The Closure of the Arches – Opening Salvo in a Culture War?
Here’s an unpopular opinion, or at least one rarely expressed: Going clubbing is just as valid a cultural activity as seeing a ‘real’ band with ‘real’ instruments, or going to see a play or a devised performance. Clubbing is culture. Like opera is culture. And drugs are a part of that culture.
As much as the many, many open letters and public declarations of support for the Arches which have appeared this week in the wake of its closure are to be applauded, very few of those written by people from outside of the clubbing community have addressed this important point – that clubbing is ABSOLUTELY a vital cultural activity, and that socially, culturally and economically it is at the heart of a city’s night-time economy. Only the Resident Advisor piece, and a few others, have truly addressed this.
The problem with swerving this important aspect of the debate is that the time to #SaveTheArches was arguably a year ago, before the police’s draconian and unrealistic “recommendations” were put in place. Recommendations like implementing a “quiet period” every few hours of a club’s running time, which showed a staggering incomprehension of clubbing as a cultural activity.
These recommendations made it nearly impossible for the venue to trade, and forced their hand with regards to drug seizures; invasive and comprehensive door search policies; officer call-outs. Over the past year, the Arches was harder to get into than the Gaza strip, which put off many of their faithful clientèle. The safe environment inside, presided over by trained door stewards and qualified first-aiders, was one of the safest and most compliant to the terms of legal prohibition enforced in this country.
The only way to make The Arches safer would have been to provide the opportunity for customers to test the purity and safety of the drugs they intended to take. But in the UK, we seem barely able to broach this as a topic for debate, let alone give it rational consideration – despite the raft of evidence that tells us that harm reduction is safer and more effective than prohibition.
Of the widely-reported drug and drink incidents which happened at the venue in the past year or so, the overwhelming majority were reported to the authorities by The Arches themselves. The time to save the Arches was before it was given enough rope with which to hang itself by a statistics-obsessed, “results”-oriented, power-crazed Police Scotland.
The way to save the Arches would be to have a sane and balanced public debate about the harm drugs do, and how best to reduce that harm. Ray Philp, writing for Resident Advisor, is at pains to underline the successful harm reduction policies at play in city nightclubs in Amsterdam and elsewhere.
The way to save the Arches would have been to openly debate the outdated policies of prohibition implemented by successive governments too cowardly to take on a misinformed public, and wary of allying themselves with club culture, which is nearly always portrayed as hedonistic, atavistic and artistically barren.
Yes, it is a dire shame that the Arches’ theatre programme has now been decimated. A generation of artists will suffer. But it’s also true that by failing to speak up for club culture, by only talking about the “problems” associated with it, we’re implicitly legitimising its more mainstream, sanitised, cousin: Drink-fuelled nightclubs playing commercial music to tanked-up idiots, who are WAY more likely to be involved in violence and antisocial behaviour.
Don’t believe me? Go look at the statistics for what happened in The Cowgate in Edinburgh after they got rid of Wilkie House and replaced it with the brewery-backed SIN. More police call-outs. More fights. More sexual assaults. Getting rid of clubbers and drug-takers in the city-centre is actually counter-productive, because most clubbers are more civilised – yes, even the ectoed-up mentals who listen to hardstyle, EVEN THEM – than your average Q-reading, Tennents-swigging, T-in-the-Park attending, G1-venue frequenting mainstream drunken bampot.
In my experience, you’re much safer at a house and techno night than at one that plays indie or cheesy pop or R&B. Less likely to be sexually assaulted, randomly punched, robbed, or insulted. You are more likely to be welcomed. To be embraced. To be accepted.
Yes, the second summer of love was a long time ago. Yes, poly-drug use has diminished the utopian idealism of ecstasy culture. But the spirit remains. Losing yourself on the dancefloor, in the lights – if you have experienced it, with or without drugs, then you know what I am talking about. It can be an illuminating, powerful, and dare I say it, spiritually-enriching cultural pursuit.
Dancing – that’s what they’re trying to take from you when they shut down The Arches, and refuse to tackle drugs with harm reduction rather than the proven-ineffective approaches of prohibition and legal sanction. They want to stop you dancing.
This is what’s happening in our country now – nothing short of a war on alternative culture, financed by people at the top of our society who are heavily invested in the money-making machinery of mainstream culture, which includes everything from newspapers to record labels, from breweries to chains of retailers. It is a war that has been going on for some time. The parts of club culture which can’t be assimilated will be destroyed – legislated out of existence.
Just watch – it will take no time at all before some big corporate concern, bankrolled by major breweries, is opening the doors of one of Scotland’s formerly most successful arts venues to mainstream dicks with Made In Chelsea haircuts and fat wallets, allowing them to stagger drunkenly out at 3am and piss in doorways, shag each other over cheap kebabs, and fight whoever looks like they don’t conform. The corporation or chain which takes over will be trousering the profits. Not a penny will be spent on people’s safety, on city infrastructure, or on the arts. It will be funnelled into shareholder profits, nothing more.
It’s not about public safety. It’s about the fact that mainstream drinking crowds provide a much bigger revenue for companies – companies who are already DEEPLY EMBEDDED in the establishment, unlike club promoters and a huge majority of clubbing punters, who in my experience tend to be from the margins – ie. working class communities, queer communities, alternative cultural communities.
So, speak up for club culture NOW, because it is already too late for The Arches. It is the establishment’s latest target in this war, and they’ve had it in their sights for a long time. It is not their last – don’t kid yourself.
Your culture is being disassembled. What they can’t leverage, dilute, and market to you for profit, they will destroy utterly.
Anything you love or enjoy can be taken away by powerful elites – that’s the lesson I learned this week when I saw a venue I’ve attended for 20 years as a proud raver, and where I have worked for a year shut down, costing me my job, with no notice.
That’s what’s happening here. Without solidarity and a mutual respect for each other’s (non-mainstream) cultures, we’re all doomed to reality TV, enormo-trough drinking venues, and insipid, over-familiar music made by white, heterosexual men with no imaginations.
Lager Culture is your enemy. It is OUR common enemy. Understand this, and you’ve taken the first step towards unity.
Bram E. Gieben is a writer, performer and freelance journalist who has written for The Skinny, Dangerous Minds and Mishka NYC. Follow him on Twitter @t3xtur3