As the UK music scene assembled for Independent Music Venue Week 2017, we speak to Cardiff’s most eccentric independent music venue Gwdihw about the trials and tribulations of being an independent venue. This much cherished club has been running for eight years now all thanks to owners, Tom and Duncan with the motive of creating a “flourishing, friendly and chilled new independent space for alternative music not seen elsewhere” with a diverse mix of “world, afrobeat, funk, hip hop that may not be elsewhere and a burgeoning underground of brilliant DJs that may not otherwise have a light shone upon them”. Gwdihw is the kind of venue that doesn’t miss a trick as it caters to all “On weekends we have regular club nights with a mix of cutting edge disco, electronic, house, soul DJs as well as live afrobeat, funk, hip hop & more. We have loads of excellent Indie promoters regularly putting things on and we welcome all things weird – whether it modular electronic music, string nights or Folk music.”
Venues such as Gwdihw, are important as they bring an assortment of culture and music to the city, which people may not be exposed to if these venues did not exist “They’re young people’s first engagement with art lots of the time, and in a way, that electrifies the imagination in a unique and emotive way. They often support weird things that other spaces won’t or can’t – so as an offshoot, they give a voice to people who might not have it elsewhere. They give people space to explore making and creating music in an inclusive, supportive way. Also, bands don’t just write amazing songs, and suddenly sound amazing live. They need to work on playing live, and independent venues are where they can and will”. Essentially, these venues are somewhat of a public service “Anywhere that shows art is important because culture is social, public and for everyone, and it needs a place to host, hold and show it to the world – without that actual place to do it, art has less relevance”.
Gwdihw is a much needed contribute to the Cardiff community as a musical all rounder. However, keeping an independent venue alive is seeming rather difficult in today as the city continues to develop. “It does feel like generally the trend is slightly downward, even if Cardiff is doing okay”. As the interview proceeds the announcement that Demseys and in effect Four Bars will close this month was released. “It is a terrible, terrible shame as it’s a brilliant, unique space. There’s lots of things many venues and live music generally that are up against. Most places have had to find ways to essentially subsidise live music with other things, whether it be club nights, other uses of the space and so on. On top of that, city centre’s becoming bought up by people building flats/businesses doesn’t help”.
With this slight downfall, it is questionable what can be done to save these venues in today’s commercially driven society. Evidently, the smaller bands, don’t rake in the profit which is therefore proving to be problematic. “It would be nice to see more real recognition of the cultural value of small venues. Some art forms such as Opera, Ballet or Theatre (rightly) get funding from public and private organisations. This in effect, creates less availability for the maybe perceived less glamorous or non ‘high art’ venues. Ultimately, music venues will be many people’s primary engagement with art (and yes, it is art) so it’d be nice to have recognition of that”. However, with this problem in mind, there are spaces and organisations that are focusing on helping this issue. “Organisations like Music Venues Trust are doing an excellent job at raising awareness and cultivating a community of venues to lobby, stand together and come up with shared ideas to work as a whole. Pushing for renaming small venues as Grassroots Music Venues rather than the ‘toilet circuit’ as Music Venue Trust have done does a lot of help. However, MPs need to support art spaces that are the lifeblood of a community with hard action more often”. However, we as the public, could do a little bit more to save these much needed spaces “Take a punt on weird things and see things you don’t know about more often. The worst thing that happens is you don’t like them and you’ll still probably have a nice time. Also buying CDs from artists & independent record shops is important”.
Here in Cardiff we have our very own organisation of support for the smaller venues, promoters and bands, this army of support being Sŵn. Giving us two festivals twice a year, combined with an array of gigs all year round, which all take place in a collection of Cardiff’s independent music venues. “It makes people more acutely aware of the community of venues and promoters that already exist in Cardiff and I think it gets people to buy into the idea that whilst we might have bands and club nights on the same days and look like we’re competing, really everyone is on their own trying to put things on in Cardiff that excite people and contribute to culture”. The most recent Sŵn saw an array of talent visit Gwdihw “Sŵn is ace in that it’s in almost entirely independent small venues so lots of places get lots of brilliant acts. We had Braids and Gallops at the All My Friends stage on the same day in 2016, which is mind-bogglingly amazing when you think about it – often those kind of artists might go to other venues or indeed cities, so it’s ace that’s it’s mixed up and people get to see a variety of things at different spaces”.
After chatting to Gwdihw, the importance of these venues has only been emphasised. Without venues such as this, our cultural variety will begin to disintegrate. If this continues, our society is only going to get slightly greyer and slightly more conforming which in today’s mess, a loss of our culture is the last thing we need. Support the spaces for experiment, support the spaces for art and support the spaces for minority.