Techno-Gentrification: act 1

Techno-Gentrification: act 1

Part 1. Intro: The spatialization of capital in the city in the 21st century

What is the relation between nightlife and the urban spaces it occupies? We propose here an analysis of the techno scene (and by extension, electronic and experimental music scenes) and its contribution to the acceleration of gentrification, through collaboration with private investors and local authorities. We call this phenomenon “techno-gentrification”.

We analyze the spatialization of capital via public-private collaborations for the use of industrial wastelands to build cultural spaces, and the use of street art to limit who get to access spaces (taking the example of Johannesburg). Starting from a broad analysis of the spatialization of capital in the city in the 21st century, we go on to argue that private actors hiding behind the veil of being cultural actors (for instance CULTSPACE, sinny&ooko) use social washing[1]Social washing  is the act of conveying information to the public that is – in substance and form – a distorted presentation of facts and truth, with the aim of appearing socially and/or … Continue reading to make a profit. Taking the example of the Netherlands, we describe how the squat movement got slowly pacified and criminalized. Finally, we analyze how Paris’ slow process of integrating its suburbs compared to other metropolises adds fuel to the real estate crisis and puts its nightlife at risk.

Urban capitalism takes multiple forms, for instance “smart cities”, new development of neighbors, and so on. The notion of spatialization of capital is mobilized in this essay to define urban capitalism. It allows us to conceptualize space and how it is constructed at a given time, in a group or a particular society. This concept highlights that social values and meanings are fixed in spaces and evolve with them. It invites us to think about the values, representations, images or mythologies of spaces produced by institutions, private companies, urban planners and architects.[2]Le capital dans la cité – Matthieu Adam, Emeline Comby (2020)

Additionally, it invites us to re-think about how a set of knowledge and beliefs resonate and are identified with particular spaces. For example, the credibility of a scientific discovery is enhanced by the fact that it was produced in a city (Cambridge, Oxford) or in a prestigious university (Harvard, Yale), and the same goes for the reliability of a product (Swiss watches, German quality) or its quality (a wine from Bordeaux, a vinegar from Modena). Contemporary capitalist cities offer standardized experiences, through their “central business district”, their commercial franchises, their tourist sites, their “typical” kitchens, or their sanitized housing.[3]Le capital dans la cité – Matthieu Adam, Emeline Comby (2020)

This dynamic can also be observed in the nightlife industry,[4]As the credibility of a scientific discovery is linked to the city where it’s from, a venue or an artist based in NYC, Berlin, London, will have more credibility than a venue/artist hailing from … Continue reading for example in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg in Berlin, where most of the clubs of the German capital are concentrated. In Paris, there is a heavy concentration of nightclubs in the old red-light district of Pigalle, down to the second borough (arrondissement) with the famous Rex Club, but the city nightlife went into some heavy changes and got pushed outside of the city following a political strategy of repression within the city’s walls but acceptance outside of it.[5]In Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music by Matthew Collin an organizer recall ‘‘So the authorities created a space for it by on the one hand being very hostile against techno … Continue reading

These urban experiences are expensive and exclude a large part of the population, to cater for the “winning” populations of globalization, i.e. managers, executives and engineers, but also wealthy tourists. The best the disenfranchised can get from those institutions are workshops heavily leaning into old colonial tropes.[6]http://stationstation.fr/l-echo-de-bondy/ inspired by Pierre Shaeffer. As highlighted by Sam Ridout in his article “Strange Encounter: Musique concréte, Syncretism, Primitivism”, Schaeffer … Continue reading This standardization of experiences is also what Berlin’s Clubcommission spokesman Lutz Leichsenring calls a unique selling point (Alleinstellungsmerkmal)  thinking of the German capital  most profitable clubs, like Watergate, Tresor or Berghain, which all possessed this “unique selling point”.[7]excerpt from “How Berlin’s Clubcommission’s actions to save the nightlife are the opposite of relief” co-written with Hansi Keil “Leichsenring is the co-chair of VibeLab … Continue reading

In the context of urban capitalism in nightlife, it is the standardization of club spaces which is key to the understanding of the way urban capitalism unfolds in nightlife. This standardization of Berlin’s techno experience, emblematized by collectives such as “Berlinons Paris” (“Let’s Berlinize Paris”) which spearheaded the warehouse rave movement in Paris. To “Berlinize Paris” is to set oneself on a mission to normalize nightlife in the city, with Berlin-themed night bars such as “Berliner Wunderbar” or  “Liebe”, which ressemble a Pub dedicated to the german capital famous night-clubs, with a theme park-like attention to details.

Following this idea of standardization of urban spaces, we take the example of urban art in the city of Johannesburg,[8]L’art de (dé)faire la ville- Matthieu Adam, Emeline Comby (2020) where street art is used to restrict who has access to a place. For example, street vendors are restricted to access a space where a sculpture was placed in order to occupy a public space, physically preventing it from being occupied by those street vendors. Additionally, law enforcement is bound to pay more attention to a space occupied by institutionalized sanctioned “street art”. The occupation of spaces in the west by collectives working hand in hand with property developers/public authorities, restricts who has access to these abandoned places in the city— This combined with the criminalization of the squatter movement [9]https://en.squat.net/2020/10/04/france-anti-squat-law-the-parliament-triples-the-penalties-and-introduces-a-denunciation-measure/  prevent  the inhabitants of the area, or people who aren’t in those institutionalized networks to appropriate it for example.

What if the wasteland wedged between the Stalingrad and La Chapelle stations, which was discovered in 1986 by graffiti artists and where the french first b-boys were meeting,[10]https://autour-de-paris.com/project/terrain-stalingrad-lieu-mythique-histoire-hip-hop had instead been taken over by bureaucracy savvy collectives formed by white middle class people? Then, French rap would have known an even more tumultuous birth. Organic cultural movements could be born from unused spaces in the city of Paris and its outskirts, but are instead (in our present development of capitalism) taken over by collectives which work as land sitters for real estate companies, which will at some point break their lease when they decide the land or building occupied is ready to be “flipped”. 

We identified the dynamic of capital spatialization through the financialization of real-estate. We now ask ourselves the question: should collective acting as “live-in-guardians” for real-estate investors be the only entities to embody culture in the metropolis?

Part 2. Nightlife as an agent of urban-capitalism

Club scenes and electronic dance music have always been tied to the economical conditions they develop themselves in. Commenting on the gentrification of Manhattan, Tim Lawrence writes: “Cultural workers might have contributed to the process of gentrification and tourism, but their involvement was often unwitting given that they were simply seeking out affordable space thanks to their lack of income. Moreover, their presence did not cause gentrification to happen, but simply enabled those with more money to move into the area and escalate property prices. Party hosts and club promoters were caught up in the same stream of developments, and their radically reduced presence in downtown New York across the 1980s speaks to the way rising property prices benefited owners and investors at the cost of those who wanted to undertake the simple act of congregating on a dance floor”.[11]https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1533-1598.2011.01294.x

While much of the public discourse around clubs and gentrification has focused on individual responsibility from cultural workers, it is worth remembering that it is “the role played by neoliberal economics and politics in the culture’s collapse” which must be challenged first and foremost in order to offer an alternative.[12]https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1533-1598.2011.01294.x Soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhoods attract a new creative class of young executives looking for more affordable and accessible housing, but it is worth pointing that the concentration of cultural workers in large metropoles is a consequence of the way the creative work industry operates. As the sociologist Pierre-Michel Menger points out in “The Economics of Creativity. Art and Achievement under Uncertainty”, large cities offer the largest choice of (professional) activities and resources for creative workers, who can more easily diversify their sources of income and establish stronger and more diversified social networks, as (chances of) success critically depend on artistic visibility: in an overcrowded and hypercompetitive sector, the simple act of working and being seen at work constitutes a strong signal for one’s artistic reputation.[13]https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724563

This collaboration with property investors is however not always happening at the expense of cultural institutions, but sometimes with their active collaboration. In Paris and its conurbation, wastelands, empty buildings, abandoned railways, which used to be illegally occupied, are now used to build “atypical spaces”, which define themselves as “open to all” providing a local cultural offering to inhabitants of disfranchised neighbors yet the audience is young, white and Parisian and wealthy. Party organizers in Paris choose real estate developers as partners, with for example the collective 6B working with the real estate developer Brémond, in charge of building an eco-neighborhood in Saint-Denis, right next to Paris. Other sponsors of the club include local authorities (Île-de-France Region, the municipality of Saint-Denis) and major corporations (Paris). Similarly, the opening of the Station Gare des Mines was supported by local authorities, while the collective Soukmachines signed an agreement with the city of Nanterre and the Etic property company to use the Pavillon du Docteur Pierre. Within the city of Paris, a few private conglomerates own most of the venues, such as CULTPLACE.[14]La Bellevilloise, La Rotonde Stalingrad, La Petite Halle de la Villette, Dock B and Poinçon; and in La Rochelle: France 1 boat, and La Fabuleuse Cantine

Associated to those renewal projects are very cynical forms of green-washing (with the instance on sustainability and organic food), pinkwashing, and so on. Such institutions do not shy away from using any societal issue for their branding, with the complicity of local authorities. But this “valorization” of cultural spaces is primarily financial. As Lamontagne & Iten write in “Grand Paris and Electronic Dance Music: Nightlife Policies, Neoliberal Urban Planning, and the Gentrification of the Banlieues”: “By integrating the rhetoric and activity of atypical cultural places, the promoters present their real estate projects as being in the general interest. (…) The banlieues begin to represent a zone of freedom, a playground full of unconventional spaces to explore, where to party in new ways. The ephemeral character of the occupied spaces gives the party an exciting edge, a hedonistic insouciance, contrasting with the permanence of clubs inside the capital.” In other words, those clubs function as means of hiking up real estate projects ‘ market value.[15]https://dj.dancecult.net/index.php/dancecult/article/view/1210

On the other side of the English channel, one observes similar dynamics. In London, local authorities see nightlife as antithetical to property development, due to short term thinking on neighborhood disturbance, need for policing. Nonetheless, facilitating property development through nightlife is an enticing incentive for real estate investors. 

Broadwick Live, the company behind the club Printworks, worked with local authorities in order to use commercial spaces to attract a new creative class, as part of the Meridian Water redevelopment.[16]https://www.meridianwater.co.uk/ Its new club called The Drumsheds is located in a former gas factory,[17]https://mixmag.net/read/the-drumsheds-london-venue-field-day-news in the borough of Enfield which used to be one of London’s poorest neighborhoods.[18]https://www.enfield.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/6410/about-enfield-information-2011-census-households-and-economic-activity.pdf The currently approved redevelopment plan was submitted jointly by Enfield Council and Broadwick Ventures Ltd in 2020,[19]https://planning.london.gov.uk/pr/s/planning-application/a0i4J000002fJpSQAU/20204921 while the initial redevelopment plan submitted in 2019 by Enfield Council alone was rejected by the City of London.[20]https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/planning/planning-applications-and-decisions/planning-application-search/meridian-water-orbital-business-park-0 This makes it a very unique case study of nightlife as an agent of urban-capitalism because in this case, the contribution of a nightlife industry company to the redevelopment project is explicitly mentioned.

In conversation with The Guardian,[21]https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/apr/09/tottenham-gas-works-to-transform-into-drumsheds-mega-venue Alan Sitkin, a former governance board member for Meridian Water, does not mince his words: “On one level we all share the ambition of a night-time economy in the borough – it doesn’t bother me at all to have cultural events at Meridian Water. I want hipsters to come to Meridian Water, they bring money and that’s a good thing. The question is whether Drumsheds will succeed. If it feels artificial and young people don’t come then you’re spending a lot of taxpayers’ money on an ambition without it panning out. It’s something that may not have worked in the past. If they can get warm bodies out to visit the venue, I’ll be delighted.” In the same article, Bradley Thompson from Broadwick Live & Venues adds: “We see an opportunity to create something special in the interim of the regeneration phase. We want to launch venues for London that are forward-thinking in terms of music programming that also work from a corporate, community and financial perspective.” 

The aim of the project is quite explicit: here the introduction of cultural venues is at the service of the production of capital, and comes at the expense of impoverished locals who will inevitably be displaced.

The Enfield council’s urban planning strategy is a deliberate response to the rising ethnic minority population in the London borough, which is additionally plagued by a lack of employment opportunities and one of the worst child poverty rates in London. With the decimation of the public funding from central government austerity policies, the local councils lack the funds to effectively tackle these issues as frontline services are culled. Local councils currently tackle these issues by pricing out their poorest residents.

This section went through a non-exhaustive list of historical examples of nightlife as an agent of urban-capitalism, and analyzed how local authorities, club owners and real estate agents constitute catalysts to the process of gentrification. In the next section, we study how urban planning itself can fit in a neoliberal political agenda.

References

References
1 Social washing  is the act of conveying information to the public that is – in substance and form – a distorted presentation of facts and truth, with the aim of appearing socially and/or environmentally responsible in the eyes of a targeted audience. It is a vast and complex communication system designed to pass off “bad” data or information as “good. More on this  John Hoffmire, « ‘Social washing’ a growing headache for ESG investors »
2, 3 Le capital dans la cité – Matthieu Adam, Emeline Comby (2020)
4 As the credibility of a scientific discovery is linked to the city where it’s from, a venue or an artist based in NYC, Berlin, London, will have more credibility than a venue/artist hailing from the periphery.
5 In Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music by Matthew Collin an organizer recall ‘‘So the authorities created a space for it by on the one hand being very hostile against techno music, and on the other being quite tolerant about free parties. Also because France is a big country and a rural country, there is a lot of space in the countryside. Germany is the same, but in Germany it didn’t happen like that because there was space for techno parties and for techno music, so they didn’t have so many free parties.” A new generation of promoters settled in Paris’ close suburbs and their warehouses. Collectives at the spearhead of this dynamic are Possession, Sundae, Sonotown, Blocaus, Die Nacht, 75021, BP, OTTO10, Berlinons Paris, 75021, Fils de Vénus, Casual Gabberz, Hydropathes, Parkinstone.
6 http://stationstation.fr/l-echo-de-bondy/ inspired by Pierre Shaeffer. As highlighted by Sam Ridout in his article “Strange Encounter: Musique concréte, Syncretism, Primitivism”, Schaeffer worked on the administration of colonial radio from the late 1940s, and most intensively in French West Africa from the early 1950s to 1957. The French state aimed to shore up its soft power in the region, particularly in the context of growing Soviet influence in national liberation movements.
7 excerpt from “How Berlin’s Clubcommission’s actions to save the nightlife are the opposite of relief” co-written with Hansi Keil “Leichsenring is the co-chair of VibeLab (along with Mirik Milan), a major player in European nightlife that oversaw the transformation of Amsterdam’s Rembrandtplein. Milan was the city’s “night mayor”, a concept that’s central to VibeLab’s nightlife strategy. The Amsterdam project lasted three years and promised to make the area more accessible to pedestrians while offering a website to take residential complaints. A few years later, it’s clear that the project has contributed to the gentrification of central Amsterdam.” https://jeanhugueskabuiku.substack.com/p/how-berlins-clubcommissions-actions?s=w
8 L’art de (dé)faire la ville- Matthieu Adam, Emeline Comby (2020)
9 https://en.squat.net/2020/10/04/france-anti-squat-law-the-parliament-triples-the-penalties-and-introduces-a-denunciation-measure/
10 https://autour-de-paris.com/project/terrain-stalingrad-lieu-mythique-histoire-hip-hop
11, 12 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1533-1598.2011.01294.x
13 https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724563
14 La Bellevilloise, La Rotonde Stalingrad, La Petite Halle de la Villette, Dock B and Poinçon; and in La Rochelle: France 1 boat, and La Fabuleuse Cantine
15 https://dj.dancecult.net/index.php/dancecult/article/view/1210
16 https://www.meridianwater.co.uk/
17 https://mixmag.net/read/the-drumsheds-london-venue-field-day-news
18 https://www.enfield.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/6410/about-enfield-information-2011-census-households-and-economic-activity.pdf
19 https://planning.london.gov.uk/pr/s/planning-application/a0i4J000002fJpSQAU/20204921
20 https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/planning/planning-applications-and-decisions/planning-application-search/meridian-water-orbital-business-park-0
21 https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/apr/09/tottenham-gas-works-to-transform-into-drumsheds-mega-venue