in Barcelona and in other cities, this comes again from London, there is also a new kind of way of perceiving hotels as cultural hubs. So we can see venues within the hotels, DJs within the hotels, events in the hotels.

Milan: Do you mean that's good or bad that hotels are hosting DJs and parties?

Taglietti: I just think it's a new reality. I just know that they are booking DJs. I know that there is a perception of the hotel as a hub and a community. I know it's very much related to some kind of gentrification of taste, because you don't have to move from the hotel. Because the hotel offers like a festival, a 360 degrees experience. Which you have drinks, you can work, you can listen to a DJ, you can have an event, you can have a restaurant, you can have a cuisine experience. So you know, there's a perception for me of this need for 360 degrees experience which of course the club right now is unable to offer.

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