I haven’t posted on here for absolutely ages, but I feel it’s time for another one of my long, passionate text posts. Today I’ve decided I want to talk about Southampton’s nightclubs. This probably translates to many many places throughout the UK, but from experience of going out elsewhere in the country, Southampton is particularly guilty of what I’m about to talk about…
I’ve noticed lately, the number of venues opening their doors without ANY unique selling point. There used to be a time when you could decide what kind of night out you wanted, by choosing a different club. Each venue would have its ‘style’ of clientele and would be known for something, whether good or bad.
These days, 90% of clubs and late night bars opening in the city centre play exactly the same playlist as each other, pull in exactly the same crowds and even make a conscious effort to be like another club. Take the new bar/club ‘Prohibition' for example, located on Bedford Place where Pop used to be. It is now owned by the same people that own Voodoo and Rhino. Instead of creating something new and exciting in an area crammed full of generic clubs, they decided their first two nights would be a 'House Night' and a Geordie Shore (or TOWIE or something) guest appearance…
It takes just the simplest bit of marketing savvy to know that if you open a venue that offers nothing different to everywhere else around it, the best you can possibly hope for is splitting the market slightly. Not exactly ambitious!
Let’s look at another venue, Provenance. It used to be The Square Balloon and despite its terrible reputation for clientele, bad smell and dirty floors, it used to be unique and had fantastic character and shape. Upon the news of the venue being refurbished for a ridiculous amount of money, I became hopeful that someone would be putting the promising venue to good use, boy was I wrong - The inside was gutted out and changed into the same shape as you would find in any other mid-large sized club, with a bar too small for its capacity, a loud but poor quality sound system and just basically a replica of Oceana’s Icehouse room.
On top of this, every night at the venue features the same generic club style of music, the same poorly thought out drinks offers and just EXACTLY the same clientele as everywhere else. What an absolute waste of a promising venue.
Why is it that venue managers and night promoters have lost the ability to come up with unique ideas? Is it really that hard to think outside the box? - Take The Hobbit for example, a large pub located only 10 minutes walk from these generic clubs, open until 3am each night. They have themed the pub around Lord of the Rings, selling themed cocktails, with artwork and figurines scattered throughout the place and a non-shallow attitude to the acts that play at the venue. This pub has earned itself loyal clientele, due to its character and uniqueness and the ‘accepting’ nature of the whole environment - Is it really that hard for promoters to see that an unique approach results in a loyal and long-lasting crowd and a far more interesting Southampton scene?
I could practically use my regular club, Unit, as an example of a test subject in this situation. I’ve been going to Unit since it opened as Unit 22 in a different part of town. It’s known for playing an alternative/rock, but still somewhat mainstream style of music. It has been successful over many years in attracting people like me who look for something different to the norm of other local clubs, especially those into alternative music of course.
However, over the last couple of years, Unit have started to introduce nights that are very similar in style to those in the city centre venues, with nights themed around chart tunes, dubstep etc. and from the turnouts and the numerous comments from people that I’ve heard throughout the years, this seemed to alienate many of the loyal crowd it used to have. Luckily, Unit has such a strong reputation for alternative culture, that regulars still attend, regardless of the music, but you will often find them out in the smoking area, ignoring what is being played inside.
At the beginning of this year, Unit announced results of its customer feedback, which included people asking for ‘more alternative music’. They reacted quickly and introduced an alternative floor to their Saturday nights (previously only heard on Thursday nights, a difficult night for the now over-20s regular crowd to come out) and you’ll very rarely see the room not-busy on Saturdays now, a welcome flash back to a time when the club strongly valued its unique selling point.
To get back to my main point, clubs need to start planning for some longevity with the crowds they pull and this can only be done by somehow creating a different atmosphere (whether clientele, music, decor etc.) to every other club in the city. It seems so obvious to me, so why can’t people who are experienced in running these kind of venues see that?
(This may not be accurate)