by Peter Stewart
Scotland is set to lose another grassroots music venue as Edinburgh’s Electric Circus announced that it will close its doors on March 25th.
Electric Circus, situated on the doorstep of Waverley Station, was originally expected to remain open until 2019 before being converted into an extension of the neighbouring Fruitmarket Gallery.
However, the venue announced on March 1st that the closure would now be happening in just a few weeks.
In a post on its Facebook page, Electric Circus thanked bands, customers and gig-goers, and explained the shock development: “Due to the recent news regarding the eventual closure of the venue and the expansion of the Fruitmarket Gallery we feel, as a business it is best if we go out with a bang.”
Brig has learned that until the original announcement in December, the closure was not due to financial reasons. While Electric Circus had privately agreed with the Fruitmarket Gallery and Edinburgh City Council that nothing would happen for two years, the council went public with the decision. This had a devastating effect on business for the venue, which doubles as a nightclub.
Speaking to Brig, Electric Circus owner Dennis Chester explained why the situation was out of the venue’s hands. “We were very upset that Edinburgh City Council publicised it (the closure and the gallery’s expansion). We were ‘outed’ as closing when in fact, we weren’t closing in the near future at all.”
In contrast to many other music venues forced to close, Electric Circus had not struggled for business in its seven years of operation. With the council’s announcement, however, the situation changed.
“Trading got more difficult. There were less bands, managers and agents looking to book us,” Chester said. “Too many venues have effectively gone bankrupt. I was determined that when we closed, we weren’t going to be in that situation.”
The news comes four years after Edinburgh’s famous HMV Picturehouse was closed and redeveloped by J.D. Wetherspoon, despite a petition of 13,000 signatures. The same year, The Bongo Club was forced to relocate after being narrowly saved by University of Edinburgh students, while The Venue on Calton Road hosted its last gig in 2006.
The continued losing battle to save music venues in Edinburgh reflects national trends, with the Music Venue Trust estimating that London lost 40% of its venues between 2007 and 2015.
“Too few bands and too many venues is a terrible recipe,” Chester says. “Live music in small to medium venues is actually totally unviable.”
Many in the industry, including the Music Venue Trust, maintain that the government help afforded to art galleries and concert halls should also be granted to small, independent venues. “No one has decided yet that contemporary music venues will be subsidised. I think that’ll change,” Chester told Brig.
Ongoing technological advances have further implications for venues. The recent ubiquity of live video streaming on sites such as Facebook and Instagram has seen many artists broadcasting rehearsals, sound checks and even gigs to social media fans.
Chester had seen this as an opportunity for Electric Circus, rather than a threat. “I wanted to do Iive streaming from our gigs. I wanted to get bands who would come us and be seen by 250 people there, but by a couple thousand streamed.”
Brig spoke to Andrew Stears, of Edinburgh band Indigo Sixteen, to gauge how another closure could impact local artists and the grassroots scene. “Electric Circus was an ideal venue for acts that had an established a fan base at a local level, and for touring bands,” Stears told us. “This loss will definitely be felt as Edinburgh, whilst producing multiple great acts and shows, can be seen to be struggling in comparison to Glasgow to create a vibrant, exciting music scene.”
Comments on social media have lamented the fact that Electric Circus will become a gallery. “Since when was music not an art in itself?”, one user offered. Stears agreed: “Edinburgh has a number of galleries already open, and to sacrifice one type of art and entertainment in order to expand another comes across as rather unfair.”
Revenues from live music shrank by £20m to £904m in 2015, reversing three years of growth, the industry body UK Music found. The figures paint a grim nation-wide picture for live music, but there is hope yet in Edinburgh. La Belle Angèle, ravaged by the Cowgate fire of 2002, reopened in 2014 and has since hosted both local acts and established names, such as Twin Atlantic. Blair Street’s Cabaret Voltaire also closed in 2012, but was since bought by G1 Group and now thrives as a club and gig venue once more.
While these venues will continue to promote and represent live music in the city, it is the end of the line for Electric Circus. A celebration is planned for the final club night on March 25th, but the owner is reflective. “I’m struggling with the concept of celebration when it is, in fact, quite sad that we’re going. I’m going sad, but proud.”
“We almost broke even, and in the world of live music, that is an achievement.”