Music

'This is not the end': Experimental arts venue Iklectik fights to survive after shock eviction

Every week, The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign supports and champions grassroots music venues across the UK. This week, we take a look at how one London-based community refused to give up when they lost their venue. Can Iklectik find a new way forward for their experimental sounds?

Female experimental musician plays at Iklectik

Experimental musician Nkisi performs at Iklectik. Photo: Matt Favero

It was a paradise for experimental music and art in central London. Just behind Waterloo station and down an alleyway, you’d find a beautiful Victorian building off a shaded courtyard. Inside was the grassroots music and art venue Iklectik, the beating heart of a community of avant-garde creators. It hosted more than 1,700 shows, 21 festivals and 23 fundraisers over the past 10 years, welcoming more than 60,000 people through its doors. Its fans include Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and pioneering pop musician (and sometime Taylor Swift collaborator) Imogen Heap. “I always felt at home and inspired there,” says Heap.

“For us, for the audience, for the musicians, for everyone, the feeling was like being in a dream,” agrees Iklectik founder and director Eduard Solaz. “Everyone felt safe, felt like home. We programme people who are pioneers in pushing the boundaries of sound. It’s been a place for sonic adventures, a place to share crazy ideas. It was a very special place for the community, in a busy city – bringing culture, art, music together. It was so precious.”

Sadly, this unique space for unconventional creative expressions was forced to close for the last time on 20 January, the latest in a long line of grassroots venues we’ve lost in the last 12 months. But this is not only a story of loss. It may be too late to save the bricks and mortar, but the people behind Iklectik are fighting to keep their community going, giving it life beyond the venue.

Iklectik was yet another independent music space lost to property development, evicted to make way for a controversial new office development – despite almost 50,000 people signing a petition to save it. Grassroots venues are closing at a rate of more than two per week, according to Music Venue Trust. Many of these closure are connected to the fact that most venues do not own their own building. Of the 835 remaining UK grassroots venues, 81% operate within rented premises, leaving them vulnerable to rent increases or eviction – as happened to Iklectik.

a crowd sit outside Iklectik and watch experimental music
Composer, improvising trombonist, electronic musician, and field recordist Tullis Rennie at Iklectik.

Its closure was “loss to a city which has historically prided itself as a global light of progressive culture,” says Thurston Moore. Meanwhile, experimental musician Alexander Tucker says he “cannot imagine” London without them.

“Iklectik is a space where I can unfurl my practice in any direction I want, where I can develop new guises or just be myself,” he adds. “You always feel like a part of an extended family and included in a wider artistic community. They have become a crucial part of my life as an artist working in London.”

Though they were reeling from the sudden eviction notice, the last night at the venue was “like being in a beautiful cloud, floating with all these people and the love,” says Solaz. With the support of their community all around them, the team was buoyed and resolute: “We couldn’t just lock the door and say goodbye.”

So, Solaz and fellow director Isa Ferri launched a crowdfunder to “keep Iklectik alive and propel it into its next chapter”. While the cost of finding a new venue like the one they lost is prohibitive for now, they don’t want everything they’ve built to go to waste. “We have all this equipment. We have all these resources and knowledge, and we know a lot of people. We can build a smaller space, a workshop space where we can keep nurturing the community. It will make sure that people have space to share their ideas again.”

They plan to call this dedicated creative hub Art Lab: a place “where experimentalists across all disciplines can come together to push the boundaries of their field”. They also intend to create an Iklectik touring programme, allowing them to continue bringing experimental sounds to audiences, in collaboration with other grassroots music venues.

Two women playing music on computers
Algorave at Iklectik. Photo: Matt Favero

With a week to go, they’ve raised more than £47,000 towards their goal of £55,000. Solaz says they’re confident if they can just get through this critical time, they can provide a strong, sustainable business model to keep supporting the future of experimental sound for years to come.

“We feel really connected with this community,” says Solaz. “We have to continue. This is not the end because we feel the love of the community. We feel like we need to do something in order to preserve the culture, music, the human connections. I think it’s so important. That’s why we don’t want to give up.”

Read more about how you can support Iklectik’s crowdfunder here.

Find out how to join Venue Watch – and nominate your own favourite grassroots music venue – here.

Band plays to packed crowd at London experimental venue Iklectik
The Horse at Iklectik. Photo: Matt Favero

Venue Watch analysis: Iklectik, London

By Phil Ryan – musician, writer and entrepreneur

I first learned about this unique space a few years back, and I paid it a visit. It was wonderful. In Iklectik, I found a thriving artistic community in the heart of London and an almost magical little place with a really cool music venue (featuring, that night, some amazing artists).

Then to my horror a short time afterwards I saw it was under threat from a massive property redevelopment, and I felt a familiar shiver. The 12 Bar Club, the venue I used to run in London’s Denmark Street, had faced the same fate – ie a huge property development that swept a unique space and multiple small businesses away. If you look at that area now, it’s been gutted! The place a shadow of its former self. Huge glass blocks everywhere. Concrete and boxes.

In a mirror image of that destruction, the poor Iklectic folk’s nemesis is The Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation, who own the lease. They intend to build a massive development and wipe out Old Paradise Yard, the home of the Iklectic and a load of other amazing people. Now it’s finally happening. The great ugly development sadly, is now going ahead as Laura’s piece explains.

So, we lose yet another grassroots venue, along with 20-plus small businesses in a truly lovely little oasis in Lambeth. London is scarred again with mountains of steel and glass, destroying a wonderful and unique breathing space in noisy, polluted and crowded Lambeth. To add balance here, the development apparently features a life sciences lab, plus the crocodile phrase “affordable local housing” – not social housing, as it should be – plus there’s the usual PR waffle about spaces for local organisations and small businesses which always turn out to be horrendously expensive. Sadly folks, I’ve seen it all before.

Those of you who are regular readers know my thoughts: that this type of property development has been destroying everything that’s good about our UK music and local historical heritage for years now. The money these behemoths throw at politicians etc means everything they want to do, is a done deal. Public consultations are just a con, local petitions are ignored, local councils roll over every single time (to be fair they don’t have the resources, plus the law is firmly on the side of property developers and landlords).

You help Eduard and Isa at Iklectic find a new home. Please drop them a couple of quid if you can. They’re very special people.

I’m going to throw out a challenge to the Labour Party (as it looks likely they will be the new government after the next general election): create a Grassroots and Cultural Space Commission; change the planning laws; return the power to local people; stop international companies and giant organisations bulldozing our country for their soulless schemes.

We have lost so much, including so many unique and human-sized spaces like Old Paradise Yard. Go look at the pictures, it’s a lovely little place. Once home to a thriving artistic community, the unique and significant Iklectic music venue, a sweet old-fashioned little yard off the city streets. Soon to be gone forever. It’s a tragedy.

Join Venue Watch, help us push back! Raise your voices!

Musician Phil Ryan has toured with The Animals and is co-founder of The Big Issue and The 12 Bar Club.

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