Our Whole Social Lives Are Just Birthday Drinks

The death of nightclubs has reduced us all to living the lives of seven year olds.
October 13, 2017, 12:14pm
Will Clayton/Flickr

I don't know what I'm going to do this weekend. I'm staring into a 48-hour Gcal abyss, bereft of my sense of self. I create an event, 11AM Sunday: hand-wash jumpers. It doesn't help. There surely should be some kind of night time activity I can plan for myself, but I'm at a loss. Why? Because this weekend, no one I know is having birthday drinks.

I'm not sure whether it's the changing nature of London nightlife, or the transition from my early to late twenties, but my entire social life now basically revolves around birthday drinks, as do the social lives of everyone I know. It's sort of like a return to being seven years old, without the party bags.


How is it, with all the social freedoms we have fought for and the metropoles most of us live in, that we have chosen to ration off fun into annual, personalised special days – our allotted evening a year where we get to decide whether it's "get a big thing of plastic cups and try to fit 50 people into a flat that can hold about 10", or "late-night bowling then back to the person you least wanted to attend's for some 'pub grub'"?

Maybe you think this is just the typical whinings of a boring London media-bubble sissy who wouldn't know a good time if one took him by the scruff of his neck and dragged him into a warehouse party, but take a look at your upcoming social calendar: what percentage of your locked-on events are birthdays? I'm betting it's nearly everything you've got planned, punctuated by the occasional blow-out event: festivals where you book a week off work so you can recover, weddings that are basically an excuse to get shitfaced with all your mates, and holidays to European city centres. Our social schedules are similar to those of footballers: gruelling work and weekly fixtures with the occasional summer rager to make the rest of the year seem worthwhile.

The reason for this almost paganistic excitement about birthdays is, with doubt, because we belong to the flakiest generation ever to have existed. If I tried to organise an impromptu weekend trip to the pub on a Monday, you can bet that by Friday just about everyone who said yes will have dropped out. But the birthday element adds a degree of social pressure. We feel a greater social debt for someone's birthday, not because we are good people and want to be there for our friends – although, that is what we tell ourselves – but because birthdays are a snapshot of who your friends are at that moment. With each birthday the gang is slightly reshuffled. You can be left out of a few hands, but you don't want to fall out of the pack completely.

WATCH: Locked Off – Britain's Illegal Rave Renaissance

The other advantage to birthdays is they can be planned up to four weeks in advance (some people plan them five weeks ahead, but that's actually going too far the other way, where people say they're going to come and then forget about it; also it looks a bit bonkers). This forward-planning is handy because it's never been harder to have a spontaneous night out. Hundreds of nightclubs have closed, making the ones that are left so oversubscribed that you often need to buy tickets in advance, something made impossibly complicated by the fact that people want to keep their options open until the last possible moment. Also no one has the time or energy in their day to set up an email chain about maybe, possibly, going to Fabric in four months. But birthdays provide a legitimate excuse to force people to shell out a tenner for a four-hour Andy C set, or however it is you like to spend your cash, meaning you can all get tickets before it sells out.

I know it didn't always used to be like this. Reading Meet Me in the Bathroom – Lizzy Goodman's account of New York's music scene in the mid-2000s – feels like reading about another world, where people would just show up at bars, or weekly club nights, because they knew everyone else would be there. People just went out for the sake of going out, and amazing things happened in those spaces. I remember a world like that. I think I just caught the tail end of it – wild Wednesdays in toilet clubs, resident DJs, meeting the same people week-in, week-out, going out because what was the point of staying in.

I wouldn't be writing this if I was still a teenager. There are still nights out there for those who can get drunk every night without ever having a hangover, who can wake up 11AM, get a croissant from Tesco's and call that a "busy day". VICE's own Locked Off documentary shows the excitement in the illegal party scene outside of cities, and parties like Micron in Manchester do still bring in a young crowd. But those kinds of nights out weren't always the preserve of those under 21, whereas now it feels as though they are.

For the rest of us, life is full of late-nights working at home, emotional catch-ups with people who have just broken up with someone, exhausted Netflix binges and attempts to stay in touch with your family. Yes, there are probably a couple of days a week when we're "free", but there's no way those days are going to align with the days our mates are around.

So I think it's time we accepted it. This is our social life from now until forever: a never-ending cycle of Venue TBC facebook events, "couple of drinks at the pub then maybe on somewhere else after" – a dinner that takes as long to split the bill as it does to eat.