Growing Up and Falling in Love With the Great British Indie Club Night


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Growing Up and Falling in Love With the Great British Indie Club Night

After the #indieamnesty we look back on all those places that taught us what nightlife's really about.

Every Monday and Tuesday night for nearly three years I went to the same two club nights. My youth, when I look back upon it now, as a wizened, sad, deflated and defeated man in the early years of his late twenties, was synonymous with those Mondays and Tuesdays, the nights that started and ended the exact same way. I am convinced that when I shuffle off this mortal coil and find myself at the pearly gates with St Peter greeting me, he'll ask one, and only one, question: "Joshua, where is it to be? Bite or White Heat?"


Like most people of a similar age, my proper introduction to regular clubbing came in the form of going to indie club nights run by friends of friends. While we'd all like to pretend that our first true taste of nightlife's transcendental powers were provided by Harvey at Moist or Danny Rampling at Shoom or Erol Alkan at Trash, only a select few can make those claims without lying themselves into an early grave. No, we began to understand the illicit appeal of drink and drugs and sex and doner wraps and taxi journeys soundtracked by fucked-chat and "Dancing in the Moonlight" in Oceana or Mercy or Liquid Envy, and then, and then we all came out of our provincial shells and found ourselves wearing a cardigan, seven WKD deep dancing to "Boys and Girls" at Snobs or Cheapskates or The Lexington. University makes indie clubbers of us all.

Now, obviously, after the rip-roaring success of yesterday's #indieamnesty hashtag—which started out as a form of very specific indie-inner-circle confession before becoming a wave of people tweeting things like "Bought a Kaiser Chiefs album lol" and sort of missing the point completely—we've all got The Cazals and the Rakes and Little'ans on our mind. We've subsumed ourselves in a bubble bath of nostalgia, albeit a bubble bath that smells like keys of ket in Soho alleyways and hot dogs from the little cart opposite We Will Rock You. The question we've got to ask ourselves though, as hard as it is to prick the bubble of suddenly-remembered youth with the pin of adulthood, is thus: were indie clubs ever actually any good, and (maybe more importantly) were they better than 'actual' clubs?


All photos via the author

The short answer is yes, they were fun, and no, they probably weren't as good as seeing Tama Sumo at Dance Tunnel or whatever the current definition of a 5/5 on RA good night out for the heads is. But that's a very short answer which deserves some elaboration or else a lot of people's salad days wilt into nothingness. Firstly we need to define what we're talking about when we're talking about indie clubs because the spectrum is a broad and largely bad one. While there's presumably some pleasure to be gleaned from spending a night in Norwich sitting on the floor of the Waterfront because the DJ's playing "Sit Down" by James and, well, you've all had a few and could do with a breather so it's quite convenient and everyone else is doing it, it's not quite the indie club experience I'm on about.

What I'm thinking about here, maybe slightly solipsistically, are the club nights you went to where you realistically could have ended up stood next to one of the Teenagers at the bar, or had a quick piss in an alley next to that bloke from Les Incompetents or spied Alexa Chung from a distance and pinched yourself because you were a naive, fresh-faced market town type in a pair of Cheap Mondays. These were the clubs that shaped me, the clubs where I began to form some semblance of a character, the clubs where I'd try and blag guestlist by repeatedly telling the bouncer I'd been given a key to the club and it was in my pocket and I'd get in anyway despite being mysteriously soaked through and approaching an Oliver Reed level of pissheadedness.


Yesterday's hashtag made me realise that it wasn't just me and my little group of mates who lived our late teens and very, very early twenties like this. It wasn't just us who'd plough through six Red Stripe and a K while listening to "IOU" by Freeze or "Pretty Green Eyes" before going to a night where you were more likely to hear The Presets than Prosumer. We weren't the only ones who woke up for Tuesday morning seminars stinking of vodka, lime and soda, haunted by remorse and regret, and unable to get "Lisztomania" out of our heads. This world definitely extended beyond our New Cross enclave.

And it went beyond the confines of Jerningham Road, and Vesta Road, and Barriedale and all those other street names which bring me to my knees with sheer nostalgic overload, street names that remind me of blue bag house parties soundtracked by fizzy bloghouse remixes of indie songs we'd never own up to liking, the parties where carpets were left indelibly muddied and mephedrone littered every available surface. The indie club, the club where the girls all wore American Apparel skirts and battered boots, and the boys wore American Apparel hoodies and battered boat shoes, the club where nothing ever really changed but that meant it was always only ever £2.50 for a double and mixer, is a universal thing. It embraces all of us, welcomes each and everyone willing to put up with listening to Franz Ferdinand in the company of people you'll drunkenly embrace tonight but flat out ignore in a corridor tomorrow.


Slipping into that world is easy enough. All it takes is knowing one person, even vaguely, and finding yourself whacked on cheap list after cheap list until you fool yourself into thinking that you're an active and integral part of a scene. You aren't. You really aren't. But that myth is still seductive and you want to belong to something so you repress any feelings of, hey, actually, this might not really be that fun and maybe I am slightly bored of not really dancing to "House of Jealous Lovers" and "Over and Over" and I think my mate who left after 20 minutes might have had the right idea. And you repress it because what's the alternative? Sitting at home, on your own, on a Tuesday night. Watching Family Guy. Alone.

I think about it now and wonder how different life would have been if I'd gone to the clubs that played the music I was actually interested in, if I'd pursued a path I thought was more fitting of who I was as a person as opposed to hopping on a 453 and hoping for the best week after week, month after month, year after year. I imagine myself, sometimes, as I was back then, stood, on my own, in the main room at Cable, watching Robert Hood or whoever it was I was into as a 19 year old. And I imagine myself feeling incredibly lonely, feeling like I'd sacrificed something important (friendship, belonging) for something not as rewarding (a sense of smugness, a trainspotting-esque feeling of having ticked a name off an internal 'must see' list), feeling like actually I was done a favour when the cleaner in my halls stole my wallet on the day I was meant to see Michael Mayer at fabric. I was saved from myself, and thrust into another world.


This isn't just my story. This is how a generation grew up and learned to sort of love the nighttime. Most of us, and back then at least it felt like the following generalisation had some footing in reality, were people who'd grown up listening to indie, be it the Kaiser Chiefs or the more Pitchfork approved stuff that we clung onto for online cred, and we'd decided that clubs, proper clubs, the big scary clubs where they played techno in the dark, weren't for us. But the clubs we ended up finding, the clubs that posted flyers around campuses up and down the country, the clubs that promised cheap booze and the possibility of hearing "The Rat" by the Walkmen, and maybe bumping into someone you fancy from a seminar, these were the clubs that shaped most of us. They were brash and naff and tacky and sort of terrible, but they were ours. They felt like playgrounds for 19 year olds on their first line of coke, 19 year olds wearing terrible clothes and sporting terrible haircuts, kissing terribly to terrible music, going home and having terrible sex to even worse music, waking up with terrible hangovers and wolfing down terrible full English breakfasts before doing the exact same thing over and over and over again.

The indie clubnight's heyday coincided with the bloghouse hangover, back when every 7" came backed with a Rory Phillips re-rub. That world is over. It doesn't exist any more. Sure, the nights still run, but 18 year olds now are savvier than we were back then. They expect more from a night out. They're more versed in the folklore of getting on it. They go to the Bussey Building and Canavans and Shapes and XOYO and they want more than a live set from Xerox Teens and a plastic bottle of Stella. They want more than we were ever offered.

So, thank you #indieamnesty for reminding us that our days of wine and roses were worth the hangovers and the guilt and the visual reminders that Facebook occasionally throws in our faces. I'll see you down White Heat next week, right? Reckon you can get us on the list?

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