The Truth of What is Happening to London’s Underground Scene


TLDR: Multiple factors have caused dramatic changes in London’s electronic music landscape.

Guest Article by Povilas Vysniauskas

Electronic music plays an important role in London’s nightlife and clubbing culture overall. Since acid house and rave culture first hypnotized London, we have seen a transition from illegal raves to small clubs running legal or illegal underground events, and now a recent evolution to a purpose built large super clubs playing Tech House, Deep House or Drum&Bass.

Looking at the underground scene history, before the 2003 Licensing Act was brought in, music events were happening in two ways; legally, in a club or illegally at whatever spaces were deemed as safe from the police radar. Now, due to high volumes of illegal parties, British police and government made an attempt to regulate it and keep these parties safe by introducing “TEN” regulation (Temporary Event Notice). A regulation, which allows a venue during one-year time to hold only to 12 events per 21 calendar days (event can last longer than a day) with no more than 499 people per event.

Sasha at Fabric 2003

Sasha at Fabric 2003

This regulation led to an explosion of the legal underground scene, mainly centered around area of Shoreditch – East London. Soon, during 2000s you could find various underground parties on Mondays, Thursdays or Sundays, it did not matter a day, as at any given time there was something always going on. However, things did not last long this way, as police soon got stricter on the late night parties and many licenses were revoked.

A decade ago UK had over 3,000 nightclubs. Now we have nearly half of that left, and London, the capital of electronic music underground, has in fact taken the biggest hit ever. So what is happening to clubbing industry, and was it the stricter license regulation only, which had this devastating blow?

Fact is that the London underground scene has been shaped by many various factors such as economics, artists and technology. However, it has also been hit not only by elements such as strict and expensive licensing, but also by extended late night drinking laws in bars, smoking ban and fierce real estate prices – all this combined had influenced a change on London’s underground scene and clubbing industry.

Gatecrasher Transmissions at Heaven 2002

Gatecrasher Transmissions at Heaven 2002

So what’s happening now? Well, in London, a city with one of the most expensive real estate on the planet, new high-rises are going up and pushing noisy nightclub venues and creativity out of the heart of city to suburbs. Super clubs like London’s Ministry of Sound, Fabric or Pacha are still going strong, but smaller clubs are moving further out, or have to close. The fact is that Shoreditch has also became a very expensive area, and small venues hardly can keep up with the vicious real estate prices, so the underground scene is shifting further to East London, specifically into Hackney Wick – that’s where currently the most artistic neighbourhood in London is.

London’s regulations are far stricter than any other major city in Europe. And to do everything while complying with all the regulations now has became a very expensive business. While any small mistake could lead to venue’s license confiscation, hiring venues has become a risky business as well, and that’s why business people with appropriate venue licenses can easily charge premium costs while renting out their venues. All the costs adds up to the party organizers, so obviously there is a desire to get as much cash from every single event as possible. Just like that, attending London’s underground events has become pretty expensive entertainment for all of us.

Bedrock Easter Special at Heaven 2003

Bedrock Easter Special at Heaven 2003

So how has the underground scene has changed in the last fifteen years, comparing to how it was fifteen years ago? The number of intimate venues, which are well equipped and have a late license, has drastically dropped and as a clubber in London now, you need to plan in advance otherwise you may be left at 2am in the middle of nowhere, as most small clubs & bars in East London are restricted to closing between 2 – 4 am. Luckily we can notice that underground scene promoters are slowly re-establishing in Hackney Wick with stunning late license venues and unique deep house music, while diversifying their rented or own venue space for multiple purposes in order to survive the competition.

Photos via Resident Advisor: RA Photos

Thankfully some people are still keeping the underground scene going strong despite the challenges. Hear what those DJs have to offer:

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