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DJ exclusivity deals and domineering promoters are suffocating independent nightlife

Oppressive tactics are making it increasingly tough for smaller clubs and nights to survive

  • Words: Oliver Payne | Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 29 November 2018

Defected and Glitterbox boss Simon Dunmore recently reminded Twitter about ‘shady’ promoters in bigger cities ‘intimidating’ DJs into not playing parties for other promoters or brands. If a certain DJ is playing a particular club or festival, they’re often banned from playing elsewhere in the city for several months either side – or in some cases, at all. Sure, we can understand a promoter wanting to protect their product in a crowded marketplace, but it’s something that’s slowly draining the sense of excitement from nightlife in major cities. When one brand is booking nearly every name under the sun and telling everyone else where to stick it, what room does that leave for smaller nights?

“Not all kids can afford or want to go to festival-size line-ups,” Dunmore went on to tweet. “Plus smaller venues are the breeding ground for aspiring DJs and innovative music. All essential for a healthy scene.” And judging by the replies, it’s something plenty have become aware of, with dance music luminaries like Terry Farley lamenting the demise of small to medium clubs in the replies, citing “exclusivity deals and ridiculous wages” as the major factor. Profit-focused promoters might see night-life like a zero-sum game, a real life monopoly where one venue or promotion company rules the roost and takes over a city, but is this approach to putting on parties really sustainable in the long term? It might make for a great spectacle (and even greater profits), but you should never think your big event has the only line-up in the city worth caring about.

Ask any promoter in a major city and they’re bound to tell you that they’ve been negatively affected. Speaking to promoters in bass, where currently you’re either booking a gunfinger-raising student favourite or a more niche, leftfield act, things seem to be the most limited. The acts that can shift tickets are instantly swept up, perhaps to play some sort of stacked ‘bass special’, leaving slim pickings for those wanting to run smaller nights.

“Nightlife is not about who’s biggest and richest and most powerful”

In the less predictable house and techno world things are less problematic, as some smaller acts are making waves and selling out on a weekly basis. Sure, having to work within these confines can force promoters to think outside the box and build their reputation on something other than bringing top DJs to town, but it’s always going to be harder to sell tickets without a big name to hang your hat on. And let’s not forget how many DJs break through by warming up, week-in, week-out, for visiting big names at small club shows.

Unfortunately, the process of putting on the best night for your community of ravers now often has to include tip-toeing round the biggest brand in the city. It means the bar for quality is set by the dictating brand, affecting nights that might bring something entirely new to the table. That’s probably the most worrying part of all this.

The biggest loser here, ultimately, is you, the clubber. Yes, the best acts are in the city, but only ever at one place. A lack of competition means higher prices, and the city’s musical ecosystem being dominated by the tastes of a handful of people. How does that make the city’s nightlife healthy, or appealing?

Dunmore and Defected are hardly small fish, so for even smaller promoters this sense of ownership of certain DJs by big promoters is really proving to be a problem. He’s right to make more people aware of this issue, as the bottom of the food chain is every bit as important as the top.

Nightlife is not about monopolisation. It’s not about who’s the biggest and richest and most powerful. It’s about creativity and a shared experience and so many other things. We need daring new nights in not-so-perfect basements to be nurtured, not stifled by the big boys.

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