Clubs are dying - that's why our favourite venues disappear

Is the advancing dying of clubs the end of live culture?

The White Trash, the Sophienclub or the Magnet in Berlin, the Astra Stube, the Fundbureau and the Waagenbau in Hamburg, Sinatra's in Bremen - these names represent decades of club culture and have met their end in the last years. Many iconic clubs were stepping stones for young bands. They provided not only an opportunity to impress their audience with their live performance and sell merchandise but were also important to meet the right people at the right time and in the right mood. There are less and less places like these and this development bothers us all. However, more often than not the space in front of the stage remains empty. That does not match up. We asked the artists of our IMG family for their opinion.

Between 2009 and 2015 every tenth disco or club disappeared without replacement

Many people know this infographic, which circulates since 2015. It shows that in 2015 there are for the first time more bars than clubs and discos.

Are you more interested in the important reasons for the dying of clubs or in how we can prevent it?

“Live clubs should select better,” says Maurice Klinge of the hard-rock band REDNIGHT from Aachen

“Many iconic clubs are particularly affected by the dying of clubs and we understand that they do not want to depend on subsidies. We also think that when you go to a live venue today you don't necessarily see promising acts. This is mainly related to the application process. Does the band really sound like they do on the recordings? With the present abundance of bands, live clubs should select better. Sure, everybody should have the chance to perform. However, the higher the quality the more interesting are events for the audience.

At the same time, live venues should play more on their strengths. Social media is well and good, but where do you find the typical concert audience? At festivals, events and other concerts - that's where promotion should start, for this is a field club owners usually know.”

“Live clubs have to become more exclusive again,” Max 'KESH' Meißner, rapper

“For a few years now there has been an excess of events, so many live bands, DJs and other artists. DJs I'm friends with, therefore, rather perform at large festivals and less often in clubs, because there they feel their music is less appreciated and also they get paid less. Clubs have to become more exclusive once again and people have to change their notion of music consumption. There used to be many more people just excited to listen to new music. Due to the extensive overabundance, interest has been plummeting.”

“People go to concerts but less in clubs,” says Sebastian Dracu, guitarist and singer

“Every year some important venue disappears. The small clubs, which continue to exist, are increasingly taken over by booking agencies and mainstream music and many venues are afraid to open their doors for underground artists. Why is that, you ask? I call it 'cultural imperialism'. The big companies, i.e. major labels and their agencies, plaster us with their chart music. Do people really go to fewer concerts? If that were the case, why would 150,000 fans attend a concert of Ed Sheeran? How do we explain the sold-out stadium tours of various pop-stars? People do go out, but less often to clubs. Big companies can afford to spend money on very good promotion.

Altered niches, social media and public authorities are 3 criteria which are giving club owners a hard time

1. Smaller subcultural niches, more competition

We often like customised services. A live club, however, cannot provide services of that kind. The whole concept of a club is aimed at collective experiences. A concert with 3 rather unknown bands simply cannot be customised down to the last detail. A concert in a club means that all patrons give up control for 2 to 3 hours over the music they are listening to. They run the risk to hear songs they cannot classify immediately.

In contrast, streaming services provide our most favourite music at exactly the right time. Not only are they capable to do it with our most favourite music, they also introduce us to new songs across many genres. Algorithms on streaming platforms have been developed over the years, to fit our interest and provide song suggestions at exactly the right time. That is real competition for clubs where we used to discover new music.

Discussions in Facebook events are a symptom for this. In the run-up, many people ask for their favourite songs or cover songs to be put on the set list. In the follow-up, the concept of the event is criticised: “I went there to listen to 90s emo music, but they played modern stuff the whole time.”

The genre police wants to listen to their own music and nothing else. Even subcultural clubs cannot always provide this and stay profitable.

“I'm proud of anyone standing in front of the stage,” says Sebastian Dracu, guitarist and singer

“What happens when you go to a club? We enter a basement. On a small stage an unknown artist wants to capture our heart and our ear. As we have already payed 6 euros admittance, we are virtually trapped in this small basement. Do we really engage with the stranger on stage? Perhaps this will be strange, feel weird or perhaps it will be great. Many people forgot how much more moving this private, almost intimate setting can be if we allow ourselves to get involved, especially in contrast to events with 150,000 people on the Nürburgring where we use our smartphones to immediately make the Instagram story.

I'm afraid that sometime clubs disappear completely unless we small thoroughbred musicians put up a fight. That's why I'm always super proud of every single person in front of the stage - no matter if there are 15 or 500.”

2. Social media is the new live club

No matter which music scene we are from, going out in the evenings, to a small concert in the live joint around the corner, always had an aspect of see and be seen, and therefore also a social function. This exchange happens more and more on Facebook and Instagram nowadays. We often already know that our pal dropped out of university to become craft beer brewer. Even where and with whom and which type of hops they use. He does not have to tell us anymore.

What used to be a direct exchange in the favourite club transpires online today. Clubs as a central 'social melting pot' are history.

3. Clubs have a harder time than 15 years ago

City centres and trendy neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly popular, not to go out but to live in. This results in gentrification, rising rents and conflict potential with new neighbours. Suddenly, trendy clubs and high-class apartments are in close proximity. The clubs which make a residential area attractive and draw hip high earners suddenly disturb the new neighbours. After four decades of club history all of a sudden noise protection is required and this is expensive.

The problems are also connected to the fact that many clubs have to send smokers outside, depending on the federal state and the layout of the premises. Outside, noise levels and residents clash.

In addition, there are new fire protection requirements and higher GEMA fees. Fire protection and non-smoker protection are good, but first and foremost it costs the clubs money.

A vicious circle: fewer patrons mean less revenue while at the same time legal requirements and expenses increase. Thus, the club owners lack money for promotions and modernisation.

A possible solution: networking and cooperation are the key to a prospering club culture

Berlin and Bremen show how live clubs can network. Clubverstärker e. V. in Bremen and Clubcommission in Berlin are organised in the umbrella organisation LiveKOMM. Live clubs which are thusly organised avoid unnecessary competition. If possible, they plan their events in a way that prevents their target audience from having to choose between 2 events on the same evening. Additionally, the live clubs try to help each other materially, e.g. by lending equipment, helping out at events or placement of personnel. Social media as a promotion platform also works better when working together. In a network the live clubs can control and budget campaigns more efficiently.

It is time for change and cooperation - then our clubs can survive

Live clubs will never disappear completely as long as they are willing to change. The MTS in Oldenburg shows how: a record store with a sales area for different sound carriers, a small but professional stage, a bar and a large Carrera track - multi-use which brings success. It goes to show that a live club can survive if it does not rely exclusively on the night business but opens up the business model. Social media also provide affordable options for promotions, coverage, participation and first and foremost networking.

Networks such as Clubverstärker and Clubcommission are also involved in political and legal proceedings. Clubcommission in Berlin, for instance, represents 240 culturally creative members of the independent scene and the club scene at local authorities, enforcement authorities and the GEMA.

Clubcommission wants to ensure that the preservation of the status quo is extended to live clubs and that these are regarded as cultural institutions - and thus do not fall under the Ordinance on Amusement Venues.

Simply put, an extended preservation of the status quo would mean that existing legal positions remain valid - even if e.g. noise protection laws would be tightened.

In a nutshell: creative concepts, more and even better cooperation, constructive cooperation with public authorities – could be all we need to reanimate our favourite clubs.

Photos © Christoph Eisenmenger; Rednight; Kesh; Sebastian Dracu