No space safe for creation

Jutland Street is to close as a creative space. Photos: Fraser Thompson
Jutland Street is to close as a creative space. Photos: Fraser Thompson

Dunedin is set to lose another creative venue, laments Fraser Thompson.

About a year ago, I wrote about None Gallery, a collaborative art space which hosted exhibitions and music gigs since 2003. It ended when the building was sold to a property investor. It is now a gym.

A few months ago, I wrote about The Attic, a venue and practice space which was a cornerstone of the indie/alternative scene since 2011. It ended when the landlord decided the space was better off being anything else.

Now I am writing about Jutland Street, another space doomed to join None Gallery, The Attic, and many more of Dunedin’s creative spaces.

Over the past six years Jutland Street has served as a home for the sorts of music and musicians barely tolerated elsewhere. And if it were anywhere else, it probably wouldn’t have been: being deep in the warehouse precinct (the real one, not the cafe one), meant no chance of noise complaints.

Entering Jutland Street felt like arriving in another dimension, or maybe a dream. With no neighbours, the surrounding streets were wide, dark, and deserted. It felt like a spiritual and physical home for the sorts of music it hosted.

Outside of hosting events, it was a flat, and one of its residents is Dene Barnes, who performs as L$D Fundraiser.

‘‘They started off as parties with bands playing,’’ he explains. ‘‘And then it sort of filtered into being gigs as well, I guess.

‘‘It’s just a bit more, sort of, liberating than being in a venue, know what I mean? You’ve got a bit more free rein to do things, like visuals, go later ...’’

This freedom is, I believe, essential to a healthy music scene.

Bars are fine, but they’re commercial spaces, and commercial spaces come with inherent pressures. There are implicit or explicit parameters within which performers and audiences have to operate.

These parameters do not exist at DIY spaces like Jutland Street.

They don’t have to worry about selling enough beer to break even. They don’t have to worry about noise, and are free to start at 10.30pm and finish after 3am, like many Jutland Street gigs did. They can set up larger productions with projectors, backdrops, lights. And they can host music which is trying to make you feel something, rather than being ‘‘good’’.

Don’t get me wrong, bars are important venues, but there needs to be a balance.

‘‘It gives people more room to move and do things over a period of days, leave things set-up or set things up. It’s not just ‘go in until you’re out’ sort of situation, you know?

‘‘It has never been about money for me, for what happens here. We do a door charge and things, but the money all goes to the bands. I’m not really interested in making a buck or anything. It’s more about having a good time.’’

Bands to have played at Jutland include local staples of the experimental or noise scene such as Alistair Galbraith, Eye, Wolfskull, Crude and The Futurians. More recently it started hosting ticketed international acts through Audio Foundation, but this led to problems with the council and since then it’s been strictly local bands.

‘‘Because we just don’t want the council poking their nose in our business,’’ Dene explains. ‘‘We want to be just like a house party rather than like a venue, you know? And that’s why on the posters it just says ‘Jutland Street’ [rather than the specific address]’’

Apart from that, the space has been trouble free - no police visits or major incidents - and this is a common trend I’ve noticed with these DIY venues and creative spaces.

While the authorities may treat them as dens of scum and villainy, the truth is almost always far from that.

So why does their existence always feel under threat? If it’s not licensing, it’s fire regulations ... or something else.

The Anteroom in Port Chalmers was also recently put on hold due to questions about wheelchair access.

Shouldn’t a Unesco creative city support spaces like this?

‘‘It seems to me that there’s a division of the council who are all for creative space and setting up artistic space,’’ Dene reckons.

‘‘And then there’s another division which is sort of completely counteracting that with bylaws about fire escapes and, you know, noise control, and I guess licensing too.

‘‘But yeah, it’s getting to the stage now that there’s less and less space for bands or music communities to gather and play, and the council are supposed to be encouraging and fostering creativity — that’s one of their identities as a Dunedin council ... all about culture and creativity, you know?’’

In this case though, it’s not the council forcing the end for Jutland Street, it’s the other one: capitalism.

The landlord wants to develop the space into offices. So I guess that’s the end of that then.

The gig

Jutland Street Last, today 4pm-7pm and 9pm-late, featuring Wolfskull, Crude/The Aesthetics, Algal Grind, The F**k Chairs, Stephen Kilroy, Mud Death, L$D Fundraiser, Mother, Francisca Griffin, GRVDGGR, CJA and Corpsehand.

Tickets $15.

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