The Death of Clubland?
Reported by Steve Milton
Submitted 14-07-10 06:53
Now I may be knocking on a bit and definitely have different priorities in life but I’m still partial to a good night out when the mood takes me. However it can’t be denied that clubland is going through a fairly major transition right now and where it will end up time will only tell.
Not so long ago (well it seems that way to me anyway) there were plenty of clubs in London and around the country that would have queues round the block every weekend and all were doing a healthy business. But like the rest of industry that couldn’t stay the same. With the increase in redundancies and many feeling the financial pinch of the economic downturn it was inevitable that punter numbers would decline as they pulled in their purse strings and promotions fell by the wayside. Add to this the loss of such iconic venues like Turnmills through development, the continued trouble suffered by the once popular venue like SE1 and now the collapse of Londons newest big name club Matter, the capital is starting to look a little short of places to hold a big party. So what are the causes and will the non-mainstream club manage to survive or could this really be the end?
The new generation of would be clubbers have more choice in what they listen to than ever. Music is easily down loaded and more importantly it’s cheap. There’s a vast choice and the underground club scene is no longer new and rebellious from a musical point of view, it has lost, I think, its sex appeal to the younger generations. The birth of clubland as we know it arguably took place in Ibiza in the summer of 1988. Yes I was there (old timer I know) and yes it was something special. However this piece isn’t just some old jaded clubber looking back with rose tinted specs, it’s someone who now recognises something for what it was; the birth of something completely new and exciting which was great fun. Each generation seems to have something like Rock’n’Roll or Punk and that eras new generation of electronic dance music was mine and many others. Now I’m not going to wax lyrical about the old days and I don’t really believe in any of that PLUR hippy nonsense but I did have a damn good time. And that’s the point. That new baby which was clubland grew up, had a carefree childhood, awkward adolescents and is now trying to make its way in the world that is suddenly really tough and financially frightening.
The musical genres also continued to develop and become subgenres within subgenres for the musical train spotters. Such continued fractionalisation made it difficult for promotions to cover more than a few, alienating themselves from those clubbers who wanted a different sound. Unless the promotion had a multiple room venue this was impossible and that big venue meant more outlay and a higher risk. A few still manage to pull it off but their frequency is clearly much less than they used to be. Even the once all conquering Fabric has an uncertain future and is currently up for sale so it just goes to prove that remaining successful is extremely tough; Paul Jack the man behind Party Proactive and Halcyon gives us a brief insight into what it takes:
“Its really about the people that work with you to make everything possible, attention to deal when it comes to promotion/marketing, listening to what people say and want to see at events, being honest with clubbers with what to expect when they buy their tickets, reacting quickly to surprise situations (such as the recent move of Halcyon from Matter to the Fridge) and keeping a keen eye on costs so it all makes sense and holds water hopefully . . . LOL”
Promotions are not the only ones feeling the pinch. With the increase in musical technology and the ability to produce music on your home computer equipment it’s now the case that becoming a DJ and producer is within reach of those who would have previously considered it impossible. With the advent of the CDJ and computer based playing mediums it’s possible to learn to mix very quickly. The downside of this is now every man and his dog thinks they can DJ and many starting out will do pretty much anything to get a gig. The less scrupulous promoters out there play on this and will demand a prospective DJ to sell a minimum number of tickets and aggressively promote the event before they’ll get a gig and let’s not even think about any kind of payment. This devalues the service of the DJ and even now DJ’s who were making a living before are having to turn to other methods of income or revenue streams to make ends meet.
I have no issue with promoting an event and trying to sell a few tickets but to have it forced on the DJ before a booking is confirmed (I think) is wrong. If a promoter is charging people to come to the event then I think the DJ’s should be paid at the very least in some respect, even if its a little beer money and a train fare. They’re providing a service, the bar staff and security wouldn’t work for free so neither should the DJ. It is after all part of the entertainment business.
The digital age also means a whole host of freely available tunes for very little outlay at the click of a few buttons. Thousands of home producers can now compete with the bigger names for an every decreasing market. This of course gives the buyer a huge choice but the flipside of this is the amount of largely below par tracks making it on to the download sites. A label owner friend of mine had an absolutely storming remix done of a classic track which he was convinced would sell a load but its actual performance was poor, largely swamped by the piles of dross out there and now just another back catalogue number. Don't get me wrong, there are still some high quality tracks being made and every now and then I'll get sent one for review that'll stand out but they're quite a rarity.
Then there are the issues related to drug use. Due to the continued association of dance music and drug use the media will never see clubbing as something completely acceptable. It only takes a mistake from an ill informed youngster and the media are all over it like a rash and then the Government will be forced into another knee jerk reaction regardless of what their own experts are telling them. With the recent change at No.10 I hope they’ll perhaps pay a little more heed of what the scientists are telling them but somehow I doubt it. Politically it’s a hot potato and no government can be seen to be going soft on drugs but I think they need to understand that the war they think they are fighting on them is lost. They should face facts and employ a different strategy completely. Wherever there is a demand a supply will find a way. However if you were to remove the criminal element from the supply, take control and tax accordingly then the revenue gained could pay for the NHS ten times over and the users could have both a controlled quality with advice and help if they need it. Alcohol is a drug no different from any other and yet it’s seen as acceptable because it’s as old as the hills and taxed to the hilt. Of course alcohol has its own problems but I think that seems to be something largely restricted to the UK and its drinking culture.
Another factor regarding illegal substances and the decline of clubland, I believe is the type of substance being used. Back in the old days pretty much everyone was using ecstasy and it created an atmosphere of social ease and enjoyment. Studies now show that occasional social use had little or no real risk but like everything else in life moderation was the key. Of course things change, the quality dropped as the dealers try to make more money so clubbers started to look elsewhere for their high. This of course lead to the rise in the use of Ketamine, GHB and various other chemicals. Now I have no real issues if people want to get off their faces in the privacy of their own home but as soon as it has a detrimental effect on me or my surroundings then I have a problem. These alternatives in my opinion were not social drugs and carried unnecessary risks. I don’t want to see semi conscious clubbers being carried off to a waiting ambulance or see someone randomly staggering around in a club not knowing what time it is or even where they are.
Another worrying factor is that most youngsters introduction to drugs seems to be with alcohol induced bravado and peer pressure. Alcohol really doesn’t mix that well with most drugs so if you’re going to make that decision of taking something do it from a position of educated choice. Know and understand the potential risks involved and have someone around who’ll be together enough to act accordingly should things go wrong. No-one wants to see the needless waste of another life and it’ll be just another nail for the Daily Mail to drive into clublands coffin.
So what does the future hold?
This article never had the intention of being an obituary but the more news that comes in of closures suggests it may turn out to be. Clearly those with a strong name or commercial mass appeal are likely to do OK but making the necessary adjustments for the current economic climate is a must. The high street main stream music clubs are probably feeling the pinch as well although not to the same degree so a firm sense of reality, a sensible approach to the business and the understanding that the gravy train is well and truly on the sidings is needed. Smaller venues seem to be riding out the storm alongside the promotions that use them. Small seems to be beautiful for the time being, the lower risk and less outlay means the odd night of poor attendance can be absorbed relatively painlessly. The Darwinian process of the survival of the fittest really does apply more than ever these days.
Latex Zebra the man behind Zoology sums things up:
“It’s been a funny few years. I think since the smoking ban I’ve noticed a dramatic change in the scene as a whole. Headline DJs coming on to a crowd that decides it is time for a smoke and looking baffled as they put their first mix in to a greatly reduced crowd. That said we’ve still seen good numbers, we've also seen a couple of shockingly low turn outs in the last couple of years at Zoo. Our Trance and Psy Trance parties always seem to get excellent numbers in though.
I just think the whole dynamic of the crowd has changed, especially within, dare I say it, the Underground scene. We always said that when it stops being fun or we feel like we’re going through the motions we’ll quit. It hasn’t got there yet but if we end up playing to 20 people for about 3-4 months consecutively that would definitely be a cause for concern.
We’re 10 next year and it would great to achieve that and then have a look at what the state of the scene is and go from there.”
It seems fitting that I sign off my last feature with the man largely responsible for some great times over the last seven years, getting to know some fantastic people (and few I’d rather not have), DJing in some of London’s best known venues and having that buzz of playing to a huge crowd. Harderfaster has played a significant part of my life and I thank all those involved for all the work behind the scenes, you know who you are and it is appreciated. The photos in this feature are just a few highlights from the last few years, a reminder of how good it can be.
See you on the dance floor - maybe.
The HarderFather – Matt:
"The last 6 years have been a rollercoaster for HarderFaster, from our rapid growth up to 2007, to the decline we’ve seen in recent years. HF was built around groups of people meeting up and going out regularly, often every weekend, and with the demise of clubbing that regular party scene doesn’t seem to exist any more, certainly not in anything like the same numbers.
I always hoped and believed that the recession would make clubbing more appealing – drugs and a refilled bottle of water provide a very cheap night out, especially when you can get public transport there and back. But most London promotions have stopped running regular parties and a few high profile venues have closed their doors - the numbers just aren’t there.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Whilst regular commercial parties have suffered, almost to the point of extinction, a lot of the venues and promotions which have survived are now offering cheap or even free parties. There’s also a growing underground scene, not unlike the early days of squat parties or ending up in a field, in a way we're going back to the future!
With such an uncertain future I’d like to take this opportunity to say thanks to everyone who’s been a part of HarderFaster - those who've worked hard, and all of us who’ve played harder. I've had some great times and I've met some great people, all made possible by clubbing and HarderFaster."
Photos copyright Steve Milton, not to be reproduced without permission.
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Other Features By Steve Milton:
The Final Zoo
Trousers, Caps and Trance Anthems - It's Dave Pearce!
Boom Box, Bulldog Breaks and V1 - It's Time to Reload with DJ-X(lab4)
Clubbers Guide to Photography: Part Two
Clubbers Guide to Photography: Part One
The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.
| From: Mat Lock on 14th Jul 2010 09:05.14|
The death of the Thursday night/Saturday afternoon party killed clubland.
From: ~deleted1390 on 14th Jul 2010 11:58.35
An interesting piece. What baffles me is that Dance Music influences are rife in the charts but some how the people buying these tunes aren't heading out to hear them. Well maybe in Commercial clubs but they're not off exploring the 'Underground!'
Maybe its time to sell out!
From: Slink. on 14th Jul 2010 12:26.00
An interesting and well written piece.
Thing is though not only did it seem like an obituary to clubbing, but to HaFa itself
From: B.S.E on 14th Jul 2010 13:00.02
Well written and interesting, if a little depressing
From: Alan-Banks on 14th Jul 2010 18:24.02
A very interesting read. A very true to the point. There seems to be not one reason but many reasons for the decline and its very well written in this feature. It also seems that people are willing to spend more on the big events/festivals rather than support the smaller nights as well, which surely can;t help either...
From: El Hombre on 15th Jul 2010 15:53.49
I agree with you there Slink
From: K8-e on 15th Jul 2010 23:25.18
Great article, changing times for sure. It's been a pleasure to be involved with HF
From: Becka on 16th Jul 2010 11:27.57
Good article, hits the nail on the head. I felt sad reading it I rememeber how good it can actaully be
From: Pete M on 16th Jul 2010 15:03.43
That was...wow. The last bit sounded as though HF was closing down. I hope not. But the feature was very well written and I hope the scene picks itself up.
From: dj toasty on 16th Jul 2010 21:10.50
hip hop is now electro, trance is now commercial pop..its all screwed up. yet all the times i been out since being back in london after 5 years have been rock solid musically....thanx 2 psy-ntific, puzzle project, and various nights out at hidden i been impressed...but it seems a lot has changed. Music popularity goes round in circles so it will come good again when everyone gets bored with calvin fucking harris
From: Mizz_behavin on 17th Jul 2010 06:46.25
Wicked article and very true... There are still some good nights out there...but this year I can count on one hand the amount of good nights I have been to...busy, wicked atmosphere, rolling out at 7am in a state but I can count on two hands the amount of poor parties I have been to when Ive been back home in bed by 2am!
Interesting though that the best ones have been warehouse based events....stepping back in time indeed
From: Matt Strawberries on 17th Jul 2010 18:40.16
Very interesting read. I've been clubbing since about 1996 and have seen a fair few changes along the way. The numbers have dropped, clubs are closing but there are still some great events about and good times to be had. I hope HF and clubbing has a lot of years left in them.
From: Disco Diva on 18th Jul 2010 12:00.24
Nicely written Steve. Very sad but also very true!
Sad days but nothing lasts forever I guess.
I have some wicked memories of nights out clubbing, meet ups & met some awesome people along the way & some not so awesome as Steve say :wink:
There has been some great promotions & DJs over the last few years & it's these guys that gave the fab times, it's sad that some of the fun went out of things, who knows like all good fashions, it may come back round again & people will have fun once more on a dance floor. Waves
From: graff on 18th Jul 2010 21:53.22
Great article, i had to read this a few times over the weekend and have a think about this, it seems clubbing is dying and if im honest the signs started for me years ago, i would say clubbing was a 90's thing, it high lights for me where things like tribal gathering, cream and early gate crasher, atomic jam and the lakota, basically travelling around the country on trains or cars, sleeping on stations waiting for the train back the next day. Once i got into the naughties, the music scene seemed to stand still 10 years since i had listened to early rave, orbital, prodigy, hearing and seeing a dave clarke set or seeing jeff mills or T1000 and 10 years on how much of it has changed musiaclly, the asnswer is not enough, the youth of today want different things, Im not going to slag clubbing off because it was and has been my life blood, some of my closest friends have come through clubbing. I personally am not ready to see it die yet but i do think perhaps it dropping off the face of things for a while and going underground back to its roots maintained by the guys and girsl who are passionate about is axactly what it needs over the next few years.
So moving on what is the future, i remember arguing with a friend years ago how the digital revolution was the best thing to hit music making it more accessable to the masses but 10 years on i look at what i said now and i've completely changed my mind, i miss the analogue days when guys played with 303's and 909's suck behind huge desks, i dont want to see someone behind a laptop anymore thats not what i want from music, its just not the same as it used to be and yeah maybe that because i'm getting older and 'not with it' anymore but i do know ive seen some amazing nights and weekends and i know one day i can tell my grand kids about the true meaning of clubbing, so to round it up its not dead and never will be its just taling a well earned sabatical and look forward to its resurgance!
From: Tara on 19th Jul 2010 12:39.50
A really interesting and well-written article Steve Yes it's sad to see that clubbing as we know it isn't surviving the recession so well, but I wouldn't say it's died, just changed and evolved like all music scenes. Summer has traditionally been a very quiet time for all London clubs with the bigger promotions taking a break over the summer months, yet in the last couple of weeks I've seen good-sized queues at Plan B in Brixton and Electric Ballroom in Camden. But I guess you'd class them as more commercial late night bars?
With the smoking ban, CCTV and stricter bouncers who need to be shown to be doing their jobs and catching people being 'antisocial' or venues face losing their now hard-to-come-by licences, the underground has definitely gone more underground. The warehouse and squat scene does seem to be where the action is at the moment, with people feeling the sense of freedom there they used to be able to get in a club, plus bar prices are much cheaper or you can take your own booze: another major bonus given current economic times.
Club events like the last Halcyon and Pendragon parties continue to give me faith though and the last Acid Monkey warehouse party I went to had somewhere between 3-4000 people and an awesome atmosphere, plus a bloody good chillout area – something clubs struggle to provide now with their strict security measures.
Big thanks to Matt, Adam, Steve and everyone on HF I’ve worked and partied with over the last few years and hope to see you on the dancefloor again soon!
From: C.Vasan on 19th Jul 2010 16:13.03
I don’t think the decline in club land can be attributed to the recession – but rather the quality of music. Production is saturated thanks to technology in the bedroom and let’s face it most of the music released is unbearable.
Back in the hey-day of clubbing the sole job of a DJ was to select rated tunes by rummaging through the crap in the industry. Now? There's more crap than good so our next best hope for the dying scene? DJ decides it's a good idea to play 2 hours of tunes produced by said DJ.
The movie industry is the perfect example - the decline in cinema goers over the recent decade was attributed to the rise of the internet and piracy, but in the end it turned out that studios just needed to produce quality movies to attract more numbers, and it worked, box office numbers have steadily risen in the past decade!
From: voodoobass on 19th Jul 2010 21:07.02
I definitely blame the smoking ban for a massive part of these issues. Instead of 'freeing up bars and clubs so non-smokers can enjoy themselves too', they've basically kicked everyone that was spending money in a venue out into the street. Of course, most of the type of non-smoker that refused to go out because of passive smoking issues is generally the type of person who only drinks one, maybe two drinks a night, so it's no wonder venues can't keep operating properly any more and parties are moving back to squats, warehouses, fields and forests.
From: psyangel on 20th Jul 2010 18:34.35
An excellent article, however I would like to add that much of the current situation with Clubland is, in my opinion, due to the association that the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003 introdued in many minds of offialdom, that is, that music is synonymous with anti-social behaviour and that therefore events that promote music should be at best tightly controlled and at worst prevented from going ahead. The introduction of the Temporary Event Notice, for example, was supposed to easily allow smaller events to take place. What has actually happened is that many such applications are refused on the grounds of public safety or prevention of crime. Until this association is removed in the minds of offialdom and the media (in particular the media) sadly Clubland will continue to have problems and it will only be the massive mainstream events that will be permitted. To sum it all up - at Glastonbury 'watchtowers' were manned by local officials and police - which just about says it all for me.
From: GH on 22nd Jul 2010 11:46.07
How many times have we read stories about the death of clubland.About five years ago it was goodbuy to MOS,Cream,Global all of which are just as strong brands today as they were then.
True some clubs have closed such as Turnmills,Bagleys,Cross but others have opened such as Cable,Corsica Studios.
I have been out twice a week every week this year and most nights have been packed,I remember that during the so called good days of the early 2000s that tthe Ministry often closed its main room on a Friday due to lack of numbers.
It is a misconception to say that clubbing as we know it started in 1988,the underground club scene has been going at least since the late 1950s probably earlier.
From: doctor popper on 22nd Jul 2010 12:45.50
New people finding clubland now probably find it as exciting as we did when we found it?
From: Hitch the Knife on 26th Jul 2010 06:57.31
We need more Aussies!
From: James Nardi on 30th Jul 2010 12:59.51
From: sand_1 on 2nd Aug 2010 16:19.43
From: Stu Cox on 4th Aug 2010 06:21.13
Good article... the points about the devaluation of the DJ are something I was considering writing an article about going into more depth, and I still might.
It's very UK-centric though. The clubs in Ibiza are still rammed... yes that includes the more commercial side like Jules and nights like Clubland, but it also include Space with their line-ups packed with seriously good underground DJs.
There are also arena events and festivals in places like Belgium - I Love Techno was full of 16-18 year olds there to see people like Dave Clarke and Joris Voorn, so there's certainly a new wave of underground electronic music fans coming through.
But still in the UK I've been to things like The Greatest Show On Earth in Bristol, which was rammed for a lineup including Hybrid, Vitalic, Far Too Loud etc...
While there are big events selling out around the country and around the world, even if they're reduced in number, underground dance music is far from dead.
In fact I'd argue that the numbers of events aren't much lower than they were in 2000... we've just seen the market over-saturated in recent years by wanna be promoters, so I just see it as a return to equilibrium.