For The Sampler Bethany Holmes explores some of the new possibilities for nightclubs in the community shown by The Cause in north London.
In an ex-car mechanics depot in Tottenham, north London, lies The Cause: a ‘100% grassroots’ nightclub. Everything in the venue has been made in-house by a group of friends – from the bespoke Core Soundsystem, to the solid concrete DJ booth in the middle of the dancefloor – and it has quickly established itself on the capital’s house and techno scene, throwing sold-out parties played by guests such as DJ Pierre, Ellen Allien and Mosca. Meanwhile the industrial site itself, a complex of indoor and outdoor spaces, has grown into a ‘multi-functioning community project’ supporting arts, charitable events, independent businesses and start-ups – complete with a community garden.
If this didn’t already make the venue stand out from the UK’s clubbing landscape, its central focus on raising awareness and funds for community and mental health charities certainly does. Opened in April 2018 with the aim of raising £25,000 for charity partners Mind In Haringey, Campaign Against Living Miserably and Help Musicians UK, The Cause was envisaged to be a short-term project. But its success allowed business partners Stuart Glen and Eugene Wild to continue hosting parties and raising money, and their original fundraising goal has now doubled.
Self-described as an ‘eco-system evolving and built upon trading skills, space and talent’, The Cause lays new foundations for the possibilities of a nightclub. Not only does it offer an alternative to clubbing’s commodification – by prioritising a communal, optimistic response towards the UK’s mental health crisis – it acts as a beacon of hope for London’s club scene at a time when morale is low due to threats posed by authorities, complicated licensing and gentrification.
The Cause is also especially relevant when considering mental ill-health in the music industry. In 2016 Help Musicians UK – one of the venue’s charity partners – commissioned the largest known academic research project on the mental health of musicians and music industry professionals working in the UK. It emerged that 71.1% of respondents had suffered from panic attacks and/or anxiety and 68.5% from depression. These figures suggest a worrying link between mental health and conditions within the music industry, something which the suicide of high-profile electronic musician Avicii in April 2018 also shone a light on.
Cultural factors impacting on musicians and music professionals’ mental wellbeing range from criticism and measuring success, to the impact of careers on relationships and the pressures of networking. Equality, diversity and access to opportunity are further issues, along with late nights, drugs and alcohol. But also central is precarity, understood as insecurity of finance and experience. The industry’s unpredictable nature – with its reliance on short-term or zero-hours contract jobs – goes hand in hand with a lack of financial security. This leaves many musicians and music industry professionals unable to plan for the future, or forces them to overcompensate and make themselves constantly available, leading to exhaustion and anxiety.
The report recommended that a Code of Best Practice be produced for individuals and organisations to sign up to, as well as better education on mental health, and above all professional and affordable help. But considering that access to mental health support can be as precarious as working in the industry itself, and that insecure working patterns are proliferating in the current economic climate, bottom up approaches are also necessary.
The Cause offers a practical solution: raising money for local and national charities while aspiring to make the club a positive space centred on communality. And more generally, the rise in inclusive venues and club nights across the UK – such as BBZ and Pxssy Palace in London, Meat Free in Manchester and Tomboy in Glasgow – highlight the importance of prioritising community in clubbing, while standing in opposition to its marketisation and privatisation.
However, like many venues and club nights all over London – particularly those providing for subcultures or LGBTQI+ crowds – The Cause is under threat. Previously set to close on New Year’s Eve 2019 to allow for property developers, it was granted an extension by Haringey Council in November 2019. But as the extension is for an unspecified amount of time, the threat of closure is constantly looming. And notably, Tottenham itself is a battle ground of gentrification, with prominent campaigns against redevelopment like Save Latin Village.
Regardless of what happens to The Cause’s current home, its co-founders plan to continue with their mission. They are potentially moving to a venue close by when their lease ends, with the aim of showing developers and councils what dance music can do for communities. At the dawn of a new decade, The Cause and all other community-led venues and club nights are paving the way for what seems to be a positive future for clubbing, despite the obstacles they face.