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Independent Venue Week - James Ward

Recognition from Independent Venue Week is ‘the most important’ aspect for Manchester Venue Rebellion

Independent Venue  Week (IVW) saw hundreds of gigs happening across the country to amplify the important of grassroots venues to the music ecosystem.

There were 205 venues that came together to host an abundance of shows nationwide in what was the IVW's 10th anniversary. The seven-day annual event commenced on January 29th and celebrated independent music and arts venues. In that time it had facilitated 5,000 shows and, in doing so, sold more than a million tickets.

The initiative highlighted the work the venues do all year round, but throughout the week, created a unique series of live events across the county, amplifying how significant independent music venues are to the industry and to ensure smaller bands can rise through the ranks of the music world.

The annual celebration also champions the people who own and work in independent venues. One of which is the Managing Director of Rebellion in Manchester, Alex Kostyakov. Rebellion houses Metal, Rock and Alternative gigs alongside their grungy club nights. The queues always snake around the venue, so it is no wonder it has become a staple in the city to unearth new talent from those genres.

Whilst the free beer from Beavertown, the free t-shirts from IVW and the social assets associated with the initiative, Alex told GigPig: “The most important thing is it is nice to be recognised, whether it’s IVW or MVT, all these organisations are doing things to help us and helps us feel appreciated. It means we’re not just shouting into an echo chamber, and we’re not alone - that is the most important thing.

“There are other venues out there that are all independent operators, and as MVT has said, ‘nobody goes into an independent venue to make it rich.’ So it is good to be recognised for the amount of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to keep these places running, let alone improve them. Things like IVW help reinforce that these venues aren’t always thriving, and while they might be treading water or might be doing okay, they will always need that support and a little bit of leeway.”

This celebration of the grassroots venues couldn’t have come at a better time for the industry after the 2023 annual report from Music Venue Trust (MVT) highlighted that grassroots venues endured its “most challenging year”. Upon surveying 960 venues, it transpired that 125 grassroots music venues closed their doors, and many of those that remain operating are doing so at a loss despite seeing an increased demand for tickets. To put that into context, two venues have closed per week over the past 12 months, which is 16% of grassroots venues.

The report is the clearest illustration of the hardship that the grassroots industry has seen, which was primarily due to a lack of financial viability, as rents alone have increased by an average of 37.5%, along with soaring energy costs.

MVT supported Rebellion through their Pipeline Investment Fund last year by injecting over £4,000 into the business, which was spent on replacing the portaloos in the beer garden, as well as improving the lighting system to amplify gig-goer's experience in the venue.

“The Pipeline Investment Fund was immeasurable in the amount of difference it made,” Alex added.

“In the current landscape, people are less likely to come out as they have less disposable income. Customers are starting to think they can’t go to as many gigs, and if they can, they don’t buy as many drinks. Venues are always in the spotlight, so people tend to think by buying a ticket, they’re supporting the venue, and by all means, they are when attending. But actually, 90% of the time - in our instance - is where the drinks make the money.”

GigPig’s recent Live Music Index shows that live music helps pubs, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs flourish. Those venues could generate an average sales uplift of around £107,000 per year by hosting live music, with 79% of the venues which responded agreeing that it increases revenue and footfall.

Across the week, Rebellion was the stage for three different gig nights. They came in the form of St Louis rock group, ‘Foxing’, who were celebrating the 10th anniversary of their debut album, ‘The Albatross’, as well as the return of metal band ‘Evil Scarecrow’.

Alex said: “Evil Scarecrow is one of our favourite bands as a venue, and for myself too, as that was the second-ever gig I ran at Rebellion. So it’s a complete full circle for them to be coming back to a pretty much sold-out show, which is awesome. As a truly independent venue, we really appreciate it as this is our lifeblood - bands coming back and doing full circle.

“For gig-goers, it’s that intrinsic value of seeing a small on-the-up band in a smaller venue, and that is why it's so appreciated when the bands do full circle.”

Rebellion IVW closed off with the Metal to the Masses yesterday. It is a Battle of the Band's model, with the winner of each area gaining the opportunity to play at the Bloodstock Festival.

“The level of bands we are already seeing rolling through is amazing, and the bands that do go through, we’re taking notes, and I expect to see big things from a lot of them. It’s still just a preliminary heat, so it will only get better and better form here,” he added.

“It has been fantastic that our events can fall into IVW to give it a social boost and that online presence too. It’s a cliche, but it needs to be shouted from the rooftops at every possible opportunity: Every big band started in a small venue, and IVW has helped that.”