The Kazimier is set to close: Liverpool reacts
As one of Liverpool's most iconic venues of recent times announces its closure later this year, we ask participants in the local scene what this will mean for the city
There was bad news for the Liverpool music scene last week with the announcement that one of the city’s most treasured music venues, The Kazimier, is set to close following their New Year’s Eve party at the end of 2015.
That its days were numbered should not come as news to proprietors or punters; the venue was originally cited for closure as part of a new development proposed for the Wolstenholme Square area in November of last year. Also affecting neighbouring space Nation, home to superclub Cream, the plans met with significant local opposition – particularly following the expected yet premature closure of nearby arts hub MelloMello just two months earlier – although they were ultimately passed by the city council’s planning committee.
In a prepared statement, representatives of the venue explained: “After discussions with Elliot Group, the developer of Wolstenholme Square, we would like to make it public today that The Kazimier Club will be closing its doors as a venue for the last time on New Year’s Day 2016. This gives us nine months of events to celebrate the life of the venue and provide it with a fitting end. We have been offered a new site within their new development plans – talks are ongoing.” Thanking the public for their support, they added that the attached Kazimier Garden site would be unaffected.
Events Programmer Andrew Ellis, who spoke out against the development at the planning meeting, is effusive in terms of the importance of the venue: “Above everything else, the Kazimier has acted as the first true medium-sized home for genuine outsider music in my ten years in the city. A combination of the team and the unique space really allowed for the community to create something incredibly special – something very Liverpool – whilst remaining very much its own thing.”
Jason Stoll of psych-rockers Mugstar agrees: “It was a very welcome addition to Liverpool when it opened, and has always been a great place to play and put shows on. It's irreplaceable and it will be missed.”
Colour us intrigued, then, to see what happens as the plans for the new site unfold, as well as the myriad projects in the works from various promoters and planners who’ve helped to develop The Kazimier over the years. Originally opening in 2008 as a theatre space, it swiftly became one of the city’s best-loved arts spaces, hosting gigs, club nights, comedy shows, bazaars and much more besides, with memorable performances from mid-level touring bands who had historically sidestepped Liverpool in favour of neighbouring Manchester. The likes of Hot Snakes, Les Savy Fav and Deerhoof all delivered the goods in a space that was highly conducive to a party atmosphere, and the venue has since expanded into additional projects such as the open-air Kazimier Garden venture, and the larger-scale Invisible Wind Factory. Questions are now inevitable as to whether future projects conceived in the same spirit will be able to fill the gaping hole this will leave behind at the epicentre of Liverpool’s live music community.
Ellis continues: “I don’t doubt that the Kazimier collective’s impact will continue to hold an important place in Liverpool for years to come. As for music in general though, 500+ capacity spaces with soul are few and far between. They cost an absolute fortune to put together and generally require a non-residential area – there just aren’t that many areas around the city centre left for somebody to carve out a new space. The Baltic area [home to the Camp & Furnace complex] serves a purpose but lacks live rooms; there’s some amazing dance spaces, but I’m probably going to end up going to Manchester to see weirdo bands. Back to the old days.”
Although he stops short of suggesting a trip down the East Lancs Road is a long-term outcome, MelloMello’s Adam Millington is similarly-minded: “The Kaz became a flagship venue for Liverpool and has hosted some blinding shows over the years; some that just won't work in the venues that remain. I think the venue was part of the performance, and the acts and crowd felt that. They won't ever feel that in the Academy.”
He’s optimistic, however, that this is an opportunity rather than a full stop: “The scene isn't going to roll over because of a venue closure. The independent cultural scene in Liverpool doesn't take the path of least resistance, it's not looking for an easy ride and predictable earn. It will seek fresh challenges in every corner of the city, and keep trifling with the comfort zones.”
Ellis has mixed feelings: “To the residents that enjoy independent music, everything’s getting worse. Lots of people talking about leaving. It sucks because for a few years we’ve been spoilt and it’s been glorious. Developers won’t give it a second thought because it’s not their job to. They just need to make money. The council technically can’t stop development unless it’s breaking planning regulations, though I do have serious doubts over who truly understands the significance of the independent venues in the city beyond those that patronise them. It’s short-term gratification in the hands of the few and it’s depressing.
“As with all cultural organisations and spaces,” Ellis continues, “people outside of the embedded community would see the benefits ten years down the line through profile, tourism, rates, taxation, employment, quantifiable stuff, after things have grown organically. Without breathing space for projects to grow organically, the top brass and general public won’t ever get to see the benefits.”
All in all, it looks like another period of change (and therefore uncertainty) is in store for the city. With the O2 Academy and the Arts Club – formerly East Village Arts Club – in place, there are still spaces for shows to be staged, but crucially none as catalytic or community-minded as the Kaz. Millington, however, is optimistic that this will bring alternative benefits. “Change is a positive force; an era has to end before you can see it for what it was. Just as the new artists, nights, social bonds and good fortune that constitute a scene must evolve organically over time, so they must gracefully accept the evolution of the next. That will happen in the face of the recent closures.
“The city's clumsy smash-and-grab development is an entirely non-organic process. It is affected, it is imposed, and as such will not satisfy those it has displaced,” he admits, adding: “The scene shows such innovation and resilience that it will not be subdued by the misguided, embarrassing attempts to gentrify its previous haunts. Liverpool is well equipped to adapt to the changes. It doesn't waste time bemoaning its losses. It's a quick flick of the finger, then back to work; everyone throwing a great time for everyone else, at all levels.”
Stoll echoes this, hinting at the widely-held suspicion that the city council is happy to trade on the notion of Liverpool as a cultural city without actually doing very much to support the grassroots culture created by its inhabitants. “I think there is a short-sightedness and this needs to be addressed before a cultural void materialises and this will worsen as this 'progress' behemoth continues. But I do believe the grassroots of the Liverpool scene have always done things outside of the box, and I know that will continue.”
It seems, then, that an all-pervading spirit of defiance will see the city through – the same spirit that saw the Kazimier develop and thrive in the first place, along with its attendant scene. Yes, the city is set to lose a unique space which, in the short term at least, seems irreplaceable, but even if this means a temporary fallow period, then locals need not lose faith in the longevity of their local scene. And in terms of what punters and well-wishers can do to assist its redevelopment, Ellis has one simple but important point to make: “The Kaz’s time has run out due to development but the likes of Mello were down to business rates and the high cost of running a space. Let’s reassess taxation and rates on cultural spaces, aye? And if you really love spaces, head to them as often as you can, even just for a brew during the day. An extra pint or coffee once a week can make or break an independent business.”