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Britain at Night

Why the Night Is a Vital Part of the Human Experience and Must Be Protected

In Britain, the nighttime as we know it is currently under attack.

Photo by Robert Foster

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

For as long as I can remember I've been preoccupied with the night. I'm still trying to figure out who's to blame. Some people I've met over the course of my life have to drive themselves to complete physical and mental incapacitation before they can bear to leave the night alone, to go to bed. Others seem happy to give in after some takeaway and a bit of TV.


I'm not here to cast judgement on anyone. The question of what separates one type of person from the other isn't one I feel capable of answering just yet, though I'm sure there are armies of therapists working hard to get to the bottom of it in the leafiest parts of whichever city you're currently having a nervous breakdown in.

Instead of attempting to psychoanalyze anyone who's ever woken up after a night out feeling like a train's crashed into their face, I'll try to put into words why the night should be saved. Because the night is a living thing and in Britain it is currently—blatantly—under attack.

In the last ten years, the number of nightclubs that remain open and operational in this country has halved. It's a stat that came out last year and that I have since seen quoted more times than the number of nightclubs in this country that remain open and operational. At first it was shocking, and yet it probably shouldn't have been. For years now it's felt as though there's been an ongoing persecution of the night as something criminal in itself, a repeat offender complicit in every bottling, murder, and sex attack that has taken place after sunset. While there's obviously some justice in this—the greatest weapon of social control ever devised isn't the cop or the baton, it's the streetlight—the greater injustice is the attempt to deny us the night and all it has to offer by roping it off, turning it into a slightly crapper extension of the day where it's colder and everything costs more.


The night deserves more than this. No matter how many relationships it ruins, drug habits it fosters, or debt collectors it keeps breathing, the night is a god of possibility; it is where people go to fall in lifelong love, find the friends they need to thwart the thoughts of suicide, locate themselves in a world that seems to be growing more and more resentful of human life every day, but is really just the same mess of vanity and confusion it's always been.

Photo by Bruno Bayley

The night: music I fall in love with inevitably sounds like it. All my happiest and worst memories were born in it: my biggest strokes of luck and gravest mistakes, epiphanic dawnings of art, resolve, and self-disgust, first and last kisses. The list of things that could never have existed without the night includes but is not limited to the following acronyms: the KLF, the IRA, the ECL, AFI, XTC, NARC, PCP, PMA, PKD, PDA, STD, CBT, ZMA, AWOL, and MPS in the sky. Some of those things are good, some of them aren't, but then that's what the night is for. It doesn't give you things you wanted, it gives you things you didn't ask for, things you never even knew you wanted. The night is chaos—or at least it's meant to be.

There is no chaos in the night that the current government has planned for us. The authorities' attempts to colonize and cleanse the night—to shut down bars and clubs and any of those other "third places" that you go to when you're sick of the spaces you work and sleep in—should be seen as an act of territorial aggression, temporal terrorism. And this is not me trying to plant my own flag in the night; it's never been anything other than impervious to my hounding of it, that pursuit well into its second decade now to the detriment of my mental and physical health, most cherished relationships, reputation, and bank balance. But if any cunt does "own the night," it's definitely not a Tory.


Read on Thump: A History of British Nightlife According to Dave Haslam

There is a lot of evidence to support that statement: doggers, ravers, striking junior doctors, crews of cruising boy racers, every Facebook profile you've stalked post-Tinder/happn/Bumble/3inder, and cocaine, its stubborn, continued rise making it as visible on Britain as Premier League football, more popular than poetry. But the more I think about it, the more I keep coming back to something a little less recent.

In 1957, The Black Cloud, a work of science fiction by the prescient British astrophysicist and author Fred Hoyle, was first published by Valancourt Books. Hoyle was a legit maverick, a man who had important ideas about stars before anyone else and coined the term "Big Bang," while at the same time dismissing the theory itself as completely stupid. His writing can't have helped him gain the respect of the British scientific community, who never truly embraced him. In The Black Cloud a massive, sentient cloud of gas wedges itself between the sun and the Earth, blocking out all the light, and refusing to budge after the army fire nukes at it.

Photo by Robert Foster

It sounds anathema to what you'd expect from an astrophysicist, a man—supposedly—of numbers suspending his disbelief to reel out a metaphor of the night as a living thing for the duration of a novel. But it's a brilliant book and it feels apt now to hark back to it and what, for me, is its central message.

At a time when our relationship with the night is changing, it's heartening to know that no matter how many nukes, licensing regulations, sodium bulbs, or CCTV cameras are fired up at it, the night will always be out there, lurking, looming, waiting, for those people whose inbuilt curiosity compels them to explore it right to the most distant edges.

Follow Kev Kharas on Twitter.