Documentary: A Riot Of Our Own

ariotofourown’s Addy Fong checks out A Riot of Our Own, the powerful and sobering documentation of London’s live music scene, and picks the brains of the film’s director. You can watch the entire documentary for yourself at the foot of the page:

There’s a deafening silence that can be heard when the closure of an iconic music venue is announced, when a once lively venue is now made somber from the repurposing of land for residential use. It’s a conflicting feeling to be part of something only to have it removed due to issues of redevelopment. ‘If you start taking the heartbeat away everything will start fading away from the edges.’

Speaking to the people who made the place what it was, London-based filmmaker Tali Clarke set out to capture this social change in, A Riot of Our Own, documenting the last days of 12 Bar in Soho. Filmed using a small camera and makeshift lighting, Clarke captures a final glimpse of the community and spirit that is being challenged by the removal music venues such as 12 Bar.

The film is an intimate look at this subject, which is often muted, through a mixture of live performances and candid interviews with those who regularly frequent the venue. This is made possible only through Clarke’s personal connection with the venue and staff along with her love of live music.

Thing is, society is facing a cultural crisis more so then not, not just in the UK but pretty much everywhere. The closure of live music venues is an attack not only on music venues but on culture, a place where upcoming musicians and artists have had the freedom of starting out, to showcase, experiment and grow their love of live performance in a safe and accepting venue.

A Riot of Our Own explores the closure of 12 Bar in Soho, London, due to redevelopment work in the area, and the implications caused by its closure. Shutting down unique places like 12 Bar not only causes shifts in urban density and population growth but stagnates the unique character a city had once nurtured.

This documentary is not only one of music being silenced, but it is the amputation of identity in which young people look to as safe venues to explore their own forms of identity and to create a sense of belonging. Not merely is the removal of a live music scene the issue, but more so it is the suppression of fringe culture being trimmed off as excess thus devaluing the diversity society is composed of.

Though the closure of 12 Bar is inevitable, A Riot of Our Own is a documentary from the people for the people highlighting issues many of our own music venues face, but for now at least, perhaps, someone’s listening.

Hi Tali. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. The decline of live music venues is a sad reality many of us are facing. Why are live music venues such as 12 Bar in Soho important to you?
Music has always been a massive part of my life, and the live aspect is where it all seems to come together for me, and that is where music scenes and communities are created and nurtured. I grew up in London, and with it being such a culturally diverse city, my love for music and seeking out the scenes in which it happened in was my main form of connection to others from all walks of life, and helped us all carve out a place for ourselves in an otherwise overwhelmingly large society. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot and live in some other countries, and it has always been a shared love of music that has brought about connections with others, so much so that it becomes like a global community.

Venues such as the 12 Bar Club become main hubs for these communities, they become sacred spaces for many as a place where people feel part of something, safe to be and explore who they want to be, and can ultimately have a place they know they can go to to experience what it is they love. The 12 bar was in the centre of town, located on the main ‘music street’ in London – Denmark St – with practice rooms, recording studios and guitar/tech shops surrounding it, so its importance resonated with musicians and fans alike.

It being a small venue with live music 7 days a week meant that smaller bands and upcoming artists were given the chance to play there – my band got some of our early gigs there, even though the guitarist’s brother would get naked and swing from the balcony whilst we played! We used to have all-day writing and practice sessions at The Enterprise Studios across the alley, and afterwards would come over to the 12 Bar to play pool, or catch a show, or just hang out with all the other bands round the back outside the studio. It’s important to feel a sense of belonging from a young age I think, and in a big city such as London that can sometimes be hard to find.

Essentially each venue like this is a community centre of sorts, and as we’re losing these so rapidly at the moment it’s displacing so many people, and removing the heartbeat of our city.

What was it like filming and interviewing people at 12 Bar, especially those you already had such a personal connection with?
It was such an amazing place to film; such a close-knit strong community with an infectious passion for each other and what they were all there for.

I wasn’t actually close to any of them there before I started; after spending a lot of time there as a teen and in my early twenties I lived away for a while, and when I returned my band no longer practiced at The Enterprise, and I would just got to the 12 Bar for specific gigs or to play there with my band (and luckily the guitarist’s brother stopped coming to see us…)

The manager Barnet Mark was still the same, so was always nice to see him, but I only really got to know him and everyone once I started making this film. I found it so interesting just to talk to everyone about something that meant so much to all of us – again, the love of live music connected us all, no matter what our backgrounds were, or tastes even.

I think that’s why I love making documentary films, because I’m just genuinely interested in people and their stories, and to hear people speak with such clarity and passion about something that is also so important to me, with the imminent threat of it all being taken away, was a beautiful and sad thing.
But because everyone cared so much everyone was really happy to talk to me, so it really made this film a joy to make, and I’ve made some great friends in the process of it all.

How long did filmmaking take from preproduction to post?
I was based at the 12 Bar nearly every evening and some days from 29th December – 16th January, right up until the moment Barnet Mark closed the front door for the final time and locked it. Then the squatters from Bohemians4Soho moved in a few days later and I spent a few days and evenings with them, so all in all I think I was shooting over a month long period. Then the editing took about a month (but I had to do some paid work in between so it spanned a bit longer!)

The film had been ready for release since the end of March, with only a few tweaks made since then – but I wanted to try to find a suitable platform for it, and again had rent-paying work and some other commitments that got in way of me releasing it there and then.

But the release has actually worked out quite well timing-wise, as after the General Election many people were obviously angry and are also now much more scared for the future of their own communities – and that is what this film is all about; the issues raised and sentiments expressed can be applied to communities across the board. So I see it as serving 2 functions: an honest depiction a historical place and important section of society and the arts, the record of which can live on forever, and also as a form of social commentary and maybe as something that can incite people to take action to protect what they love.

Which part of the documentary was the most challenging to film?
From a technical point of view the live gigs that were really busy were crazy to film – the lighting was very low, bodies everywhere, all the while trying not to get in the way and ruin peoples’ experience of the shows. But I shoot a lot of live music, festivals and events, so even though it was challenging I felt in my element.

From a personal perspective it was probably the final lock up of the bar; filming people going through something so emotional and important, trying to empathise with them whilst also pointing a camera at their face can be a strange feeling. It was pretty raw!

And in general I spent a lot of time just standing at the bar chatting to different people, to really immerse myself in it all, to hear their stories so that I could portray it in the most honest light, and this resulted in a fair few drinks being bought as we connected over the project, and it would be rude to say no (surely?) so some of the filming got a bit more challenging after those times!

Why did you choose to go with the online platform as a way of distributing your film rather than the traditional form of the festival circuit?
Due to the current nature of the events being documented I wanted it to get seen by as many people as possible as it’s all happening – Consolidated Developments (the company responsible for the closure of the 12 bar Club and many independent business on Denmark St and the St Giles area) are still ‘redeveloping’ the area, it’s all happening right now, and all over London and the rest of the country – as I mentioned before I hope this film can inspire some people to fight to keep their own communities safe, so it needed to come out now.

There are several film festivals that don’t mind a short film having been online prior to submission, so I have also been submitting it into these ones, such as Raindance and the LSFF.

I just want lots of people to see it, because it’s a slice of some really beautiful peoples’ lives, and the thing that brought so many of them together.

You can keep in the loop with Tali on her website. Now check out the whole documentary for yourself….



Words and interview by Addy Fong.