Fighting for The Cause: How property development is affecting London’s nightlife
The North London club will shut its doors on New Year’s Eve.
If you have recently travelled to Tottenham Hale you may have noticed the skeletal high rises that encircle The Cause and its neighbouring community garden, Grow, before thinking that it’s probably only a matter of time before it goes the same way as so many other club spaces in London.
It is well documented how over the last 15 years many beloved venues have been forced to close down -35% of dedicated live music venues and 21% of nightclubs- aided by local councils who provide little support for grassroots music venues.
The Cause recently announced on their social media channels that the current iteration of the nightclub will be closing down on New Years Eve, with their final party ‘goodbye sweetheart’. This is an all too familiar story, where DIY spaces disappear due to the mounting pressures of development and subsequent noise complaints from residents. Often, only clubs with more financial muscle are able to ward off developers and resist increasingly uncooperative councils.
I had a chat with Eugene, co-founder of The Cause, about their announcement. I begin by asking him why New Year’s Eve will be the last party at The Cause. “The whole area is really flying up and we’ve made the decision to close because the experience will become unsatisfactory to us, as residents are going to move into the building right next to us. It is sad but we always knew our space was temporary”, he explains.
The Cause managed to survive throughout the pandemic as much of the building work on Ashley Road was halted. By choosing to close now, Eugene believes the club will retain its reputation that many have expended a lot of effort in building up.
Eugene moved to London in 2010 from New Zealand and discovered a love of London’s club culture. After acquiring a warehouse in Manor House with some friends, they decided to put on free parties. They were eventually served a Noise Abatement Notice in 2016 after putting on a festival and Eugene turned his attention to organising legal events. He teamed up and founded The Cause on the site of an old car depot with Stuart Glen, a friend he had made through the warehouse party scene.
Acknowledging the influence of his time putting on parties in Haringay, Eugene says “one of the reasons we started The Cause in the first place was because clubs lack that warehouse feel. Warehouse parties have a looseness and a freedom about them and we wanted to try and harness that energy and do it legally.”
Reminiscently, Eugene recalls some of his favorite nights at the venue over the last few years, “our birthday at the end of 2019, we didn’t release any artists names and it was an 18 hour party where everyone who was involved with the club could come down and play, the energy in the place was unbelievable. Recently, Job Jobse played and it was amazing to see the room fizzing like that.”
Starting as a one off party to raise money for the charities Mind in Haringay, C.A.L.M. and Help Musicians UK, the venue continued to organise parties after smashing its fundraising target. The Cause quickly became one of the most exciting venues in the capital and over 220,000 people have since walked through its doors.
“We always set out to be community oriented. The place was built by me and my friends. Everyone who’s still involved to this day feels like a community. We are still 100% DIY, we haven’t got any major investors. We’re still owned and operated by Stuart and I, which says a lot about the club itself and the people that come here and work with us,” Eugene says. The Cause has given a new lease of life to London’s nightlife landscape, as well as providing a model for a community oriented space with a conscience that others can take inspiration from.
“Warehouse parties have a looseness and a freedom about them and we wanted to try and harness that energy and do it legally.”
Eugene has conflicting thoughts about the role of the council in the venue’s upcoming closure. He is fair about their duty to do right by everyone who lives in the borough, “they’ve been helpful at times, other times not, that’s just the way it goes with councils,” whilst also being more critical, “at the beginning when we first opened, they put us on their website and now once residents move in, it’s like ‘get out’. It would be nice if there was more engagement from them to try and relocate us.”
“I think a council can only go so far. It would probably be better if the Night Tzar had any sort of power, but unfortunately she doesn’t,” Eugene replies when I ask him how he wants London’s councils to accommodate nightclubs. The creation of a Night Tzar, Amy Lamé, came with some optimism that the tide of closures of London’s late night music venues might be halted. Although her position is essentially powerless, Lamé has been criticised for not doing more to prevent the tide of closures and restrictive legislation. As many have pointed out, what is the point of a night tube while many clubs can’t stay open late enough for people to enjoy its benefits?
Where creative ecosystems spring up, they attract the attention of property developers. New residents often complain about noise and disruption, forcing venues to completely change the way they operate or face shutting down. With the Covid-19 pandemic still exerting enormous pressure on the night time economy- 90,000 jobs and a third of nightclubs have been lost in the UK- as well as the continued underlying threat of sky high developments and rent, London is not the only city in the UK facing this issue.
In Manchester, The Night and Day Cafe has been the subject of a Noise Abatement Notice due to complaints from a local resident. As reported by Manchester Evening News, the cafe has blamed successive, ill-considered residential developments around music venues in the Northern Quarter for persistent issues. Their petition to remove this notice and be regarded as a cultural asset has received 76,000 signatures so far.
In light of the precarious position many spaces find themselves in, the movement for clubs to seek cultural status to survive in the current climate is gaining momentum. Looking to Europe, in Berlin, Rave The Planet are seeking to gain UNESCO status for Berlin’s clubs, which would allow for extra protection under property laws and Clubcomission gained cultural status for nightclubs in May this year. Similarly, a campaign called Club-Culture is seeking a similar result through harnessing the power of 38 clubs across France.
In the UK, organisations and campaigns have been set up with similar goals of resistance, The Night Time Industries Association was started in 2015 to represent nightclubs and protect them against the excessive regulation imposed by councils. The Music Venue Trust engage in important work around reframing the cultural importance of clubs, as well as suggesting strategies to combat threats to live music spaces. The Shapes Collective, who are behind FOLD and The Glove That Fits, have also fought against this detrimental trend through opening new grassroots venues across London.
Akin to these campaigns, Eugene is keen to stress how The Cause is “more than just a club”, as it provides a boost for the local economy by bringing thousands of people each week to Tottenham, as well as providing an affordable workspace for small businesses. Over the years, the space has become home to a Rum distribution company, furniture makers, wielders, Kristina Records and community radio station, Threads. He says, “the knock on impact that the club has generated for so many people is quite profound and I’m really proud of that.” When speaking about the venue’s booking policy, Eugene also emphasises their focus on giving a platform to up and coming artists and local promoters.
In the UK, nightlife has never been given the recognition it deserves. Successive governments have allowed spaces to close down to make room for office space and real estate. Eugene responds to their attitude, “they need to realise the importance of cultural institutions. The first thing people think when they hear the word ‘nightclub’ is loud music and anti-social behaviour, but the bigger picture needs to be realised and the stigma needs to change. It’s not about going out and getting wasted, these places are where people congregate, meet and make friendships, it’s such a vital part of living life. I hope the powers that be are more open minded in the future in facilitating businesses like us.”
We began to talk about grassroots spaces and their importance to London’s clubbing landscape. “Clubbing should be accessible to everyone and in London it’s not. It can feel stale at times”, Eugene says. “There’s so much talent out there which is not represented as much as it should be. I think some of the bigger clubs lack that community aspect. Places like FOLD and Venue MOT are great examples of small spaces that are doing it because they love it.” Similarly, both these clubs have just about managed to ward off pressure from Newham and Lewisham Councils, respectively.
“Clubbing should be accessible to everyone and in London it’s not. It can feel stale at times.”
From his experience, Eugene believes that a fundamental change around licensing is essential for clubs to survive. He says, “I think what we’re gonna see is clubs opening up on the periphery because certain boroughs do not want anything to do with the night time economy. Hackney council will not open another nightclub, it’s just not gonna happen. People will start to look further afield for better opportunities with councils that are actually willing to work with people and can see the cultural importance of having these establishments. If something doesn’t change, it’s going to get very stale very quickly.”
Talking about the future of the scene, Eugene says more optimistically, “There are still pockets of activity and I think London will always have that. The people that put on parties have a resilience about them, they’re problem solvers that won’t take no for an answer. ”
As we wind up the conversation, I ask what is next for The Cause and whether their resilience will continue to hold up, “we’ve got our eyes on a couple of spots which we’re hoping to open at some point next year. We’re looking at doing pop-up clubs and going back a bit more to our roots. Hopefully at some point we will be able to transfer into a new home.”
“The people that put on parties have a resilience about them, they’re problem solvers that won’t take no for an answer.”
The Cause is not the first club to lose out to London’s speculative property development and it won’t be the last. In opposition to the dominant frame that clubs are spaces for antisocial and criminal behaviour, the cultural, economic and social importance of grassroots spaces must continue to be reiterated and supported if there is any hope of receiving much needed support to help save them from development, rising rents and noise complaints.
To change the prevailing opinions around club culture and to achieve appropriate recognition, it might be time for a grassroots campaign to seek cultural status for clubs, as sites of community building, self expression and refuge in city’s where isolation and individualism are dominant. DIY, community spaces are too often treated with apathy as opposed to being seen as a vital part of a city’s cultural fabric. Without them, nightlife in the UK is at risk of becoming obsolete.