12 Bar - A Riot Of Our Own
Today I released this little teaser for my new film A Riot Of Our Own.
Here's a bit of background on the film and the issues raised.
It was never going to end quietly, was it?
The 12 Bar in Soho has been shut down for redevelopment work in the area. Documenting the last days of this iconic music venue in the heart of London, armed with one small camera and some makeshift lighting, I set out to capture a final glimpse of the community and the spirit that is being challenged by the removal of its centre.
It’s not slick and it’s not pretty, but then neither was the 12 Bar. This place revelled in its raw honesty (which extended to its toilet cleaning policy) and I wanted to capture this in its truest form. Live music is something I live for, and I wanted to share that feeling.
The venue and the music it nurtured not only inspired a whole community to sing, dance, shout, laugh and cry, but to fight for what they believed in; even for those not directly involved with the place during its tenure, it became a symbol of unrelenting realness, as something of the people for the people in a changing society that increasingly feels like it's being taken from us and sold off piece by piece.
Much like the venue itself, this is a loud, beer soaked, visceral little film that documents the history, the music, the people and their voices.
The 12 bar meant something to me, as many of the now defunct live music venues in London did, because I grew up in this city, and without personally following any religion these places became like my own sacred spaces; they were so important in me finding my own small place in this world, and in giving meaning to the things that I did and the things happening around me, whilst forming close bonds with amazing people whom continue to be a large part of my life to this day.
The closure of such places is happening all over the UK, and I chose to focus on the 12 Bar because I knew I could give an honest and genuine portrayal of it because it comes from the heart - hopefully by capturing the essence of the community there, I can help highlight the importance of the similar cases happening around us, as I truly believe that each one of these spaces holds a significance as great as this one.
Every time we lose a venue/club/bar/library/playground/independent shop, it's not just a business closing; it's a matter of displacement, and the uprooting of multiple people's lives.
It's often overlooked that bars, clubs and live music venues aren’t just places to party but crucial sites of community and belonging. Young people look to these as safe places where they can explore different avenues and feel accepted, and any person, no matter what their background or beliefs, can find a space where they can feel part of something, as well as those just looking for like-minded folk to pass the time with. The city can be a lonely place, and if you don't carve out a place for yourself in some kind of community that means something to you then you risk facing it alone. More people existing on their own means a more divided and less powerful demographic, and the repercussions of isolation caused through lack of community can be very damaging, possibly leading to depression and social and mental issues that could have otherwise been avoided.
There is somewhat of a closure epidemic across the UK at the moment. This means that not only is there a housing crisis, there is a cultural crisis too; these are the places that make each city unique, the value of which cannot be priced and won over in a property bidding war, but have had a price tag attached nonetheless.
This is rife in the independent live music scene, the LGBT scene and any other ‘fringe’, ‘counter-culture’ or ‘alternative’ scenes – they always seem to be the first places to go; a constant devaluing of their place in society.
The smaller of these spaces that are being attacked are also the places that upcoming musicians and artists can start out - somewhere to showcase, experiment and grow, and where those who just create for the love of it also have a platform.
And so London as a centre for pioneering music, which is one of the things this city is famed for, is also being attacked.
Change is great and can lead to many wonderful and exciting things, but the way in which a lot of this redevelopment is happening is not primarily beneficial to the already existing communities in these places; people are feeling turfed out of the places they call home in the name of money, leaving a sour taste when confronted with the argument championing the progression or 'regeneration' of an area.
And it's not only the many closures and demolitions that are disruptive, but the re-assignment of the usage of buildings in the area, which is drawing even more divisions between the older and new communities. Planning procedures often privilege big corporate ventures, and give weight to residential concerns such as noise levels, even if these relate to new (unaffordable) homes built in long-established entertainment districts, and it’s making things impossible for independent businesses. If an area contains listed buildings that can’t be knocked down to make way for large corporate new-builds, then luxury residential planning inside these buildings seems to be the next step. This is especially pertinent to Soho, which is full of these listed buildings, and is world famous for its nightlife (and the Red Light district until not too long ago) that once defined the area, rather than the new residential developments that are now being proposed to take root above these premises.
To allow developers to change the usage into residential with no consultation with the existing community, and then to allow them to object to noise from existing venues and to allow enforcement of legislation seems to be destroying the very unique character and spirit that is Soho. It also allows for the development of these venues into residential properties by exploiting this.
There is also the unavoidable aspect of ‘social cleansing’; getting rid of the rabble that forms these counter cultures will make these places more desirable for the big spenders they are trying to populate the place with. But this is their home and the central hub of their community, and these people are the reason Soho, and so many places around the country like it, feel so alive and have thus become so desirable.
If we keep taking away the elements of our cities that make them so unique and special, why would anyone ever come to visit, let alone stay to watch their demise?
It's time to take back our cities, and to make some wonderfully loud noise in doing so.