Subclub and the decline of the Glasgow Nightclub

In recent years the nightlife of Glasgow has gone through a decline, even before the impacts of lockdown. While not a trend unique to Glasgow- nightclubs all over the UK have been struggling for the last 10 years– a combination of circumstances have devastated the city’s nighttime landscape and next on the chopping block might be the iconic Subclub. 

Subby has been a pillar of Glasgow’s EDM and techno scene, with DJs from all over the world coming to the club, as well as being an integral part of the city’s music scene more generally since it was founded in 1987; bands like Primal Scream had their first gigs in the small but illustrious venue. Once voted the 10th best club in the world despite a capacity of just over 400, the club’s future is now looking uncertain. Having survived a fire in 1999 and even the accidental demolition of one of its walls, it looks like a legal battle over an empty plot of land might be the greatest threat the club has faced yet.

Situated between the iconic club and Crystal Palace, the Jamaica Street Wetherspoon, the plot of land was sold to the national chain of pubs to be developed into a hotel in 2014. The club says that the idea of building a hotel on the street will threaten Subclub with a litany of noise complaints and other issues that will make the clubs existence untenable. A bit of drama emerged this week when it came to light that the plot of land was sold to Wetherspoons by the club director’s own family. Explaining in the same article to the Ferret, Barry Price- the director- made it clear that they didn’t object to a hotel in and of itself, but that any plans would have to take into account the existence of Subclub and accommodate the urban history of the street and club as a world famous music venue and nightclub. 

On top of this existential threat the club is already struggling, after an administrative error meant that the club was unable to access the government’s furlough scheme. Subclub submitted an online crowd fund to help make sure the club survived this financial difficulty and had its goal met in a couple hours after posting and finishing at £189,620 raised by 4339 supporters in 28 days. Clearly showing that there is support for the club in the community, and I do hope Subby does buck the trend of nightclub closures. 

A similar tragedy that hit the city was the closure of the Arches nightclub in 2015, literally just round the corner from Subclub. Serving as a grim reminder of what can befall even the most popular venue, the Arches was once a cultural Mecca of the city. On top of being renowned as one of the city’s best nightclubs it was also known for its support of the arts with plays and art exhibitions, as well as weirder nights like Alien Wars, an Alien inspired, horror adventure through the venues lower levels. 

The Arches founding has a bit of a mythology behind it. Andy Arnold, a theatre director, was looking for a unique setting for a show and came upon the venue almost by accident, disused and unloved under the train station, with no one quite sure what to do with the space. With a bit of imagination and ingenuity, it was soon opened to the public and the rest is history

After police complaints about drug abuse on the site following the death of a 17-year-old girl, the city council withdrew the venue’s license, meaning it could no longer operate as a nightclub as of April 2015. This was done despite an appeal by Scottish creatives that had loved the venue, including author Irvine Welsh, members of Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand, and came amid criticism that the local council had an anti nightclub agenda. The council has been accused previously of withholding late night licenses and generally making business for the clubs difficult, the use of drug abuses as a reason for closure were seen as especially flimsy when down the street a food venue (which will remain unnamed) that had for a long time been anecdotally more associated with drug abuse, and drug deaths remained open. As the nightclub side of the business had been the money generator that funded the arts and culture events, the business soon entered a tailspin. Despite being promised support from the Scottish government, the venue closed its doors in June. Anecdotally, a friend of mine was personally affected by this closure as he won a TV in a raffle on one of the last club nights; after the venue went into administration he never did get his prize. The venue is now open again under the name Platform as a 350 seat bar and restaurant.

Another victim of club closures has been the O2 ABC, a massive venue host to club events and an important stop in any major artists european tour. On the 31st of January 2019 a proposal to demolish the entire building was submitted to local authorities after it was severely damaged in the tragic Art School fire. Who knows what will be replacing it, or even when the demolition will go ahead but the venue that used to host popular nights like Propaganda will be missed. 

The elephant in the room for every club in the city is lockdown. It’s uncertain how these venues will recover after the financial hit which has meant the they have remained shut for nearly half a year. On top of this Donald MacLeod- the owner of both the Garage and the Cathouse- is currently going through a legal battle after he had taken out insurance against outbreaks of infectious disease, and now is getting stiffed by the insurance company. The first in what might be many insurance disputes, other venues are watching MacLeod’s struggle to get his payout with interest but it paints a poor picture for the city when even clubs that had done their best to prepare for something like this are now struggling.

Little by little the clubs we went to in our youth are closing, and the cultural venues that had shaped the landscape of the city’s music and art scene are being resigned to the history books. I hope Subby survives this ordeal, and doesn’t go the way of the Arches but the only thing we can be certain about is that after Covid we’ll be left with a very different Glasgow.