A new book about the relationship between UK cities and nightclubs has been released, profiling places that have made significant contributions to club culture – from Manchester and Glasgow to Margate and Todmorden.
‘Out of Space: How UK Cities Shaped Rave Culture’ is by music writer Jim Ottewill, who came up with the idea after moving around the country and noticing nightlife venues were under threat from property developers everywhere. With more than a quarter of British clubs having closed down since 2015, the project makes a case for the social and cultural value venues like these bring to cities. ‘I was keen to demonstrate how innovative club culture has been in embracing new spaces to sustain itself and survive,’ Ottewill says. ‘The book isn’t meant as a full stop or epitaph.’
In his work, Ottewill was keen to expand on the narrative of electronic music beyond London to crucial clubs in other parts of the country. ‘Liverpool pulsates with energy after dark,’ he says. ‘You can see it through the various clubs that the city is known for: from Quadrant Park to Cream via Chibuku Shake Shake. But if you scratch the service beyond these headline names, there’s so many interesting events and venues bubbling. Future Yard in Birkenhead is a space across the water on the Wirral which is reclaiming a previously rundown part of Merseyside as a cultural hotspot. It’s exciting to see how it’s evolving.’
The below excerpt about Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle is from Jim Ottewill’s ‘Out of Space: How UK Cities Shaped Rave Culture’, which is published by Velocity Press.
Over the last decade, the most recent part of Liverpool’s creative narrative has been written by the emergence of the Baltic Triangle, a redeveloped part of the city full of musicians, bars and venues all jostling for space. This area – located just south of the city centre – was previously occupied by industrial warehouse spaces and takes its name from the numerous businesses previously located there that would trade with Baltic countries such as Sweden, Russia and Norway. The area also houses a Scandinavian Church on Park Lane, built in the 1860s with the Grade II-listed building described by some as one of the most striking buildings not only in the Baltic Triangle but the whole of Liverpool. Mainly full of rundown spaces and a little way off the beaten track, it was classically undesirable and ripe for regeneration.
‘Jayne Casey initiated the concept of establishing a creative quarter for the Baltic Triangle when she was at the Liverpool Biennial Festival and came up with the term “Independents’ District”,’ says Kevin McManus [journalist, music industry entrepreneur and Liverpool’s Head of Unesco City of Music]. ‘I headed up Merseyside ACME, the UK’s first specialist creative industries support agency. We were part of the council essentially but operated quite independently. I carried on speaking to Jayne about the area and was in a position where I could bring public money in.’
It’s become a cool area, which in some ways is a pain in the arse for the creatives who have called it home
To take the vision of the Baltic forward, ACME commissioned several pieces of research over a two-year period. Beginning in 2006, the aim was to prove that there would be sufficient demand for creative spaces from businesses. This was followed by a business case, then a costed business plan was drawn up, which formed the basis for a bid for public funding. The city council was supportive, as were the Arts Council and Liverpool Vision, another organisation connected with the council.
‘When I was growing up, Liverpool wasn’t the nicest place to live,’ says Kevin. ‘But over time, things have started to change. I was involved in the team that wrote the capital of culture bid and it marked a moment when we all started looking at Liverpool differently. It also shifted how the rest of the country and the world saw the city too. Perceptions changed because suddenly we were in the media across the world with lots of positive stories about us and what was happening here.’
A successful bid for public funding of £4.5 million (including money from the EU) allowed for the purchase of almost 4,000 square metres of industrial warehouse space, which was owned by the North West Development Agency. The funding also covered refurbishment costs and revenue support for the new company established to manage the buildings on behalf of the creative and digital community in the city. This company, set up by Kevin, was called Baltic Creative Community Interest Company (CIC) and a manager and board were quickly recruited to run the operation.
These old warehouse spaces were converted into office spaces appropriate for creative businesses. The success of Baltic Creative CIC and the neighbouring Elevator buildings has fostered a creative community featuring hundreds of diverse and innovative organisations, making the Baltic Triangle a desirable area for people to live, work, and socialise. ‘The idea was to counter that problem of creative people in clubs and spaces getting forced further afield by spiralling rents,’ says Kevin. ‘We wanted to offer an alternative investment model to help protect their interests.’
‘Jayne’s District club is there and was one of the first movers to recognise the potential of what is now known as the Baltic Triangle. Even though it’s ten minutes from the city centre, people weren’t used to going out there, so it was slow going at the start. Since then, it’s boomed. 24 Kitchen Street and Camp and Furnace are just some of the venues to call it home and we’ve made a conscious effort to try and take it forward organically.’
Kevin was a major player in setting up and leading this new vision but ten years later, these venues they sought to protect are competing with developers such as Brickland, a company behind a 200-home project which is proving to be a headache for the 24 Kitchen Street club. ‘Venues are now having to fight for space due to residential developments taking off,’ sighs Kevin. ‘It’s become a cool area, which in some ways is a pain in the arse for the creatives who have called it home.’
Some thought it was an illegal rave – it meant the rule-breakers and trendsetters wanted to be here
24 Kitchen Street has been locked in an ongoing fight with nearby developers building residential flats on a neighbouring car park on Blundell Street. In 2019, the city council voted to adopt the Agent of Change policy to ensure more weight was given to music venues in cases such as this. Agent of Change ensures that any property developers looking to build near a music venue rather than the venue owners are responsible for ensuring that noise does not affect the building’s occupants.
24 Kitchen Street is a 400-capacity space in the Baltic Triangle and a hub for underground DJs, live acts and cutting-edge artists. Co-founder Saad Shaffi had a lifetime of experience in nightlife before becoming involved with his business partner Ioan Roberts. He initially helped Ioan run the bar before taking on a wider role in steering the club’s direction. ‘Ioan used to put on nights while he was at university, then he came across Kitchen Street as it was being sold,’ Saad says on the sourcing of the space. ‘When we started, we were using temporary event notices before eventually getting a proper licence. People would be buzzing when they’d come here as some thought it was an illegal rave. It meant the rule breakers and trendsetters wanted to be here. We’re close to the city centre but we’re something a bit different to the bar culture and booze crawl you get elsewhere.’
Now discover our ultimate guide to Liverpool nightlife.