Threat to Brighton's vibrant music scene

Starting out in the music industry, especially in a city crowded with multi-genre musicians and bands, can be tricky.

Sticky Mike's, Brighton
Sticky Mike's, Brighton

The continual closure of diverse, independent music venues throughout Brighton, adds to this unpredictability. This frequent closure of smaller, intimate venues has sparked a fire among Brighton musicians over the potential threat to the city’s vibrant independent music scene.

Earlier this month, Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar announced its doors would close for the last time after its New Year’s Eve bash.

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The bar, known among Brighton music lovers for booking shows for upcoming bands, allows musicians the opportunity to gain recognition.

Tundra Love (Photograph: Nuria Castro Torres)

The closure of Sticky Mike’s is not the first this year and is unlikely to be the last – a blow for independent musicians.

Lead singer and guitarist of Harker, a Brighton-based pop-punk band, Mark Boniface said: “Smaller venues are the lifeblood for upcoming bands, both for a place to play and to find like-minded people who are into the same music as you.”

When Harker started out, performing in smaller venues allowed them to build contacts with promoters and owners, as well as accumulating a tightly-knit fanbase through the intimacy Mark believes small venues offer.

He describes their connection with Sticky Mike’s on the same level: “The owners and in-house promoters have always been really good with us for booking the shows we wanted to book and putting on the bands we like. That sort of encouragement is crucial in music scenes nowadays.”

Orchards (Photograph: Jessica Morgan)

Without this initial help from promoters and owners, the struggle for musicians to get their feet off the ground will increase, he said.

“With Sticky Mikes closing, we’re down another small venue. We’ll be left with bigger venues, and small bands/promoters will be priced out of putting on the shows and bands they want to see.”

When starting a band, the difficulty in finding an avenue to be heard and gain recognition can be disheartening as punk-rock band Splurge discovered.

Drummer Rob Tinsley said: “Most bands have to make their way up through playing smaller venues like we have. When we started out, we didn’t have any other way of getting people to hear our music other than to constantly stick at playing smaller venues until we were able to afford to release our first EP.”

Tundra Love (Photograph: Nuria Castro Torres)

Social media platforms and sites such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud are hugely important to rising bands in creating their brand name, for free.

For Rob however, the intimacy and feeling of being on stage and even going to shows is worth so much more: “Music is a powerful thing because it brings people together.”

These small venues allow musicians to create what singer and guitarist of Tundra Love, Callum McMurchie describes as ‘a live sense of community’.

This sense of community is created through friends coming together to support musicians in their first steps to gaining recognition, he said.

Orchards (Photograph: Jessica Morgan)

As well as this, Tundra Love guitarist Nick Richards said staff at smaller venues are extremely welcoming, with them “really routing for the underground bands. It becomes a really supportive thing.”

Of course, in performing there has to be a level of professionalism, however without the supportive community and small venues, musicians at introductory levels would not be able to progress the way they can today.

Small venues act as the bridge allowing rising bands to build a fanbase, network with promoters and play the all-important shows, which alt-pop band Orchards learnt when they first started out.

Guitarist Sam Rushton said: “We built momentum from releasing singles and constantly playing shows. It kind of snowballed from being busy and always having something to do.”

Orchards’ reputation gradually built through frequently performing at the vibrant choice of venues across the city.

“It’s less intimidating to play a small venue and it’s also more personal,” said singer Lucy Evers. “The audience not only get to hear your music but they also get to know who you are as a musician or band. Independent venues are the groundwork for musicians a lot of the time.”

Sticky Mike's, Brighton

Throughout the interview, both Lucy and Sam refer back to their starting process, appearing saddened by the thought of further places they played at closing.

Sam describes the building process as ‘a ladder of progress’. Lucy adds: “It’s so important for upcoming bands because it’s how you build your fan base.”

Without independent venues, this construction process would not exist and the possibility of getting a show will eventually cease.

The sadness among the city’s musicians over the continual closure of independent music venues is ever present, and despite how flourishing the music scene still is, the closures are a threat.

They are a threat to those just starting out, those continually gigging around the Brighton music circuit and those who have already made a name for themselves.

The need for these independent venues across the city is high because without them and the support from residents going to these events each night, Brighton would not be what it is today and that is a truly saddening thought.