Explore Issue 01 of LOOP Magazine

Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

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The Power of Intimate Shows for Small Artist Success

Small venues have played host to some of my most cherished shows. Sure, the expansive sights of venues like the O2 Arena in London are impressive, but is there anything more exciting than seeing your latest discovery on a small, intimate stage?
These shows offer fans as much as the artists an opportunity to form a bond with each other, something you can’t do at larger shows unless you’re in that golden front row. By nature, these venues are favourites for artists. Many hold fond memories of their time touring small venues, like The Joiners in Southampton, Old Fire Station in Bournemouth, and the gone but not forgotten Sticky Mikes Frog Bar in Brighton. Even in the past year, artists of all sizes have begun returning to these venues to capture that essence of intimacy.

I’ve caught artists like Sigrid, Becky Hill, Maisie Peters and Inhaler at some of these smaller venues, and they’ve put on a show worthy of the likes of Wembley but on a much smaller stage. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of, and one which is reciprocated by fans and
artists alike. But between lockdowns, rising rents, extortionate venue costs, and the ongoing battle for support from the top, Britain’s grassroots venues have not had an easy ride over the last couple of years. Across the nation, several of our favourite, most treasured venues have closed their doors for good, unable to keep up with the costs of running these much-loved venues. That begs the question; how has this impacted the artists who rely on these venues, who use these stages as stepping stones taking their music from bedroom to mainstage?

LOCK-IN from Herefordshire has played countless small venues on their recent UK tours. With an infectious indie-rock/pop blend, their music lends itself to these smaller venues, and that’s something that Benjy, LOCK-IN’s lead singer, recognises:

“Being able to lock eye contact with everyone in the room and share the emotions of our music is intimate and something we possibly might not be able to do at a big venue. Everyone is nearly within arm’s length, and being able to connect is something very special as they have come to see us. The feeling of togetherness is huge in a small room. There would be no foundations for a small band or artist to climb the ladder without small venues. You have to play on a Sunday league pitch before you play at Wembley. And it’s the same for playing at the Water Rats before we play Brixton Academy. Small venues are the heart of the music industry.”

Another artist who understands the importance of these venues is the alt dream-indie band, Sunflower Thieves. The childhood friends have been honing their craft for the last five years, and have become close acquaintances with Flyte and Lewis Watson, whom they’ve supported on their recent UK tours.

“What we love is the intimacy of the shows. It’s always going to be a more powerful experience than a huge show – it’s powerful and emotive in different ways. The experience of working with smaller, independent venues from an artist’s perspective is also completely different. Often, they have their own organically nurtured community of new music fans, musicians, and anyone else who feels at home there. You get to become part of the history of the place.”

The overarching feeling is that these venues play a significant role in the artist’s story.
“Without these spaces, we wouldn’t have had anywhere to grow our confidence, try out new songs, and realise that performing was what we loved to do. Whether it’s supporting a touring artist or being part of a local event, these opportunities have been invaluable to us in reaching new audiences and being able to go out on tour. Smaller venues are the music industry’s foundation and they nurture their communities. You can almost always guarantee that someone in the audience will have never heard of you before. But that’s part of the challenge, to introduce them to our sound
and hopefully, leave a lasting impression.”

And it’s not only upcoming artists who feel this way. Only recently, Ed Sheeran announced that with his next tour, he’d be tapping back into his small-venue roots. He announced plans that for every large venue he plays, he’ll play a smaller one in the same city, allowing fans a unique opportunity to see the megastar on an intimate level not seen since the early days of his career.
“Small, independent venues are so, so important to the music community, and I’ve played some of my favourite gigs of my career in these rooms.”
Upcoming musicians, as Sheeran once was, rely on these venues to forge the path to future success. Without them, we may never discover some of our favourite artists of the future.

Words by Issy Aldridge

Posted On 14 November, 2022