The news of Cellar’s impending closure is one of great sadness, especially egregious due to the fact that it seems completely unnecessary. It is not as though Cellar can’t afford to continue running: it’s commercially viable and needed in a student city. Its closing is a deliberate decision by the leaseholders, St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities, for the sake of ‘redevelopment’. This isn’t just a one off incident but part of a larger trend: Wahoo and Babylove were both clubs closed down before Cellar with the same justification.
The decreasing number of clubs in Oxford is just one symptom of the increasing gentrification of the city. It’s a process that has produced a homelessness crisis and reduced the quality of life for ordinary workers in Oxford, the university’s scouts, cooks and porters among them. A process disguised thanks to the short memory span of the ever-changing student population.
Babylove was shut down so Oriel could ‘improve’ King Edward Street, Wahoo so Nuffield and Christ Church could ‘transform’ Fireswide Square, and now Cellar in order that some kind of shop can be built, as though there isn’t already a shopping centre about to open just down the road. All these actions have been entirely against the interest of students. If the trend continues, Oxford will become a ghost city, adorned with beautiful buildings but no life behind the frontage, a bit like Cambridge.
Let us remind ourselves of why a place like Cellar is so valuable. For starters it offered a venue for those who feel alienated by mainstream Oxford as a student environment. The DIY open approach to bookings at Cellar allowed working class, female, LGBT, and BME students to express themselves in nightlife culture. Whilst the ruling class can use its capital and influence to hold debauched parties in fields, the rest of us rely on accessible clubs like Cellar to offer a venue.
It also showed a level of dedication to alternative music unlike any other central Oxford venue, holding nights for new wave, jungle, grime, techno, house, and disco. It offered a venue for those who wish to get involved in alternative scenes to gain experience in hosting and performing nights. New College alumni TJ Hertz – now one of the biggest artists in the techno scene under the stagename Objekt – learned to mix in Cellar and has spoken out in its defence since news of its planned closure emerged. Cellar has an international reputation and history unknown to many of Oxford’s own students: bands like Foals played early gigs there, while international figures in alternative nightlife such as Ben UFO and Call Super have backed calls to defend Cellar.
Memories are made at clubs like these, where people have a chance to meet lifelong friends and loves, a chance to enjoy a night they remember for decades. What will this new shop provide? Crappy mugs that say “I <3 London” on them? Life in Oxford will carry on without Cellar but it will definitely be more stagnant without it. For all those who care about music, nightlife, and enjoyment the loss of Cellar will be like losing an old friend.
A petition has been created in opposition to the closure of Cellar, you can sign it here.