FEATURE: Bricks Turning to Faux Wood: The Social, London: Another Iconic Venue Facing Closure



Bricks Turning to Faux Wood


ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): The Social/Getty Images 

The Social, London: Another Iconic Venue Facing Closure


ONE is always fearful and cold when...

a great music venue is threatened with closure! Although there are some thriving and safe sites, there is no real security regarding the fate of most of the great venues around the country. A lot of venues outside of cities struggle because there is not the same choice regarding music - and it can be hard attracting big names. Cities are not immune and, if anything, high rent prices and competition for spaces means, often, venues are muscled aside and replaced by those able to stump up the rent. I will come to look at London’s changing skyline and why it is ridiculous to see wine bars and hipster joints taking the place of some of the most-established and best venues around. London’s The Social is the latest venue facing an uncertain fate. NME have covered the news:

 “They have just two weeks to raise £95,000

Legendary London venue The Social needs to raise £95,000 in just two weeks or face threat of closure.

Following a long-running and successful club night by Heavenly Records in the ’90s, the label opened The Social on Little Portland Street in West London in 1999. Since then, they’ve played host to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Florence & The Machine, Beck, Jack White, Vampire Weekend, The Horrors, Doves, Lily Allen, Aphex Twin, Super Furry Animals, Shame and many, many more.

As the venue’s 20th anniversary approaches, they’ve now launched a crowdfunding campaign to urgently raise money to prevent redevelopment...

“Rising rents and an offer to the building’s leaseholder from a cocktail and wine bar chain have put The Social under very serious threat,” the venue said in a statement. “The bar’s founders need to raise money to buy a controlling share in the venue from the leaseholder in order to keep The Social open.

“Unless new investment is found in the next two weeks then the iconic venue will be forced to close its doors. We’re asking you for help.”

The venue added: “We need to raise £95,000 ASAP as a down payment to get the venue off the market, save it from turning into just another bar and then kick start a second round of private investment so we can take full control of The Social lease and secure its long-term future.”

If saved, the venue promise to offer the ‘biggest small festival in the world’ in celebration of their 20th anniversary, as well working to put on more club nights and artists, help to promote independent breweries, and open more venues across the UK.

IN THIS PHOTO: wych elm (So Young Magazine presents the E.P. release party for the Bristol band on 22nd March)/PHOTO CREDIT: wych elm

“If The Social is saved we would quickly look to set up further venues and take the kind of music and arts culture clash we’ve promoted in Little Portland Street to the rest of London and beyond,” they said.

“Basically, wherever anyone wants us, we’ll be there.”

One would think a venue in the city would be safe! Some new venues are being built but, largely, it is the venues we have here already that have this established core of supporters; they are coming through the door and putting money behind the bar. Artists are still flocking to The Social but, more and more, extortionist rent prices are proving too high for spaces like this. In the case of The Social, it seems a wine bar/bistro will take its place – if money cannot be raised to keep the bricks standing. In 5 Little Portland Street – just near Oxford Street; a great spot and perfect location – one would expect to see rather fancy and unnecessary wine bars festooning the view. I often pass by the venue and it offers character and richness to the area. Look around The Social’s boundaries and you see plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars – another is not needed at all! It is great to see a gig there and you are spoiled for choice when it comes to pre/post-gig options. If we get rid of such a reputable music venue then the area becomes less sociable and exciting. In many cases, noise pollution and drug problems can threaten a venue – this is not the case here.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @scottiewarman/Unsplash

The Social is not the only venue that has been threatened lately. As the NME article continues, venues around the U.K. are struggling to meet demands and high rent charges:

This comes after beloved Oxford venue The Cellar announced this week that they too would be closing down following a rent battle.

Last year, a number of leading artists and industry figures led the Agent Of Change campaign to stop the closure of independent live music venues across the UK.

“Without the grassroots clubs, pubs and music venues my career could have been very different,” said Sir Paul McCartney of the campaign. “If we don’t support music at this level, then the future of music in general is in danger”.

London’s ‘Night Czar’, Amy Lamé, has come under fire given the news. She is committed to preserving venues around the capital and ensuring London’s place as an essential music hub is preserved. She is working with the city’s Culture at Risk Office – a resource to support cultural spaces and venues at risk – and discussions are happening. One cannot blame any single person but it seems sad that, in so many cases, venues are closing because of rent issues and an inane and faceless bar taking its spot. Gentrification is needed but, if we are replacing these loved and popular venues for something soulless and high-priced then you are going to drive people away and deprive artists.

 IN THIS PHOTO: London’s Night Czar, Amy Lamé/PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Writtle

London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has helped keep venues alive – alongside his Culture at Risk Office and Night Czar, Amy Lamé – but there are many others that have a rather shaky future. There are great articles promoting terrific venues around London and one wonders, in years to come, whether they will still be standing. There are few good reasons to replace a popular and terrific venue with any other business but the fact we might see a wine bar in the place of The Social is horrifying. In an area already stuffed with bars and options for every human, what rationale is there for making things more exclusive and stuffy?! The Social cannot be accused of being controversial or adding a sour tone to the area: it is a trouble-free part of London that offers great music and nightlife to punters. London is at its strongest when it balances great entertainment and its nightlife. If we start replacing music venues with cafes, bars and bistros then where do artists play and what is the future of London’s music stature going to be?! It is hard to compete with other cities in the world – such as New York, Los Angeles and others – if we keep letting venues shut their doors. It is hard for everyone but I do fear the increased rents and rich businesses angling in compromises a lot of our best and brightest venues.

Why is The Social such a respected and go-to venue?! Not only is its twentieth anniversary coming up – it would be a hard pill to swallow if they were not able to see that! – but so many great artists, big and upcoming, have played there. The Social themselves tell the tale:

The Social opened in the summer of 1999 as part of a thriving musical landscape in the capital. One of the first public buildings designed by hugely respected architects David Adjaye OBE and Will Russell, The Social joined a list of central London music venues such the Astoria, the LA2, the End, Turnmills, Plastic People, The Falcon, the Metro and Madame JoJos (to name a few). Now, it’s one of just a couple of places left to see bands or DJs in the West End.

The Social evolved out of the legendary Heavenly Sunday Social club nights that ran in various venues between ’94 and ’99 and helped push the career of the Chemical Brothers (nee Dust Brothers). Rather than act as a bricks and mortar extension of those nights, The Social quickly developed a reputation as a free-thinking, boundary-pushing destination for open minded drinkers from all over the capitol.

Since it first opened its doors, The Social has played host to everyone from the Chemical Brothers to Edna O’Brien (twice), Wolf Alice, Adele, Caitlin Moran, Horace Andy, Bon Iver, Florence and the Machine, Young Fathers, DJ Yoda, Fatboy Slim (who sorted his records in the toilets before playing), Kate Tempest, Alt-J, Arctic Monkeys, Al Murray, MGMT, Tim Westwood, Rudimental, Jarvis Cocker, Four Tet, Cold War Steve (his first public exhibition anywhere in the world), Jack White, Irvine Welsh, Saint Etienne, Black Midi, Shame, Hip Hop Karaoke (the legendary club’s longterm home) Jeremy Deller...


IN THIS PHOTO: Florence and the Machine is just one in a long list of big acts who have played at The Social (photo is not from her gig at The Social) since its birth/PHOTO CREDIT: Lillie Eiger  

Fat White Family, Doves, Laura Marling, James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers), Beck, the Avalanches (first UK DJ gig), Michael Kiwanuka, Artwork, Boy Azooga, Super Furry Animals, Baxter Dury, Goat Girl, Sleaford Mods, Hot Chip, The Horrors, Trojan Records, Vampire Weekend, Huw Stephens (who’s hosted a monthly night for the last thirteen years), Nabihah Iqbal, the Charlatans, Frank Turner, Aphex Twin (Italo Disco set) and Lily Allen to name a few.
As well as gigs and club nights, The Social has held regular literary salons with friends from Faber & Faber and Caught by the River and art and photography exhibitions from established names and new talent alike. As far as we can tell, there isn’t another venue in London – possibly even Britain – that’s staged such a diverse and inspirational list of performers.


IN THIS PHOTO: Another popular artist who has played at The Social, Michael Kiwanuka

Go to their website and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign. They have raised a lot of money so far – they are just over one-third of the way to their ninety-five-grand target – but there is not much time to get your money in! The fact The Social is coming up for twenty is a great thing we all want to see:

If the Crowdfunder campaign is successful, The Social would organise twentieth birthday celebrations at Little Portland Street. Key to these will be the ‘biggest small festival in the world’ – a month of gigs, DJ sets, talks and discussions and exhibitions from a handpicked selection of friends of The Social who’ve performed there over the years. These intimate shows will be captured for a film documenting the rebirth of the bar at twenty years. Following the birthday parties, we have plans to considerably freshen up promotions in The Social. This will see a host of new nights, a series of streamed gigs and the return of some old classic nights rebooted for 2019.


Alongside promotions in the downstairs area, we would aim to donate a minimum of a day a month to charity. This would involve giving over either (or both) floor to a rotating list of charities to hold events and asking drinks partners to offer up charity kegs to maximise donations.

A key aim in moving forward is to increase the variety of draught beer on sale by installing new lines and pushing independent beers/breweries alongside those we already work closely with. In an ideal world, The Social would become something like a permanent beer festival attached to the best spirits bar in the world.

And finally, if The Social is saved we would quickly look to set up further venues and take the kind of music and arts culture clash we’ve promoted in Little Portland Street to the rest of London and beyond.

Basically, wherever anyone wants us, we’ll be there”.

It is never the case there are too many venues and many are expendable - every venue has its place! Rising artists are coming through all the time and they need spaces in which to play. As The Social proves, huge names like Beck are happy to come through their doors! We definitely do not need more places to drink and eat because, as a city, I think London already has it covered! Music venues, on the other hand, are a different matter! The Social is much more than a music venue. It hosts poetry and arts events; it is this eclectic space where you can chill in a friendly environment and catch great music and art with like-minded people!

 PHOTO CREDIT: @felipegraphy/Unsplash

If we keep replacing the proud bricks and mortar of our music spaces and replacing them with fake wood and artistic flourishes, then we are making the city more elitist and making our music scene much weaker. It is always sad to hear of a venue being challenged but The Social is looking forward to twenty years and to spoil the party with threats of closure is awfully sad. I am hopeful The Social can be rescued and the wine bar – or whatever crap was going to occupy 5 Little Portland Street! – will have to look elsewhere. Contribute a few quid in order to save The Social and I hope, if it can be saved, measures are taken to ensure its survival and success – we would all like to see it turn fifty in thirty years to come.


It is hard ensuring all venues are safe and funded but there needs to be more of a kitty reserved for our music landscape. There seems to be endless capital for ridiculous bars and businesses: when it comes to music venues, where is that security net?! Let us ensure that the musicians coming through right now can find ample spaces in London and, for those who love a great gig, their local is not marginalised. There are twelves more days to save The Social and they need another sixty-three grand to survive. I feel they can do it but I am worried what will be in the next few years. Can this sum of money lead to a more secure future or is it a stall to keep the wolves at bay?! The Government needs to do more and we cannot keep reading news of great venues going under. If you love music and want to see the capital’s best spaces flourish then head here and ensure The Social gets to celebrate...

ITS twentieth anniversary in style!