Music by VICE

Why Am I So Afraid of Seeing Old People in Nightclubs?

Something about the sight of a gurning 52 year-old estate agent sends shivers down my spine.

by Josh Baines
Apr 26 2016, 10:40am

Image via Flickr.

This weekend just gone, after nearly a decade of clubbing in the capital, I went to Ministry of Sound for the first time. The reason I'd made the journey down to Elephant and Castle was simple: DJ Harvey was playing his at the South London club for the first time in twenty or so years. Missing a Harvey gig would be like turning down a free bag of chips handed out at a subway station exit, or the last sun lounger left by the pool. You'd kick yourself for years to come. It'd haunt you. It'd ruin you. As you started to shuffle off your mortal coil you'd see Harv's grinning face and you'd slip into the grave cursing yourself. So that's why I found myself in a club surrounded by blokes who looked like they'd been in the Top Gear audience at least once on a Saturday night.

Harvey's getting on, and given that his DJing career kicked off before I was a glint in my own father's eye, it isn't surprising that the crowd at his shows are a little more age-advanced than you'd expect at most clubs. After all, for all his contemporary relevance, for all his cutting edge crate digging, seeing Harvey DJ out is, for most people, an ecstasy fueled nostalgic wander down memory lane. Sure, the venue still contained a fair few bright eyed and bushy tailed youngsters, but for every spunky 22 year old with a pocket full of pingers and a rampant desire to drone on about the implications of a potential Brexit over increasingly badly rolled cigarettes, you couldn't help but be bumbled into by a balding middle manager who'd forgotten just how potent pills can be.

In the taxi home, crawling into Hackney to the sounds of "Angels" playing on Magic FM, I began thinking about our attitudes towards the elderly, or more specifically: why don't we like seeing old dudes in nightclubs? Just what is it about the over-40s that we find so off-putting?

The most obvious and sad and sobering reason as to why some of us let out an involuntary shiver when we see Murray Mints falling out of a punter's pocket at the bar is death. Good old fashioned death. The walking elderly are a constant reminder of our own mortality. They shuffle round supermarkets, deliberating over which olive oil offer to plonk in their trolley, seemingly unaware that they will die soon and because they'll soon be dead it doesn't matter if they're saving 32p on olive oil—which makes seeing older people clubbing all the more disquieting. The aching joints, the creaking backs, the stench of failure — this is reality, this is a future we all face, but who on earth goes clubbing to confront the deeply depressing facets of life that we can barely bring ourselves to think about during our regular waking hours, let alone at 4am in a room full of people in varying states of disrepair? Sadists, that's who.

Then there's the issue of drugs. What we're dealing with here, with these old timers, the lads and lasses who were chomping on Pink Panthers like they were Polo mints back when raves were free and fun and the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was yet to be signed, are people who lived through the storied glory days, but swore off the hard stuff as soon as child rearing reared into view. Ergo, they've forgotten how to take drugs and bang a four pack of pills in the space of an hour and by 2am they're a stumbling, puking, incoherent ball of misplaced energy that just wants to talk about the importance of looking into a good ISA and keeping up with pension reform. Obviously, not everyone past the age where trying to look cool is horrifically uncool is terrible at handling their drugs, but there's something uniquely harrowing about making wide-eyed eye contact with a breathy, sweaty 52 year old estate agent stuffed into a stripy shirt and some battered adidas Sambas in the corner of a nightclub. His general countenance says, "I'm loving it," but his haywire jaw is silently screaming "PLEASE GET ME HOME, I NEED TO BE AT HOME, IN BED, VERY SOON, PLEASE, PLEASE, I TOLD THE WIFE I'D BE BACK BY 1, OH GOD, I'VE FUCKED IT, THE MOTHER IN LAW'S BIRTHDAY'S TOMORROW AND I'VE ROYALLY FUCKED IT."

I found myself thinking about my parents, too, in the back of that taxi. I thought about how I'd feel about bumping into my dad in the toilets of a nightclub, his mouth gummed up with white gunk, his pupils pulsating in time to "Wanna Dance" by Peter Visti, sweat dripping off his head like Phil Mitchell in a sauna. I thought about the total and utter sensation of horror that'd envelop me, and I saw myself in a mirror going A4 white, trying not to puke out all that repulsion. And I thought about how someone, that night, might have had that experience. There they were, having the time of their young lives, and out of the corner of their eye they spot mum, cocktail aloft, trying to get into the booth with Harvey. You'd never go out again, would you?

And then it became sort of maddeningly and saddeningly obvious: the silverbacks of Soho aren't to blame, I am. We are. As I write this I realise that at 26, I am no longer that young. Soon I'll be 30 and then I might as well be (socially) dead. All I have to look forward to is playing Scrabble in pubs where a pint and a roast dinner come to £22, afternoons in B&Q, and a solidly slow descent into a few years of being left alone by my loved ones and pissing myself.

And maybe at that point I'll want to slip on my old size 12s and gingerly engage the denizens of the smoking area in a fumbled and nearly futile attempt to buy some drugs. I'll be using outdated slang. I'll be treading on my own toes, shooting myself in the foot. And I'll see myself, from the other side of the room, as I saw those sad lads on Saturday. And I'll pity myself, but maybe, just maybe, I'll understand myself too.

Seeing the slightly older than us in a social context causes us to think about the unstoppable nature of time, and it also makes us realise that chasing youth is a sport you can't retire from. We exist in a world where millions of people grew up in nightclubs, and perhaps it's childish and churlish to think that there's an upper-age-limit when it comes to clubbing. Still though, watch where you're going, grandad! Oh, and leave some drugs for the rest of us. Cheers.

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DJ Harvey
Old People
Ministry of Sound
club culture