Simon Keane: Edinburgh's music scene needs more pop-up venues

It is no secret that Edinburgh's live music scene is suffering. In the past few years we've lost a number of iconic venues that have closed down due to a variety of reasons. Some have struggled with noise complaints and others with profitability.
Festival Village: Waverley.Festival Village: Waverley.
Festival Village: Waverley.

When each closure is announced, the public reacts with dismay and raise valid questions about the future of Edinburgh’s live music scene. While this future is unclear, the immediate effect has been on the musicians who are left with only a handful of venues where they can perform.

I can pick out some parallels between the closure of the city’s live music venues and the refusal to allow The Fringe and Jazz Festival to host their pop-up venues in St Andrew Square this year. Standard Life said they wished to create an “oasis of calm” and cited the unsustainable impact on the square as to why they did not want shows to be staged there. The resulting anger from Fringe veterans after the “official” festival staged a light show in the Square reminded me of a David and Goliath scenario, but in reverse.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As well as raising the important question of large over small, by not utilising St Andrew Square it has drawn fewer people to that part of the city. This has negatively impacted smaller venues in the area, such as The Stand, which claims it has lost a third of its business.

Simon Keane is Director of Festival Village: Waverley.Simon Keane is Director of Festival Village: Waverley.
Simon Keane is Director of Festival Village: Waverley.

While the question of sustainability is, of course, important, and the noise impact on surrounding businesses should be taken into consideration, if pop-up structures are sensitively designed with the city’s heritage in mind, we shouldn’t be afraid of making use of these spaces.

The pop-up Festival Village: Waverley, atop Waverley Mall, has done just that. It has regenerated a once-redundant area, creating three stages for emerging musicians to showcase their work. By the end of this month, it will have provided a stage for more than 200 local and international artists and bands to perform, 13 hours a day, seven days a week. This is a live music offering that the city has been crying out for.

By drawing people in with its unique mix of local street food vendors, Festival Village: Waverley has given aspiring live musicians a much-needed audience. Not only that, but Festival Village: Waverley has turned an area that was once blighted by antisocial behaviour into a hub of activity. All of Festival Village: Waverley’s structures have been designed with the city and surrounding area in mind. This means that every food outlet is below a certain height so as not to restrict views across to the Old Town, and security is in place around the clock to ensure there is no antisocial behaviour.

While questions have been raised around the impact pop-up venues have on local businesses, there is clear evidence of the benefits. By hosting pop-up Fringe and Jazz Festival stages in St Andrew Square, more people were attracted to that side of town.

Simon Keane is Director of Festival Village: Waverley.Simon Keane is Director of Festival Village: Waverley.
Simon Keane is Director of Festival Village: Waverley.

Rather than having a negative impact on smaller venues in the area, they benefitted from the nearby bustling hub of activity. As with the Fringe and Jazz Festival’s positive impact on footfall to The Stand, Festival Village: Waverley has had a positive effect on the businesses inside Waverley Mall. It has drawn people to the area, which has in turn increased footfall to the Mall at a time when retailers across Scotland are struggling. So successful has the concept been that the Mall’s owner is in talks to expand the concept to their shopping centres across the UK.

Not only do pop-up venues bring areas of the city alive, but when there is a clear commitment to helping an issue that the city is currently facing, such as Edinburgh’s lack of live music venues, then pop-up venues can be a step in the right direction. By making an area more socially attractive, and by drawing the public to parts of the city which they may not usually visit, surrounding businesses can reap the benefits. And, when a pop-up venue offers something that the city is crying out for, surely that’s something to be celebrated.

Simon Keane is Director of Festival 
Village: Waverley.

Related topics: