Tallinn Music Week Conference 2021: Night and Nurture

02 February 2022 Conference

TMW 2021 Creative Impact Conference: Night and Nurture at HALL. Photo: Jaanar Nikker

Tallinn Music Week Conference 2021
Night and Nurture
Club HALL, 2 October 2021 

The panel is re-watchable for the holders of PRO and DigiPro passes until TMW 2022 via the TMW PRO platform

Lutz Leichsenring, Co-Founder of VibeLab, executive board member for the Berlin Clubcommission
Luke Teetsov-Faulkner, Co-founder and owner of Sveta Bar, Estonia 
Helgi Saldo, LGBT activist, performer
Eva Maria Kangro, psychologist
Mart Luik, Business Director of Tallinn Strategic Management Office
Natalie Mets, candidate for the Tallinn Night Mayor position at the time of the panel; current Tallinn Night Mayor 
Moderator: Kärt Kelder, cultural journalist

At the TMW 2021 conference session held at Club HALL, the flagship of the Estonian techno scene, the panellists gathered to talk about the importance of night culture for individuals as well as the nighttime economy. 

To start the conversation, Lutz Leichsenring presented an introduction to why it is important to organise nightlife. When he started working with the Club Commission, the first thing they did was organising protests to make sure that the sector’s needs were heard. With his business partner Mirik Milan, who became the first night mayor of the city of Amsterdam, they laid the groundwork for nighttime advocacy in the city. They established the website nighttime.org, which included information, first, on the terminology used in the field, provided consulting, knowledge building and sharing, education and networking, as well as advocacy and awareness-raising. They conducted research on nighttime governance conducted in cooperation with Harvard PhD. Andreina Seijas on the examples of New York, Tokyo, Berlin, and Stockholm, measuring, for example, the cities’ creative footprint. They also researched the effects of COVID on creative industries in the Middle East and Africa, and published the Global Nighttime Recovery Plan in May with a global team of researchers and officials. 

Kärt Kelder (KK): Why is a vibrant nighttime important for a city and how do you create a buzz?

KK: Who are the people to talk to about the nighttime? 

Lutz Leichsenring (LL): The nighttime has to be created, the vibe cannot be bought, so you have to have a creative community, people who are doing things in a way that is different, perhaps even uncomfortable and unconventional. Then you need a creative space that is accessible and affordable, where you can perform and rehearse. Next you need supportive policy framework conditions, nighttime transport, affordable housing, funding, and a partner at the city level. The night is not just about employing people, but also an important social and cultural, aesthetic feature of the city. The urban, young, progressive parts of cities are not about having Starbucks. 

LL: There are so many people who shape the night – performers and creators, without whom there is no vibrant nightlife. But then there are also the curators and designers, who give the night an aesthetic, stage, and programme. Then there are the implementers and producers, who actually turn a space into a place, where you can enjoy yourself. Then there are the investors, patrons and marketeers. Nighttime advocacy is very cross-sectional, not just about tourism and creative industries – it is about safety and health, place-making, city planning, all contributing towards an inclusive and diverse society.

When it comes to the goals of the nighttime advocacy work, 9 of them have been very well outlined among the UN SDGs, and Lutz pointed out that they work with SDGs nr 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 16 and 17. 

KK: How to create nighttime governance? 

1. Search for inspiration – look at what other cities are already doing and see what can be adapted to your city. 
2. Assess the city – numbers, data, stakeholders
3. Action plan – milestones for the coming years
4. Start campaigning, conferences, symposia, bring it to other stakeholders
5. Create access to decision-makers, funding, public, media
6. Educate stakeholders on both sides – the creative industry and the city officials 

Lutz Leichsenring, Eva Maria Kangro, Natalie Mets. Photo: Aron Urb.

KK: Why do people want and need to go out?

Eva Maria Kangro (EMK):  Human beings are social animals and have basic needs, which includes the need to be connected, have a community, and a sense of belonging. Why do it at night? Because it facilitates and amplifies the feelings, especially with music involved. Music has a strong impact on our wellbeing, and neuroscientists have shown that music and sharing and human contact boost positive neurochemistry. Oxytocin is activated thanks to sharing, being together, having a sense of closeness, and listening to music. Moving, dancing is also a very basic thing for humans

Luke Teetsov-Faulkner (LTF): Sveta is like an extension of the living room, in conditions where homes do not provide enough of a communal space. Going out, not even to drink alcohol, is important to people. The nighttime is another time, it looks and feels different, almost different people are out and about. 

When it comes to integrating the Russian and Estonian speaking populations in Tallinn, which is something that Sveta Baar has been successful at and praised for, Luke added that it was not directly intentional.

We opened an inclusive place that was meant for everyone and very open-minded. We provided a platform, a place where anyone could have the opportunity to participate and perform. Technical people, promoters are in place there and the credit goes to the creative people, who are filling the platform with substance. 

When the lockdowns began, it was like a zombie apocalypse – the level of people’s inner turmoil was evident. At the beginning of easing the restrictions, it was surprising how fast normalcy returned. The lockdown was an opportunity for introspection. 

Helgi Saldo (HS): The pandemic clubbing experience wasn’t necessarily worse – the parties were smaller, underground, in safe spaces and somehow more intimate. It did fuck it up for clubs, but the scene took something from it. Of course, this activity was illegal. 

Natalie Mets (NM) returned to the question of why people go out – she referenced the talk by Kristjan Port on neuroscience, where he said that many cells can do more together than a single cell.

The situation is the same with people. More people can also do more together than one person alone. We have to give them the space to come together.

She illustrated the point with the example of IDA Raadio: the idea came about at a party, and now it includes 190 hosts and provides opportunities for young talents. 

LTF: During lockdown it was interesting to see how many people, who come to parties or gigs were asking for contacts of people – he realised that the only time they meet certain people is at nighttime when they go out. They might not have any other contact outside of that nighttime. 

EMK: That it is part of our identity. Other people who we spend time with are a reference and validation for our identities. We have different identities within one person, so the nighttime identity might be a very important part of a person. It allows for establishing who I am and who I am not, and people need that kind of validation. 

Mart Luik (ML): When talking about the nighttime, we also have to distinguish which part of the night we are talking about. When organising concerts with international performers, these started relatively early and people didn’t drink much. But Estonian bands were expected to start performing at 1, 2 or 3 am. The city introduced stricter conditions for alcohol – no sales after 2 during the week, and 3 at the weekend. When people checked nighttime venues, around 5% of troubles came from places still open, but the reaction from club owners has been relatively reasonable. 

LTF: The same thing is happening now – there are venues that organise gigs and that cater to an earlier crowd, which goes home at 11-12pm. But then there are people who don’t go out until 1 am, so for them 5 am is our 11 o’clock. How they experience the night is the same, but they start later – there are sort of shifts or phases within the night as well. 

LL: Research also shows that it is very difficult to regulate the night. When you have a curfew, people binge drink, but then have to go on the street all at the same time, so that is an artificial way to regulate a crowd. These people will find a way to another place, so they move to spaces that are not regulated, either underground or private residences. So instead of regulating the night more, the direction should be towards deregulation and bringing more content to the night instead. We also have to agree that most of the culture is free for the government, because it is essentially paid for by alcohol. Alcohol funds culture, so either fund artists with tax money and regulate alcohol, or do it another way. When you bring content to the night, if it is not just about drinking, there are different vibes, different consumption behaviours. Berlin is a good example of how people go out in all different age groups, clubbing experiences are for people of all ages.

Lutz also gave the example of a friend, who goes out in the morning to the club at 5 am, dances for a few hours and is back at the breakfast table.

So it must be accepted that people go out differently, not just in the way that city hall expects it to happen. 

NM: I have nothing against the city of Tallinn educating people and trying to get them to drink less, so in that sense the new alcohol restrictions are understandable, however, they aren’t well thought out. First, in casinos and hotel lobbies you can sell alcohol for an hour longer. However, in a casino you have double behaviour risk – the gaming aspect is added, which is definitely nothing positive for mental health. Second, Tallinn has talked a lot about regulating guest apartments, but there are no regulations in place yet. People will find a way to drink, so if they can’t drink at the bar, they go to their airbnb. There are also people who illegally sell alcohol in the middle of the night for delivery to places like that. Lastly, Tallinn takes away around 10-15 000 euros per month from venues that also provide content. It would only make sense for the city to introduce a funding system, where bars and promoters with a cultural programme can apply for money. As it is, if you want to organise anything, you have to sell booze. 

Photo: Patrik Tamm

LTF: Having one set of rules for everyone is not right, there is no one-size fits all. For example, Sveta Baar has the same restrictions as HALL, but we have nothing that is the same – different hours, for starters. In the UK, for example, there is a tiered system of licences for venues. Take HALL: after all the effort that has been put into the place, which  self-produces all the elements of the club and really is a community within a community, after having been closed for so long, then reopened, and then shortly thereafter being told that they cannot serve alcohol to earn money at the height of their busy time is not right. In addition, if the government wants to reduce drug consumption, cutting off alcohol is not the answer – it essentially forms a gateway for those, who might not try drugs and who would rather drink instead. 

To explain the background of the alcohol restrictions, ML pointed out that it all started with the Old Town, which is our unique UNESCO protected area, but has now run into trouble, because it serves two purposes: tourism and entertainment.

The wake up call was, of course, the lockdown, when we noticed that once all the tourists and entertainers are gone, there is no life left. The community living there has been pressuring the city to impose harsh restrictions. It used to have a population of 10k, whereas now only 2500 people live there. 5-6% are retired people, so most residents are very young. The current situation was a long process of compromise between residents and pub/club owners. 

LL: There has to be a conversation about how we envision the city, and the COVID situation has had a major impact that has brought changes. For example, retail spaces – how many of those are even needed if people buy more online, office spaces – what will happen to them if people work from home more? How do we make sure that the vibrant areas of the city stay vibrant, because a lot of people living in cities expect that vibrance to surround them? 

LTF: Also, if you think about when you’re travelling – of course, you want to see the museums and the historic sights, but you also want to know where the good bars and venues are for nighttime entertainment. In all that, of course, there is also the issue of where the LGBT community feels safe. 

HS: There aren’t many places, where you can feel safe as an openly queer person – there are Sveta and HALL. In other places, you might be accepted as a performer, but offstage encounter physical violence. 

LTF: This is the kind of progress that has been independently done. There are a lot of things in nightlife that are completely independent of the government’s work. The city is naturally evolving and becoming more diverse, despite who is in government. For example, Elena has said that when she opened this place, she never thought that a thousand people would show up, but they did. There are many artistic collaborations and companies that have been created from people meeting here, bands that are now doing lots of things internationally have met here. These are breeding grounds for creative people.

NM: What we are talking about here is diversity. All these places and people that run them are doing different things, so they need different rules. A place cannot earn enough money to cover costs with only 3 hours at night to do business. If we want to have our city become an attractive international place, to which young, smart, progressive people want to come and travel, we have to create space for diversity. 

LL: Same goes for living here – you are educating a lot of people and if you want them to stay here the city needs to be diverse. This generation of young people want to be part of something, they are not just consumers. They want a community, not Starbucks. You don’t have Starbucks and that is great – I’ve been to inner city areas in Italy, the country for coffee, where the only place left to get coffee is a Starbucks. Inner cities have been created without a vision, at least without one that includes creatives or young people, so when creating a nighttime vision, these kinds of stakeholders need to be involved. 

KK: What are the expectations from the city’s side in creating an attractive future city?

ML: It might not be a popular statement, but you are not the most troubled businesses in the city today. The tourism sector, despite the slightly increasing domestic tourism, is suffering with just a fraction of previous revenues. Of course, business is about survival, so we need to adapt our businesses. All those fake amber shops need to adapt, otherwise they won’t survive. The city government\s main job is to create an environment in which everyone has an opportunity to practice. We have given rental exemptions for premises owned by the city government, but our options are also limited. By helping those businesses the others around them will also benefit. I fully agree about diversity and that is the direction in which we are moving. We used to have one nighttime hotspot, more or less only in the Old Town area, but now we have three: Old Town, Telliskivi and Noblessner. So it would be worthwhile finding others like these. 

NM: How are venues that produce cultural programmes supposed to continue if 10-15 000 euros per month is cut from their budget?

ML: Are they really that weak that they cannot continue otherwise?

LL: I would just like to make the point that creative nightlife is very costly. Studies around the world show that clubs and bars that operate with curated programmes with live performances, live DJs and so on come to about +/- 0 in terms of gains/losses at the end of the year. You might say they are bad business people, but they bring the perception to the city that you want to have: modern, innovative, creative city. For the city what they are doing is for free, but they are surviving through culture. 

NM: It’s not just about business development. Not everyone wants to do business and they don’t have to. What’s happening in these venues is not just business development but the promotion of culture. Sure, you can raise ticket and drink prices, but it still does not add up. Should they start having hairdressers or offering shoe cleaning services to diversify their business then? 

LTF: Rules are probably flexible and can be adapted, so what I think we need is to sit down and discuss how to move forward. What we do is important and we will stick it out and try to adapt the best we can. 

NM: These conversations have actually been held for 3 years now and have still brought us to where we are today. 

ML: Yes, it was a compromise. 

Elena Natale (EN): First of all, it’s perhaps unfair for Mart to have been put in this situation, so first of all, I would like to thank you for coming to speak with us today. We want to have a real conversation. The truth is that there was no compromise. We were told that this is what’s going to happen. If we are a club, we have one hour more, but that is not a compromise. We are taking care of people during the night and the city is safer with places like us. The city should understand that we need this opportunity to have it open 24/7 if we want to be the so-called guardians of the night. People in the night – it is only us and the police taking care of them. 

I was there, at the discussions, but in the end we were still told that this is what’s going to happen. I believe there is a misunderstanding in the city government about our role in society. We are all children in the human sense, we are all learning and hope that city hall will learn with us. There is so much more than just one way of looking at things. Data is important, we should research these things in more detail. The truth is that there are no problems unique to us. So we should think about how to learn together about making the night a good place. Theatres get funding, they are paid for it, but international artists and sound systems cost a lot and we have difficulties sometimes with these costs. We need a more open approach, not just “this is the best we can do”, I think we can do better. 

Elena Natale, founder of HALL. Photo: Aron Urb

ML: I fully agree and my doors are always open, during the daytime, of course. But also keep in mind that the city holds dialogue with a very long list of stakeholders. For example, the residents and the police wanted much harsher restrictions, but we were able to convince them that it is counterproductive. 

One of the founders of Berlin’s Club Commission commented at the end with a recommendation: the clubs and venues should form their own organisation so that they could have representation within the city government as well in these discussions. It is very important to understand that curated nightlife is a part of the creative industry: there is the music part, there is fashion, design, film, and all these industries. There are fantastic places here in Tallinn, but the problem is this: the Baltic real estate boom. Nightlife can be supported either by funding it along with the same principles as theatres or by allowing the sale of alcohol. Another measure of support is long-term rental agreements of 10-15 years, which would keep rents low and help these establishments make it on their own. So keep that in mind in your development, because if you just see them as a part-time solution before real estate development, you will lose them. The same situation applied in Germany: Munich is the bad example, where a city full of nightlife in the 90s lost out later because of development. All the creatives left for Berlin and later residents asked where they had gone. So act before it is too late. 

To listen to the whole discussion, the DigiPRO subscription includes not just the TMW 2022 DigiPRO Pass, but also access to the TMW 2021 conference panel streams via the TMW PRO platform and a chance to upgrade to a TMW 2022 PRO Pass (onsite & online participation) later just by paying the price difference with the pricing of your DigiPRO purchase date.

TMW 2022 will take place on 4 – 8 May. Passes on sale at shop.tmw.ee.

Photo: Aron Urb