The Closure of the Arches – Opening Salvo in a Culture War?

indexBy Bram E. Gieben

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

Comments (25)

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  1. il Solano says:

    I don’t go out clubbing, have set foot in a club only once (in 1985), don’t drink in the city centre or Friday or Saturday nights so neither should anyone else.


  2. Legerwood says:

    Were the recommendations mentioned in the article not put in place after a young, 17 year old girl, died in the club after taking drugs?

    Maybe I missed the bit where this was mentioned.

    1. Green says:

      I don’t see why the drug-linked death is especially relevant. I’m not somehow demeaning the young woman who died, but several people were taken to hospital from several locations after taking what seems to have been a bad batch of ecstasy. That’s not about the venue: that’s about drug use and drug prohibition. If someone dies “after” taking “drugs” a whole range of questions need to be asked, including what degree of causation, using what drug, in what dose and in what circumstances, very few of which have much to do with the venue, and all of those apply to all other venues where someone might take that drug. This simply proves the OP’s point, which is that if they will come for the Arches now, they will be after the rest soon.

      1. revjimbob says:

        It wasn’t a ‘bad batch of ecstasy’ – it wasn’t ecstasy at all.

    2. Damo says:

      I take it you would then support the closure of all McDonalds as the fact a heroin addict was found dead in their toilets on Argyle St, after being in there for 5 hours?

      A tragic accident shouldn’t mean the other 99.85% of arches visitors who didn’t have a fatal incident at the club should be penalised. Education and harm reduction are the only ways forward – chasing the issue underground won’t help anyone.

      There hasn’t been a ecstasy-related death in the 24 hour clubbing capital of Amsterdam in over 7 years… why is that?

  3. Bram says:

    Legerwood, plenty of other articles HAVE mentioned this fact, and I actually linked to one. To quote the owner of Fabric, who appears in Ray Philp’s much more balanced piece for Resident Advisor:

    “In 15 years we have had six million people come through our doors and, sadly, there have been four deaths.”

    Figures for The Arches are comparable – several million through the doors, and the death toll was low, statistically speaking. Negligible, in fact. And Regane MacColl’s death was ruled to be absolutely unpreventable in a court of law – the Arches was absolved of any share of the blame, and in fact praised for the high quality of theirfirst aid response.

    Furthermore, if you read Ray’s article in full, you’ll find this:

    “In Holland, with pill testing, there’s a whole system. If there’s a pill with PMA [also known as PMMA] or some other substance that shouldn’t be there, there’s an alarm system. For example, in the UK, there [was a problem with] Superman pills. These pills were also in the Dutch market, and they were caught because they had really high amounts of PMA in them. In Holland, as of today, no one has died from these pills.” In the UK, meanwhile, four deaths have been linked to PMA-laced drugs. “You can see that the system works and everybody is aware,” Milan continued. “Bad batches get off the market quickly.”

    The Arches isn’t the issue, people’s deaths are not the issue – the issue is ill-informed public opinions like yours.

  4. Guy from exotic Bristol says:

    “club culture”? – I recently borrowed a 5 CD compilation featuring “music” (1987-1991) from the over-rated Manchester Hacienda night club. Sorry that is not culture – simplistic music where you HAVE to be on drugs to appreciate it – in the sober cold light of day it’s dire.

    1. Bram says:

      Not touching that one with a ten-foot pole. Enjoy your High Flying Birds CDs

    2. MDMAok says:

      Eh, last time I went to see Terry Riley I was probably the only person in the Lincoln Centre on drugs ( actually, probably not BUT the hall didn’t smell of weed). And it sounded very simple. And repetitive. And I was not the only person who enjoyed it.

    3. docsy says:

      behave yourself, never touched a pill and i don’t drink but still went to the arches for gigs like G4H and thoroughly enjoyed myself. but thanks for the uneducated opinion on the matter.

    4. Tickle says:

      You’re talking about the art not the culture. 😀

      Art appreciation is subjective and you don’t like techno/house. 😀

      That’s ok me too. We’re not right and techno lovers aren’t wrong.

      We just have different taste in art.

      Do you have an opinion on the culture and it’s value? 😀

  5. Kevin says:

    I agree with a lot that you say, living in Amsterdam in 2000 we were always greeted with friendliness by the person who tested your pills, no stigmatization, just a state providing the best information for you to make an informed decision. This was an act of care, by a government who genuinely want to help their citizens, not a government which are only concerned about votes. It’s often overlooked that they have some culpability when things go wrong.

  6. MDMAok says:

    Sanest thing I have read on Bella. I have had more than forty years of caning it all over the world- and now as the cardio-vascular system forces me to slow down a bit, I am STILL amazed at how we live in a drugs environment wholly determined by emotion rather than facts. I did expect that eventually evidence might creep into the debate, but it seems not. The essential part of government drugs policy it seems to me is to make it as dangerous as possible, therefore proving that drugs are dangerous. It must be a decade ago or more you took the pill you bought to the tester in a club in Holland and you got a ticket like the cheese counter, and a couple of minutes later the result of the test was pinned up on the wall and you knew what you had. Safe. So safe its illegal in the UK. Totally fucking bonkers.

    Oh and yes, it has been a cultural, spiritual and educational experience I wouldn’t have missed as well as fantastic fun.

  7. Big jock says:

    From the same council that allow methed up bambpots to reenact a religious war from the 1600s in George Square. I rest my case.

  8. DuncanB says:

    The cops don’t seem to be to bothered by the multinational mega profitable MacDonalds literally around the corner from the Arches.

  9. Yes says:

    Brilliant article. Totally agree with what’s being said here. The arches was a brilliant venue.

  10. Connie McBean says:

    The Scottish press can be as lazy as the uk press.

    Something happens in London that happens every where else in the uk and the London story gets coverage. I deduce this is down to justifying the large numbers of staff and equipment based in London.

    The same happens in Scotland with Glasgow substituting for London. If this had been the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen or the Ironworks in Inverness, would we be reading about it in Bella or the bbc?

    Regards the status of night clubs being culture, of course they are, equally as valid as opera, ballet or country dancing.

    Regards drugs, people know the risk, they know the advice provided by parents, police and clinicians, if they choose to ignore that advice and their own judgement and take stuff, there really only is one person to blame, and that is not the owner of the club.

    I wish Arches all the best, but lazy reporters should remember there is a whole country out there that needs equality of coverage.

    1. mrbfaethedee says:

      Agreed (regarding press). We readily see (and complain about) how the uk media focuses too much around it’s main population/power centres (and oversimplify by attributing it to london/anglo-centrism), but are frequently blind to the same effect in Scotland. Centralisation of media, cultural, and political power is something we could be seeking to address anytime we like, but recognition has to come first.

      That said, I was glad to see the article rise above the simple parochial/local complaint I thought it looked like initally. The prohibition of drugs and suppression of the subcultures that grow around the disavowal of that prohibition, is symptomatic of the disconnect between controlling layers of our culture and its actual reality. As old as our time as a species; we will explore experience, and my self is sovereign.

  11. Stone-circle says:

    Brilliant article and a cery valid debate which should be brought (or taken to, more like) tge table, seriously, involving lots of people from various persuasions, backgrounds etc but largely carried forward by those who know ‘really know’ what they are talking about, with people best interest at heart. Aye, close the club down, do what you like, folk are going to fuck off elsewhere and take the drugs regardless, better they do it safely? Yes!

    The attitudes toward drugs in the country/establishment need to change, and fast. As mentioned, ppl will do what their going to do, regardless, you cant stop it only treat it as safely and sanely as possible. Which the government and police force seem wholly opposed to (even though huge majoritys also do it, especially within the police)! And anyone whi disagrees there is either unexperienced or simply put a bampot!

    Ive had pills in the past which were found to contain strychnine, a highly toxic form if rat poison, also powdered glass etc, there has to be a safety mechanism regardless of law if you really want to put people first!

    Perhaps there should be some study or stat or release of info which indicates the anount of deaths or A&E attendees while taking drugs which actually shows how large a part alcohol played during proceedings which inevitably lead to fatalities or hosp trips, i think youl find the bevvy plays more part than the “drugs” themselves.
    Or, why not take a close look at the damage and death alchohol does compared to drugs on a global scale ( even including smack, crack, methadone abd crystal meth ) lets have a spy at those figures!

    Anyway, ex drug user, Edinburgh. (This comment hasn’t been a knee jerk “oh no their trying to take out drugs” reaction either, quite frankly i dont give a shit about drugs but do care about, first and formostly, the safety of those who chose to take them in any capacity/scenario, societies relationship or in this countries case non-relationship with them, and the education, knowledge and or misformation and naivety or just general inexperience or not knowing about them (not forgetting out right ignorance) cause lets face it, everyone knows-if you take ees you must not dance to much but make sure you drink (at the very leaset) 12 straight pints of water and as much alchohol as you can without spewing up as that only makes your cock fall off or spontaneous human combustion of a form only seen in the likes sci fi films when somecunts blasted with a laser!

    Great honest write up here and particularly enjoyed ‘shagging each other over cheap kebabs’ superb!

  12. Monty says:

    you do share something with those at the top of our society. A deep hatred of the masses and an elitist view of culture based on your own tastes and prejudices.

  13. SanSan says:

    The author makes somes great points about the legitimacy of club culture as a valid form of culture, and the UK’s draconian drug-laws which really doing more harm than good. My only criticism is I get very uncomfortable whenever people are categorised or lumped together… it’s too simplistic (and a bit snobbish). There are plenty of decent (but misguided!) people who drink Tennents, or people who go to T In The Park. Aside from that some important things being said here. More and more, the only solution for real change in regards to important matters like drug-laws seems to be independence and a seperation from Westminster.

  14. Dale says:

    A certain Mr Purcell’s antics revealed another culture laced with drugs. Politics. I’ve yet to see an argument for closing the Arches that isn’t equally valid for closing Glasgow City Chambers.

  15. Clootie says:

    I think many have missed the point of the article.
    Yes you have people who dislike club music. You also have many who dislike classical or C&W.
    Art is a very personal judgement – a pile of bricks or a preserved sheep can create strong debate. Is that not the point.
    People die climbing, base jumping, diving, racing cars, rally driving etc. Is the natural high from an extreme sport OK? is alcohol and smoking OK?
    Members of an aboriginal tribe chew the bark of a certain tree and have visions. It is part of their culture.

    Opera / A football match / Clubbing – take your pick but don’t judge.

    Writing is a branch of the Arts and (in my view) the article made a great deal of sense.

  16. Jason says:

    Reading this article was a fresh of breath air, finally someone writing sense about this topic. Before I moved to Glasgow I was a weekend binge drinker filling up the dance floors of your usual shitty clubs where fighting, falling over and a whitey were more common than not.

    6 years ago everything changed after my first ecstasy pill. I felt waves of orgasms all over my body while the techno took over, everyone was my friend and the euphoria was next to none. I was never a big techno or house fan but that night changed everything. Since then the only time I experience any problems in town is when I return to the drink fueled clubs . I lived on Queen st and the difference of people leaving the clubs of Arches/ subclub compared to cirque/sugarcube was night and day. leaving subby and hugging strangers who you have just agreed to join their after party to going round the corner and witnessing sick , fighting and police all down queen st, it was night and day.

    Not once have i witnessed violence in these venues i venture to now. I feel more safe, I have met amazing new friends and experienced a whole different part of me that i never knew exsisted. Of course there is risk but from experience its far more dangerous to drink. How many people die from drink related deaths compared to ecstasy ? a lot less and if it was controlled those numbers would fall even further.

    Over the past 6 years of regular techno nights out I have come to the conclusion that if people want to take drugs they will take them leagal or not. Clubs like the arches provided a safer enviroment and the closure of the venue wont stop their customers taking them. they will go elsewhere, maybe somewhere with less procedures in place to deal with the risks of drugs or places that may not even be legal ( the illegal club scene is more than alive and living in glasgow ) end of the day this is a silly move by the people who shut down the club who obviously have no understanding or experience about the culture of true clubbing.

  17. whateverpoiuyt says:

    Gosh, what astonishing histrionics. No, Glasgow clubbing is not under threat from the Arches’ closure any more than it was from the (much sadder and less justified) closure of the Soundhaus.

    The lager lout/PLUR dichotomy is a real Acid House-era cliche that holds little water today. Your average punter at a bangin’ techno night today is as likely to be on the Tennents as the mandies. What we really need to be cynical about is the obvious potential for abuse of drug policy through selective regulation by a Council too close to the licensees its ostensibly meant to regulate (*cough* G1 *cough*).

    Who was decrying the attack on classical music culture represented by the demolition of the Buchanan “steps”? Obviously that angle was neatly avoided in preference to a (also valid, though extremely partial) framing in easy progressive terms of Labour vs. Yes.

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