And so the relentless pursuit of authenticity finds us stood, once again, in a queue on a Friday night, in a part of town that's mainly served by single decker buses. The early spring air fills with smoke and talk, the nearby gasometer shimmers faintly like a grubby halo and we each of us patiently wait our turn to be frisked by wide-necked lads in UV jackets, knowing that our reward comes in the shape of sliding a £20 note into the promoter's hand. If we're lucky we might gifted with fiver back in return.
Having been accepted by everyone on the door—craning a nervous neck back every five seconds or so to make sure everyone you came with has been as lucky as you have—you walk into the club, join a very long queue for a makeshift toilet, squeeze out a piss under pressure, and then join another queue for a makeshift bar. At the bar you exchange your fiver for a shot of off-brand vodka poured into a glass of supermarket bought cola. A young lad in sunglasses tries to sell you some "top dizz." You politely decline and he hops back into the shadows. A kick-drum chunters on and on, bouncing from wall to wall, carrying its echo everywhere it goes. Whenever it disappears, the clanking room becomes a silent mausoleum, brought back to life by the mindless cheers that accompany the kick's eventual return. People shove to get closer to the decks, determined to feel a direct return on their investment. Phones are waved in the air, blurry cinematographers capture mundanity with all the glassy-eyed precision of a drunk playing pool at closing time.
Welcome to the modern-day warehouse party experience.
Any culture in thrall to its own near-past is in danger of ossification; clubbing is no different in that respect. Just like a smiley face t-shirt, or a set by Carl Cox, the warehouse is an easily identifiable signifier of a time gone by—a time we'd all like to think of as perfect. We have recounted the myriad ways in which nostalgia threatens to rob a generation of anything resembling actual club culture here on THUMP UK countless times, but it is arguably the obsession with the warehouse as a symbol of authenticity that is the most baffling, and potentially damaging, of the lot.
That notion is upheld by the countless parties thrown in warehouse spaces weekend after weekend from Dundee to Dungeness, a continual process of boxing the past into the present and selling it at a hefty fee—offering young revellers a badly acted impersonation of a culture that's long since sailed into the distance of hazy memories.
On the surface of things the warehouse looks like a democratic space. Imposing, thick-walled structures that glower and commandeer the landscape in all their blocky, functional glory, they are utilitarian constructs that—for all their imposing presence—positively invite misuse and reappropriation. Commandeering a warehouse is a means of seizing control, wresting it back from authorities who do not want to co-operate with you, and have no reason to do so. That's the theory.
The reality of the contemporary warehouse space is slightly different. But here's the thing; being able to admit and accept that the original warehouse raves—thrown here in the UK and across the rest of the over-developed industrial world in the late 1980s—were genuinely radical reclamations of work-orientated city-space for the primary purpose of pleasure, doesn't mean we have to accept what ended up happening to that optimism and idealism.
The culture industry means that eventually all spaces that purport to some kind of radicality will slip into the clutches of the commercial backers who desperately want to milk whatever they can out of a world they don't understand. The DIY gets packaged in a client-friendly facade, and the original spirit of the thing is subsumed in the profit margins.
After all, punk ideals are great and everything, but they're a bit easier to sell when they come with stratified wristband releases and a corporate sponsor.
Walk around any city for long enough and you'll eventually come across a series of dog-eared and tatty posters for club nights that have come and gone. You might have heard of the majority of the DJs on the bill. "Oh," you say, scanning across the impeccably and minimally designed poster, "I like all those DJs, and I'd like to see them all on the same night." Scrolling down, you spot the venue. "Brilliant," you say, "it's being held at one of those warehouses that other reputable promoters use, that's good, that ensures a basic level of safety, if not comfort." The bottom inch of the poster's entire width is taken up with the intentionally small sized logos of a raft of media and associated partners. "Yes," you think, "radical club culture should come with the cosign of a massive beer brand, and where better to stock the alcoholic monolith's drinkable portfolio than at an 'unconventional' venue which won't have a traditional bar set up."
In assuming that warehouses hold some special significance, we are readily and actively applying yet another coast of nostalgic varnish to a structure that looks, under the surface, set to crumble and rot at any minute. The warehouse is another space that's been commodified out of all proportion, standing as little more than monuments to a past most of us can't remember, or weren't even alive for.
The same thing happened to the wide open fields of yore; it turned out that you could quite easily get people to exchange money to stand on scrubby patches of grass, listening to music beamed out from half a mile away, sipping on overpriced and watered-down paper cups half-filled with the lukewarm dregs of a nearly-done barrel of lager. In fact, they'd pay through the nose for it. They'd make this communion of commerce a primary form of socialisation, and they'd even fly halfway around the world to stand in another field, in another country, watching the same DJs, drinking the same drinks, pumping the same cash into the same one armed bandits over and over again.
It turned out that the warehouse, cloaked in darkness, imbued with an edgy history, was just as profitable, too.