The Future of Nightclubs
Published in Inertia Magazine
Around the world bars and nightclubs are under constant threat from closure, with an almost formulaic story of property developers, noise complaints, permanent closures, and urban sterilisation. The spiralling cost of rent means areas are gentrified, and independent businesses are unable to compete with a lucrative property market. If the corrupting forces of money isn’t tough enough, the changing habits of people have also contributed to clubs struggling in recent years - with the widespread reliance on social media, as well as hook-up apps which reduce the individual need to go out and meet people; this is also met with youth culture’s shying away from the hedonist and self destructive lifestyle of previous generations. 2020 then saw the first wave of Covid-19 and the economic ruin that it left behind; with social distancing and unknowable futures that left night institutions out to dry. With all this rapid change, we have to ask what the future of nightlife is, and what will become of our clubs? We are currently witnessing the transformation of other institutions as they reevaluate their position in society - from churches mutating into food banks, art galleries becoming forums for social justice, and museums becoming social spaces; is it now time for nightclubs to diversify?
It’s a sad reality that most clubs and bars are often treated as frivolous with no protection offered by governments or councils, it’s estimated over half of all UK clubs have closed since the 2000’s, and despite public outcry it’s rare that any are saved from the wrecking ball. It’s an unfortunate loss to local communities, not only as a means to socialise and share entertainment, but there is also value in the pleasure and culture these places radiate. Bars and the club scene are an integral part of music, where bands, DJ’s and musicians experiment, play and learn. Sub cultures congregate and push against the hegemony of society; and the most cutting edge of clubs elude a transgressive nature through art and their patrons. Club fashion is invested in at all levels; from the tight and enticing body con dress to the most extravagant and revealing gowns. “It’s worth remembering that until fairly recently, clubbing wasn’t widely acknowledged as “culture” at all.” Says Arwa Haider; but things have been changing, both the acceptance of clubs, but also an understanding of the role that they play. Lately there’s been a deluge of exhibitions spotlighting clubland, such as the V&A’s “Club to catwalk” detailing the creativity that inspires mainstream fashion; with fashion heavy weights such as Alexander McQueen, Comme des Garçons, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier all with a fixation on the patrons and instigators that come out of nightlife. A plethora of essays has since followed documenting the various art produced in the clubs themselves - whether that’s performance, music, design, architecture, and fashion; as well as the reverberations this realm has on the wider world of high fashion, pop music, identity politics, and fine art.
The rich texture as Thomas Calvocorrsi explains lives on “Long after the (club) shuts; certain nightclubs live on as legend because they captured a moment. More than the sum of their parts, they are both ephemeral, hedonistic playgrounds and the scene of something greater – a cultural movement that exploded far and wide”. As conduits of culture, subculture and movements; not only do clubs play an integral role in creating and sustaining these things; but they also reflect and frame them. Clubs provide “platforms for new forms of artistic expression”, according to curator Florence Ostende, and in a way clubs act as laboratories for experimenting with creativity, becoming incubators for pop culture. Iconic clubs such as The Blitz, The Batcave, Studio 54, Moulin Rouge, and Kit Kat instantly conjure entire universes trapped in time. The 2019 exhibition “Into the clubs” at the Barbican elegantly depicted the periods of culture documented by artists from the last 100 years; through the experience of nightclubs we can see a correlation between creativity, freedom of expression and liberated sexuality – and the need for safe, secretive or subversive spaces in which to enact them. This isn’t to romanticise nightlife - as not every club is as dripping in art as much as Studio 54; but that doesn’t mean clubs aren’t fulfilling some of these roles in their own context; to say otherwise may just be snobbish.
The value of clubland is largely unquantifiable when it comes to economical discussion, which makes clubs an easy target for dismissal by lawmakers and developers. Valuing something based on its economic performance is an ugly precedent to set, but it’s one we are often faced with throughout society. The appointment of night mayors across Europe shows an interest in these areas, and it’s estimated that 8% of the UK’s employment works during the night, which is worth roughly £66bn; this isn’t all clubs and bars of course, but it does show that night life is still an asset. Catherine Rossi explains “Whatever guise they take, nightclubs offer places to experiment with new music, technology and identity, to experiment with design and architectural innovation. Clubs are the proving grounds for the creativity that the UK’s cultural economy is so reliant on,” And are one of the many cogs that make for a rich cultural landscape in a city. They are predominantly occupied by youth, and are stimulating environments during many peoples formative years. The city landscapes are what attract entrepreneurs and start ups, which is infinitely stronger for cities like London, than cities like Birmingham or Hull. Caren Lay, a lawmaker for the Left party in the German Parliament points out that “More people come to Berlin to go to Berghain, one of the city’s most famous techno clubs, than to go to the Staatsballett, the ballet company, she said. “Both are great,” she added, “but it’s time they are seen as being on the same level.”
Trying to place solid quantifiable value on club culture does not work; just like how it is when we attempt to define the value of art and culture at large. It’s value can’t be measured like education or healthcare can be; but we know it has value for enriching our lives and adding to the fabric of experience. These things might seem frivolous or minor when isolated and discussed; but the purpose and pleasure of life is in the great many details that make it worth living; without the desire what would then be the point of measurable things like healthcare or education, if not but to merely exist? Philosophers and artists have been fighting for value of culture for quite some time, but yet it remains a philosophical assertion that cant be measured in numbers. Peter Bazalgette, the chair of Arts Council England asks “try to imagine society without the humanising influence of the arts, and you will have to strip out most of what is pleasurable in life, as well as much that is educationally critical and socially essential… When we talk about the value of arts and culture, we should always start with the intrinsic – how arts and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world. This is what we cherish.” There will always be people that simply do not value culture; or are unable to join the dots in the way smaller seemingly irrelevant components effect pop and the mainstream from chart music, to video games; and to blockbusters films.
SOFT MANIFESTOS FOR THE FUTURE OF NIGHTCLUBS
Value is often put on things that fulfil a need; and so I propose that nightclubs can fulfil other social needs. As art becomes increasingly more political, it becomes a dialogue that pushes for innovation, social justice, social cohesion. With the value of creativity and art in mind, can clubs continue to bridge the gap between art and society? Can they make art and philosophy more accessible by removing the threshold between the majority who believe art is not for them? Jenny Schlenzka writes “you don’t go out at night to learn; you go out to have new experiences. So I wonder how a space would look and feel if it could truly break down the alienating barriers of class, capitalist temporality and individualism?” Could a club that brings people together to experience the various art forms beyond music become a new super museum? Would there be value in having a club that is by nature hedonistic, social, liberal and diverse come together to experience art? Art does not always need to be framed by a white room in the form of a gallery; so what if art, politics and philosophy subtly reentered the world via social spaces such as clubs and bars? With these percolating ideas in mind I founded my own club: Wraith, which is already spearheading the idea of a night club as a creative, political, and philosophical powerhouse. We pull together diverse creatives from every discipline and then mix them in new alchemies of live music, performance, fashion, film, installation and dance, and with that we are able to interrogate beauty, our sensibilities, and the socio-political climate. It's through these experiments, we foster a sense of community, and it's the club that acts as a social glue.
Though I am saddened that clubs are in sharp decline, I don’t write this defeatedly, as it’s the will of people that their habits change; but with change comes great opportunity to innovate and try new mediums. Covid-19 dealt an unfair and cruel hand to nightlife propieters; but it also made one thing clear - that humans yearn for community, social interaction, and shared experience. Though the future is unclear for everyone, I believe in the transgressive and mutability of night life; and that our clubs and bars fulfil an essential yearning that many of us have. Perhaps if our clubs and bars take a little inspiration from churchs and museums alike, and we in return believe in their dynamic nature, then we might witness a new era of nightlife. A future where night clubs stay true to what they are - hedonistic, social, liberating, and sexual - all intrinsic components to the human experience; but while aiming to inspire creativity, to enrich minds, and support local communities; then not only do we get to save our clubs, but we might get the opportunity to strengthen our connectivity to both our local and global communities; and in turn be granted the opportunity to individually flourish.