Saturday night at the club, it is a little after 10pm, the place is already crowded, and people are dancing. It sounds like an ordinary night, but it is not. Saturday night, July 25th, was the final event at SEEN nightclub, an electronic music themed single room dance space, located in the heart of downtown Nashville Tennessee. While this night marked an end of an era, the event was filled with good energy. People showed up early, and stayed late for the occasion. The hoopers, glovers, and glowstickers were all present to display their arts to the tunes of the headliner: The Desert Dwellers. Somehow, the music group managed to add even more energy to an already buzzing crowd. Their set was filled with atmospheric sounds, with heavy bass, and differentiating drumbeats that kept the crowd on their toes. The other acts, Madcap Mook, LZ, Captain EZ, Raga Sutra, Subsquad, and Wilsdorf also had very strong sets that carried the momentum throughout the night. It was a proper sendoff for a great venue. Which begs the question, if this night was so successful, why is SEEN closing down in the first place?
The obvious answer is ticket sales, but it runs much deeper than that. SEEN was located downtown, and it is very expensive to rent property there. Being downtown means you get the benefit of tourists, but the downside of having to charge more on cover fees, drinks, etc. Nashville as an electronic scene is a mid-level market, which makes the promoters’ jobs a little harder. Will acts they can afford, bring out enough people to warrant booking? Will someone expensive DEFINITELY sellout? These are questions they have to ask themselves before booking talent, especially with the added costs of being downtown. Most electronic shows in Nashville do not sell out quickly, so these decisions have to be calculated carefully. With a mid-level scene, you have a decent amount of passionate electronic fans who are regulars at shows, but in most cases the number of those fans will not be great enough to rely on that clientele to keep a business running.
So what could change that could guarantee sustainability for a club like SEEN? If you look at most of the longstanding clubs in downtown Nashville, they all have multiple rooms with different music being played. Being downtown means you will get tourists, and they are not familiar with the nightlife. If you can give a tourist three options of music in your club as opposed to one, they are more likely to stay and enjoy themselves. With not enough electronic fans to support a club downtown, tourists are a market that have to be hit. A multi-room club would likely go a long way. Have a room for top 40 to keep the tourists appeased, and the other rooms could be focused on other target audiences. Another benefit of this format is that it promotes socialization. More rooms means more seating, more places for people to talk, more places for people to grab a drink, more time people spend in the club, and most importantly more money being spent. It is a bigger risk with a bigger cost, but the results could make such a risk worthwhile.
The potential rewards are not just monetary. A multi-room club would help the electronic scene grow. There are many hungry DJs and producers in the Nashville area that deserve to be heard. A space that requires multiple acts would offer more opportunities for up and comers to showcase their talents. Nashville is an electronic scene that has room to grow, so it is essential that “bedroom” talents can get exposure, and possibly build a fan base. If people can recognize and like a local act, they will come back for more. The locals usually open so if they have an established fan base, people will show up early to see them. If they are not opening and are playing a side-room, the DJ is free to play high energy stuff that they would not usually be able to play if they were opening, unleashing their potential to anyone willing to listen. Growing the scene takes a grassroots campaign and more outlets for that to happen never hurts, especially with an outlet as big as a downtown audience.
The loss of SEEN definitely hurts the Nashville electronic music fan base at first, especially since it is the second club lost in the year (the first being Anthem located in the Gulch). However, the scene will be just fine without a club in the downtown area. The promoters in this area are very passionate, and there are plenty of venues where shows can happen, big or small. Events are still being scheduled at the same regularity as before, the locations are just different. It might be a while before someone takes the risk of opening up another electronic themed club downtown, and it will take a lot of effort and money to make sure it succeeds. With the right people and circumstances, one can be a mainstay. Until then, Nashville has the necessary means to carry on. RIP SEEN, it was nice seeing you.
Written by AJ Mallardi