The Arches is facing closure over drugs problems, but the decision is misguided and potentially catastrophic for clubbing culture in Glasgow, writes Siobhan Smith
“It is impossible to imagine the cultural landscape with The Arches wiped off the map, a situation which is entirely possible given the interdependency of the Arts and Club activity within our organisation.”
– Lucy Mason, Artistic Director at The Arches
Almost a week has passed since the shock decision came from Glasgow Licensing Board to revoke The Arches’s 3am license, thus curtailing any essential club activity and effectively destroying the future of one of Scotland’s most important cultural venues.
Anyone who has lived in Glasgow or spent any length of time in the city since The Arches opened its doors in 1991 will most likely have at least one fond memory of a night spent in the veritable clubbing institution. For me, it was seeing Simian Mobile Disco live. Or it could have been an epic Erol Alkan DJ set. Or possibly one of the many hazy Death Discos, where I bonded over a love of repetitive beats with new friends for life on the dancefloor. Or so I thought.
Formed in the depths of maze-like tunnels under a railway bridge (disclaimer: ‘maze-like’ might be inaccurate and subject to your condition at the time of navigation) the Arches is a venue where the atmosphere is always electric, the bass always thumping and the air always racked with condensation.
A world class clubbing venue, The Arches repeatedly features in DJ Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Clubs in the world’; the gigs and club nights hosted here a large influencing factor to Glasgow’s status as a UNESCO city of music. To lose it would be devastating.
Not only is the Arches Glasgow’s most important clubbing venue, it’s also a world leading arts centre, producing internationally-renowned contemporary performance and fostering young talent. The latest move by Police Scotland and Glasgow Council no only endangers Scotland’s clubbing future; it threatens the Scottish arts landscape, as well as the livelihoods of the venue’s 133 employees and the various freelance staff working for them.
Financially, income from club activity accounts for 51% of the total turnover. It is doubtful the venue, which incorporates the not-for-profit registered Scottish charity, The Arches Theatre Company, could survive without the proceeds from the club nights.
So why are the police so intent on closing down The Arches?
This is the third time in a year that they have attempted to enforce closure. Initially this followed the drugs-related death of 17 year old Regan McColl last year. A further attempt came after another incident earlier this year. Both times, the closure was overruled but as a way of compromise, Police Scotland placed the venue under some stringent rules.
A source at the club reportedly told The National: “The police had to be called every single time a person got found with even half a pill on them. As you can imagine, this resulted in the police being called many times each night.”
Allegedly, a large part of the case in favour of closing down the club was built upon accusations of ‘wasting police time’ and the same source suggested that “ultimately the club’s diligence was used against them”.
In a press release from The Arches, Mark Anderson, Executive Director, said: “Over the period under review, we welcomed over 250,000 clubbers through our doors. Of that number, just 0.14% were reported for misuse of drugs incidents.”
Police Scotland allegedly offered to have a number of police officers permanently stationed at the club, to guarantee ‘safety’. The Arches declined this offer. I don’t blame them. That sounds like a protection racket and this isn’t The Sopranos…
‘A knee-jerk reaction’
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, taking drugs is part of clubbing culture. Not just in The Arches but everywhere, country-wide. If Police Scotland want to stop the people of Glasgow taking drugs, then this is not a solution, in any way. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a deep rooted issue. It feels a little heavy-handed. A little 1984.
The closure of a sole venue does not mean that people will no longer indulge in the dealing and consumption of illegal drugs. It merely shifts the problem to another venue, ultimately with the same source at the root of the problem. People will no doubt move their drug taking habits to club nights elsewhere in the city. Fatalities will still occur under current drug legislation. I sincerely doubt they will even decrease.
Since the news last Friday, the online petition to #savethearches has received a staggering 36,000 signatures – and it’s growing by the minute. Some of the biggest names in dance, including Carl Cox, Felix Da Housecat, SLAM and Hardwell have lent their support to the cause, taking to social media to spread the word.
And it’s not just the DJs that are getting behind the campaign to reinstate the club’s license. Several arts organisations have joined the battle as well, publicly expressing their support for the venue.
The closure of the Arches would be devastating for the clubbing scene in Glasgow and the cultural landscape of Scotland. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, you can do so here.
Read all about it on Twitter: #savethearches