Nightlife

Behold: The Return of the Messy Night Out

After 16 months, clubs in England are open again. VICE writer Izzy Copestake spent "freedom day" partying (and reporting).
July 22, 2021, 8:30am
Nightclubs return to england report
All photos: Jasmine Leavesley

Over lockdown’s various stages, we’ve seen “sitdown events” pressed to their limited boundaries of chaos, with the scenes at the Euros taking the medal for the year’s current messiest night out. But there’s a special kind of late-night, hedonistic tissue that’s simply not possible without nightclubs

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Sweating out the week’s anxieties in a sticky-floored provincial palace, becoming best mates in the cramped smoking area, realising water is the purest, nicest drink in the world after pingers – these are some of the things that weekend nightlife warriors have missed. With a year away from these strobe-lit scenes, could they return the same as before?

The most surefire way to ensure that your night becomes less like Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage and more like a scene from a bad E4 series, is to look forward to it too much. For millions of England’s club-goers, this week’s “freedom day” – AKA the day when nightclubs opened up after being closed for over a year – has been anticipated for 16 months.

I headed to Bristol that evening, to see if all the hype has left people disappointed, or if they’re ready for things to get messier than ever.

1PM

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

At Motion, Bristol’s biggest club, waiting until dark is too long for the thousands of devoted ravers. Instead, their party kicks off at 1PM, with last entry at 3PM. Therefore, pre’s begin even earlier. “Festival rules apply,” one guy tells me. “I need to make it to Lakota tonight, so no K for me.”

3PM

Two hours later, we had pulled up. The closer to the front of the line I got, the deeper the sound from the club’s outdoor stage pressed into my chest. As we moved past security – passing the “no negative test, no entry” policy – people were squeezing friends and calling into each other’s ears: “This feels fucking weird, doesn’t it? Amazing. Yeah, amazing. But weird.

5PM

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

For those not quite ready to take on a packed crowd, the disco and house stage – placed outside – acted as fairly gentle intro to the main event.

Here, boys with ket-wigs and glittered-up girls swayed gently back and forth, while the DJ played their way through Dimitri from Paris disco edits.

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Tucked away, another rowdier queue formed for the drum and bass stage in the lock. As the queue snaked through the club’s dark indoor area, a group of glammed-up girls behind us took the brief opportunity to start fishing around in their purses for keys, as one dug a slimy-looking baggie out from her bra.

One guy, who had ripped off his shirt to reveal an understandably sweaty chest, lifted his fists in the air and shouted: “HAPPY FUCKING FREEDOM DAY.”

As we pushed through moshpits and key-circles toward the centre of the stage, the DJ encouraged the crowd to chant “freedom day” and “fuck Boris”. Nice.

11PM

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

After a cold shower, a new layer of perfume and a makeup wipe for all the grotty-looking black mascara on my face, we headed across to Lakota.

Over the past few years, a deadly combo of gentrification, pandemic misery and insufficient funding has deeply effected Bristol’s nightlife. Lakota – home to underground music in Bristol since 1993 – had been due to close in 2020, after the council approved plans to turn it into office space and flats.

For now, it’s back: a precious, bass-pounding shrine for the city’s clubbers.

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

As we wait down a graffiti-covered back alley, various revellers pass through, including men complaining about having to take COVID tests to get inside the club (“I’m not putting that shit up my nose”) to stragglers downing half bottles of gin. Obviously, being in Bristol, someone is selling balloons.

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

12AM-3AM

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

From here, timestamps became meaningless. Sorry.

4AM

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

How is the NOS guy still trying to sell to people five hours later? Strangely, being in Bristol, I didn’t see him make a single sale, either inside or out.

With no taxis around, we head to the local burger spot to grab some food. Here, a trouser-sagging guy yells “has anyone got any cocaine?” before his girlfriend tells him to shut up.

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

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Photo: Jasmine Leavesley

Consider nature returned.

After months of “keep your distance” social events, getting back at 5AM and wondering if the foul smell of BO on me was my own, or a cocktail of every sweaty body pressed against me in the club, felt like a spiritual experience.

Lockdown hasn’t curbed people’s hedonistic thirst. At least not in Bristol. But one fear still prevails: not being able to tell a comedown from Covid.

“The [rapid] flow tests are a great idea,” one punter told me. “It meant that I could actually get in there and feel like the pandemic was all a huge depressing dream. People really need this, but it definitely needs to be done right.”

@izzy_copestake