This is What It’s Actually Like to Spend Twenty Four Hours Clubbing In South London
This twenty-four hour odyssey is clubbing as a vocation.
Photos by John Lucas.
Last bank holiday weekend, the Orange Clubbing Group offered a 'Big Ticket', allowing holders entry into three linked events across South London that spanned twenty four hours. Having previously sent him on a Monday morning clubbing experience, THUMP packed John Lucas off to meet the endurance hedonists on a day long bender. This is what he saw.
Friday, 1am: WE at The Coronet, Elephant & Castle
Skye Doll Giang stands on the raised VIP area in front of the stage. She wears elegant black tapered trousers with a top attached – two bands of fabric that loosely clasp her torso, revealing tit tape in St Andrews' crosses over her nipples. She's been looking forward to tonight all week, and has spent most of the day getting ready. She's with Paul, a taciturn, jacked-up brute skilled in avoiding eye contact. He's pumping his ample fists to Jamie Head's house set. At first sight this could be any couple at any London nightclub. But Skye Doll is a trans woman and we are at WE at the Coronet Theatre in Elephant and Castle. WE is the first of the Orange Clubbing Group's three linked events this weekend, and for many – including THUMP – it is the start of a twenty-four hour clubbing odyssey.
Already there's a sea of heads beneath the glare of the green lasers. Pushing through the crowd, I see guys in shorts, many having already discarded their t-shirts, sporting some of the most overworked delts and traps in the capital. Bears in baseballs caps sniff poppers and dance, pausing only for the occasional sweaty hug. Others are chewing hard to happy house pianos in a haze of dry ice.
"Pills, MDMA?" a guy in a thick coat yells, pushing through the throng. There are no takers. After all, this is clubbing as a vocation. Last minute refuelling is for unprepared ingénues. "I dunno how you make money in here," he complains to his mate.
The theme of the night is prison, and they've dressed the stage with bars. Now it's show time. Twelve guys playing convicts appear – shaved heads, chained peaked leather caps, restraints. A trans dominatrix in latex stalks the space before them holding a whip. There is the shine of raised iPhones. Suddenly flames burst up from the stage – you can feel the heat coming off them. The beat drops back in and ice cannons batter the crowd. There are screams and the dancing begins again, more fevered than before. There is intent here, serious drive. This may be partying, but it's also an endurance test. Right now it's early – only the strongest will survive the whole weekend.
I ask Skye if Paul is her boyfriend. She looks at me sympathetically.
"Tonight he is," she says. She begins to dance, jerking with uncoordinated vigour. I see why my question was stupid – in this world everything is impermanent. Everything is subordinated to the beat that never ends.
I look at my watch – it's 3am. A bloke in chaps gyrates before me to the Tommy Vercetti mix of "The Golden Boy". Another four hours here then over to Fire for Beyond, the second party of the night. I chug on my Red Bull and wonder if I'm going to be able to stay the course. In the interests of journalistic impartiality, I'm doing my twenty-four hours' clubbing entirely free of illegal stimulants.
Saturday, 9am: Beyond at Fire in Vauxhall
"I'd chose a straight guy over a gay guy any day 'cos they're so much better in bed," says Carlos. He's Italian, with a slicked-back biker's haircut and the blood-red lips of a man who's been attempting to chew his own face off for many hours. He has his arm draped around Annalisa, a skinny girl in black jeans. They look like a really bad advertisement for The Kooples where the photographer has been doling out the meth all day.
"Nobody's entirely straight or gay," says Annalisa, pouting confusedly, attempting to shade her eyes from a morning sun that has taken many of the clubbers here by surprise, rising too early and with far too much enthusiasm.
Carlos and Annalisa are chatting to a gay couple, Mike and Paul. Now Mike leans forward and grabs Annalisa's breast, giving it a good squeeze.
"So you wanna try it?" she says.
"Yeah, why not," Mike slurs. He looks at his watch, a chunky black Tag. "You have my number – call my P.A. in the week. Let's diarise."
"Only if you do it like this," she says, releasing herself from Carlos and rubbing her ass against his crotch, mimicking doggy-style. "Just like that."
We're outside Fire nightclub, round the back. Here, in a shabby cleaving between railway arches, abundantly-fucked men and women stand around chatting, their dialogue sprinkled with ellipses and non-sequiturs as though composed by Beckett after a night on the MDMA. A guy in neon green shorts embraces his boyfriend who for some reason keeps yelling the word 'dog.' A bloke with a paunch that hangs over the waistband of his injudiciously tight underpants – his only item of clothing – hangs on tight to the bar as he talks to a young Japanese boy in a dress.
A short walk down a dim corridor that occasionally flashes with multi-coloured lights leads to the main dancefloor. Here, in front of a screen that beams out images of Ibiza, Ben Manson is killing it with tracks like X-Press 2's mix of Oxia's "Domino" and Cevin Fisher's "The Way We Used To." My energy lifts, but as I wade into the centre of the dance-floor through a thick cluster of shirtless men lit an unnatural blue beneath the ultraviolet lights, I have to admit that I am flagging. I've been in loud nightclubs for over twelve hours, and there's still another twelve to go.
I stumble through the crowd for the toilets. Inside I greet Rosa, the attendant.
"Having a good night?"
She smiles back ruefully. I glance down at the floor. It's covered in piss. She's holding a mop, sweeping up.
"I guess not, then."
She shakes her head and I feel embarrassed – embarrassed to have asked such a stupid question, embarrassed to be a middle-class idiot writing an undercover story about round-the-clock clubbing harassing a loo attendant, hoping for a quote. Even without drugs, tiredness and the disorientating five-senses mind-fuck that breakfast time in Vauxhall creates heighten my emotions, making everything seem poignant to the point of tragedy.
I'm about to go outside again when I see Skye Doll Giang standing by one of the sinks. She has a tissue pressed up against her face. Her shoulders are shaking. I walk over and ask her what's wrong.
She looks at me fiercely, too proud to speak.
She shakes harder.
"He's a fucking bastard. It was fine, all fine. Then we went to the restroom, I got my cock out and he just ran."
I sympathise, but my head is pounding. I suggest we get a drink. But as we're pushing though the crowd Skye starts yelling into her cellphone and I lose her again.
At the bar I get chatting to Ritesh, a young Mauritian dude in a modish, Dalston-style string vest with a seemingly urgent desire to talk.
"I got fired from my job," he says.
"I didn't go to work."
That doesn't sound too bad.
"For two weeks."
"I met this guy at A.M. and he asked me to go to a chill out party. I thought he meant an actual chill out – you know, with people relaxing, eating ice cream. But when we got back there everyone was naked and fucking. Except for this one guy who was wearing fake horse's head for some reason. I needed drugs after that just to calm my head down."
And after that?
"I just kept coming back down Vauxhall, innit."
It's not surprising. There's a somnambulistic, forgetful quality here that erases time, making it very easy to drift.
Sunday, 7pm: Ministry of Sound
By Sunday afternoon I've got my second wind. I've been out for twenty-two hours, stopping only to pick up food at the nearby Elephant and Castle shopping centre. The sun is shining on the terrace outside Ministry, and I'm surrounded by smiling people in expensive trainers and pastel shorts going nuts to Martino B's synth-heavyremix of "Say My Name". It's hard not to feel at least a little elated.
A girl in a black evening dress passes, supported by a guy in a top hat and tweed jacket.
"Who are you going home with tonight?" the girl asks.
"I'm not sure," the man says with clipped, Noel Coward-style diction. "Everyone here is so marvellous that it would be a sin to choose just now."
By way of a response, the girl in the dress turns and vomits.
I catch sight of Skye. When I reach her, I see that she is with Carlos, the Italian guy from Fire. Both of them look heroically tired, but both are battling through.
"Where's Annalisa?" I ask.
Carlos shrugs and stares hard at me, as though challenging me to refute whatever he might say next.
"She went off with one of those gay guys. I don't mind. We have our own thing."
Skye smiles at me imploringly. She's re-done her make-up and still looks immaculate, her large eyes made distinct with thick black eyeliner. I smile back at her. I hope things work out better this time.
I see a cute young girl in a pink baseball cap and trainers standing coquettishly in a circle of five dudes, all spangled. She runs her finger up and down one man's obliques, tracing his anchor tattoo.
"I like this," she says. "Do you have anything lower down?"
One of the guys is Ritesh. I ask him what his plans are for later. He checks his faux-gangster gold watch.
"It's finishing in here soon. We're gonna go over to my mate's place in Stockwell, have a smoke and then go down Vauxhall again." He looks a little sad, as though compelled by some powerful force to keep the party going. "Come along if you want?"
But it's too late – I'm done. As the crowd starts to dissipate and 9pm – closing time – rolls on, I know that the only option for me is an Uber home to bed. But I can't help admiring the many weekend warriors for whom the South London party never ends. These people have guts, determination and the pharmaceutically-enhanced stamina of thoroughbred horses. For them, round-the-clock partying is a very serious business indeed.