Alan D Miller is a guardian for British nightlife; chairman and founder of the NTIA, he has dedicated an extraordinary amount to persevering the night time communities not only in London, but across the country. Perhaps best recognised for being a central figure in the campaign to save Fabric and the We Love Hackney movement, Alan is now working with the Night Time Commission to promote the cultural significance of a strong night time community. We spoke to him ahead of Brighton Music Conference where he’ll be heading a panel with Carly Wilford, Mike Grieve, Jeremy Abbott and Jimmy Blake. He’ll also be speaking to Keith Reilly about Fabric and the significance of saving our independent venues.
What will you be doing at Brighton Music Conference and how important do you think it is that we have gatherings like this?
We’re going to be doing a panel called Save Nightlife with Mixmag it’s going to be talking a bit why it’s better to champion the benefits of nightlife with our hearts and minds, where we’ve come from in the last couple of years, projects that are now happening and where we’re going with key people who are relevant to that, then I’ll be doing a one-on-one with Keith Reilly from fabric about what happened.
I think it’s really important to get the industry together, to network and to share insights and to promote areas of interest. They can act as a mechanism to do more business.
So you’ll be there representing the NTIA, what projects are you currently working on?
So we’re working at the moment with a big drive towards encourage people to promote having a Night Czar in Manchester. We’ve got the first ever mayoral election in Manchester and Liverpool and we’ve been working with Sacha from the Warehouse Project and many others to do a big campaign for Save Nightlife. Lot’s of people have engaged, people like Sean Ryder, and Joe Hart the English goalkeeper, the DJs Skream and Artwork, also sending a message, not only to vote for the mayor but a Night Czar and a Night-time Commission. We want to help champion nightlife in Manchester and continue to drive the message that we bring lots of benefits culturally, in terms of tourism, employment and all of that. In Manchester and Liverpool we want an overall master plan so that as new developments happen, the bars and clubs are not closed down.
We’re doing stuff all over the country; we have something called Save the Rave, that’ll be on the panel as well. We’re working with universities. We’re also doing all these festivals to work with lots of artists and who encourage people and DJs to join the NTIA and sign our petition at savenightlife.com, which goes to all the councils and MPs in the country. When they get those emails and petitions, a bit like we did with fabric, it then makes them recognise how important nightlife is to young people and people in their wards. This means they’re much more likely to listen to them and realise how important it is, and that’s the push we’re trying to do around the country.
You’re very focused on grassroots campaigning and contacting councils, how important do you think it is for people to not just get involved on a national scale but on a local scale as well?
It is massively important; these councils have been voted in by anything between 800 people to 1500 people maybe 2000, and we saw when we did the We Love Hackney campaign, the council licencing wanted to inflict a curfew on all the bars and clubs. We had over 5,500 people writing in to challenge that consultation. They then did a U-turn and out it on hold for a year. They then got involved with the dialogue and changed their policy. That’s enormously important. Then with the Bussey Building in Peckham, we helped behind the scene to get developers, the council and the club involved in a dialogue, It’s all about ensuring that. We had 30,000 people signed that petition. Similarly, we all know the story about fabric. Absolutely, locally, getting local councillors lobbied makes an enormous difference because it’s in their wards and their boroughs that things play out. That’s where the big issues are. In London there are 33 boroughs, that’s why the mayor couldn’t do anything really when the Fabric situation occurred, because it’s not under a mayors remit, that’s under local councillors.
They suddenly realise there’s all these people, a lot of young people, that don’t vote, who may vote and are taking an active interest, and are all getting very concerned. That’s what it should be. It should be a reflection of everyone’s interest; it’s a good way to get them active and to participate. We do that with the public and to lobby further, and drive our narrative. We feel that we’ve managed to get it right front and centre on a national, local and regional profile. Everyone in Britain understands the problem, why it’s an issue, and what we can do to change it.
Fabric to have so much publicity, and so much attention was drawn to then issue, how important do you think it is to carry on that legacy and apply it to venues like Passing Clouds, Mode etc?
I think there are some positive things that we’ve already begun to develop and that they’ve already put in place. Ideas like the agent of change partly came into the white paper that the government put in because of lots of lobbying. It’s the idea that cultural and economic benefits are a direct consequence of nightlife, not just antisocial behaviour and crime.
These instances are often very different; Passing Clouds is different to fabric, that’s different to RaRa, that’s different to Mode, different to all these things that have happened in recent years. There’s a central viewpoint that there are benefits that are accrued, that you might have from a shopping centre or a transport link, when those problems occur at these places, they’re not shut down, they’re not suffocated because they’re considered as an important part of the urban tapestry. They’re part of everyday living. That’s not fair, when issues do occur; they [bars and clubs] get treated in a different way.
How would you say is the best way for people to get involved?
People should definitely get online and sign the petition on savenightlife.com, that’s the first thing they should do. The second thing they should do, they should send a tweet or go on Facebook, with the link saying ‘I’ve just signed the petition,’ post it, and share it with friends and people around them. They should post and share any of the videos that we’re doing about the campaign with artists, what we’re doing in Manchester with Sacha from the Warehouse Project. We need to get the message out there virally and keep the momentum going. We want as many people joining us as possible, we want over a million people on that petition.
Then in addition to that we want and need help so if anyone wanted to get involved with additional promotion and marketing, getting involved and getting people to sign up, then they can get in touch. They’re the main things that we need right now. Then of course people will put on nights themselves, they DJ they out on a night, all those things, and it’s all about promoting the narrative of how important nightlife is to our culture and our way of life.
Over your time working with the NTIA, what would you say has been your biggest achievement or a standout moment for you?
I think there’s been a couple. I think that the We Love Hackney campaign was enormously successful. We got people from all over the borough; restaurants, bars, hotels, ad agencies, housing companies, property developers, all sorts, the public, all involved in saying actually Hackney’s nightlife is so important. It’s a way of developing and creating that, and the fact that we got so much national press, a four-page spread in the Guardian, we got telegraph coverage, the lead in the Evening Standard. The fact we got TV, radio, all of that in our early days was really exciting and successful.
You can’t help but say the Fabric situation was brilliant and terrible at the same time. It was absolutely terrible, that situation that everyone had to go through, and have many months of psychological and emotional problems, of it all being closed. It was also an amazing moment that we got so many people internationally and across Britain all supporting and engaging. It was just at the time when the night tube was being launched, we were getting interviews about the 24-hour tube, but we were able to say look at the Fabric situation. The whole campaign showed how people in Britain really had their voices heard and particularly around the councils in Islington. Everyone’s voices were heard and they put their money where their mouths are with the crowd-sourced campaign. They supported and made the legal case happen and championed it. We brought in Philip Kolvin QC, and there’s a combination of things that were done that were all very key and important.
The standout moments come when you do your first BBC piece, your first Sky piece, and you end up getting people talking about it, national newspapers, you get it discussed in parliament. We’ve had the importance of night-time industries discussed in parliament. The other standout moment comes from the last administration we had with Boris Johnson to create a Night Czar and the Night Commission, we brought over the Night Mayor from Amsterdam, we did loads of hard work behind the scenes. In this current administration, Sadiq Khan is very positive around nightlife and having a Night Czar and a Night-time Commission with really fantastic people on it, with police, council, music people, and us having not only having a seat at the table, but a voice. We’ve come an enormous distance; we’ve faced some difficulties and some challenges and we continue and have been very vocal about them. We’ve had some remarkable achievements and come a long distance. You can see that we’ve come a long way in just two years, that’s not a long time, to be in that position.
Yes, having the Night-time Commission in London, how vital do you think that is?
It is massively important to get everyone around the table that disagreed all talking together. We needed the conversation and thrash it out. The future of the city is at stake, and the kind of city we want to have. We all say we want to have a thriving bus link, a dynamic, economically vibrant place, to different people, it all seems to mean different things, so how can we all get together and argue out the issues and come up with a solution that we can work in partnership with each other together? It was uncomfortable to begin with, and that’s what it should have been. You need to get through that process to get something to happen. It’s very good that it’s there and there’s a lot that we’ve got to do. There’s 33 boroughs across London, and we’ve got to make it work in all of them but having Philip Kolvin as chairman who we work with closely and some brilliant people on there means that it’s going to be good for the next year, we’re gong to make some really good impacts in London. That then sets the tone for other cities as we’re seeing now with Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Bristol, we’re looking to have some similar things to accompany the mayors and others.
What do you think the future of British nightlife looks like?
It’s a bit like everything. It depends; it depends on what we do. We make this world every day. I don’t believe there’s anyone up there pulling the strings. We are conscious beings and we make the world. If we decide to go out there and make it with the vision that we’ve got then we will. If we don’t, we don’t. This is the key point that Fabric demonstrated. When people get involved, it makes the difference. So the future of nightlife is very bright and it also depends on how much we want to have our voices heard. That’s why we have to use the website and the hashtag, www.savenightlife.com, #savenightlife, everyone should sign the petition, send it round to people and encourage everyone to have their voices heard. The more councillors that hear, the more news gets out, the more people hear across the country, the more it gets championed and protected, the better off we’ll be.
Words by Georgia Evans