Edinburgh venue Sneaky Pete's celebrates its 10th birthday
- Kenza Marland
- 11 June 2018
Owner Nick Stewart talks about keeping the music live, loud and safe
Much is often made of Edinburgh's legendary 100-capacity 'sweatbox' on the Cowgate and rightly so. Functioning as both a space for live music – with around 250 gigs a year – and also as a busy nightclub seven nights a week, Sneaky Pete's has spent the last decade becoming inarguably one of the most important music venues in Scotland.
Owner Nick Stewart is more than an integral part of the venue's success. His desire to simultaneously book fantastic new music while also helping shape the future landscapes of grassroots music venues, means Sneaky Pete's can be regarded as not only a spot to hear interesting DJs and great bands, but also as a beacon in the fight to keep live music in our cities and towns.
Just over ten years ago, Cabaret Voltaire made Stewart the manager of the Red Vodka Club, a tiny shots bar around the corner that they were thinking of buying. After 18 months, he bought the place instead. 'I got a business partner, my dad got a bank loan to "buy a kitchen", and we got the lease,' he recalls. 'We didn't have an idea that it could be a really proper night club or a gig venue, because it was just so small.' After much sawing and plastering, the club as we know it today began to take shape. 'Somewhere in the second year, I thought that we could do this properly. We were getting loads of gig bookings, and started pushing the shows really hard.'
Music-wise, Sneaky Pete's has regularly impressed with its big name bookings. But that's just one part of it. The club has also nurtured its resident DJs such as Kris Wasabi, with his monthly Wasabi Disco a defining part of the venue's identity. 'I really want to help excite a music scene in Edinburgh that champions local talent. We're getting to a better stage with club music and there's so much amazing stuff coming out of Edinburgh right now. There are also a lot of good local bands, but at the moment they don't feel part of one movement.'
Sneaky Pete's is one of the few remaining independent music venues in the city. With the recent closure of Studio 24 and Electric Circus, and the future of Leith Depot looking uncertain, the numbers continue to dwindle. 'Independent venues are much more likely to have someone there because of the music, not just there to make profit. It's not a case that we are a bar that hires entertainment. We are a music business that makes a good chunk of money from drink sales.
'We need to stop losing venues. Live music is part of what living a fulfilling life is. If you don't fund it, unfortunately it won't be there. Music is hugely important, and if you stop people on the street, they will agree with that statement. New conversations need to be had to make sure that towns have music.'
Sneaky Pete's has battled with noise complaints over its ten-year existence, and it's one of the biggest factors in the eventual closure of venues. A Music is Audible campaign managed to successfully shift the onus of soundproofing on to property developers newly-building around already established venues.
The club is also trying to play its part in addressing the current conversation around gender equality and diversity in the live music scene, as well as adopting a safe dance policy. 'There has always been a relatively good gender mix playing Sneaky's,' insists Stewart. 'We aim towards achieving a 50-50 split overall, and at the moment strive to do that on certain bills such as our stage at Electric Fields. It's crazy though: 87% of the people registered with PRS as songwriters are male.
'I've played in nightclubs for a long time. I've seen the way men act around women on dancefloors. It can be grim. We want to be one of the safest. You can't be the behaviour police, but you can definitely have a rule where you are not allowed to touch strangers.'
Sneaky Pete's has helped start, promote and shape the careers of artists and DJs and overall it has provided an inclusive space for like-minded people to come together and engage with music. It's a focal point in a large community in Edinburgh and deserves to be exceptionally proud as it celebrates this landmark birthday. So, what are the tenth birthday plans looking like? 'We will be having two parties with limited tickets, special guests, excursions and adventures on each day. More details will be released soon!'