We’re all aware of the soul destroying activities of local councils agreeing to hugely important music venues being closed down to make way for gentrification, profiteering and and modernisation, but the long lasting impact of these venues closing on the local communities and the wider musical landscape, with new generations loosing potential venues to forge their new musical memories and the opportunity to see their heroes (be them current or future) live in many forms is tragic. With constant cuts within education for music, youth centres continuing to be lost and the colossal projected impact of loosing EU funding which has already begun a ripple effect with trade partners pulling out from UK projects, this is a difficult and crucial time within our creative, independent culture.
Times like this can also unity communities, and this has been especially true of the venue closure situation that the UK is currently trying to contest. From Goldie threatening to burn his MBE to the huge uproar at the closure of Passing Clouds, it’s time to stand up and make your opinion count. Benin City had exactly that idea, and Wordplay are proud to support their song All Smoke No Fire, with the premiere of the track, in the hope that this alongside other spokes-people can create a sense of solidarity.
We spoke to Josh Idehen, Tom Leaper & Shanaz Dorsett of Benin City to find out more about All Smoke No Fire, and understand what they are trying to do:
What motivated you to make All Smoke No Fire on a personal level?
Josh – Marathon listens of Stromae and a pub on Morning Lane, where I used to live, that got turned into a fashion store. At the same time, Tom was frustrated with what was happening in Brixton where he lived, in particular Brixton Arches, so when I pitched the idea we both agreed we had to say something. So Shanaz and I got writing and Tom worked on a melody.
Tom – I moved to Brixton in 2009 and have seen it change so much since then. During my almost seven years in the area, I have worked in a Brixton born fashion shop and also taught local school kids how to play music. We recorded our first album in my flat. I have been fortunate to make so many friends here. People who have grown up here and people who have moved to the area later in life, like me. New bars and restaurants opened and stood alongside old favourites. Some ran by excited locals, others not. Big companies forcing their way in to get a piece of the pie. Now many of my favourites have been pushed out. Fishmongers that we visited weekly. Fabric shops that sparked a hobby. Bars where I laughed with friends and venues where I saw artists that inspired me.
Were there particular venues (including Brixton Arches) that are featured in the video that you felt particularly close to?
Josh – Passing Clouds is the one: it was Benin City’s first proper gig, the one we made our first real paycheck on. The one where we got our first encore. The one where we felt we belonged for the first time. We changed sounds and ended up in Fabric/Vibe Bar/Crucifix Lane but I always had a spot for the Clouds.
Shanaz – I’m shown standing in front of the Brixton Arches and that was particularly poignant for me. The area has always been a beacon of British-Caribbean culture that has changed before my eyes over the last few years. The shop fronts at the arches have this vibrant graffiti and murals painted in protest of the closure and it’s just really beautiful but bittersweet. The is so full of colour but is being drained of it over time.
The video feels in parts like a documentary, is that the intention of the piece?
Josh – Yeah. Originally we were just going to drop the soundcloud and be done with it on the week when Fabric and Passing Clouds went down: emotions were a bit raw but we all agreed that even thought we needed to say something and show our support, we shouldn’t use this as some launchpad for ourselves. I spoke to Shaun Grant, from Lemonade Money, who heard the song and talked about crafting something that sat between a documentary and a music video, that treated the subject matter with the kind of seriousness it deserved. Also, shout out to the people who’d been fighting this battle far longer than we have, like George (Poet Whisper), Lyrically Challenged and Reclaim Brixton, to name a few.
What do you think people can do to change the current situation with venue closures?
Josh – I don’t have the answers beyond get more involved in council meetings and plans and vote. Actually, just vote. Make this a campaign issue in your borough. Take the politicians to task. Support Your Community. Our clubs are for life, not just clubbing.
Shanaz – As with most gentrification across London (and beyond), it’s important to make a point of supporting local business and the pillars of our communities. We can’t take it for granted.
How is this situation affecting you as a band?
Josh – Well, there are now fewer places for indie bands than there were when we started performing. There’s still Hootenanny, there’s still Bussey, thank god, but as an band making music that doesn’t fit in any of the allocated mainstream genres… it’s tough.
Shanaz – There are definitely venues that I am sad that I have (and never will) get to perform in with the band. Passing Clouds being the main one. So many people I looked up to got their start there.
Who are the people featured in the video standing in front of the venues?
Josh – Good friends of ours who spared the time: Teju Adeleye, Warren Borg, Bridget Minamore, Shanaz (our band member), Josh Douglas, Myself and Tom Leaper. We tried to make sure every person featured had something to do with the venue they stood in front of; you can hear Warren who worked at Plastic People half way through the track.
It seems like there was a fair bit of tension surrounding you filming this, did you have any issues whilst filming?
Josh – Some of the venues had been transformed into other businesses and as such weren’t as keen to have their brands feature in our video. We filmed anyway. Other than that, it was the usual, long hours, junk food and jokes.
The song feels pretty different to alot of your previous music, was that intentional?
Josh – Our second album is essentially Tom, Shanaz’s and my experiences of London nightlife, so we made music to reflect the expansion of the theme, refreshing our inspiration bank to include Julio Bashmore, Stromae, 1975, Toro Y Moi and Jamie XX to name a few.
Shanaz – The trap sound is a mainstay in clubs at the moment and I love that the narrative of clubbing falling victim to gentrification is expressed in a way that people can turn up to. Some of the best tunes in the club are the ones to get aggy to (think any DMX song!), and this has a similar feel!
Tom – As a band we are always evolving and pushing ourselves. London is a big part of or sound and identity and that is most definitely present in this track. We wanted this track to capture some the energy that we project in our live performances and I think we really managed to achieve that. Partly with the help of Josh’s favourite cider!
Any final words on the venue closure situation?
Josh – Passing Clouds used to have a colourful mural on its front. When the property developers came in and kicked them out, they painted the walls grey. Now it looks dead. They’re literally and metaphorically draining the city of colour. Gutted. VOTE!!!!
I hear Fabric is fighting the decision. Good. Everyone should go here: https://www.fabriclondon.com/blog/view/join-the-campaign-to-save-our-culture-donate-to-fight-with-fabric
Where can people get the track?
Josh – It’ll be available in November in streaming and spending places.
So. That’s some more background to the track and why we, as we’re sure you will to, feel so passionately about the current situation we’re facing. Here’s the track we’ve been dscussing. Wordplay Magazine are proud to present, the poignant and evocative All Smoke No Fire by Benin City. Enjoy, share, make a difference.
Video edited and Directed by Shaun J Grant on behalf of Lemonade Money.
Words by Vice