London’s nightlife scene is dying a (not so) slow and painful death. Countless clubs have fallen prey to greedy developers, leaving a gaping hole in our nighttime economy and our cultural heart. Plastic People, Cable, Shapes, iCan Studios, Fabric, and Passing Clouds are a handful of the most recent closures, which are preceded by a slew of others.
The past couple of months have seen hundreds of members of the clubbing community come out in force to attend demonstrations and to protest at these losses. The most recent protest being Saturday 8th October that saw an array of colourful clubbers unite, marching from Hoxton Square to London Fields, instruments in hand and adorned in glitter and sequins. The procession journeyed via many fallen venues. The protest, organised by Nicole Venter and led by the legendary DJ, TV star, and radio host- Normski, culminated in a rave in the Fields and welcomed guest speakers including Night Time Industry’s Association (NTIA) chairman Alan Miller, Fabric Founders……, and the founder of Dalston’s Passing Clouds- Eleanor Wilson.
EastLDN met with Eleanor towards the end of the summer, ahead of the Passing Clouds march in September, to find out more about the beloved Dalston creative haunt, and what the future has in store for it as well as London’s decaying nightlife scene.
EastLDN- Tell us about the beginnings of Passing Clouds.
Eleanor Wilson- [When I] moved to Dalston in 2000, I just had a natural affinity with the area. It seemed like a bubble outside of the rest of London…..but what I loved about it was just how economically vibrant it was…..there [were] just so many thriving businesses and markets….the interaction between those cultures was incredibly harmonious….it kind of surprised me at the time that there weren’t really any establishments that were social establishments that were catering for all the different types of culture……so I’d just always had this vision of creating a place that would bring them all together.
EL- How did you find the site in Haggerston?
EW- I didn’t really have a lot of luck until I came to see The Haggerston at the front (of Passing Clouds, on Kingsland Road)…the lease was up for sale at the time but it just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t really interested in a pub. Then I saw the building behind it and as soon as [I saw it]…I knew it was absolutely the place. So I called up the security company on the door and we were put through to the landlady and were signing a lease and it all just fell into place very easily in just a few weeks. I didn’t really have a very specific plan in my mind of what it was going to be….I realise that that was a very important part of the journey- not having a definite concept….but just really allowing the community to come into that vacuum and see what would come out of [it].
EL- What sort of interest did you have at the start of Passing Clouds opening?
EW- Although we always knew it was going to be a cultural space and we had a lot of artists involved, musicians were the people who really came to us. It was clear that there was a real need for a space for musicians to be able to perform. The beautiful thing was that musicians were coming from all over the world who lived in that area. Specifically from the West Indies and Africa, from Asia, from Latin America. It was just incredible the characters that were turning up and the level of musicianship as well. I think there’s a lot of artists from that part of the world who are exceptional musicians but for whatever reason haven’t managed to establish their careers in this country. So we were picking up a lot of those musicians…and starting to put on jam sessions, bringing those people together, and very quickly a kind of international culture formed. A local, but international flavoured culture [one] that really was a cross, cross-age, cross-sex, cross-culture, cross everything. It was a really beautiful, international family of people from almost every country in the world.
EL- What would you say is Passing Clouds ethos?
EW- It kind of came out of that interaction of cultures having to learn and be together in a space…..it started to create this international consciousness, you know, that was a unique place where ideas and attitudes and philosophies were very intensely incubated. So it’s absolutely a philosophy of peace, inclusion, of equality, of justice….of understanding cultures and understanding how to be respectful of people and acceptance. The beautiful thing is that the community built over those ten years is incredibly strong, and that’s why we’re able to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people [with] such an impassioned sense of ownership and belonging.
EL- This area used to be a bit of a ‘no-go’ area. Do you think having Passing Clouds here improved it?
EW- Oh, definitely. 100% and the police would say that as well. This street (behind Passing Clouds) was a no-go area that was just a crime hotspot with a few kind of squats in it, and now it’s multi-million pound properties, and you see really expensive sports cars parked down there now which is amazing, but I think we really sorted out a lot of crime in this area.
EL- What’s the situation with the developers at the moment?
EW- Well, the situation is that they’re still hell bent on developing it….into whatever they can make money out of. But what’s interesting now is I think they’re having to come to realise that they’re not going to be able to develop it because they’re not going to be able to get the planning permissions that they want. At the moment it’s earmarked for community use so if they want to develop it into anything; from flats, to bar, to restaurant, they have to change the use. In law, they’re meant to actually advertise [the] building for a year to the community. But we also have a Community Asset Application going in, which, if that’s accepted, [means the building] will become an asset of the community [and it] makes it really impossible to change the planning. The other thing is that if they want to try and find another business to come and rent it off them as a bar/club/nightclub, well the licence is in my name so they can’t use that without my consent, and Hackney Council aren’t giving out anymore licences. So, as it is, it’s likely to sit there for years costing them, I would estimate, about £3,000 per day.
EL- What do you think about the state of London nightlife?
EW- Well, there’s just a big contradiction between the work that’s being done to promote London nightlife with the 24 hour tubes and things like that. The trouble is that the reality on the ground is that it’s very difficult to run licenced premises. For me, one of the biggest problems is the amount of high-end accommodation that’s getting built everywhere. When we started Passing Clouds there wasn’t really anyone around and then people come and live around and they start complaining about the noise. The thing is we need, humans need, places to go and make noise and come together, and to listen to music and dance. There’s a necessity for that and in communities and society. That needs to be considered when planning [new developments]. You have to have places with live music where people can go out until late at night. It’s an important function…..it’s an important part of the economy and an important part of communities……protection measures need to come into play.
EL-What do you think needs to be done to protect London nightlife?
EW- There needs to be a special unit that really has some powers to enforce protection measures or to mediate when necessary. There’s been an aspect of that but I think it deserves a lot more funding. If you consider the overall contribution that these places bring to economy of attracting tourism and incubating talent, it’s huge….I think that what Sadiq Khan [is doing] by bringing this night tzar into London is a really, really important step in that direction……I think the work that we’re doing right now to highlight these issues is at least going to feed into that greater sense of awareness around preserving other places of cultural importance [it’s] imperative. So whatever happens to Passing Clouds, so long as we can be feeding into that greater narrative and putting these really important issues on the agenda, that’s really important.
EL- What can we all do to help?
EW- I think that the main thing is just supporting us on social media, supporting our application for community asset status by writing in to Hackney Council- either to the MPs or the Mayor Of Hackney. I think that people are welcome to write into Landhold Developments as well if they feel they have anything they want to express to them. A lot of people have done that I think.
You can stay up-to-date with all things Passing Clouds via the PC Forever timeline on their website.
Be sure to keep an eye on the NTIA’s website too.
Written by Jennifer Wallis
Photography by Jennifer Wallis