As COVID 19 restrictions continue to be enforced in many countries around the world, one industry has been hit particularly hard. Live music venues are having to raise funds, petition the government and find more creative ways of surviving closures. We spoke to a music venue owner and creative director about how they are coping with the current situation and what the future of the music industry may be.
Liam Alexander is the co-owner of nightclub Colour in Carlton, Melbourne. Liam and business partner Benny Rausa have been working in the Melbourne music scene for years, but only opened Colour, in October 2019. The COVID restrictions have served an almost fatal blow to this young venue, but the pair have not been disheartened. The creative duo has turned to merch, alcohol deliveries and launching a record label to keep the brand alive. Banding together with a slew of Melbourne venues for Save Our Scene, they are optimistic about the future.
Long time friends, Benny and Liam both worked as music bookers at iconic Melbourne venues The Night Cat and Lounge respectively. Their first project together was music blog and podcast series 6AM AT THE GARAGE. Some of the youngest venue owners in Melbourne, Liam and Benny have poured their energy, savings and tears into Colour.
Their initial feelings of grief, disappointment, frustration and fear over the future of their business turned to ingenuity. “I feel quite positive. I feel a bit more accepting. I think there's been a lot of things going on globally that have really put our issues in perspective as well” says Liam.
Starting with merchandise (a t-shirt which sold well, embroidered robes and more) Liam and Benny turned to wine delivery, another venture that continues to be successful. Unlike many similar venues, Liam and Benny took the opportunity to open Colour in the few weeks restrictions had relaxed.
“The legislation said that only venues serving food were allowed to reopen. So rather than thinking we couldn’t reopen, we thought ‘ok how do we make this happen?’ The first weekend we had one of our friends with a trailer in the tiny alleyway behind the venue, where the trailer door wouldn't actually open all the way, making pizzas. He did that for two nights and after that weekend couldn’t do it again. We then found a pizza restaurant around the corner and one of our staff members just drove back and forth.”
Keeping their doors open while following the legislation in place proved to be challenging but not impossible.
“In hindsight that was a really good decision because I know so many venue owners who were planning on reopening the weekend that Lockdown 2.0 happened. Having that five weeks of trade, five weekends at 8% or 7% of capacity made all the difference.”
The duo has since gone on to launch a record label, a long-held dream of theirs. They will be releasing music from bands who have played at the nightclub in October and have projects lined up which should take them into 2021.
To say that Liam and Benny are men of action would be an understatement. Through this whole journey, Liam has been involved in Save Our Scene (SOS) in their public campaign to lobby the government to keep the music scene in Melbourne alive. The SOS crew were successful in that campaign, raising the biggest e-petition in Victoria’s history and banding together the punters to support local venues.
Liam says the experience was comforting and cathartic. “It became a very active process of seizing the power that you have. There’s a really strong sentiment that people don’t want to lose their venues.”
Liam is hopeful for the post-COVID future and getting back to the music scene he knows and loves in Melbourne. Make sure you follow along to see where Colour goes next.
The Village Underground in London is ingeniously tackling the COVID-19 restrictions — by turning their usual club venue into a bike parking and repair centre.
Creative Director, Jorge Nieto, first got interested in music as a student in Business School in his native Colombia. From his beginnings in DJing, music events and management, he moved to London and has worked in the music industry in all kinds of capacities. He has been building several thriving music venues including Village Underground and Earth for the last seven years.
Amid COVID restrictions, Jorge and his team were quick to brainstorm ideas that would help keep them afloat.
“Now that restrictions have eased a little, we have opened up as bike storage and bike park for the city of London. We are surrounded by offices, and a lot of people at the Village Underground are bike enthusiasts. Hence, the idea is you can drop your bike off in the morning, come pick it up in the evening, maybe have a beer. Or leave your bike for maintenance. We think that when offices do re-open this will be a popular mode of transport, so we’re hoping this idea takes off,” says Jorge.
With the lockdown ongoing and people working from home, even this venture has been a difficult one to sustain. Jorge is hopeful this idea can work, and a timeline for the Village Underground also includes a socially distanced bar, small gigs and socially distanced ticketed events.
What is essential to remember Jorge says is, “These socially distanced events and alternative uses of the space during Coronavirus are not financially viable. We all work on small margins, and rents are quite high.”
Jorge hopes that in the future, landlords will be mindful of renting to a cultural establishment and that the government will provide financial protection and support to keep the scene vibrant.
A campaign was launched by the Venue Trust and supported by the Night-Time Industries Association to petition the government and create a fund. Through this action, money was raised for the arts. However, sustaining the large sector will mean many smaller venues and organisations miss out. “Some emergency funds have come through the arts council, but we’re still waiting to see what the grants are. Regardless, it’s still looking very dire, and a lot of venues are looking at closure past February.”
“There are a few things that worry me, and one of them is that those who can survive are bigger corporate entities who can quickly swallow smaller ones. This would mean that diversity and initiatives in London will suffer, which is also that makes London unique,” he says.
In addition to the bike storage, Village Underground, like many venues, ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to keep their doors open, pay their rent and staff. The outpouring of support from punters has been one of the most positive and essential during this time. However, Jorge says, it is still hard to ask for money from people who have potentially lost their livelihood as well.
With an uncertain future ahead, one thing Jorge is sure about is that “Electronic music is a communal moment. It cannot be experienced on its own. It has to be close proximity, communal event. Without that, it seems very tough to do. There is a lot of efforts to do socially distanced gigs, but it could take us up to a year to get back to normal clubbing. Our hearts are in large gigs. We just want to get back to doing what we love. ”
Jorge is also hopeful that this time in lockdown will also produce an avalanche of good music on the other side. “I think there will be a lot of exciting music, projects and collaborations. I am hoping people will come out to support their independent venues like never before,” he says.
To keep up to date with the Village Underground, make sure you follow them here.
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