It's all too easy to get swept up in the romance of clubbing, isn't it? Those long nights spent in the company of friends old and new, each Friday and Saturday an adventure into the heart of hedonism, every Sunday morning an exploration of bus services and the innermost part of your psyche. Clubs are the only space left in which we can truly be ourselves, freed from the shackles of work, untethered from the devastatingly humdrum reality of the lives we lead, with our debts and cancelled Netflix accounts and shattered dreams, right?
Outside of the dance music press, or rather, outside of what's left of the dance music press, the nightclub seems to be nothing more than a site of potential, but very real, very scary, very imminent and immediate danger. Your mum worries when you go to them, doesn't she? She still sits up now, ten years after you left home, waiting for you to get out of the taxi and stumble into the kitchen before stumbling up the stairs and stumbling into bed. She's not alone. The whole world's scared of them too. Look what happens when you search for nightclubs on Google:
Fabric, Club Aquarium, all the hits, there. But maps aren't what I'm after. What I'm interested in is the news stories, the primary way the outside world, the world that doesn't give a toss about Tama Sumo, come to understand clubbing and club culture. The kind of news that normal people hear about and might read about over a sandwich at their desk at lunch, or while taking a shit during the 4.30pm lull, the kind of news that features Craig Charles sweating or Ronnie Pickering doing something or a bloke dancing on a motorway. That kind of news. News that isn't really actually news but is news because when you think about it —and, Charlie Brooker, if you're reading, mate, you can have this one on me, yeah— everything that happens in the world is news, when you think about it.
The only good thing, really, about the internet, is that we've suddenly got access to every news source imaginable. It's great, isn't it, knowing that at any moment of the day you can catch up with events rocking the foundations in Austrian hamlets or Zimbabwean suburbs. You feel like a global citizen, even when you can't afford to have a look at the easyJet sale.
Most of the time though, we stick to what we know. Shepherd's pie, Corrie, the Sun. That sort of thing. We all inhabit the internet in our own particular and peculiar little ways, rotating between the same few websites in an endless, unfulfilling loop. This is how and why I end up looking at the results for "nightclub" on the MailOnline. The results are never pretty. What you end up with, as a direct result of your online parochialism, is this:
Neither of which are particularly appealing. Or connected in any way to the world of clubbing that you and I know exists, the world where half a pill in a Stoke Newington basement is the gateway to complete fucking nirvana. This, though, is the world that the rest of the world sees. The pizzaz of nightlife, the glitz and glamour, the possibilities of pure pleasure instead replaced by chilling texts and cold-blooded killers called 'Shrimp Boy'.
Reading stories like these got my back up a bit and I found myself feeling sorry for the idea of the nightclub as a totality. I did the only thing I'm qualified to do as a man with both a BA and MA in English Literature: I read a week's worth of bizarrely terrifying and bleak news stories about the things that happen in nightclubs. I don't think I ever want to leave the house again but I'd like to share a few of my finds with you. I can't do this alone.
If you cast the net wider, and abandon any pretense of self-curation, allowing yourself to be consumed by Google's omnipotent search mechanisms—catching every local freesheet along the way— you'll end up in an even stranger place, a place where no news is good news and all news is bad news. What you get, is a seemingly endless parade of stories that tangentially involve nightclubs in some capacity and are linked only by one tenuous, battered, threadbare thread: all of them are incredibly, incredibly depressing.
It would seem —if news websites are to be trusted, and if we can't trust them, who can we trust— that nothing positive has ever happened in any club ever.Nightclubs, we're told, are the sole preserve of pissheads, perverts and pratfalls. Nightclubs are where you go to get stabbed or robbed generally fucked about. Nightclubs are wicked, evil places that deserve our eternal condemnation and damnation. Now, I quite like nightclubs. Honestly, readers, I do. I actually quite enjoy the hours I spend in them. I even smile sometimes.
My foray into the dark, dank, desolate world of news stories about nightclubs and clubbing was essentially like being told that, not only was Father Christmas actually your dad, but your dad is a cheating, lying, life-ruining, alcoholic bastard who'd fucked your aunt and stolen from your grandmother. I watched something I love get thrown to the dogs and ripped to tiny fucking ribbons. The most positive it got was a new club opening in Plymouth, but who wants to go to a club in Plymouth. No disrespect to anyone living in Plymouth, but I went there when I was eight and got taken on a seafishing trip and watched a toothless fisherman smash the face of a squirming fish with a rock and since then I've thought of the place as an awful little town populated by toothless blokes who go around smashing fish up with rocks.
What I found was that the world at large hates nightclubs. It thinks of them as gilded palaces of sin, houses of ill repute, pits of despair.
Near the top of my search was this little beauty from the Irish News which notes that, "Court fines imposed on pubs and nightclubs for beaching their licensing terms have surged by more than a fifth in the past year," which was about as cheery as the news got. You know things are bad when the news that, "more than £23,300 in fines were given out during 2015," constitutes good news. This wasn't a great start, and truth be told, I couldn't even say I was particularly happy that I now knew more about Irish legislative policy in relation to the fines doled out to clubs and pubs that fall foul of underage drinking laws. I was ever so slightly heartened to discover that Quinn's Bar, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone has racked up a total of 70 penalty points since 2012 and will be advising underage family members to make the trip over for a pint or two. The Irish News was also prepared to inform me that over 250 crimes were recorded at Thompsons Garage in Belfast last year. Two hundred and fifty. I ended up counting this as a victory of sorts, reasoning that 250 crimes in one year is better than 300. This was as good as my mood got.
It seemed like clubs were either shit, shut or crime-ridden, but there were a few teary-eyed romps down memory lane leaked into the queasy atmosphere of the post-Christmas-pre-new-year internet last week. You could have a good old gawp of some sadly underwhelming photos of clubs in the northern town of Preston, or find yourself reminiscing about the forgotten nightclubs of Asheville, North Carolina, courtesy of regular Mountain Xpress correspondent Jerry Sternberg's elegiac masterpiece, "Vanished Asheville nightclubs" which left me in a state of despondency, much as my grandfather talking about his youth does. I guarantee you, at least, that no other article you read in 2016 that's even vaguely about nightclubs will include lines like, "Now, Margaret knew how to cook a steak, and the world lusted for her complete recipe, which she never gave away. What I do know is that she first pan-seared the steak and then baked it in the oven," or, "The most exciting beverage sold there was Flem's Cherry Bounce, made from pure corn whiskey and some combination of cherries. Oh, it went down so smooth, but the bounce came when you tried to walk down the steps on the way out."
There were tragic deaths and targeted robberies, racism in Norway and police raids in Pattaya. Farmers in Goa were irate, as was an anonymous Sheffield resident. I, by this point, had gone grey and decided to throw all my fabric CDs in the nearest wheelie bin as soon as I got home. Trawling deeper and deeper only sent me into a deeper depression.
Even as I write this, my Google alerts are telling me that another nightclub, this time the Croydon outpost of high street chain-club Tiger Tiger, is to shut it's doors for good. Maybe that's a good thing because I didn't want to go to any club ever again. If I was to believe the papers, which I do, because if you can't trust news sources then who can you trust, a night in a club would end with either me or it vanishing into the ether. And I don't want that. Not just yet. That Darling Buds of May boxset does look tempting though…