The Arches club closure: key clubbers respond
Members of Glasgow's world-renowned club scene respond to the closure of The Arches as a nightclub
The Arches is one of Europe's most respected and revered cultural venues – and the news that it's clubbing wing has been forced to close, due to the restriction of licensing hours following two well-publicised incidents relating firstly to drugs, and then to alcohol, comes as a massive shock to the city.
There’s nothing more appealing than controversy. You could argue that it goes hand in hand with any club worth its salt. Music, like probably every other artform, began scarring people in authority from ancient Greek times to today with its power to elicit certain emotions – and therefore feelings, and possibly actions – which are challenging. Feelings of solidarity, discontent with the everyday world; seeing things a different way.
Add to the mix the well-documented causal chain between listening / dancing to music and the consumption of substances to regulate mood – legal alcohol and tobacco, illegal recreational drugs – and of course you’re going to have a time-long battle between citizen and state.
On Friday 15 May, Police Scotland restricted the licensing hours of the venue, compelling it to close at midnight, with immediate effect. The result is the unavoidable closure of the space as a club venue – and the knock-on and very real concern as to whether the organisation’s internationally renowned contemporary live performance strand, which receives 80% of its funding from club events’ revenue, will be able to survive.
Whilst discussions are being held between staff members, board members and funding bodies, with a decision as to the sustainability of the rest of the business said to be made next week, the public continue to respond with a mixture of outrage and genuine sadness. We asked some of the key people in Glasgow’s clubbing scene to share their thoughts on the decision, and their fears for the future.
Keith McIvor, one half of long-time Glasgow DJ and production team Optimo Espacio and Glasgow-based label Optimo Music
This seems to be an ill advised, ill thought out and regressive decision. I am currently visiting Prague which, along with many European cities, appreciates that nightlife is an important part of the local culture and works towards supporting the local night time economy wherever possible. I am fully aware that The Arches has faced drug-related problems but it has worked harder than anywhere to address these issues and closing it as a club venue is not going to stop the problem but rather make it less visible and less easy to address – with the result that further tragedies may occur where there is nobody present with any training as to how to respond to them. Glasgow is a vibrant, internationally respected city but policies like this are embarrassingly regressive and out of touch with the needs and image of a modern city, making Glasgow an international laughing stock.
Alan Miller, aka DJ Hushpuppy, former Death Disco resident, club promoter and DJ
I was really pretty shocked by the decision, to be honest. The police seem to have subjected The Arches to an inordinate amount of scrutiny, and despite some Herculean efforts on the part of the venue to react positively, look pretty determined to be satisfied with nothing but the closure of the club arm. It’s shocking, because my feeling is the police are being heavy handed to the point of overstepping their authority. It’s shocking because the Arches in NOT just a nightclub – it’s a key venue in the remarkable story of Glasgow’s artistic renaissance of the past 25 years, an internationally respected venue, and a unique venue in the UK. The loss for Glasgow’s cultural reputation would be huge both as a nightclub destination for our own musical talent and those international acts who have stepped up online to support The Arches. And on top of that, it employs around a 100 people who could potentially all be out of a job in the months to come. All of that is a disgrace.
The Arches in only a part of Glasgow’s club scene, but the issue is not just the loss of a club, it is the loss of a significant cultural institution. If The Arches was just a nightclub, it’s doubtful that the news of its potential closure would have drawn close to 25,000 signatures over two days. Clubs can come and go – but The Arches is far more than that, and has a celebrated history and a significant role in live music, performance and theatre in our city. The international stature of The Arches is part of the reason Glasgow is a UNESCO City of Music. The crowds of people who go to the clubs, theatre shows, live gigs and performances can’t just wander off and find another Arches. Because there ISN’T one. The Arches is one of a kind. The police and licensing board’s decision to cut off its clubbing income pretty much seals its fate as a working multi-arts venue. It would be an unforgivable act of cultural vandalism – and GCC has an unfortunately long history of mishandling their own heritage and culture.
I DJ’d at the Arches for five years, but I’ve attended many other club nights, live gigs, art and theatre festivals there over the 20 years I’ve lived in Glasgow – some of them the most memorable I’ve ever experienced. I have worked alongside The Arches for arts festivals including Glasgay! and Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art – both of which have mounted amazing works in conjunction with and aided by the Arches team. I cannot remember ever feeling unsafe, or ever being treated in any way other than professionally and courteously whether as a club goer, DJ, or in any other capacity.
Dave Clarke, Slam's manager and head of long-standing Arches club night Pressure and Glasgow techno and deep house label Soma Records
Since 1992 when we originally spoke to Andy Arnold, the guy who had set up The Arches theatre on the back of Glasgow's tenure as European city of culture in 1990, we and countless others have been blessed with some of the best nights of our lives within its cavernous environment. Our idea back then was simple: that club and music events could merge and broaden the cultural reach of both Slam and The Arches, at the same time benefiting the city's fledgling arts scene. The relationship between these different spheres of culture in Glasgow's premier arts and music establishment has been symbiotic ever since.
We have enjoyed putting Slam nights on for more than 20 years without any untoward incidents or problems – only good times, with high quality music and spectacle. In this time some of the biggest DJs and bands on the planet have played alongside Slam, including Underworld, Daft Punk, Laurent Garnier, Richie Hawtin, Luciano and Sven Väth, helping to make The Arches and therefore Glasgow amongst the most highly rated centres of global dance music and clubbing around.
The closure of the venue’s clubs strand is a tragic blight on our city's cultural landscape and extremely sad for us and for all the music fans, clubbers and artists alike. The repercussions of this illogical decision by the powers that be will put Glasgow on the map for all the wrong reasons – and damage tourism, as well as the city's night time economy.
We sincerely hope that common sense and justice will prevail in the near future. Already the public have made their voice heard [by signing a petition asking for the license to be re-instated]. The Arches should not be made a scapegoat and a pariah for society's shortcomings because the venue is the safest and strictest in the city – a role model of how a licensed premises should be run. It means such a lot to so many people and has done for more than two decades.
Brian Reynolds, ex-Arches Music Manager and live music promoter
I suppose the thing about operations at The Arches is that the overall care and attention they had to the customers is really, really good. No, in fact, it is excellent. I think they were the standard bearers as far as dealing with intense situations. It’s quite a big venue…when you are dealing with big numbers like this there is always a mortality rate. This is why you have triage units on hand at major events, because the numbers insist that horrible situations can and will occur. I spent almost five years working at the venue from 2008 and we had around 1.25 million customers in that time. We didn't have any deaths or horrific incidents and that is due to the care and attention afforded to the customers by the operations staff, and a bit of luck. When you are dealing with big numbers like that, the writing is on the wall. Something will eventually give, no matter how well organised, trained and prepared you are.
From my point of view as a gig promoter, this puts a big question mark over whether I can use the venue. This incident had seriously affected the club's perceived stability, and that instability puts a huge pressure on their ability to attract business.
I know it’s deeply troubling for anyone to react to the tragic death of a 17-year-old girl. Anyone who’s lost a family member to a drugs-related death, or who knows anyone who has, every single person in that situation would say that there should be testing in place. As a society, sadly we’re a long way off that point, but the same issue remains: protecting vulnerable people, vulnerable customers. If people are in an environment where they are taking drugs then you want them to be able to get to a hospital, should they have an adverse reaction or should those drugs turn out to be bad.
Ben Coghill, agent at Elastic Artists and long term Glasgow club promoter
It's a mixed bag of emotions for me, few of which are positive. I am not at all surprised that the powers that be continue to stick their fingers in their ears when it comes to progressive and sustainable drug policies. Rather than looking at society's relationship with drugs and alcohol and considering the best ways to improve safety and education, they think closing down a venue that is incidental to the actual problems faced will make any positive difference. The woefully archaic and massively unsuccessful war on drugs must be reconsidered as illegal substance abuse only seems to be increasing and no one in a position of responsibility is willing to try something different so that it is made safer for people.
Regardless of my own or anyone else's opinion on illegal drug use and how we manage it as a society, it's so sad for the vibrant, thriving cultural scene that The Arches sits at the heart of in Glasgow. Jobs will be lost and a massive hole will be ripped from the city's creative community.
Professionally it's not much better for me. I have worked with The Arches on countless occasions through the various facets of my musical career. It's a unique venue that provides so much to our creative community and the short sighted approach from the council and police will do nothing but damage and hinder a valuable cultural asset that ought to be celebrated and not denigrated.
I feel that the actual argument we should have be having is how to make drug use safer for people. Testing kits should be available in clubs and security should be better trained to deal with people that take them on the premises. That's not to say it should be condoned as the law is in place and clear but a greater understanding of drug use is required to avoid people being victims to unscrupulous drug dealers that sell them something different from what they think they are buying. That's what causes deaths and closing a venue or taking away its license won't stop that in the slightest.
Not only will this decision take away one of the country's most revered and celebrated venues – it also sets a dangerous precedent for how these issues are handled. If this goes through then it could signal the death knell for other venues in Glasgow that occupy a similar space and promote electronic music. Glasgow is one of the most important cities for electronic music in the world and the life blood of the scene are the clubs. The Arches, Sub Club, La Cheetah, The Art School and Berkeley Suite are just a handful of examples of venues that provide a vital backdrop to our fertile scene that has captured the imagination of the world. These should be protected and not scapegoated.