Have House Parties Got Better or Worse?
Oct 30 2012
You know that creeping infantilism that's got everyone in their early twenties sitting around talking to each other like babies on the internet all day, rather than wearing suits and starting families? Well, I'm not sure if this is a symptom of that phenomenon, but every house party I go to now reminds me of a 15th birthday gathering that's gotten a bit out of hand. If you were to nip back to my youth and tell me that, at 24, I'd still be spending my weekends loitering awkwardly in strangers' houses watching their girlfriends dance to Misteeq, I would probably have slit my wrists in the bath while listening to Leonard Cohen cover Elliott Smith songs. You know. Just for the lulz.
It's not that I dislike house parties – or Misteeq, or girls – it's just that, god, I went through all that the first time round. I was hoping that by this age I'd be turning up at Hampstead doorsteps, making jokes about the Portuguese wine I'd just bought, with Will Self welcoming me inside to the sound of cultured chatter and clinking champagne flutes. Alas, it's just been another ten years of blue plastic bags full of cheap Polish beer and bigger boys pushing in front of me in toilet queues.
Of course, there were some great things about the suburban house parties of my early teenage years. For a start, they were wildly unpredictable. They weren't parties that you had to build, they were parties that exploded onto the semi-detached landscape of your Friday night, like SR Nova car-bombs loaded with UK garage, fist fights and scared-looking people trying and failing to perform basic sex acts upon each other. They were usually over pretty quickly, but then maybe the best parties always are. At some point, staying up till dawn ceases to be fun. I think we all know when that point arrives, so I'm not going to bother coming up with a metaphor that reminds you of the first time you spent three hours staring at your ceiling wondering why you'd never realised how much grey there was in the world.
Which is better, though? I decided to weigh up all the most important facets of a house party – then and now – to find an answer.
Photo by Emma Mckay
Then: Unless you were spawned by a Swiss diplomat and the only childhood friends you had lived with their au pairs in box rooms at the Savoy, chances are most of the really great house parties you went to in your formative years were at somebody else's parents' house. Maybe they still are; maybe you're one of those people who never really grew up, and you now spend your days at the local Wetherspoons, acing Deal Or No Deal on the ItBox, working and generally retaining the status of being "big in the local scene". And that's fine, there will always be 13-year-old NOFX fans who need protecting from gangs of rudeboys down at the local skate park.
Anyway, the benefits of that free yard culture were that people's parents' houses usually had more than one room, a nice big stereo and a two-year-old bottle of Creme de Cassis tucked away for when the shit really hit the carpet. Plus, due to the steady flow of people desperate to steal a moment alone with the class heartthrob, there was always someone stupid enough to host one.
Now: Fast forward to now, and unless you're a cotton wool kid or have somehow landed a job that doesn't require you to work 12+ hours a day, it's highly likely that the place where you and your friends live looks something like this. Sure, the prospect of parents coming home might be long-forgotten – and police in cities have actual crime to deal with – but there'll undoubtedly be some nasty airborne viruses floating around and a bunch of discarded bread knives to worry about. And there's no more disappointing way for a party to end than with a bread knife 999 call.
Which is better? Now. As much as I appreciated the space and basic cleanliness, I never, ever want to be at another party where the host's elderly grandmother is upstairs, barricaded behind her door, crying, while the South Wimbledon crew urinate on her shoe rack and destroy an ornamental coconut with a chair leg. Although that might sound hysterical to you now, I can assure you it was only darkly amusing at the time.
Then: Don't let years of Judd Apatow movies and Australian Facebook-party horror stories warp your memory; most teenage house parties were dryer than a Mormon wedding. There were no red cups and no gold-flaked vodka, just tiny batches of pilfered Boddingtons and warm Vodkat rationed into coffee mugs.
The Prohibition-amount of alcohol on offer didn't stop the usual suspects from crying on the stairs, vomiting in the garden and starting fights in the kitchen, but everything would usually wrap up by about 11PM, leaving you to return home and maintain an illusion of sobriety in front of Match Of The Day while your dad shot you knowing looks. It's easy to forget, but parties back then normally ended around the same time that most of us get in the shower before a night out these days.
Now: Tragically, we're still trying to live up to that Hollywood depiction of a late-90s American house party. Only now it's 2012 and we're all in our twenties, making it doubly embarrassing when you hit the mental rewind button the next morning and watch yourself glugging a bottle of Jägermeister to a soundtrack of Aaliyah and "chug" chants.
Standing around in mould-ridden maisonettes, we try to replicate a youth we never really had, the sad truth being that our lives back then were actually far more Kes than Superbad. An authentic throwback booze-up would be sitting in a freezing cold park, hiding a tiny, stolen bottle of High Commissioner from the patrolling CSPO and then returning home to bed, where you'd lie, head spinning, hoping that you passed out before you threw up.
Which is better? Then. Sure, now we can buy our own alcohol rather than making bottles of mixed spirits out of thimbles of stolen liqueurs, but for biological reasons and others related to supply and demand, you just valued it more back then. Every sip was a hard-won victory. Getting drunk then felt better than taking drugs does now.
Then: Despite the fact that it's gone through the most identifiable change of any factor on this list, music is probably the one aspect of house parties that's changed the least over the years. See, there will only ever be two types of selectors at parties: the people who want to look cool, and the people who are fucked enough to play what they actually feel like listening to.
Therefore, the choice between vol.1 of a junglist cassette pack and "Tipsy" by J-Kwon has merely shifted to a choice between a Julio Bashmore mix and, well, "Tipsy" by J-Kwon.
Photo by Jake Lewis.
Now: The true constant to be recognised in house party DJs is the fact that some bro will end up taking it waaaay too seriously. Whether it was somebody's not-much-older uncle spinning some Dillinja dubplates in between bong hits, or a guy who once had an Azealia Banks remix featured on Pitchfork playing his own screw-step tunes at an art school house party, they've been killing every single vibe going since day.
Which is better? Since they're almost exactly the same, I'm going to have to call a stalemate on this one. There's always going to be tragic young men who think their knowledge of obscure DJ Premier cuts is going to get them laid, meaning there are only really losers here.
Photo by Vito Fun
Then: What's the defining image of your early teens? Beating your local rivals in an inter-county cricket tournament? Smooching Hannah Dixon in the queue for Loggers Leap? Lucky you – you've led a wholesome life. Sadly, mine is smoking terrible sticks and twigs dro' behind my friend Omar's shed, sandwiched between the damp, concrete wall and a chickenwire fence that separated us from the thundering train line beyond.
Smoking weed at actual parties wasn't much better, either. You'd have to convene in some obscure part of the house, organise a regulated toking system with a bunch of guys in brown Carhartt hoodies, give plenty to the Schott-clad rudeboys touching up the girl you liked and spend the next hour rocking back and forth in a dilapidated armchair, trying to make sense of the strange milieu going on all around you.
Now: These days, the strange cultish bedroom drug rituals remain, but the gear has changed. Instead of the brown hoodie brigade, you've got guys who wear dinner jackets with Converse All-Stars and Camden Lohans with spoon necklaces. Instead of talking about John Frusciante's solo work and string theory, these people talk about their creative projects and their unresolved paternal issues.
Which is better? It's a tough one, this. On the one hand, gak fiends are usually pretty diabolical people. On the other, stoners are probably worse. At least cokeheads know some good looking people, even if they're just drama students with monobrows and T-shirts slashed at the naval. I'm gonna have to go with the hard stuff on this one.
Then: At my school, there was an urban legend about a party that featured a "sex tent", where two queues of boys and girls lined up and a girl called Abi apparently got "Kit-Katted". It seemed that every house party I didn't get invited to turned into some kind of Bacchanalian orgy of outercourse – as in, there was never much actual sex going on, but according to your friends who had gone there'd been more fingering than a live Steve Vai album.
The ones I did get invited to never lived up to the myths of the ones I didn't. The only hook-ups were painful, awkward and childish. It was all knocking teeth rather than knocking knees. Of course, there would be the occasional workmanlike handjob and a spot of tepid cunninlingus in someone's parents' en-suite bathroom, but it would normally be swiftly interrupted by a crew of other partygoers disguising their tragic jealously as a cruel prank.
Now: You'll end up missing those halcyon days of naive quasi-promiscuity. Eventually you'll realise that everyone is in a long-term relationship, you're confused, tired, your libido is shot to death with heartbreak and crystallised MDMA and you just wanna get fucked up with your boys. Girls, you'll just want to drink bottles of chilled Echo Falls in the kitchen and despair over your boyfriends, who are outside in the garden, getting fucked up with their boys.
Which is better? Despite the fact that the attitude towards sexual congress at teenage house parties is laughably immature, you'll begin to miss it when you comprehend the fact that food has been served at the last six parties you've been to and the issue of partner swapping has been raised with semi-seriousness. You've found yourself in the heart of the Cold Feet nightmare and you never even learnt to drive.
Then was better.
Then and now: Some things will always be the same. In these fast moving, uncertain times, it's (sort of) good to know that there are some constancies left in our existence. Playing Buckaroo on people who are in serious danger of inhaling their own vomit will always be one of those things. From Shoreditch High Street to Shoreham village; Compton, Los Angeles to Compton, Berkshire, nothing quite finishes off the night like carefully placing your girlfriend's shoes on the face of an unconscious man.
Which is better? Time is irrelevant in this case; our small world paling in comparison to the ageless wonder of the drunken prank. I'm pretty sure Cain killed Abel because he'd pulled the old, splash-back, clingfilm over the toilet prank.
VERDICT: It's a dead heat. While there are parts of the old school house party experience that it's easy to feel genuine warmth for, it's bullshit to claim that they were really any better. I often like to point out that rationing was still going on and homosexuality was still illegal in this country during the era that most "revivalists" take their influence from. The grass may seem greener on the older of the river side, but it's probably brown and rotten and covered in cow piss when you get there.
Of course, there are good and bad things about house parties in all eras, but the problems are largely the same. Most people are lame and, if you don't invite the neighbours, they'll grass you up. If you still don't believe me – if you're still intent on living out some late-life, Never Been Kissed fantasy – go crash a GCSE house party and see how nostalgic you feel when you're getting nicked for supplying alcohol to a minor. You'll be crying salty Bacardi tears into the police van seat while the distant sound of "Yonkers" thuds away in the background.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
Enjoy reading about parties from the lonely comfort of your computer screen? Try these: