The Tragic New Type of Nightlife Threatening UK Clubbing
How London and other UK cities swapped raving for a dire yuppie parody.
Clubbing has traditionally been a sacred refuge of the scum. When the towns and cities of the Western world shut down for the night, the decent, the modest and the square would flee back to their living rooms on the outskirts, far from anywhere that served tequila in pint glasses, and in would flock the louts, the losers, the addicts, the creeps, the chancers and the excited young, all looking to fuck and fight their way to sunrise.
Across the nation they have trooped to happy hardcore nights; "Grown 'n' Sexy" dress-code nights; £10-on-the-door nights; DJ Hype all-night nights; nights where the promoter puts their BB pin on the flyer; nights at which Spanish people in waistcoats play Ramones songs off jukeboxes; nights in greenbelt discos; nights where vodka is cheaper than bottled water.
Throughout this time the rule has been that while the majority of us, square or not, will dabble with clubs for a brief period, only a certain type of person will really stick it out, turn it into a lifestyle. For most, clubs are something that get put in the rearview once real life comes calling – because forcing someone on a comedown to help a child with their geography homework is tantamount to psychological torture.
But as society has evolved, these old notions of responsibility have shifted. Just as society learnt to accept parents having kids out of wedlock, or men taking their wives' surnames, it has recently become acceptable to go clubbing after you've found your responsibility. It's OK to bosh a couple of pills, as long as you've got a babysitter; OK to go see Tim Sweeney at Shapes, as long as you let your boss know, because they might want to come along too.
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The effects are clear to see: the demographic of clubbers shifted, became older, the cost of entry and drinks went up and ID checks became more rigorous. Earlier this week it was reported that nearly half of Britain's nightclubs have closed in the past decade, and that's quite possibly because, as clubbing became dearer and socially acceptable for the socially accepted, 18-year-olds started drifting off to listen to Scandinavian cloud rap in each other's bedrooms, rather than going out and keeping the smaller, cheaper, more financially-vulnerable clubs afloat.
What's emerged out of this cultural fluctuation is a new style of going out. A club culture that's affluent but not gaudy, urbanised but certainly not intimidating, often utilising reclaimed, picturesque city locations such as rooftops and riverside spots. These events often have sideshows involving corporate sponsors, street food stalls, marquees, competitions, generic wedding-playlist DJs and all sorts of additional activities on top of the old staples: "Getting fucked and dancing."
This is the rise of middlebrow clubbing, a new form of nightlife that softens the hard edges of an evening at FWD>>, or Sub Club, or Transmission, or any destination club-night that doesn't boast an in-house photo-booth. It's a world where pulled pork replaces pickpocketing; where skyline views replace dirty black walls; where mixologists replace in-house drug dealers.
You can't look through your Facebook events, or the pages of Time Out, without spotting one of these nights: "Dalston Summer Roof Party"; "Dalston Roof Park – Funk & Soul Special"; "Brixton Roof Party – Funk & Soul Special"; "Summer Tales ft. a Bestival takeover set from Rob Da Bank"; "Netil360"; "The Summer Boat Party with Cirque Du Soul DJs".
All of those events are in London, yes, but most large cities throughout the UK are full of similar things. Of course, some of them are probably quite good fun when it comes down to it; getting drunk with a view of the city while listening to disco is never going to be a terrible experience. However, the sheer glut of them, with their no-mark DJs, extortionate ticket prices, microbrewery collaborations and absolute lack of imagination just smacks of soulless organised fun.
It's nightlife aimed at a monied, Silicon Roundabout kind of clientele who enjoy the social posturing of being seen to go out without any of the unsavoury bits (fighting, tough music, the danger of getting your Flyknits ruined). They cater to a post-graduate, first-time buyer sort who doesn't have the time to seek out real culture, so instead has it organised for them – a tasteful environment in which they can be photographed next to some fairy lights while talking about themselves. If Elon Musk became a promoter, his nights would probably be pretty similar.
These nights have become such A Thing that a parody Facebook page about them, titled "Completely shit and pointless events in London this summer (probably on a rooftop, somewhere)", recently attracted over 87,000 "attending" clicks. But despite the backlash, they still seem to be spawning at an aggressive rate. Soon there won't be a rooftop in the country without a shit party on it, all these mediocre branded affairs creating an alternative skyline city – kind of like The Fifth Element, had the wardrobe been designed by COS rather than Jean Paul Gaultier.
That said, it's far from an immediate threat to our culture. While traditional clubs have been closing en masse, those that remain open still get packed to capacity. However, I worry about the influence of these nights in the long run. They seem to perpetuate an idea of fun that's derived directly from an EE advert: a bunch of healthy-looking people with quiffs and flawless skin standing on top of a luxury block of flats, drinking Negronis and having a nice time to some nice music. It's something most of us would probably enjoy enough if we ended up there, but what is it really adding to the culture? Plus, not all of us can pay the £15 entry to watch some bloke who once supported Norman Jay play a couple of vinyls.
Most of us go out to escape, to become something else other than ourselves, to get something out of our system; not to attend what is essentially a boozy picnic on the eighth floor of an old telecommunications building on Gentrification Street.
The beauty of nightclubs is that you don't need to be in a beautiful or even nice place to have that moment of transgression. The music and the atmosphere should be enough to give you the feeling that the world around you has changed, that you've stepped through something, that your existence has transformed. You can be in a decaying building in Catford on a Friday night, or a basement in Elephant and Castle at 6AM on a Monday morning, and have an experience that challenges, thrills, terrifies and lives with you.
The fact is that nothing genuinely exciting could ever happen at one of these new events. They are openly unfriendly to the different; a true club character like Leigh Bowery could never exist there. He'd presumably have to spend most of his time posing for selfies with people who play competitive frisbee on Clapham Common. Instead, these clubs are almost precision engineered to attract a straight, white, prosperous audience, in order to minimise noise and maximise profit. And as we've already seen in Hackney – where the council recently made it clear that granting licences for new "night clubs and dance venues" was "not appropriate", given their claims that they cause too much noise pollution – there's a real danger that this might become the template for how future nightlife is run in the UK.
Today, it was announced that east London's iconic gay pub The George and Dragon is to close. Before that it was People's in north London; before that, the Joiners Arms in Hackney; before that, Madame Jojo's in Soho. "But that's fine: Brixton has six new rooftop parties and a pop-up venue serving half-lobsters and burgers in brioche buns," you say.
Sure – and that's great for anyone who can afford to eat shellfish at a club night. But it's a terrifying prospect for anyone not involved in that world.
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