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Outernet: Building the venue of the future

Outernet, a new entertainment district in the centre of London, is preparing to launch in spring 2021, aiming to bring at least 300 extra nights of live music to the capital each year.

The £1 billion complex, envisaged as the first in “a network of immersive media spaces” by owner Outernet Global, will consist of three subterranean music venues – a 2,000-cap. main space, the 500-capacity preserved and resurrected 12 Bar Club and an extra 300-cap. venue.

The main music venue will be the biggest new live music space to be built in the bustling heart of the UK capital for 60 years, as Outernet CEO Phillip Bourchier O’Ferrall muses, “it’s not the kind of thing people are doing nowadays, opening venues in central London”.

Having partnered with staging company Brilliant Stages for various different design aspects of the project and with audio specialists PMC, Meyer and L’Acoustics, the Outernet team is currently in talks with a number of key promoter partners.

While the “underlying passion” of Outernet is music and entertainment – a fact reflected in its straddling of London music mecca Denmark Street – the new complex is made up of much more than a trio of venues, which O’Ferrall believes will be the key to its future success.

Outernet will feature the biggest deployment of LED screens in the world in its above-ground atrium, which will showcase branded content and event tie-ups and a special interactive broadcast space.

“Having this commercial side is what can make a venue work in the centre of London”

The district as a whole will boast tailor-made artist accommodation, a free-to-use recording space, pop-up shops and food and drink outlets.

The idea, says O’Ferrall, is to create a whole ecosystem, with the massive media business upstairs funding the musical performances taking place downstairs.

“Having this commercial side is what can make a venue work in the centre of London,” explains O’Ferrall. Prohibitively high rents in the capital serve as a major bugbear for venues, a large percentage of which have been forced to close in recent years, with the ongoing coronavirus crisis only adding fuel to the flame.

The soft launch for the project – on which building started in 2018 – has been pushed back from February 2021 to spring due to the current situation, but O’Ferrall says that, in general, “we’ve been lucky as we’ve been able to reengineer to allow integration with social distancing and, importantly, technology solutions.”

Venues will have track and trace technology, flexible capacity requirements and high-quality cameras for livestreaming. “But I really feel for those who already have venues,” says O’Ferrall, “and I hope together we can all unite to get the industry up and running again with the right government support.”

O’Ferrall talks of the need for Outernet to play a part in re-energising London’s live music scene once it gets back up and running. “If we work together, we can all benefit,” says the Outernet CEO, who intends to use the complex’s advertising space to push audiences to bigger venues, and local bars and pubs.

“It makes sense for all parties,” he says. “We’re not trying to compete with the [20-000-capacity] O2 Arena, for example. People want to see gigs in all different kinds and sizes of venues.”

“We want to recreate this as the hub of British music”

Outernet’s location and multi-functional nature set it apart from many other venues as the focus is not on being a “destination”, but rather on serving as an integrated part of central city life.

The upstairs atrium is completely open to the public and the Now Arcade acts as a video-enabled walkway for human traffic passing through the area. It is expected that the site could welcome up to 400,000 visitors a day, a staggering thought in the current lockdown climate, although the business model is predicated on “high levels of engagement” rather than on audience mass.

The locality is also a key component of the project, with the Outernet team striving to ensure Denmark Street preserves its heritage as a music space. The company owns upwards of 90% of property on the street, giving shopowners preferential leases and mandating all remain operating as music-based retailers.

“We want to recreate this as the hub of British music,” says O’Ferrall.

The team resurrected the historic 12 Bar Club, which closed in 2015, and dug three stories below to create a new, four-level space.

The Chateau Denmark accommodation includes two 17th-century properties on Denmark Street which were once home to the Sex Pistols. Chateau Denmark will have 54 rooms for artists to stay in, with the band’s graffiti preserved inside – Johnny Rotten’s drawings portray his bandmates Steve Jones and Sid Vicious, Sid’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen, and manager Malcolm McLaren, as well as his own self-portrait. All of this serves as the centre piece in the party-focused Anarchy Suite.

“Having met local venue owners and promoters, I can say that the passion and dedication from them is what’s going to make this work”

Other properties that were originally built between 1686-1691 on the street, which became famous as Tin Pan Alley, include the studio where the Rolling Stones recorded their first album and the spot where a pre-fame Elton John worked in a music publishing company

Future Outernet projects, pegged for Los Angeles and New York, will similarly “embrace local attributes”, says O’Ferrall.

“We are not leading the charge for a new kind of venue,” says O’Ferrall, “but underpinning an ecosystem by putting together a lot of different attributes, and we believe that’s the right thing to do.

“In this way, as high streets become more and more challenged, we can help them to hold out by providing ‘atomised’ retail and brand space.”

As the coronavirus shutdown continues in the British capital – pubs and restaurants reopened on 4 July, but live events have yet to receive the governmental go ahead – O’Ferrall says he is “optimistic” for the future of live music in the city, although adding that the government needs to do more – the first steps came from the chancellor only very recently.

“Having met local venue owners and promoters, I can say that the passion and dedication from them is what’s going to make this work.

“Anyone that survives this crisis is going to reinforce a great future.”


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