|Fire is the newly transformed
Viaduct, in Vauxhall, London. Located under railway arches, (see map),
it was a run down, rank and dank hole. It has now been completely
refurbished, with an up to date sound system, new lighting including
lasers, a new dancefloor, new DJ booth, refurbished second room, and
some rather stylish steel loos.
Add to that the residency of legendary DJ superstar Pete Wardman,
and you have the makings of a top-notch club.
It has a capacity of around 700, which means it actually feels like
a club, rather than an auditorium. The people who run it, say that
it's a club designed by clubbers, and it feels that way.
Launch night was in April 2003, supported by local
London gay magazine advertising and the give-away of tens of thousands
of free CDs which brought in a somewhat varied crowd of over 600 very
friendly and up for it people.
The Saturday night event, "Fire", which runs to 5am is followed
by the hard dance event Twist, from 5am to
I know how much work has gone into this club as I saw what it looked
like beforehand so I wish these guys every success. However, they
have an uphill task as they have taken on themselves the job of creating
and running a club, booking the djs and doing all the promotion in-house,
rather than using outside promoters. They face a highly competitive
market and are having to learn as they go along. This can be an expensive
way to gain experience.
|Indications that things were not going
well for them came from the fact that months after the club
opened they still didn't have their website up and running,
numbers were disappointing, and word-of-mouth was good but not
Furthermore, Pete Wardman was initially placed alongside residents
of dubious competency - certainly one at least should not have
been playing professionally.
About six weeks after the club opened it was rumoured that BK
and Frantic had bought out one of the partners
and had obtained a sizeable stake in the venue and this could
have had a beneficial effect all round. However, this option
was not followed through, and in fact Craig
from agy afterhours club Beyond invested
instead. More on this on the Twist page
"Fire" was the club's gay Saturday night, but suffered
from stiff competition from more popular and well-established
gay Saturday night events like Crash, which
is held nearby. It offered the excellent Pete Wardman, in a
pleasant enough venue, but the promotion may not have been strong
enough, the target market's preferences may have been different
from waht has been offered, and for a gay crowd in 2003, perhaps
this wasn't enough. By the end of July 2003, Pete Wardman was
sacked and the club effectively closed on Saturday nights. The
owners were then focussing on promoting Twist
and the venue as an afterparty.
The transformation of The Viaduct to Fire was a necessary step
to compete, but it clearly was not enough on its own. When you
ask exactly what was on offer here over and above a neat venue
with Peter Wardman in it, the answer's got to be not much. Even
the prices were on a par with other more established clubs.
One of the benefits of planning and forecasting is to challenge
one's expectations, and think through what to do if they are
not met. Every new venture whether it be a club night or a venue
should do this and Fire perhaps had over optimistic expectations
about how quickly they could get their club up and running successfully.
Clubbers' opinions are formed rapidly, often on the basis of
one visit, and spread even faster. People need to be made aware
of the existence of a club, but if they are, and have little
incentive to change their clubbing habits, a decision not to
bother going somewhere is very easily made. Given this, promoters
have to be able to respond VERY quickly.
Fire's self-description of a club built by clubbers for clubbers
is true. The guys behind it have a strong sense of what they
want their club to be, what music it should play, (hard), and
who they want to come to it.... regardless of what those people
themselves want. Yet again we have echoes of "If you build
it they will come", (see review of ff:Reloaded).
You built it guys; they didn't come.
Part of the confusion here I believe has been about whether
it's a dance club or whether it's a
gay club. I'm sure some people are thinking: "but
it can be both", but I wonder whether that's true. We're
not talking absolutes here; rather relative emphasis. There
are clubs built around sexuality, where what's important for
the customer is having the opportunity to find someone of a
complimentary orientation. If you're "on the pull"
going to a place where you'll find people who you like and like
you really does help your chances!
On the other hand not everyone is on the pull all the time.
People then want to go out for other reasons - e.g. for music
and fun. Under those circumstances, you might be a "gay"
man (or a "straight" one for that matter), but for
your decision as to where to go clubbing then your sexuality
is of little significance. Fire has been created around a music
policy, yet targeted towards a market concerned about pulling.
I say this not because all gay men are always pulling, but because
if a club is defined as a "gay club" it is signalling
that the most important defining element is its provision of
other like-orientated people for socialising/pulling, RATHER
THAN being a dance club, where the emphasis is on the style
of music, having fun and being tolerant.
The problem has been compounded by the fact that the gay scene
has moved on from the music which Fire offers. The inspiration
behind the club was the Trade sound, and the closure of Trade
(as a weekly) was seen as an opportunity to keep that party
going. It should perhaps have been seen instead as a warning.
Returning to whether it can be both a gay club and a hard dance
club, well yes, it can "be" that, but in saying that
one is saying that today one wants to appeal to a minority within
a minority, (i.e. hard dance devotees who are also gay). The
question then is whether there are enough of them to fill a
club every week. Associatedly, there's a more fundamental question:
If you're a venue owner, running a business, why be so specialised?
However currently the owners have taken an astounding decision
to close the club for the moment and on Saturday nights it is
usually closed, except when the owners decide to open it for
special events. Frankly this seems crazy, as the one night of
the week in the U.K. which any club should be able to make money
on is Saturday night. This seems like an excellent way to throw
money down the drain, as the promotion of the club, whenever
that begins again, will have to start from scratch.