The news this week that half of the UK’s nightclubs have shut in the last 10 years seems to have left some people a bit miffed. Almost 20 years ago I joined the queue at the Ice Factory in Perth to see Paul Van Dyk. I was 14 years old. I was obsessed with dance music (and still am). The excitement and apprehension of what was going on inside that club was like nothing I’d ever felt before. As the front door popped open now and again, I’d get a quick blast of a breakdown, or some thudding bass and trancey synth. Then the door would close again, and the sub-bass was left womping somewhere within the club’s walls. All this added to the experience, but also drove the panic and anxiety of not getting in, to new personal heights.
I got in that night and fell in love with everything that was going on inside that strange sweaty, smoky place. The people, the music, the energy, the thrill of where the night would end…ALL OF IT.
2 decades have passed since that night. Over half my life spent as a “clubber”. Using the word just sounds so naff now. And that’s part of the problem.
A high percentage of the clubs that have shut were of their time. A moment enjoyed by many, but no more. Their birth and death like everything else in life.
The first thing that everybody started to realise was that you could get the same music DJ Buttscratcher was playing in da club, in any bar near the club, that was now open ‘till 2am. The license laws had changed. And they weren’t charging to get in. If there was a door price, it was only a couple of quid. Don’t forget by the mid-00s credit card chic was coming to an end. Then the credit crunch was here. All of a sudden everybody had less money. Almost always no money.
Then the students stopped going out as much. The clubs and promoters made bags full of money from mid-week parties for many years. But all of a sudden with fees increasing and debt awareness growing, the market just wasn’t there. It wasn’t happening.
DJs were becoming Rockstars long before all this obviously. But all of a sudden being a DJ wasn’t enough. You also had to be a producer. Their power increasing. Their reach spreading. They started to tour large gig venues like an 02 Academy. Or, if their profile allowed, a bigger venue where 10,000 weekend warriors would show up to see them. People started to save their money to go to these one offs. A gang of mates making plans for a blow out once in a while. It’s more special. It’s more precious.
Then there was the rise of the festival. From Glastonbury to Bestival. Ultra to Ibiza Rocks. The line ups get bigger. The chance to party anywhere in the world with my favourite djs/producers had never been easier. And that’s a lot sexier than a club on the edge of a retail park somewhere in West Yorkshire.
Last month my alarm went off at 5:30am to go and DJ an early morning rave with Norman Jay. 500 people turned up to party at 7:30am on a Friday morning before work. In the middle of a roundabout in East London. It’s been an evolving concept for the last few years, the early morning rave. Some sneer with the usual contempt, but it’s actually helping to redefine what clubbing is.
For me, it’s finding new, interesting, and inspiring places that we’ve never experienced before. It’s brownfield sites. It’s roundabouts, underpasses and old industrial sites. It’s effectively a legal version of what started it all. Rave culture of the 80s and early 90s has a lot to teach us.
Or look to the success of Manchester’s Warehouse Project. A 3 month party that comes to the city every autumn. And continually delivers a top end lineup that paying fans go mad for. There’s no overkill. They have balance. Greed is not the driving factor. If it was, they’d do a weekly night, 52 weeks a year. That’s what greedy promoters do.
All over the UK, you’ll find illegal raves in a wood, or an old pub somewhere this weekend. Red Stripe and laughing gas all being sold for a few quid. You’ll probably have to throw in a fiver to cover the poor bastard who had to lug the sound-system to the location…but it’ll be fun. It will be exciting. “Clubbing” in those clubs that have now shut, just became a bit…well…meh. It all became a bit naff.
As humans we’ll always want to join and be part of something. It’s who we are. It’s how we connect. People will party. That’s a universal law. Some lateral thinking and creative integration established Boiler Room. It’s that sort of thing that personally excites me. People with vision will get to set the agenda of what “clubbing” is over the next 5-10 years. Somewhere, somebody is thinking about how to make our experience better. Or maybe they’re inventing a new “clubbing” experience. And if they aren’t, maybe you could?