Central London will see the opening of three music venues later this year as part of a £1 billion redevelopment of the Denmark Street area into a multi-media entertainment district branded Outernet London. Outernet Global CEO Philip O’Ferrall tells Access about the plans.
For half a century Denmark Street was a mecca for musicians and the music industry. Dubbed Tin Pan Alley, artists such as the Sex Pistols, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones were regularly seen there and over the years it became the home to the NME, Melody Maker, studios, management companies and a tightly packed array of musical instruments purveyors.
A stone’s throw from Tottenham Court Road tube station and the renowned Astoria venue on the periphery of Soho, Denmark Street was the beating heart of the music industry but even after the A-list talent was long gone, and Astoria demolished, it remained the home of the battered but beloved Enterprise Studios and 150-capacity 12 Bar Club.
The transformation of the area by Outernet Global, property firm Consolidated Developments and construction giant Skanska, has proven controversial but Phillip O’Ferrall says the aim is to respect the area’s musical past while transforming it into a state-of-the-art, multi-media, music hub.
“Brilliant Stages are helping to provide everything we need to be able to quickly switch between full standing shows to all seated gigs and product launches.”
The most eye-catching aspect of the new development will be a vast outdoor public atrium with its interior walls covered in a huge digital canvas – a four-story high, 360 degree, 8k video screen.
O’Ferrall say the content on the screens will be scheduled to reflect the audience likely to be on site during the different times of day and evening. He suggests it is ideal for product launches but the space could also be used as a live event venue for audiences of up to 750.
“It features a cutting-edge L’Accoustic sound system, and Brilliant Stages provided the moving parts to enable the building to be opened or closed,” he says. “We have a license to host 100 late night events a year, it is very much a mixed-use space.”
Possibly of more interest to the events industry will be the new 2,000-capacity venue – the largest live music venue built in central London since the 1940s.
“It sits directly beneath the atrium. Brilliant Stages are helping to provide everything we need to be able to quickly switch between full standing shows to all seated gigs and product launches,” says O’Ferrall
The venue will have a 750 all-seated capacity and can be used for events with table service for 900. O’Ferrall says the venue team is aiming to host a minimum of 100 nights of live music a year in the venue.
There is also good news for those missing the infamous 12 Bar Club, which during its two decades on the street hosted show by acts including Jeff Buckley, The Libertines and Joanna Newsom, before it closed in January 2015.
“You can have an album listening party in the house the Sex Pistols lived in, with Johnny Rotten’s graffiti still on the wall.”
“One option was to knock the 12 Bar Club down but we underpinned it and moved it away, dug down and then put it back in situ,” says O’Ferrall. “The shop front has been put back in place, and there is a glass walkway that takes you into the original old venue, with all the graffiti still on the wall. We have expanded the space by digging down three levels and creating a 500-capacity live music venue, it is still very quirky in its set up. It can be connected to the 2,000-capacity venue so you can create a 2,500-capacity central London venue over different floors.”
As if that weren’t enough, the complex will also include a pro-bono recording studio, sponsored by record industry trade body the BPI, that will be made available to grassroots talent.
With the shadow of Covid-19 hanging over the entire project it is not surprising that the team has taken steps to make sure the venues work under Covid-safe event guidelines.
“We have to assume there is going to be a Covid hangover for the foreseeable future,” says O’Ferrall. “We are working with our app partner Realife Tech, who will enable customised digital interaction with visitors, and we to make sure ticketing is on mobile. In the worst-case scenario, we can host streamed performances.”
“Building a live music venue in central London doesn’t make pure commercial sense, if it’s just a music venue, but creating this ecosystem does.”
Outernet is also putting the finishing touches to Chateau Denmark, a 54-room hotel cum residence that will encompass a 360-capacity licensed live music space.
“They are music industry-focused residences,” says O’Ferrall. “One of the apartments is the house where the Sex Pistols lived and that has been turned into the Anarchy Suite. The residences are all about music and hedonism. They are perfect for the music industry, and I can say that with confidence as I worked for MTV for 16 years. They have PMC speakers, and some of them have DJ decks – they’re designed for people that are in town for a number of days, weeks or months and each residence has an individual entrance on Denmark Street.
“You have music heritage residencies sitting above music shops on Denmark Street, together with three live music venues and this massive advertising and curated content space. We want Denmark Street to be a whole street of performance,” says O’Ferrall.
The wider strategy reaches far beyond Denmark Street – the aim being to launch a worldwide network of entertainment districts. Outernet is currently bidding on a site opposite Madison Square Garden in New York, and it has a location in Los Angles in its sights.
For the time being though, the main focus is on London. O’Ferrall says that while the music industry mourned the closing of the Astoria and 12 Bar Club, Outernet will prove a major upgrade for the area: “This business owned the Astoria, which was on the other side of Charing Cross Road, but it was compulsory purchase by Crossrail.
“Building a live music venue in central London doesn’t make pure commercial sense, if it’s just a music venue, but creating this ecosystem does. If you’re doing an album launch you’re going to buy outdoor media, you’re going to buy TV advertising and digital anyway. What we’re able to do is blend having that live music gig space with a massive, high footfall, advertising machine sitting above.
“The fact that you can have an album listening party in the house the Sex Pistols lived in, with Johnny Rotten’s graffiti still on the wall. You can have early-stage talent in a more relaxed smaller venue or a big 2000-capacity show in the same location in central London, walking distance from Soho. That’s what’s really exciting people.”
The Moving Picture Company
Hoare Lee (Audio)
Ridley Scott Creative Group