The Kazimier, Nation and the fight for Wolstenholme Square – Getintothis on Liverpool’s changing musical landscape

Ghostface performing live at The Kazimier

The adoring fans at The Kazimier during Ghostface Killah earlier in 2014

Liverpool’s venues are once again in the spotlight with the news that a planning application has been submitted which threatens the existence of two of the city’s most iconic hubs, Getintothis’ Beth Parker and Peter Guy reflect on the current state of play and gauge reaction within Merseyside music.

Let’s get straight to the point: The Kazimier and Nation are not shutting. There are no plans to bulldoze Wolstenholme Square. Despite what you’ve read, no plans are in place to scrap two of Liverpool’s most iconic venues of today and yesteryear.

But the early warning signs are there.

With the recent suggestion that Wolstenholme Square could become the latest area of Liverpool to undergo multi-million pound redevelopments still ringing in our ears, we’d be forgiven for questioning what path Liverpool city centre is going down.

For, if allowed to go ahead, the proposed redevelopments by Hope Street Properties Ltd. could see the forced closures of Liverpool’s much-loved independent venues, the Kazimier and Nation, in 2017.

While Liverpool City Council continues to espouse its support for redevelopment and investment into the arts, culture, grassroots organisations and independent businesses within the city, some actions differ and appear to support the interests of private business and private developers, resulting in the ultimate gentrification of our city centre.

Coming just a day after plans were unveiled of the Kazimier and Vision Comission’s exciting new dockland project, The Invisible Wind Factory, and only weeks after hearing of the closure of nearby Mello Mello, it appears that the truth behind the real reasons for such closures and relocations are slowly coming out. And to much understandable anger and upset. Even prompting a petition hastily set up last night.

But let’s be objective: a plan has been submitted. Liverpool City Council have not approved, nor even considered any potential impact on Nation or The Kazimier. Yet.

Reaction to the proposed plan was widespread, near-unanimous condemnation, with musicians, promoters and influential figures from across Merseyside’s arts and music scene united in their sadness that such potential actions could come to play.

Bill Ryder-Jones, a frequent performer at the Kazimier, told GetintothisFor a city that was saved by music and still trades massively off The Beatles legacy to show such little respect for its musicians and artists is a fucking disgrace.

“The Kaz has been the centre of Liverpool’s music scene for a few years now. How the council has the nerve to promote Liverpool as a ‘music City’ yet seeks to sell off anything that actually keeps that tradition alive shows a complete lack of awareness of what the people of Liverpool actually care about.”

His words were echoed by promoter, Steve ‘Revo’ Miller who holds FestEVOL at the Kazimier as well as promoting hundreds of gigs at the venue, adding: I knew this was coming, sadly inevitable, the natural culture that attracts people to Liverpool is eventually rubbed out and replaced by student flats, express supermarkets and fried chicken. Homogenous, characterless, personality of an amoeba, beige.”

Further weight was added by new dance promoter and DJ, Andrew Hill of Liverpool’s electronic club night Abandon Silence, often held at the Kazimier, who reiterated:The Kazimier represents one of the last true independent venues in Liverpool, to see it brushed aside for another set of empty flats and under-used retail shells is so disappointing.”

In less than seven years, the Kazimier has become as iconic as its long-standing next door neighbour Nation. Since it first unleashed itself upon the city in 2008, it quickly became a central hub for Liverpool’s creatives and the alternative scene – and looking back over what it has achieved in this short space of time, it’s pretty easy to see why.

From the original one-off themed parties to the later Krunks, Fiestas and Kazimier Winter and Summer Gardens, each and every venture has been like nothing we have seen before. Right from the off in the early days we got the feeling we were part of something pretty special and, all these years later, that feeling is still yet to go away. Best of all, they were all inclusive. No one was excluded.

Now an established live music venue, the Kazimier has housed an all-encompassing array of musical genres from hip hop to jazz and techno to noise. We’ve been lucky enough to see the likes of Deerhoof, Thee Oh Sees, Ghostface Killah, and the Portico Quartet, as well as the Kazimier‘s own Dogshow and the Kazimier Krunk Band, not to mention Liverpool bands like Outfit, a.P.A.t.T and Stealing Sheep within the Kazimier‘s walls.

The venue itself has been greatly loved by those who have performed upon its stage. Kieran Shudhall of the Liverpool quartet, Circa Waves, argued: “The Kazimier is not only the best venue in Liverpool but it’s the best venue in Britain. We have toured non-stop for over a year now and I’ve never seen anywhere that matches the charm and vibe of the place”.

Likewise, Nik Glover of Loved Ones has fond memories of the venue remembering: “Loved Ones played our first couple of big shows at the Kaz. I remember sneaking in with Dave from The Laze when it was being decorated for its grand opening, and quickly realising it was going to be an arts venue on a whole different scale to what had previously existed. Before then, venues might have friendly staff, good sound – some were even clean – but there wasn’t a sense of an independent, strategically-minded grassroots venue.”

In a similar fashion, Nation has given music lovers fond memories by offering up some of the UK’s greatest DJs and housing some of Liverpool’s biggest dance nights. Birthplace of the superclub, Cream, it has, over the years, seen the likes of Pete Tong, Chemical Brothers and Paul Oakenfold at its decks and, still today, is home to the city’s weekly student funky house night, Medication. And although club nights in Nation are not as frequent as they used to be, the sprinkling of nights at Easter, Boxing Day and New Year are always popular with the city’s residents.

While the futures of the both venues are not set in stone, what may become of the sites if the current inhabitants are prized out points to an unsettling trend within the city. In an ideal world, we’d hope that any suitable substitute to destroying two of Liverpool’s most popular music venues would, at the very the least, be inclusive of all of the city’s residents, and not least, those who currently operate independent businesses within the area.

Yet, this isn’t an ideal world and a fight against multi-million pound redevelopments often has little hope of falling upon the same side of the common people’s wishes. The proposals set out by Hope Street Properties Ltd. in fact include developments for residential, retail and leisure facilitates.

Commenting upon the proposed developments, Marc Jones, a promoter for Medication Ltd said: “The nightclubs of this city have had a massive impact on millions of lives and helped shaped the city and the people within it. The Cavern, Erics and now Cream and Kazimier instead of being treasured and celebrated have always been under constant threat. Property developers are the new barbarians, iconoclasts who flatten history and sanitize heritage. Whether the people of Liverpool want these new developments or not, the powers that be are determined to bring independence to its knees… Money, money, money…it’s sadly a rich man’s world!”

A point reiterated by Paddy Quinn of Liverpool’s hip hop collective No Fakin’, who observed: “The council would never force the closure of our football clubs to make way for property and retail development so how can it justify the systematic closure of our nightclubs and live music venues which arguably contribute more in attracting people to the city and putting Liverpool on the map, the two iconic Walstenholme Square venues being prime examples. No students or visitors ever came to Liverpool for its glorious flats”.

In these very early stages of planning it is unknown how much one of the proposed 15 apartments would cost to lease, however, it is unlikely any such property will be able to be afforded by much of the city and wider area’s residents, which points to the worrying trend and broader issue of gentrification of Liverpool city centre. While private investors and city councillors often argue that such developments bring investment and employment opportunities into low-performing economic areas of the city, once the dust has settled and final brick has been laid, who actually benefits from such multi-million pound investments?

There is a tendency, not only within Liverpool but across the UK as a whole, for the government and its councils to link socio-economic development and regeneration with such privatisation and gentrification of areas which have been earmarked as being in need of investment. That these areas are often the fortresses of creativity within city centres, forces the enterprising, artistic enclaves to think on their feet and find new venues and regions within which to express their creativity.

And with Sound City’s move and December’s upcoming launch party of The Invisible Wind Factory both set to take place within the docklands, it looks as if this area could, in the future, become the stronghold and stomping ground for Liverpool’s artistic and musical creatives.

Jo Shelbourne former director of Mello Mello, noted: “Already the seeds of our creative community have begun to blossom in pastures new. Look to the Baltic Triangle and the Stanley Dock area, they are buzzing with new creative activity, and the clever Kazimier lot already have ‘The Invisible Wind Factory‘ well underway. The grassroots artistic community of Liverpool are constantly moving, growing and regenerating lost lands, but are never gone. At least not yet.”

And Jo is right. For the ink is not yet dry, the papers are not yet signed and Liverpool’s creatives, not easily rallied down, as the Kazimier’s official Facebook statement suggests:

“Thank you all for your positive comments and show of support regarding The Kazimier Club and our future in the current location. At present we cannot offer any further commentary – however we are in discussions with our landlord, and we’ll have more to say soon. But change is not imminent, and we’re optimistic for the future.”

So while the future at first appeared gloomy and path unclear, it now seems to be a definite case of watch this space. And where the Kazimier collective are involved, who knows where or what that space may be – the fight for Wolstenholme Square has seemingly just begun.

A selection of spectacles in 2014 at the Kazimier from Getintothis’ photographic team.