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Black Sky Thinking

We Should Rejoice In, Not Mourn, The Destruction Of The London Astoria
Luke Turner , October 22nd, 2008 08:09

This week it was confirmed that the London Astoria is to be knocked down. Luke Turner volunteers to place the charges.

The future of the London Astoria

This week it has finally been confirmed that the wrecking ball is to swing, sending the London Astoria tumbling to the ground to make way for the new Crossrail station. Predictably, the internet has come alive with people wailing at the destruction of a supposedly "iconic venue": "Its so shit and toilet venuey and thus great", cried one internet sniveller. Such is the indie mentality to make such a nonsensical comment.

There are two reasons why the Astoria (and the Hammersmith Palais, thankfully removed from the London gig circuit last year) are not seen as the corporate, slick and soulless venues they really are. Firstly, because some apparently legendary concerts once took place under their hallowed ceilings. And secondly, because they're rotten dumps, reeking of spilled lager and the testicular sweat of Kaiser Chiefs' fans, unloved, uncared for, and left to rot. This, apparently, makes them "real".

Yes, there might have been incredible concerts at the Astoria - the Dirty Three made me weep there a few years back - but this is no reason not to flatten the place. A gig is, by its very nature, an ephemeral event, the violence of sound and vision impacting on the imagination and memory. What good returning to the site of past glories?

A building of zero architectural merit or charm, the Astoria is the epitome of "pack 'em in, pile 'em high" venue management, with gigs kicking off early so that the G.A.Y. club can be fitted in after the bands have left the stage, and cans of piss poor beer flogged at hyper-inflated prices. How this exploitation escapes the minds of those who moan at its passing is beyond me. The decor is mired in the 1980s, not that you can tell under the four inches of dust and memories of a time before the smoking ban that coats everything. The hideous naffness of the cracked lightning strike mirrors and painted murals is topped only by the Astoria's Keith Moon bar, amusingly named after one of music's tragic drinkers. This, of course, is trivial when put against the appalling sound, with any band using live drums rattling tinnily around the folorn balloons that always seem to be stuck up by the ceiling. And there's no argument that its closure is the first instance of an area being dragged soullessly upmarket - Soho and Oxford Street were lost to the chain stores and bars that your enemies drink in long ago.

Why need we mourn the demise of the Astoria when there are far superior venues across the capital? Take, for example, the rarely used art deco surroundings of the Troxy, where Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds will soon play. Then there's Shepherd's Bush Empire, and even Brixton Academy isn't always unforgivably bad. And, best of all, with the Camden Roundhouse London has a large capacity venue with character in heaps, great sound, and a reasonably priced bar that actually has a decent range of beverages in satisfying portions. Then, what of the South Bank Centre, where whoever does the booking has landed me with excellent concerts by anyone from Diamanda Galas to Mogwai to Sunn O))) to Harmonia over the past year or so. That's not to mention their generally top-notch Meltdown series held at the Royal Festival Hall, or the Barbican's programme, or the potential of the new Kings Place arts development in Kings Cross. Surely these venues, with their crystalline sound, acoustics and convenient ease of smuggling in your own poison, are preferable to the characterless mass-market dumps thankfully disappearing under the redeveloper's gloriously swinging ball?