Elsewhere Margate: Vinyl Destination
From finding gig venues in offbeat spots to creating a platform for local bands, the brains behind Margate’s newest musical nucleus no longer have to look Elsewhere, writes Rob Hakimian
Walking up Margate’s commercial hub The Centre, Elsewhere stands out. Even if I hadn’t been there to talk to its proprietors, I undoubtedly would have been attracted to the space by its eye-catching pop-art decoration (distinct from the humdrum chain shops either side) and pressed my face to the large windows to look into the cavernous space. Inside, where I meet two of Elsewhere’s founders, Sammy Clarke and Ciarán Cliffe, I find myself in a high-ceilinged and welcoming space; a collection of well-stocked record bins to the right, beyond them the counter of the café, and dotted about places to sit and enjoy the ambiance. Excitement increases upon descending into Elsewhere’s lower level, where they’ve built a 200-capacity DIY gig venue.
Meeting them the Monday after the venue’s opening weekend, Sammy and Ciarán are both soft-spoken, but still buzzing off the success of the two-night extravaganza they managed to pull off, with both nights having seen Elsewhere full to capacity. Walking around, the space still seemed to echo with the power and potential of the opening weekend. “The bands were amazing, it sounded so good in there; somehow we’ve stumbled into this great sounding room,” Ciarán tells me, a little starry eyed.
Saying that they stumbled into the venue is partly true, as the uncountable moving parts seem to have all fallen perfectly into place for Elsewhere – but it also does a disservice to the years of work that preceded its opening. Along with Alex Barron, who was the owner of Monkey Boy Records in Canterbury, Ciarán and Sammy founded Elsewhere after having grown up as part of the local music scene.
Sammy is the founder and figurehead of Art’s Cool, a live music promotion company that he started in 2013. “I felt there was a disconnect between Margate and the rest of the country,” he told me, “I was reading about all the amazing bands in the NME and was like ‘how can I bring them here?’” Moreover, he wanted to start “booking local bands purely to celebrate them,” and each time he booked an out-of-town act he always made sure that he put a local band on the bill as well, “to show off what was actually happening.” Ciarán worked for Kent institution Smugglers Records, where he says they had “an ethos of trying to create something that was really inclusive,” and that “there weren’t any intentions to get big or make money.”
These are the recurring motifs in our conversation about the road to Elsewhere; inclusivity, community, and celebrating local art – and they’re the driving forces behind all that Sammy and Ciarán have done over the last five years. In that time, both have continually helped to organise gigs for local acts, and their dedication to it can’t be overstated. Sammy has been a support worker at a school for autistic children for years, and still to this day does his music promotion work in between demanding shifts in that field. Even when he went travelling in Australia for a stretch, he was still promoting Art’s Cool gigs in Kent and running a press campaign for local band Gang, who had made him their manager due to his unceasing love and support of their music (he’s keen to call himself a “fanager”). As part of Smugglers, Ciarán helped to find, support and arrange gigs for local acts – whether they were in theatres, church halls or other makeshift spaces.
With a local network of supportive like-minded artists and promoters on the rise, spurred on by the opening of the Turner Contemporary in 2011, a scene truly started to flourish in Margate. “Over the last few years it’s felt like everything is up for grabs – if you have an idea, just go for it, if you think there’s something missing, just do it,” Sammy told me when explaining why he believes the scene has arrived in Margate rather than nearby student hub of Canterbury; “you can approach people about an idea and they’re just happy to see it happen, they won’t say ‘do you think it’s going to make money?’”
Sammy radiates pride when he thinks about the number of great artists that now call Margate their home, and Ciarán agrees he’s “never known so many bands at once” in the area. Aside from rising acts like Gang, Inevitable Daydream and Art School Girlfriend who have all recently moved to Margate, the list of established acts that have moved locally is also eyebrow-raising, including Ghostpoet (who has established Radio Margate), The Libertines’ (and soon to be Margate hotelier) Pete Doherty and the ridiculously talented Tom Vek (who designed Elsewhere’s logo), among others.
Given their investment in the scene and drive to help it grow, you’d have thought a purpose-built venue would have been in their plans long ago – especially given the amount of gigs they’ve each organised in beloved but less-than-ideal locations – but it wasn’t something that naturally occurred to them; the legal hoops and financial barriers seemed overwhelming. However, with Alex considering moving Monkey Boy Records to Margate, the idea to combine it with a music venue was a lightbulb moment.
Having found the space in February, opened the record shop in August, and the venue in September, is an incredible feat – especially as they did it under their own steam.
“It was very much a DIY endeavour; we don’t wave that flag because it seems obvious,” Sammy told me - but perhaps they should. Although Elsewhere is a beautiful space that resonates with the love and passion of its creators and patrons, it shouldn’t be overlooked that their blood and sweat went into the creation of it, right up to opening day; “it was intense, I was still drilling holes in concrete on Friday daytime,” Ciarán admits. Their years of giving to the community came back to help them in massive ways, “lots of people were coming in and doing some painting or DIY, especially in those last few days.” Many of those helpers were from local bands, which speaks to artists’ belief in the importance of having Elsewhere as a nucleus of the Margate music scene.
Excited locals also contributed to Elsewhere, with an online crowdfunder amassing £3,600 in a month, and plenty more people donating cash over the opening weekend. The desire for a specialised venue, and the willingness to help it succeed, was obvious in the hundreds of people who filled up Elsewhere on the first Friday and Saturday.
Although still drinking in the explosive success of Elsewhere’s first weekend of live music, Ciarán and Sammy’s minds are mulling over what’s to come in the next few months. “I think in any week you’ll see an acoustic night, an in-store open mic night, touring gigs, and free entry nights,” Ciarán suggests.
The free entry night concept, which will be called Save Yourself is “a night for new bands from around Kent,” says Sammy. “It’s about removing that barrier for paying for unfamiliar acts and just letting people in for free to possibly discover something.”
When I dare them to dream big and ask who would be their ultimate booking, the immediate answer is Australian psych-rock titans King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, but Sammy quickly reels himself in; “there's no end goal, I'm happy booking local bands - to me they're as big as the biggest bands.”