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Having just thrown its final party in the Call Lane basement, the UK has lost one of its best and most historic nighttime venues. With changing party habits among young people and less money in their pockets, where does it leave regional clubbing in the UK?

It’s approaching 5am on an early May, Saturday morning below Leeds’s town centre, and a crowd of around 100 are huddled around a DJ booth, locked in. In an intimate yet well-sized basement, lit only by a handful of colourful strip lights and soundtracked through a weighty-yet-clear Funktion One soundsystem, Hamish Cole and Toby Nicolas (AKA Hamish & Toby) spin rare 90s groovers and wrist-raising house music to the remnants of what had been a packed-out Wire dancefloor an hour before. All night, the crowd are engaged and up for it, but also reflective, partying with the knowledge that what they have will soon be gone after news broke in April that the club was shuttering for good.

“It was a really special night for me,” Hamish reflects on his final ever gig at the venue. “It was certainly emotional, especially for the last hour when it really started sinking in that this was my last time at the club, it being such a huge part of my life for many years. I’m also very grateful that I got the chance to spin there with Toby one last time. It was the first club Toby and I played together, so it made it extra special.”

The club’s final ever night came this weekend (June 1), with an extended farewell knees up featuring Pearson Sound, Josey Rebelle, Aletha and more that ran until 9am. The final ever set came from local legend Simon Scott, who ran legendary drum’n’bass party Momentum, along with Ant TC1 – the first party Hamish went to at the club back in 2007. Founded 18 years ago, Wire is a space with a long history, and even before that, the same basement had been the home of previous nightclubs Café Mex and Think Tank, beginning in the early 90s. Much of the city’s dance music story goes hand in hand with the club’s walls – along with many of its best parties.

“David (AKA Pearson Sound) ran a party called Acetate, which was a vinyl-only night where he’d invite one guest to play with him all night, including Four Tet, Ben UFO and Gilles Peterson,” Hamish continues. “Another memorable one was Elijah & Skilliam’s grime/bass night Jamz that ran monthly on Tuesdays. They were always packed out and had amazing special guests each time including D Double E, P Money and Spooky.”

With its relatively small capacity (around 300), tight-knit community vibe and quality production, the club regularly attracted artists used to selling out much larger venues. A host of electronic music’s most revered DJs have passed through its booth including Andrew Weatherall, Craig Richards, Helena Hauff, SHERELLE, Surgeon and DJ Stingray 313 – drawn to its reputation for quality.

“The booth was such a joy to play in. Small details, but things that made you realise the place was run by professionals,” says Ethan McNamara, a local promoter and DJ, who also works as the Leeds city manager for Resident Advisor. “Great chunky booth monitors, correctly lit, proper isolated turntables and racks to place your records in. Things that used to be industry standard but had slipped elsewhere in recent years, Wire still prioritised those things. They cared about the artists that were coming to play.”

At the same time, it became something of a proving ground for young, local, aspiring artists, many of whom began their journeys into the music industry as students at Leeds or Leeds Metropolitan. “Many DJs started their careers playing and promoting at Wire and moving on to becoming professional touring DJs,” Hamish explains. “The Hessle Audio crew (Pearson Sound, Pangaea and Ben UFO) all met in Leeds and were regulars at the club. Midland is another one, who actually used to work behind the bar at the club before deciding to leave and pursue a career in music.”


Now living in London and running the Croatian festival calendar staple Dimensions while moonlighting as a DJ, Hamish spent years at the centre of Leeds’s underground scene. He co-runs the influential Butter Side Up party, which was a staple in the city for years, while also working as the booker for Wire between 2012 and 2016. Toby, meanwhile, is the Creative Director of East London’s intimate hotspot The Pickle Factory. They both gained their entryways and honed their crafts in the foothills of the Pennines before eventually heading south in search of brighter lights and bigger opportunities – a not uncommon story for Leeds.

“I feel like a lot of people use Leeds as a starting point, and then a lot of people will go to London, like Hamish and Josh Bayat who used to do our bookings,” says Josh Powell, who worked as Wire’s general manager for eight years. “From the time I first went to Wire, then started working there, it’s changed a lot – I think just because of the student population and its turnover.”

It was students – the UK’s most recognised, and historically most reliable, demographic of partygoers – that made the venue what it was, and also ultimately its revenue source. But the past few years have seen that well dry up. “Habits are changing each year, the student population is definitely a bit different as well, which is down to Covid I think,” Josh continues. “They don’t go out enough during the week. We need to be operating during term time on four nights a week, minimum. We used to have a good steady stream of student promoters, five nights a week – Tuesday to Saturday we’d be open – but people aren’t coming out during term time.”

In the face of the cost of living crisis, trends point to younger partygoers going out  less frequently, but going out bigger when they choose to do so. “Costs are always going up, clubbers don’t have the disposable income in their pockets they did 10 to 15 years ago,” explains Ethan. “And all the signs point to the next generation of clubgoers post-Covid not going out once or twice a week and paying £10-12 into a small/medium club (like previous generations did) but going out every six or eight weeks to a big mega event like a Warehouse Project or Printworks that costs £40-60 a ticket.”

“It feels like the canary in the coal mine, if a venue in that central of a location, with that great a soundsystem, and that history can’t survive, then alarm bells should be ringing.”

With a generation of would-be DJs, promoters and dancers spending important chunks of their limited university years locked down in their halls during the pandemic and curtailing formative dancefloor moments, venues across the country are facing similar footfall issues. The effects are especially sharp in regional cities like Leeds, where the students form significant proportions of the cities’ overall populations, rather than, say Manchester, London or Glasgow.

Last month, a Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) report examined an ailing nightlife industry, finding that five nightclubs a week were closing down in 2024. It’s a similarly bleak situation with live music venues – Music Venues Trust (MVT) found that 125 grassroots venues closed in 2022, with over a third of those remaining making a loss.

“We’re gripped with a cost of operating crisis, which saw about 30 to 40 percent increases in operating costs,” explains Sir Michael Kill, CEO of the NTIA. “When you’re dealing with very fine margins, whether you’re an event, grassroots music, nightclub or electronic music venue, the difference between an energy bill that is 100 or 200 percent above [what it used to be] is the difference between make or break sometimes.”

While so many spaces across the country have been disappearing, seeing such a long-established, high-quality venue like Wire be forced to close its doors feels like a dam-breaking, watershed moment. The gradual erosion of cultural spaces has left significant voids in Leeds’s nightlife landscape, and the closure of perhaps the last quality venue of its profile puts that into sharp focus. “In the 12 years I’ve been living here it certainly feels at a low ebb in regards to nightlife,” says Ethan. “With Mint, Garage, Sheaf St and Wire all gone, Leeds has a real lack of what I would call mid-sized venues, it goes from lots of 100 to 200 capacity venues, not much in-between, then a big jump to 800 to 100-plus.”

And perhaps it’s those smallest venues that offer a glimmer of hope. Set only a few hundred metres away from Wire, underneath a railway arch is The Imaginarium, a young nightclub that opened its doors in October 2022. Just as Hamish & Toby are taking to the decks, Animals On Psychedelics head honcho Carl H is playing deep trance cuts and techno to a dark, intimate loft room of about 60 dancers. Functioning as a café, a recording studio, and a record store during the day, many of those dancing that night are regulars at the venue and come on most weekends. “It’s a community run, co-op sort of space, 100 people,” says Josh. “They’re doing events that are really niche and tailored to certain specific groups of people, and they are doing absolutely fine. It’s these medium-sized, or small medium spaces that are suffering.”

But only having the extreme ends of the venue spectrum managing to survive – tiny community venues and huge festival-style productions – leaves the music industry on shaky foundations with which to support itself. Where would a young promoter be able to book a bigger act when they are ready to step their party up a notch? And how does a DJ learn to play the art of the warm-up set when they are jumping from tiny lofts to an expansive festival stage?

With an ecosystem that feels out of sync, out of whack, it leaves a murky landscape for nightlife in towns and cities across the UK like Leeds, and the country’s culture more broadly. “I think clubs are going to have to make a decision about whether they go down the small capacity, tight-knit community route or go to the model where you’re selling out, sponsorships, or just doing less interesting stuff,” Josh says. “It’s sort of the way the music industry is going already – a lot of the same names on festival line-ups.”

“I think it goes into everything – a lot of places in Britain, you go to different cities, but there’s a lot of the same things there,” he continues. “It’s just bar chains, restaurant chains and shopping chains – there’s a lot of homogeneity and it’s losing its character.”

It’s a sobering thought, that the UK’s nightlife culture, which has spawned a slate of movements and genres out of its diversity – from hardcore, to UKG, bassline, dubstep, jungle, drum’n’bass and beyond – could end up as stale as a Jamie’s Italian or a Tesco Express. Our spaces are the foundations of it.

“It feels like the canary in the coal mine for the rest of Leeds – if a venue in that central of a location, with that great a soundsystem, and that history can’t survive, then alarm bells should be ringing,” says Ethan. “We should be asking ourselves serious questions about what that means for the future. Whatever factor you want to put it down to: cost of living crisis, changing demographics, lack of support from the government – it’s a tragedy that a venue as good as Wire is no longer with us.”