HAS CROYDON NIGHTLIGHT BEEN THE ARCHITECT OF ITS OWN DOWNFALL?

Jan 9 2016 BY Brett Lewis

Devastating news rippled across South East London as it was announced that Tiger Tiger would be welcoming clubbers for the last time this Saturday. It’s no exaggeration to say that Tiger was a dojo where pretty much everyone with a CR, SE or BR postcode learnt the fundamentals of clubbing as a fresh-faced 18 (or more likely 17 and borrowing their sister’s ID) year old. However, Tiger closing is not an isolated incident by any means; Tiger follows Black Sheep, Yates’s and Shooshh in closing in recent times as well as the host of unsuccessful ventures such as Rehab that have rebranded under different names.

The noticeable decline of Croydon as a night destination has, on first impressions, been swift and puzzling. One would imagine Croydon to be a perfect destination for a bar or a club given its favourable demographics and excellent connectivity via its transport links. Per the 2011 Census, Croydon is the most populous borough in all of London with a staggering 363,400 inhabitants. Moreover, 8,720 of these people are aged 18-19 which is evidently the prime age for clubbing. When you take into account the fact that due to a lack of venues in Bromley, many people venture cross-boroughs via the trusty 119 bus, the number of potential patrons clubs in Croydon have is astonishing. Again referencing the 2011 Census, there are around 55,000 aged 18-24 in the London boroughs of Croydon and Bromley.

So reading the quotes of a senior sales rep for Tiger Tiger in the Croydon Advertiser, it is surprising to see that lack of attendance has been the downfall of Tiger and the wider Croydon clubbing scene. Josh Currey lamented “It’s been a long time coming. Footfall in Croydon has gone down a lot. We’ve been in a shadow of decline”. So why exactly has Croydon crumbled given that there are more available consumers than ever and demand used to be rampant?

As a Croydoner (Croydonite? Croydonian?) who has lived through the decay of the Croydon night time economy, my take is that the scene was subject to a few subtle changes initiated by the venue themselves that served to alienate the “urban” demographic. Depending on who you speak to, there are different degrees of how intentional this appears to be, but it is undeniable that it happened. Croydon’s circa 2010 success was built on the acknowledgement that Croydon was an incredibly diverse place and therefore its night venues should be reflective of this. Whether it was different clubs, different nights or even different rooms in the same place, there was something for everyone and the vibe Croydon gave off was one of a fun night out as opposed to a high-end clubbing destination.

Croydon’s appeal was centred around being able to have a good, reasonably-priced night with your friends without having to navigate a treacherous route home. In its Golden Age of 2010-11, barring long queues it was unbelievably easy to gain entry to the venues and Croydon remains the only place I’ve ever been out that has never made a fuss of the female-to-male ratio of prospective entrants. The nature of it wasn’t to plan a night out in Croydon a month in an advance and to don your best clothes, but when you were looking for something to do at short notice, it was easy to have a good time locally. For a number of reasons, this approach was changed and the landscape of Croydon nightlife was irrevocably changed.

Firstly, I think the most obvious reason was the 2011 riots; the contrast in the clubbing scene pre and post riots is unbelievable. The negative portrayal of Croydon in the aftermath led to a desire from many different factions in the community to improve the perception of the town and the most obvious way to do this was to eradicate the “gang” culture that purportedly led to the riots. Now whether you see them as synonyms for one another or two totally separate things, “gang” and “urban” culture are inextricably linked, and as such the very prominent hip-hop/R&B component of Croydon was gradually eroded.

There was a move towards a more homogeneous pop and house vibe, as well as a crackdown on dress code as Croydon clubs essentially changed its target market to mimic those of a higher-end Central London venue. The rumour mill went into overdrive when the immensely popular hip-hop/funky house/R&B DJ RSI (as he was known at the time) was allegedly sacked from Tiger Tiger due to “too many black people being in his room”

Obviously Tiger denied this although other allegations of racism, particularly incidents suffered by bar staff there, began to emerge.  Whether it was the desired outcome of management or not, Ricky Simmonds left and a large majority of Tiger Tiger’s black patrons left with him due to offence over his dismissal or simply because the music was no longer to their taste. In one fell swoop, Tiger had lost probably around 30% of its core attendees alongside swathes of people who refused to attend as a form of protest against the alleged racism.

Initially this wasn’t perceived as a huge loss because as previously mentioned, there was a concerted effort to move away from the hip-hop scene and Tiger had clearly hoped to make up for the loss by attracting new attendees with its new high-end image. The problem with this however, was that most people who want that sort of night out would rather do it properly and go to Central London, or if they were to keep it local, Clapham is a far superior option. The clubs of Croydon who had made this transition now found themselves with a huge deficit that they didn’t have the pulling power to plug.

The black sheep of this dynamic is evidently Black Sheep itself which was closed down in a more voluntary fashion. The owners made a decision to close it down given the impending flats that were going to be built on top of the premises and decided rather than re-open elsewhere, they would simply focus on the nearby sister bar to Black Sheep, Bad Apple. Bad Apple had began to cannibalise some of Black Sheep’s profits with a lot of regulars at the latter now giving their custom to the former, and it was interesting to hear the Bossicks (the owners of Black Sheep and Bad Apple) explain that Bad Apple was designed to attract a slightly older clientele than Sheep, which was another reason for their preference of maintaining that rather than reforming Black Sheep.

So with most of the urban bars closing and Croydon redesigning itself for an older customer base, the young alternative crowd had found itself marginalised. The final nail in the coffin which pretty much sealed the homogenisation of Croydon was Tim Westwood’s event at Shooshh during the Easter of 2014. A stabbing occured in the event which led to a hugely unsavoury commotion, and eventually Shooshh’s licence was revoked. The incident was linked to Westwood’s presence attracting gangs and it virtually made hip-hop music unplayable in Croydon venues. From this point onwards, there was a noticeably increased police presence in the late hours during weekends and hip-hop & R’n’B nights dwindled to a minuscule amount, until it was only Yates’s and Dice Bar left.

Now Yates’s has closed, only Dice remains and even then there are questions over its sustainability. If you were to take a stroll in Croydon at around 10pm on a weekend, you would see promoters patrolling the streets trying to entice customers in, which is unthinkable in a place where queues used to form roadblocks. In a way, it is hard not to feel sorry for the management of these venues because a lot of the changes were due to huge amounts of pressure applied by external stakeholders in the community, but ultimately the degeneration of Croydon was largely a self-inflicted occurence. Perhaps with BoxPark and Westfield eventually coming to the area, there’s a chance that nightlife in Croydon may flourish once again.