Our generation has been lucky to experience the renaissance in night life of recent years. The often ill-lit, late night, cavernous rooms, filled with pulsating music, visual art and a sea of people offers a cathartic experience and meeting of the minds like very little else...
This version of clubbing as we know it has evolved spectacularly from the early editions of discotheques, dancehalls, and previously, even ballrooms. One of the earliest mentions of the word ‘club’ came from New York in the 1940’s where Mack's restaurant rented out their basement for a monthly Jazz night. Eventually the entire premise became a venue and was renamed 100 Club, which still runs to this day.
The story of clubbing is the story of the evolution of music, a topic too vast to uncover today, but what can be noted is that the evolution of music, as affected by technology, had a knock on effect to the clubbing world we know and love. As music styles adapted from live jazz to soul to record playing at events, technology has been one of the main instigators in shaping the creative journey of the club as we know it today.
From the Ibiza super clubs to commercial student nights in the local village, every city and town across the world has a nightlife scene which sets the tone for a night out. Whether it’s the top hits blasted through the soundsystem, or underground techno bangers, a proper night out, in today’s tradition, more often than not culminates in a nightclub.
Much more than a place to dance, clubs and their promoters are all artists in their own right as they create an aesthetic in the sound, space and visual. Even the people attending become part of that living aesthetic as fashion goes hand in hand with nights out. A community and culture are founded based on the draw of music and an often much-needed night out.
We caught up with our friends at New York based label and party planners HOMAGE, a self-professed “Brooklyn based independent record label and party series focused on putting out fucking bangers” to offer their perspective as to what clubbing culture means to them:
“For us, culture isn't found in the nightclub, it's in the people who perpetuate the art. Culture is online, in the record shops, community radio stations, and in the DIY event/art spaces.he nightclub can certainly be an extension of that, but nowadays, we don't see them as beacons of culture as they may have once been. Walk into the biggest nightclubs today and you'll find a largely homogenous scene that's been overtaken by white males. That's not to say we don't know of and are patrons of nightclubs that do it right, we are, just that we recognize a problem in the wider business. We are lucky in NYC to have a number of clubs that do great things for the culture and work extremely hard to push nightlife forward. Some that come to mind are Nowadays, Bossa Nova Civic Club, Mood Ring, House of Yes, Public Records, and Elsewhere.”
As people seek out places where they can let loose, meet similar minded people and explore new music, their culture lives both at the event and through their various online platforms. From sharing favourite artists, imagery and art, it is all brought together under the creative umbrella of the club.
A community is formed on the dance floor as people make friends for life, open up to random strangers in the smoking area and share their collective hopes and dreams while dancing their socks off in unison. This level of herd behaviour is inherent to humans, and we will always flock to sound and stomp our feet, so why then is the support of clubs, and its culture, often overlooked?
CHALLENGES DURING COVID
Overnight, the entire clubbing industry was shut down. If we had known our last dance, would have been our last for a while, what would we have done differently?
While the clubbing industry continues to be a huge employer and contributor to GDP globally, it has struggled to gain the support needed during recent times. In the UK, it is the fifth-biggest industry, accounting for at least 8% of the UK's employment and annual revenues of £66bn. While in New York alone, the night-time economy generates $35.1bn (£27bn) in economic activity, and nearly $700m in local tax revenue. Despite this, the development of new clubs and the support during Covid19 has not been top of the list for many governments.
A campaign called #LetUsDance launched recently in the UK, aimed at gaining support from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to include clubs in its £1.57bn arts support package. In Ireland, the #SaveTheArts campaign, led by the National Campaign for the Arts, recently worked towards recognition of the need for further artistic support and funding during this time. These needs have been somewhat met through the recent development of a funding support for live music along with a designated arts and cultural recovery task force. Whether it’s enough to save it remains to be seen.
Clearly, sweaty packed dancefloors are not conducive to a safe environment for the time being but that doesn’t mean all is lost. With a vast array of event experiments currently being worked on, we’ve seen social distanced events dip their toe into the unknown. Some have managed to adapt their business to run outdoor events - notably ‘Escape to Freight Island’ in London and ‘Suicide Circus’ in Berlin who are lucky enough to have the space and capacity to adapt. But unfortunately, not all are so lucky.
Some countries allowed outside events to go ahead shortly after their initial lockdown, which saw the rise of the term ‘Plague Raves’ as videos went viral of packed arenas where there was little to no mask wearing or distancing. Those who risked going to play these events are also receiving backlash as their fans struggle to understand the risks being taken, particularly as the pandemic is ever present. There is divisiveness among the masses as people fall to either side - ‘stay local’ or ‘learn to live with it’, either way there is a notable sense of ‘pandemic anxiety’.
Some have taken it upon themselves to throw raves and of course house parties. In the UK up to 3,000 people are reported to have attended one of these illegal events. While stricter fines have been put in place, it is an incredibly difficult thing to police, along with being almost impossible to manage.
Recently in Japan, where clubs have reopened, a huge amount of safety is being undertaken - pre-ordered drinks service, served in a self-contained vessel, huge screens in front of the DJ booth/stage, along with strict mask wearing rules. Social distancing may be next to impossible, but mask wearing, and hygiene areas are all very do-able.
The huge surge in live streaming has been the saving grace of the Covid world. While it was always in the background, it has now become the hero of our home-world, offering a few hours of escapism as we join people in the chat room to have the craic. Twitch, in particular, has seen a huge influx of activity when in March, the online eSports streaming service set an all-time record of 22.7 million peak daily active users.
Virtual clubs have quickly become a ‘thing’ as people flock online to join their community of like-minded people and listen to tunes from the safety of their home. Club Matryoshka is one such example of a virtual club. Built on Minecraft, it actually predates Covid, but has shot up in popularity since. Their biggest event yet was a 24-hour long streaming festival called ‘Infinite Summer’ where they spent a month building a new world for the occasion.
Using livestreams as a source for crowdfunding has merged community fundraising with club culture in a really authentic and easy to implement way. DJ EZ recently did a 24 hour stream to raise funds for ‘My Kind Deed’, an initiative set up with one purpose – to spread kindness. Patreon has also experienced a surge in activity as 50,000 new artists joined the platform in March, resulting in an unprecedented spike in patrons (paying fans) of 36% month on month across the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia and Italy.
Bandcamp Fridays has also been an awesome initiative, where every Friday since March they have waived their fee so that 100% of the money spent on music goes directly to the artists. More initiatives like this can give the artist's control of their own income and more importantly a sense of autonomy over their lives.
Labels and means of promoting have also adapted to the current climate. HOMAGE, have made the decision to phase out their vinyl productions for now, and as streaming continues to be the main way that most consume music, they aim to instead provide their artists with unique things like animation, video content, art, merch, etc as they prove to do more to help an artist grow their profile than selling 300 records does.
From the outset, the odds were stacked against the clubbing industry. But, if the creative industry is known for one thing, it’s being adaptable. When the rules change, it gets even more creative, and we’re seeing this proved time and time again. Some of the greatest art comes out of the darkest times.
How will the future look? Supporting the use of alternative spaces is a huge way we can allow our clubs to adapt. Some current venues are not fit for purpose due to distancing and air filtration - so with the help of government, licensing could be made to be more of an adaptable process and open to various, currently unlicensed properties.
“Barring the giant venues with huge financial backings, I think clubbing will require a dramatic reimagining once it's safe to get together as a community again, and that will require a reimagining of what "space" means to people. As always, that experimentation will start in the DIY spaces, likely with a greater emphasis on open air, but most importantly accessibility. More affordable drink prices, no crazy covers, and (hopefully) way more presence and less phones.” HOMAGE
Supporting independent producers, who are at risk of getting swallowed up by the larger conglomerates, is something we can all do regularly. Whether it’s buying music, not refunding your ticket for a gig, simply sharing and streaming their content or contacting your local government to campaign for their support, it all adds up. This is especially true for the local and lesser-well-known artists of the world. Those at the top are a shoe-in for the big gigs, but how can we support our locals?
All is not lost according to Homage;
“The DJ 1% will get phased out and we'll see a return to local collectives of DJs creating a future that pushes boundaries in terms of representation and sound. I don't think there will be just "House" or "Techno" nights, but DJs that shift between sounds to create different energies. Since this affects the scene as a whole, the scene will come together to resume "clubbing" as we know it. Less arrogance and specific scenes, more community and collectivism. Whatever it ends up being, I think we can all agree that we will all be crying and hugging in the club that first party back!”
If there’s one thing we can all be united under right now - it’s the importance of the arts, including clubbing. The community it creates has undeniable benefits and has a huge role to play in expanding our minds and offering escapism, all while bringing people together. The next generation deserves a dance floor. Let's find a way to give it to them.