The owner of an iconic nightclub which was torched last year says he has “full confidence” that the renovated venue will be as popular as ever. SWX will literally rise from the ashes next month, boasting a £3.5 million refit aimed at making it one of Britain’s top concert venues for both artists and music fans.
Covid-19 lockdown rules had already shut SWX last July, when an arsonist pushed a fuel-soaked towel through its locked doors and set it alight. The resulting inferno took 130 firefighters four hours to bring under control. Fire, smoke and water damage meant the premises, which had been due to reopen that month, would spend a further 14 months under lock and key.
Nightclub operator Electric Group bought SWX in 2017, hoping to reposition it as a leading concert venue. In late June, the firm finally announced a grand reopening date of September 9, having spent seven months refitting the premises. By the time SWX reopens, it will have been closed for 903 days.
This week, CEO Dominic Madden told BristolLive all about the revamped venue – including some “state of the art” additions.
“We started stripping out the building from the first week in March and it’s been relentless since then,” said Dominic. “It’s been a larger job than anyone envisaged because there were so many layers of previous refurbishment.
“It’s been like peeling an onion, and challenging for all sorts of reasons.” Despite this, the nightlife mogul never thought of giving up.
“I never thought it was over, because SWX is one of the best music venues in the UK,” he said.
“In fact, it forced my grit even more because, when people were coming to me saying they wanted the building for student flats I thought, ‘What a cheek, you want to capitalise on this fire.’ So I was determined to see it through.”
The result is a venue which will feel familiar to its fans, while offering modern comforts and conveniences. “It’s going to be a much more comfortable experience,” said Dominic, “with new booths which will have plug sockets and wi-fi, so people feel more at home.
“Backstage we have all-new dressing room suites and a disability-friendly lift,” he added. “Previously we sometimes had to carry people up the stairs, which was awful. But we’ve sorted that out now.”
With the recent focus on live music, the owners took the refit as an opportunity to improve the experience for concertgoers. “It was designed as a ballroom, so people would be dining on the balcony upstairs and dancing downstairs,” said Dominic.
“It was originally laid out with ambiance, sightlines and all those important things in mind. The flow of the venue is brilliantly conceived so we’ve brought a lot of that back.”
He added: “There was originally a double-aspect foyer and staircase, which was lost when the venue was converted into a nightclub. We’ve reinstating it, so that will be interesting to people as it won’t be what they remember.
“It’s been an interesting creative challenge to reopen this iconic club, improving the customer experience while not losing some of the things which worked so well.
“In fact, the fire gave us the chance to ask what experience we wanted to give our fans. Otherwise we might not have done these things, because you’re always thinking about the next gig.”
Dominic is particularly proud of the brand new customer toilet blocks, redesigned from the ground up with attractiveness and accessibility in mind.
“Music venue toilets are always a total horror experience, and I think it’s fair to say that SWX’s were no exception,” he said. “So this was a chance to gut it all out and start again.
“Bristol is a great epicentre of nightlife and SWX is a top venue, so the facilities reflect on us as an operator and as a city.”
The club will kick things off on Friday, September 9 with a DJ night hosted by DJ Danny T. The following night will see one of its famous Codec events offering three floors of dance, R&B and party anthems.
Upcoming live gigs include Scottish power metalheads Gloryhammer on September 9, American singer-songwriter Amber Mark on September 1 and Australian pop icon Natalie Imbruglia on October 10.
SWX will also play host to the opening gig of the 2022 tour by noughties girlband idols the Sugababes, on October 16. With two years of Covid-postponed events to put on, Dominic is confident that the venue will be as busy as ever.
Asked which acts he was most excited to see, Dominic could not choose between them. “It’s nice to be the opening date of the Sugababes tour,” he said.
“A year ago we were facing a catastrophic fire and enormous challenges. So the fact that, 12 months later, we’re reopening with massive acts and there’s such a buzz for it, means I really think it will come back with a bounce.”
SWX was attacked on July 13 by Owen Marshall, then 28, of Royate Hill in Eastville. Marshall also threatened to torch the Lakota nightclub and threw a brick through the window of the Barley Mow pub, to intimidate them into not imposing Covid-19 passports.
He was jailed for six years in December after pleading guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, criminal damage and threatening criminal damage.
For more information on the renovated SWX and to book tickets to upcoming club nights and gigs, see its newly revamped website .