A Love Letter to Oceana: Britain's Best Worst Club
Image via Youtube.

A Love Letter to Oceana: Britain's Best Worst Club

The world in one night, white furniture, slot machines, and the illusion that time doesn't exist.
January 21, 2016, 2:37pm

There were no "cool" clubs where I grew up, which was both a blessing and a curse. Spending your formative years in what used to be a mining town in South Wales comes with it's own particular perks —I didn't have to body anyone to get to the ice cream van because there were only 13 kids on my street, visiting my grandparents was easy because they lived a few doors down, and I literally spent several summers building a treehouse— but as you get older, the distance between you and the places where culture doesn't just exist, but evolves and pushes forward, is cavernous. When you have to take two busses just to get to a bank and a franchised coffee outlet, the realms of fabric and Plastic People (pour one on the ground) feel so intangible they may as well be chambers at Hogwarts. Obviously, there were some clubs within reach, I grew up in South Wales not a federal prison, but they were the same amorphous venues that exist across the UK — a Barfly that has since been bought by a craft brewery, a rock club that served free toast at midnight and started to go downhill after the smoking ban came in and everyone began to smell the floor, and, of course, an Oceana.

Oceana is undeniably the Wetherspoons of the club circuit: a cultural void that is also, in itself, a cultural phenomenon. Unless you grew up in one of the few metropolitan cities in the UK whose nightlife extends beyond chain venues, strip clubs, and 90s R&B nights, then Oceana will have played at least a supporting role in your first years of clubbing. It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, whether you bump Britney or bashment — at some point, you have probably set foot in one whether you wanted to or not. It's practically a rite of passage, like renting a stretch hummer to go to your GCSE party, or necking a flagon of cider in a park. There are so many reasons why Oceana should be the worst place on earth. Yes, every single toilet cubicle has witnessed either a fingering or a fight. Yes, it's decorated like someone installed an RGB laser-system in a cruise liner morgue. Yes, it's full of dads sweating through their polyester shirts as they harlem shake to Joey Essex trying to mix "Niggas In Paris" into "Put Your Hands Up For Detroit". But, actually, despite all of this, Oceana is amazing, isn't it?

Oceana exists in a time capsule of its own design. Whether it's Cardiff in 2006 or Plymouth in 2016, every single branch has always had the exact same appearance and atmosphere - both of which are so sterile it bypasses being offensive and starts to feel comforting. From the incessantly white furniture to the incongruously placed slot machines to the illusion that time doesn't exist, Oceana has more in common with an airport departure lounge than it does with other clubs. In a world where music, fashion, and art are changing faster than a chameleon against a Dulux colour chart, where a grime freestyle can outsell the X Factor single at Christmas and Adidas flares are on trend, Oceana's dedication to ignoring the transient cultural environment in which it exists makes it something of a bedrock. A steady, unturning haven where older men, rudderless in their post-Clarkson world, and overwhelmed 18 year-olds alike can go and fist-pump, without judgement, to an endless stream of Basshunter songs.

For some reason Oceana has always been maligned as trash. The name conjures up a tapestry of dress shoes paired with bootcut jeans, false eyelashes and spray tans, indoor sunglasses and foundation-as-lipstick, but, you know what? Let me stop you right there. Firstly there's nothing wrong with any of that — that's basically what Glastonbury is like now, and secondly, Oceana is so much more.

Oceana is one of the few places on our mean spirited planet where you can unabashedly be yourself. You don't need to feel anxious about wearing the wrong thing or feeling out of place, because nobody who goes there is even remotely concerned with appearing cool. You don't need to worry about losing your friends because you definitely will at least twice, and you don't need to worry about what kind of "stuff" the DJ will play because the answer is always "Sexy Chick" by David Guetta. It's the only space in the country where you're guaranteed to find an A-level results party, a stag do, and a university Goth Society having exactly the same night out. Why? Because Oceana doesn't care who you are or what you like to do as long as the answer to both is cheap and loud. Nobody there gives a shit about your trainers, nobody gives a shit about your thoughts on PC Music, and nobody gives a shit if you haven't heard Kanye West's latest. All anyone is interested in is strawpedoing VK's somewhere they can hear "The Macarena" in one room in "Miami 2 Ibiza" in another.

The same people who shun Oceana are the same people who will refuse to go on a package holiday, watch Snog Marry Avoid, or use the Sports Direct mug that exists in every single shared house and work kitchen across the country, and, frankly, I feel bad for them. Oceana has accepted me in all my incarnations. It embraced me in my faux-Edie Sedgwick phase defined by bad tights and too much eyeshadow, it allowed the weird wool dresses I started wearing after getting too deep into Polyvinyl records' catalogue, and it has proved me wrong every time I've gone there with reservations. I have cried in Oceana, I have snogged in Oceana, and —like Narcissus with an ASBO— my friend threw up on his own reflection in a wall of mirrors in Oceana. I have seen grown men beat the shit out of each other only to circle back five minutes later and see them at the bar, hugging. Obviously, I'm not saying it's some sort of magical nirvana in which no bad things ever occur, but let me ask you this: have you ever had a truly terrible time at a foam party? Have you ever frowned while wearing plastic sunglasses with palm trees on? Have you ever not been thrilled to see an LED dance floor that changes to the beat of "Reach" by S Club 7?

The curious thing about Oceana is that it has absolutely no identity, because it tries to have all of them at once. Inside each sprawling metropolis, you fill find at least three of the following rooms: an Aspen Ski Lodge, Venetian Ballroom, Parisian Boudoir, New York Disco, Tokyo Stock Exchange, Monte Carlo casino, Villa Tahiti, and a Reykjavik ice house. Their slogan is "The World in One Night" for a reason. Like Wetherspoons, Oceana has been routinely looked down upon for serving name-brand beer and encouraging men to wear vests in public. The big difference between the two is that, while Wetherspoons has routinely embraced its role as The People's Pub and flourished over the last 35 years as a result, Oceana's legacy is built on fantasy. It's a lucid dream in which you can go from gambling, to donning the kind of coat British pop stars wore in music videos in the 00s and drinking straight vodka from a frozen shot glass, in thirty minutes or less.

Its glory days, though, are over. Oceana used to have 11 venues across the UK. Now there are four (in Nottingham, Plymouth, Southampton, and Watford) and all the others were either closed down, starting with the Birmingham branch in 2010, or converted into a Pryzm — which is basically Oceana with a conceited make-over (worth noting that whenever The Tab decides to name and shame the worst clubs in every city across the UK, you'll usually find Pryzm comes out on top). The way I see it, the problem is this: Oceana is the uncaring eye, the antithesis to fame and status and Instagram likes. It was shit, but everyone accepted that it was shit and that's what made it so great. The replacements are defined by a desperate obsession with all of those things. It's still an illusion, but it's not a very fun one.

Perhaps Oceana has faltered because the climate in which it existed has changed. Now all we're left is the same sterile rooms, only instead of the carefree "yes, please come in wearing that crappy plaid shirt from Topman" atmosphere all we're left with is VIP rooms, D-list celebrity appearances, and the option to chill your Bulmers in an ice bucket.

Follow Emma on Twitter.