The Evolution of Corsica Studios, as told my directors Amanda Moss and Adrian Jones.

Last year I spoke to Amanda Moss and Adrian Jones, Directors of Corsica Studios, while doing research for a piece on UK clubbing in railway arches. Amanda, in detail, explained the evolution of Corsica from a space in Kings Cross to arches in Elephant & Castle. I pulled certain quotes for the piece I wrote, but nothing really materialised with the rest of story Amanda and Adrian told me — which seemed like a shame considering the effort they’ve both been through. I decided to publish their thoughts on Medium, it seemed like a good time with the recent news of Fabric re-opening and the experimental space of Printworks launching in the new year.

Amanda Moss and Adrian Jones Directors of Corsica Studios.

The first spaces we ever had were in the Kings Cross area and our Landlords at the time were London and Continental Railways (known today as Network Rail) At this time — the late nineties — we were looking for cheap studio spaces and they owned a portfolio of properties around the area that were empty and awaiting The Channel Tunnel development. We managed to convince them to support arts and culture by allowing us to utilise some of their spaces on a short term basis and this is how Corsica Studios began. We were not the only people doing this as lots of emerging artists, theatre companies etc work in this way as they are always on the hunt for affordable space in London and often try various creative and inventive ways of subsidising their rent. By taking on these properties on a short term basis we were able to provide affordable space facilitating arts, music and culture and workspaces for the artists that were creating it but over time as the redevelopment became imminent the leases we were offered became shorter and shorter. The first building we had was for 3 years, then 18 months then ten months until eventually were were regenerated out of the area. However if it wasn’t for this type of short term resource offering cheap rent and landlords who were willing to do it then Corsica Studios probably wouldn’t be here today.

It was after this period that we decided to relocate to The Elephant & Castle and into our second pair of railway arches. This was another area of London that was just about to undergo redevelopment so the risk of being regenerated out of here was quite present in our thoughts but we had learn’t from our experience in Kings Cross and we knew how long these big schemes can take (10 years plus in Kings Cross) so we took an educated risk. There is a lot to be said about railway arches but at this time — 2002 — not a lot of people wanted them in this area. The Landlords of these arches, Spacia (now known as Network Rail) had plenty of them in various states of disrepair and they were happy for anybody to take them. The fact that we wanted to invest money to do something creative in them seemed quite a new concept to them as when we arrived in the Elephant they had been empty for a while and so were pretty cheap. At the time we were setting up we travelled up to visit The Arches in Glasgow and talked to the Directors there as they had started out as a Theatre Company but they had also created a commercial arm — the club — which was supporting their arts programme and this was the best model that we could identify with. There are pros and cons when it comes to being in a railway arch but one big plus is that they generally have very good acoustics and are well insulated so soundproofing the premises isn’t usually a big issue. We were not the first to discover this of course but I think the reason why lots of clubs are often situated in railway arches is because they are cheap and they can absorb the sound. As well as good acoustics the way the arches are constructed generally adds character which this all adds to the atmosphere of the space. The downfalls are that they can often be damp — thankfully ours are not — and that Network Rail do not generally grant long leases on the properties so there is little security for long-term planning.

The underlying factor here is that it has always been difficult to find affordable work and business space in central London. Railway Arches used to be affordable and now these spaces, in fact all affordable space, is being threatened and this affects not only clubs but other creative businesses, start ups and most importantly cultural spaces whose value ought not always be measured in black and white financial terms. With all the development taking place there is a very real threat that a huge part of what makes London great — whether it is music or arts or people busying away in their studios making their work — is slowly being eroded and pushed further and further away from the centre of the capital. We are not so sure that Network Rail are that pre-occupied with negative perceptions of clubland or clubbing and we don’t think they have any particular axe to grind with clubs being housed in railway arches per se but there is a wider question being asked now about what types of businesses are seen to be suitable for areas undergoing change and regeneration. They seem now to be deciding what sort of businesses are “appropriate” for their properties — MOT workshops, storage units and nightclubs may all be “inappropriate” for a parade of arches in a new “urban town centre”, for example — with the next step being to establish the highest market rent they can get for them. Of course this sort of rent review can be devastating for many of the businesses that have been based in these properties and have established themselves in a community over many years. We see Network Rail working hand in hand with the development of the city in general when an area undergoes redevelopment you can be sure that they will be looking at their stock in the area.

Over the last 10 years there has definitely been a change in music culture and clubbing but particularly over the last 5 years or so. In 2006 the Licensing Act was changed and this freed up licensing hours and conditions which led to it being much easier for promoters to put on events in spaces that were not previously licensed. We think that on the whole this was a positive thing as its been possible for people to put on fantastic events in unusual locations which has been great creatively however it does seem that now practically anyone can be granted a TEN (Temporary Event Notice) even if they have no prior experience in how to run an event and have no idea about their responsibilities. Furthermore, as venue owners we have to spend a considerable amount of our income on maintaining our premises, paying rent, business rates, taxes, VAT, PRS + PPL licenses, wage bills etc etc so as much as the explosion in random temporary events can seem a good thing for the scene it can actually have quite a big effect on the revenues for the licensed venues that are still operating. It can obviously be much more appealing for a promoter to try and do a one-off party themselves, run their own bar and avoid having to incur a lot of the expenses that an established venue has in operating 7 days a week. Of course there are other, different costs involved doing one-off parties but the sheer proliferation of promoters wanting — and able — to do their own events is pushing up the demand for artists who are now playing more and more frequently, expecting higher and higher fees and this is saturating the market in many ways and making life more difficult as a venue operator. More recently we have noticed that the Police have different objectives and are becoming more concerned with linking crime and anti social behaviour with venues and are using these statistics to justify reviewing venue licenses and operating hours. They are targeting — unfairly we feel — many respectable Clubs and well run venues who they view as being a big part of the cause of this and we refer to the case of The Arches in Glasgow again….

There has definitely been a change in the way that Railway arches are viewed — no longer are they undesirable — and therefore affordable — places but as more and more of London is developed, with Cross Rail and other major big developments, the harsh brutality of progress rears its ugly head. I wouldn’t say that it is Network Rail who are solely having a negative affect on music and club culture — its a bigger problem in that London is being carved up and sold off to property developers who are building residential developments that most Londoners can’t afford to live in and who have little or no real interest, commitment or understanding in community and cultural engagement. People are drawn to cities like London for their arts, music, culture and nightlife and the more that these are threatened the worse off we’ll all be.

Councils and planners can actually play a key role in cultural and community conservation and in the Peabody Scheme at Borough Triangle, where our “meanwhile” project The Paperworks has just come to an end, there are plans to rehouse The Ministry of Sound in the basement of one of the 38-storey tower blocks that they plan to build. This sets a precedent as it could have so easily have gone the other way and gives the rest of us a little hope for the future. When we have spoken to Councils and developers, it seems that no one wants to see London become a cultural wasteland but no one seems to know what the answer is. We feel that by continuing with our Meanwhile projects in different areas of London and joining forces with other cultural organisations we can at least attempt to create a dialogue regarding community and culture with the new proposed developments and contribute to the shape of our future cities. We’re faced with a paradox — We are constantly aware of the shadow of Regeneration that is hanging over us and what that means in terms of our business and future but this process actually provided us with the opportunity to start a business and to grow and develop Corsica into what it is today.

Until a few years ago we were opposite a large, semi-derelict housing estate in an area that had quite a lot of negative preconceptions surrounding it. I think we probably enhanced the neighbourhood considerably at the time — we certainly made our street and immediate surroundings much safer — and of course we have brought new audiences into the area. Whether we play the same role in the new development taking place remains to be seen but our job now is to convince everybody that this is the case.

Read the full story here: www.vice.com/en_uk/read/clubs-in-railway-arches