We speak to CEO of Outernet Global Phillip O’Ferrall about the billion-pound redevelopment around London’s Denmark Street, with an aim to once again bring back that essence of music and creativity to the capital.
If you’re in London and find yourself at Tottenham Court Road Station, look out for the Now Building as you exit the tube. It’s hard to miss. This huge, bronze-detailed atrium will be the pillar head of the new Outernet development. Housing the world’s largest high-definition wraparound screens, state-of-the-art audio and cleverly designed layout, it’s really going to change the face of central London.
The Now Building is just the tip of the iceberg for Outernet. The project aims to revitalise the entire area. Launching in full at the end of the year, you can still head down and snoop around the place to see just what a grand scale development this is going to be. Touted as a global media and entertainment district, its strongest affiliation is aimed at the music industry. Including purpose-built accommodation for artists, free-to-use music studios, and new live music venues the like of which London hasn’t seen for decades, it truly is a gamechanger.
Building on Denmark Street’s Musical Heritage
The location, in many ways, allows for this. Built around a district including the famous and musically rich history of Denmark street, the area sits on the periphery of Soho with its record shops, creativity and good vibes just a short walk away. Outernet aims to revitalise the entire area as CEO Phillip O’Ferrall explains. “We’re all about energising the music scene in London. For me, it’s making sure that from the minute you arrive in the district you feel very welcome, and then importantly, sound. At every point, we want to make sure there’s music playing. All the time.”
Denmark Street will play a huge part in this, with Outernet owning around 90%. Nicknamed ‘Tin Pan Alley’ and famed for its connections to British music and culture, the street housed publishers, music shops, artists, and recording studios for much of the 20th Century. Big-named artists that recorded and hung around the street included The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Small Faces and David Bowie. The Sex Pistols even took up residency and recorded their first demos there.
The street has suffered a bit of an identity crisis over the last couple of decades, however. Buyouts, developments, closures and wear and tear had led to a loss of the vibrancy it once had which Outernet plans to revitalise and bring up-to-date. “It’s a billion-pound project, there’s nothing like it in the world”, says O’Ferrall. “Outernet is very much about bringing audiences and experiences together but importantly culture and music are a part of it.”
Built around the centrepiece of the Now Building (which will be used as a place for the public to wander and take in the huge screens as well as exhibitions, conferences and more), you also have spaces for all kinds of creatives at different stages of their musical journey; from grassroots acts finding their feet right the way through to professional outfits. For starters, there’s a new 2000 capacity live events venue built underground. This can also connect up to additional venues in the district making for a 2500 capacity venue split over different levels.
12 Bar Club Returns
Another important part of Outernet’s development plans has been the resurrection of Denmark Street’s famous 12 Bar Club. Opened in 1994, the club grew in infamy with a slew of historic performances from up-and-coming artists and established acts alike. The bar controversially closed in 2015 due to an ongoing development program with Crossrail which led to petitions, protests and squatters trying to preserve and save the venue. It was ultimately closed to the dismay of the public and its fans.
O’Ferrall goes on to explain how he sees the return of the 12 Bar Club as an important part of the redevelopment, and how they plan to keep the history and feel of the original venue. “I think bringing back the 12 Bar and that live music scene is pivotal. We actually invested an additional million pounds to have it underpinned and moved. We’ve dug down and it’s now a 500 capacity venue. The old forge where the stage is has stayed exactly the same. The only slight change is we had to make some of the room safe and some of the rotten stuff replaced. It’s going to have evolved a bit of course but it still has the same ethos.”
Custom-built for Music
The project also boasts a short and long-stay complex catering for musicians and the music industry. Called Chateaux Denmark, the rooms feature speaker systems and sound equipment from high-quality brands such as PMC and Meyer. The building once again features that essence of musical history, even including graffiti on the walls from when The Sex Pistols were residents in previous iterations of the venue.
Recording studios have been incorporated into the project and offices have been refurbished to entice music entrepreneurs and businesses to the area. Outernet has even partnered with the BPI (Brtish Phonographic Industry) in order to create free-to-use recording studios.
BPI isn’t the only music collaborator that Outernet has partnered with to bring music back to Denmark Street. Another standout collaboration is with the famous Brit School which has given us the likes of Adele, Amy Winehouse and Leona Lewis starts in their careers. This sticks to their ethos of building a scene for musicians to flourish throughout the area, but also anyone who wants to be part of the music industry in other aspects as O’Ferrall explains.
“We work with Brit School to nurture new talent for all this ultra high tech equipment. But equally, there are people that don’t want to be in front of the camera, they want to be a sound engineer or studio engineer, so we’re trying to nurture young talent into our business. Ultimately wey can create a journey for them, working in the studios, performing in the 12 Bar, performing at Chateaux Denmark and then, when they’re ready, they get on the main stage.”
The Grand Plan of Outernet
Of course, in order to make this amazing space work from a musical perspective, like any business, money has to be made. To do this, there is a huge media and commercial side which needs to make as much use of the space they have. Most of the venues playing music can be used for other cases during the days or nights.
The 12 Bar Club will be open all day for gigging, rehearsing, and more. Businesses will be able to rent spaces. The Now Building will at times be used for advertising and a mix of clever usage and business acumen will work in conjunction with the music and art elements.
“Ultimately, if we didn’t have that big venue, that’s going to have to do corporate vents during the day and even some evenings, it would be really difficult to financially make something like this work” says O’Ferrall. “It allows, for example, a kids play/promo area or an e-gaming event during the day, and in the evening it can very quickly turn into a live music gig venue.”
And what about the future of Outernet? The plan is to also expand to other cities around the world in order to make Outernet a truly global entity. “London is the first of a number of connected districts” O’Ferrall explains. If you want to be able to do a global album launch or a movie release, whatever it may be, because of social media now, you have to do things quickly and everywhere. All at the same time. Over the next 3-5 years we’ll have two more sites – New York is the first and then LA”.
With the UK recently announcing the full opening of bars, clubs and music venues after over a year of lockdown rules, Outernet will be ready to welcome a crowd of creatives hungry to enjoy a new centre for musical creativity in London.