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London venue the Borderline closes after 30 years

London venue Borderline has announced it will close its doors this summer, after more than 30 years hosting acts including Debbie Harry, Blur, Muse, Amy Winehouse and the 1975.

Promoter and venue operator DHP Family, who bought the Borderline from Mama in 2016, has made the decision to close the 300-capacity venue by August 31 in the face of “ever increasing rents, rising business rates and ongoing redevelopment plans for Soho”.

According to music charity the Music Venue Trust (MVT), 35% of UK grassroots music venues have closed in the last decade. A 4% rise in business rates –the tax levied on non-residential property in the UK – has caused further problems for music venues, which are not eligible for the tax rebates applicable to other small businesses. Escalating London rents have also impacted many venues.

“This has been a difficult decision, but given intentions by the landlord to increase the rent significantly for a second time since we took it over in 2016 as well as plans to redevelop the building housing the Borderline, we now know the venue doesn’t have a long term future so it makes no sense for us to continue to invest,” says DHP Family managing director George Akins.

“This is a sad day for all of us who love live music and believe in grassroots venues”

“We’ve had an amazing two years at Borderline with some fantastic shows and want to thank everyone for their support from agents, promoters and artists to all the thousands who have come to the gigs and club nights.

“We’ve put our all into trying to revive this iconic venue but unfortunately, it has been impossible to turn into a sustainable operation due to so many external factors. This is a sad day for all of us who love live music and believe in grassroots venues,” adds Akins.

DHP has retained the Borderline names and will consider opportunities to relocate the venue.

Akins says that DHP is “still committed to creating and running the best grassroots music venues in the country.” The company plans to reinvest in other parts of its portfolio, setting aside £1 million for work on Bristol’s Thekla, preparing for the 40th anniversary of Rock City in Nottingham and working on the opening of its first venue in Birmingham.

The announcement comes in the midst of a spate of good news for UK grassroots venues, as fellow DHP-owned London venue, the Garage, last week won protection from the local council which has pledged to safeguard the venue in case of area redevelopment and MVT recently announced £1.5 million in funding to protect and improve grassroots music venues, as well as support from industry-led initiatives.

 


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DHP hires programmer for London venues

DHP Family has appointed Matthew Cook venue programmer for its venues in London: Oslo (350-cap.) in Hackney, the Garage (600-cap.) and Thousand Island (100-cap.) in Islington and Borderline (300-cap.) in Soho.

Cook, who has previously worked with The Great Escape festival, Brighton Dome/Festival, Warwick Arts Centre, promoter Soundcrash and London venues Barbican, Southbank Centre, Roundhouse, Hackney Empire and House of Vans, will lead music programming at the four venues, as well as building on relationships with sponsors and non-music events.

“I’m very excited to join the team at DHP and programming four of London’s best live music venues, he comments. “I first came into contact with the DHP team a few years ago when we presented Bonnie Prince Billie at Hackney Empire. They were a pleasure to work with and it was a phenomenal show.

“I am especially grateful for the opportunity to contribute to London’s live music scene at such a crucial time”

“I’m looking forward to steering the programme of such iconic and diverse venues as Oslo, the Garage, Thousand Island and Borderline, and am especially grateful for the opportunity to contribute to London’s live music scene at such a crucial time. Music is London’s lifeblood and these venues play a key role in sustaining a healthy live music scene in the capital.”

Oslo, Nottingham-based DHP’s first London venue, opened in 2014, with the company acquiring the Garage and Borderline, both of which have since been significantly refurbished, from Live Nation last May. Thousand Island, meanwhile, was announced in December as a new space adjacent to the main room of the redesigned Garage.

Borderline reopened in March, with DHP owner George Akins hailing the “phenomenal feedback” from artists and agents to its new layout.

 


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DHP Family’s new-look Borderline opens

One of London’s best-loved small venues, Soho’s Borderline, has officially reopened after a complete refurbishment.

The 300-capacity Borderline – acquired by DHP Family, along with the 600-cap. Garage in Highbury, last May from Live Nation/MAMA – marked the latest chapter in its story with a launch party last Wednesday attended by more than 150 guests.

The overhaul of the Borderline includes a significant reconfiguration of its layout, and DHP says it expects the new-look venue to “breathe new life back into what has been described as one of the last surviving landmark live music venues in the heart of London’s Soho district”. DHP Family operations director Anton Lockwood commented last year that the venue, which opened in the late ’80s, “definitely needs a big refresh: It’s been around for ages and it’s got a bit tired, and we want to improve the environment massively”.

“We are very happy with the results of the refurbishment. The feedback from artists, agents and press has been phenomenal”

Artists who have played at the venue include REM, Rage Against the Machine, Oasis, PJ Harvey and Eric Clapton.

“We are very happy with the results of the refurbishment,” DHP Family’s owner, George Akins, tells IQ. “The feedback from artists, agents and press has been phenomenal.

“The atmosphere at the press launch on Wednesday showed how well a club night will work, and the gig last night proved that we made the right choices with room layout to get the best viewing and production values.”

Some photos from the launch are below:

Borderline

Borderline

Borderline

Borderline

Borderline

 


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DHP Family unveils The Garage plans

DHP Family has released the first details of its redesign of The Garage, one of two London venues it acquired from Live Nation earlier this year.

The Highbury venue will from February house a new performance space, dubbed Thousand Island, in addition to its 600-capacity main room, which will also be refurbished and fitted with a new sound system.

The new live room will be joined by The General Store, an all-day café and bar serving craft beer and cocktails.  The bar will, says the Nottingham-based promotion and venue group, “hark back to the filling station stores of small-town America” with reclaimed petrol pumps, large beer fridges and a “range of cocktails served from items you’d find in the store, such as cornflake packets and Campbell’s soup tins, alongside a changing selection of American and British craft beer”.

“We look forward to reinventing the space for a new generation”

The concept is the brainchild of DHP’s design partner, Zopsigog, which also delivered Hackney’s Nordic-inspired Oslo (375-cap.).

DHP Family managing director George Akins says: “The Garage has been on my radar for about 10 years now, when I first looked to buy it. For one reason or another we have just missed out on taking over this iconic venue and breathing new life into it. Its location, layout and history are perfect for what we are looking for in a venue and we look forward to reinventing the space for a new generation.”

DHP bought The Garage and Soho’s The Borderline in May. Operations director Anton Lockwood told IQ at the time the company planned to make the famed venues “places where people actually want to go rather than just, ‘Oh, that’s where the band’s playing, that’s where you have to go to see them.'”

 


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London resurgent: The capital’s venues fight back

At least four new music venues will open in London in 2016, IQ has learnt, as the capital begins to stem the decline that has long characterised its grassroots music scene.

Following the news last week that Nottingham-based DHP Family had acquired ex-MAMA venues The Borderline (cap. 300) in Soho and The Garage (cap. 600) in Highbury, and with some of the Capital’s most established grassroots sites being renovated and relaunched, the tide appears to be turning for London’s live music circuit.

Steve Ball’s Columbo Group, which bought Camden venue The Jazz Café (cap. 420) in January, will also be relaunching its May acquisition, The Barfly (cap. 200), as The Camden Assembly over the coming months.

And speaking to IQ, Mark Davyd, founder and CEO of the Music Venue Trust (MVT), says he knows of four brand-new venues opening their doors in the year, with another three “likely” to follow suit before the end of the year. He also revealed that MVT is in discussions with “two or three” other new developments about the possibility of including music venues in their plans.

The past 18 months have undoubtedly seen what Davyd calls a “substantial change” in attitudes towards London’s music venues. Somewhere between the launch of MVT in late 2014 – when it was estimated some 40% of London venues had closed in the 10 years since 2004 – to incoming mayor Sadiq Khan promising last month the arts would be “a core priority for my administration, right up there with housing, the environment and security”, local authorities finally appear to have got the memo: that if the UK wants to retain its world-leading music industry, up-and-coming acts have to have somewhere to play.

“If the message coming from City Hall is, ‘We’re not prepared to see music venues closing’, you’d be surprised the impact it has”

“I think people now accept that every single venue that closes in London is damaging to the whole raft of all of them,” says Davyd. “Each one has come under much more scrutiny.”

“The report [London’s Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan] that was launched at Venues Day last year, written by Mark Davyd, Paul Broadhurst [of the Greater London Authority], myself and a few other people really helped,” says Shain Shapiro, head of the secretariat of the London Night Time Commission, which was launched by then-mayor Boris Johnson in May. “That really got the message in people’s heads.”

Perhaps MVT’s biggest coup was the passing by the British government of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2016 on 6 April, which provides a legal framework to protect existing music venues by encouraging local authorities to make it the responsibility of developers, not venues, to put in place noise-control measures on any new residential development. At the time, Jo Dipple, CEO of industry group UK Music, said the law gives small British venues “additional powers to help them survive and prosper.

Shapiro says it’s now “a lot easier to make our arguments now than it was three or four months ago. We don’t have to convince people as much. Now we’re just having substantive conversations about literal, specific things that need to change. That’s a win!”

Davyd adds that while “I don’t think you could point at any one thing anyone’s done over the past few years and say, ‘that’s caused it'”, he, like Shapiro, points to support from London’s governing Greater London Authority (GLA) as being key to the capital’s musical renaissance. “If the message coming from City Hall is, ‘We’re not prepared to see music venues closing’, you’d be surprised the impact that has on the number of venues that can actually be closed,” he says.

“One of the issues we face with opening new venues is that agents and promoters aren’t interested in exploring new parts of London”

Recent victories for venue owners include a successful court battle by 1,410-capacity Camden venue Koko to prevent a neighbouring pub being turned into flats (and Camden Council’s subsequent backtracking over its original approval for the development, calling it an “isolated error”); the rescue of Earls Court venue The Troubadour (cap. 132) from bankruptcy, which it blamed on a noise-abatement notice forcing it to close its garden after 21.00, leading to a loss in revenue; and the withdrawal of a planning application to develop 1,000-capacity Peckham venue, club and café space the Bussey Building.

It’s not as if housing developers don’t have anywhere to build: London has “some of the biggest development sites in the world,” says Shapiro, as it expands relentlessly outwards into surrounding counties (RIP Middlesex). For live music types, though, Shapiro says the industry collectively needs to “realise that London is changing – that you can play in both inner and outer London and it not impact your economic model. One of the issues we face with opening new venues is that agents and promoters aren’t interested in exploring new parts of London…”

Amid all the success stories there are, of course, still venues under threat, but Davyd explains that “of 88 [small venues programming original material] we know of five that have some sort of problem – which is a low number, to be honest. If we’d have done that two years ago the figure would be more like 20.”

For the first time in a long time, Davyd concludes, “I think people in the sector are feeling a lot more positive about their ability to sustain London’s music scene and be valued in what they’re doing.

“When the mayor’s report came out last year, Jeff [Horton] at the 100 Club said: ‘This is the most positive thing anybody in government has said about the 100 Club in 20 years!'”

 


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DHP Family buys London Live Nation venues [updated]

DHP Family has acquired London venues The Borderline and The Garage from Live Nation.

The Nottingham-based promoter and venue owner took possession of The Borderline, in Soho, on Friday (27 May), with the deal to acquire The Garage, in Highbury, subject to completion but expected to “fall in place very shortly”.

Both venues were formerly part of the MAMA & Company portfolio before the company’s acquisition in August 2015 by Live Nation and Gaiety Investments. Three MAMA venues, The Ritz in Manchester, The Forum in Kentish Town and The Institute in Birmingham, have since been rebranded by Live Nation as the O2 Ritz Manchester, O2 Forum Kentish Town and O2 Institute Birmingham, respectively.

DHP Family currently operates one other venue in London (the 375-capacity Oslo in Hackney), as well as Rock City, Rescue Rooms, Stealth and The Bodega in Nottingham and Thekla in Bristol.

It also runs Manchester Cathedral’s music programme, promotes over 1,500 tours a year, manages three bands and organises three festivals: Splendour in Wollaton Park, Nottingham, the multi-city DotToDot and multi-venue Nottingham event Everywhere.

It originally put in a bid for the two venues when they put up for sale by MAMA but was outbid by Live Nation.

Both the 300-capacity Borderline (notably alumni: REM, Rage Against the Machine, The Verve, PJ Harvey) and 600-capacity Garage (Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, Franz Ferdinand) will be refurbished by their new owner: the former will close from 23 December 2016 to 15 March 2017, while The Garage will receive an “extensive refresh taking place over several months” without the need for closure.

“It’s about making them places where people actually want to go rather than just, ‘Oh, that’s where the band’s playing, that’s where you have to go to see them'”

“Using its expertise as a both a concert promoter and venue operator”, DHP Family says it’s “confident of developing both into successful late-night venues integral to the live music scene in London”.

DHP Family’s operations director, Anton Lockwood, tells IQ the reaction to the acquisitions has been “hugely positive”, with artists, agents, promoters and managers “delighted that DHP is taking over the venues”.

“I think we’re approachable and I think we’re seen as someone who actually cares about making the venues great rather than just showing up with bands, getting them in and getting them out,” he explains. “It’s about making them places where people actually want to go rather than just, ‘Oh, that’s where the band’s playing, that’s where you have to go to see them.'”

Compared to previous operators Live Nation and MAMA, Lockwood says, the company will “try to think [more] about what band suits what venue” (“I’m not going to say ‘curate’, jokes Lockwood – “it’s such a knobby word!”), although he notes that he expects that Live Nation, along with “SJM, Metropolis, Crosstown, Kili[manjaro] and all the rest of them are going to be major clients” for the venues.

Although Lockwood won’t go into specifics of the refurbishment, he says The Borderline will be “significantly upgraded”: “It definitely needs a big refresh,” he comments. “It’s been around for ages and it’s got a bit tired, and we want to improve the environment massively”. The Garage will be less majorly overhauled, but Lockwood says DHP, although not “able to do as much” to the Highbury venue, will “definitely be improving it”.

With three London properties now part of its growing portfolio, Lockwood says DHP is still actively looking for new venues, both in London and the rest of the UK, but makes it clear that “they have to be right”. “We’re not having to add new venues to keep our shareholders happy,” he says. “We add venues because we think it adds significant value to what we do. If a great opportunity comes up in London, then we’ll look to take it – but we won’t do something for the sake of doing it.”