The Cellar recently faced risk of closing. Again. Except this time it felt like there really was no chance of its staying open, with £80,000 needed in the space of a month. Yet here we are, a month later, and the fundraising campaign has managed to raise almost £92,000. While the fundraising efforts by The Cellar management team were undeniably brilliant, The Cellar’s staying open reflects more than just this. It reflects the need of the Oxford music community for small venues to continue offering what larger clubs and venues simply cannot.
Keen clubbers in Oxford will inevitably have visited the likes of Bridge and Atik, but after making these your clubbing destination for a couple of weeks, you soon start to tire of their predictability. Of course, the Dj may choose to remix ‘Intoxicated’ with ‘That’s Not Me’ one week, and ‘Too Many Men’ the next, but, in large, you begin to anticipate the music you’re going to be listening to – unlike a night at Cellar, where the variation of genres and songs is one of the club’s defining aspects. The genres found in The Cellar range from disco, to grime, to folk, to reggae; the list truly is endless. The variation of genres is essential not just to give your earbuds a bit of a change, but also to allow new developments in taste. The point of The Cellar isn’t that you love the music played there every night, but that for every few you’re not so sure about, there’s one that has you Shazaming on the dance floor and going home to create new Spotify Playlists. The night is not merely an end in itself, but a chance to find your next groove.
But The Cellar’s importance isn’t limited to consumers, it’s also integral to artists and creators. Oxford University and city is filled with musically creative and talented people, who need a platform to perform on. Not all musical talent is suited to an Oxford college chapel, or is quite polished enough to ascend to the heights of The Bullingdon or O2 stages. They need The Cellar as a space to perform and off of which to springboard. The importance of The Cellar as a starting place is testified by the names it once hosted. It was home to FOALS’ first concert, described by them as the place they “first learnt to blow the doors off a joint.” Glass Animals also commented that it was at The Cellar where they met each other while attending a Friendly Fires concert, and where they later performed multiple times. Objekt, now a world renowned Dj/producer, learnt the trade while messing around on the empty decks at The Cellar while helping to run nights there. He explained in an interview with Cherwell earlier this year that The Cellar “gives local artists, musicians and promoters the opportunity to learn and develop.”
The Cellar breaks down the barrier between hobby and profession, allowing artists to simply develop a passion while experimenting with music as a career. Ed Harding, founder of the Oxford Brutalist Society and an aspiring DJ, recently ran an industrial techno night at The Cellar, where he sought to marry together “electronic music with brutalist architecture and visual aesthetics.” The unique and outlandish nature of his night would perhaps intimidate other clubs, but The Cellar jumped at the opportunity to host the event. Harding explained that his night simply could not have existed at any other club in Oxford.
But The Cellar has not restricted itself to amateur artists in their development ages. The venue has also hosted some very impressive names at the height of their music career. In 2011, The Cellar hosted both DJ EZ and Andy C, two massive names in the D.J. circuit, as well as Shanti Celeste and Deadbeat UK more recently. What does The Cellar offer that The Bullingdon or the O2 cannot? Intimacy, in a word. Sure, it gets a little hot down there, but this is part of what makes the music experience quite so special. The music scene both nationally and globally is thriving, with an abundance of artists and venues which facilitate these performers. But unfortunately, as interest grows, so do venue sizes. Now you’re watching your favourite act with a pair of binoculars and an ice bag to ease the neck strain. The spectacular lights and huge stage make for something of a spectacle, but do they actually bring us any closer to the music? Is all this not really a distraction from the music? Of course, the Cellar also has lights, and it also has a stage. But one feels that the lights are simply to illuminate what would otherwise be an abyss of darkness, while the stage stands at a mighty two feet high. There’s an authenticity to the music at The Cellar, a belief that you’re there to listen, whether that be to one of your favourite acts, or a genre the name of which you cannot even pronounce. The Cellar is matching listener with artist and artist with opportunity, but more than anything it is bringing music back to the forefront of nights out. And that is why The Cellar continues to survive.