The Future of Nightclubs
Published in Under the Two Flags of Inertia
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.
Published on Theory of Yesterday Link
Once the trans liberation movement really began gaining traction in the late 2000’s, I’ve felt a growing politization over my gender identity, and an increased pressure to define the mapping of my characteristics and traits as in somehow connected to gender. With a lack of role models, research, and academia on agender and non-binary identities, it’s a very much unchartered territory. I have noticed an increasing number of individuals coming to terms with the possibility to completely abstain from these type of identity politics: so when given options (such as) Male, Female or Other, it’s possible to reject all options, including Other, in an understanding that the entire gender paradigm is false.
In my own journey, nihilism and a desire to remove components and power structures in life that unnecessarily complicate situations has propelled me to this way of thinking. In the essay Gender Nihilism by Alyson Escalante, Escalante ends up at a place of having to reason as to why they reject gender, largely based on the frustration over the division caused by “the real trend within LGBT and queer discourse in which there is a tendency towards endlessly developing taxonomies to map out difference.” Coinciding with the maxim “there are as many genders in the world as there are people”. These notions beg the question as to why we bother with gender as a grouping concept, if everyone is essentially different and resisting a shared concept in some way, particularly once gender is compared across time periods and cultures. One of Escalante’s main criticisms, and for any gender abolishment theory, is it’s too ideological; and ignores important intersectional differences, as it neither celebrates difference, or allows an awareness of the individual plight that some might be put through; for example it is important to be aware that trans people of colour are more likely to be victims of violence. If gender is abolished it effectively erases the recognition of these individual narratives which are entirely routed in gender with very real consequences, so in this sense a gender framework very much exists whether we like it or not.
With this in mind, we need to consider gender in two ways:
1 Our personal relationship to gender, or lack of gender, and what it means to us; this can be inclusive of trans, third gender and fluid individuals.
2 Gender as a power structure in society, which we cannot escape from because society has largely accepted the gender framework, and our actions are always to be judged as reflective as that.
For example, I am androgynous and non-binary, but I will still receive some privileges from those that perceive me as male, while also being disadvantaged due to my perceived transness and the unfortunate prejudices that surround transgression. It does not matter how I inwardly and outwardly identify and project, because strangers will still make assumptions based on their personal idea of gender and I will still benefit or suffer from that.
How do we navigate that?
Gender Nihillism is a tool for non-gendered individuals, who can further deconstruct the principles surrounding gender, and ultimately conclude that conversations about the spectrum are largely meaningless in their own lives. In this sense I deviate from current writings on gender nihilism. It is not a concept for me to apply universally, and it also makes a distinction between trans people and fluid people who relate to the binary, and some non binary and agender people who reject the spectrum. Gender nihilism can be used as a tool to assassinate the idea that agender people are still bound to the gender spectrum in some way; and concludes that we are either before or outside it. In a way it is form of ego death. There is something quite amiss when a non-binary individual is identified and defined as a transgression on the binary. The names alone such as “genderqueer” “agender” “gender neutral” or “non-binary” relies on the prerequisite idea of the of gender binary as some kind of barometer to which the individual is measured against. These names all include the word “gender” or refer to the gender binary in some way. For someone without a gender, it is bizarre to define someone as not what they are, but by what they are not. As an agender individual there is no fixed feeling within me, I’m not confused or trying to ascertain or uncover my gender, and I’m ultimately apathetic to the spectrum. I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of being defined as transgressing gender, these words indicate a rebellion or deviation from a correct way of being. But who is dictating this correct way of being, and why am I being compared to it?
In accepting gender nihilism, we are lead to the idea that one can exist as either before or alongside the gender spectrum. This is not a transgression of gender, but a refusal to accept other peoples preconceptions on my appearance and behaviour, gender is essentially a power structure of society proliferated by religion, politics and the media. It is wicked for society to continue to compare every individual to a framework that the individual has refused to accept. Furthermore this activity is also a meaningless for society, when it compares an individual without a gender to the normative behaviour of someone with a gender. Since the individual outside the spectrum is by definition a non conformist in this sense, so any assumptions which precursor their conformity are likely to be incorrect. Imagine a foreign government forcing you to be their citizen, and when you refuse, not only do they not accept that, but they continue to judge and compare you according to their customs and values; when they see you have not accepted those terms, you are seen as “rebelling”. The individual is seen as deviating and at fault, when really it was the foreign government forcing itself onto the individual, and causing this trouble. Worst still, is the individual’s identity is forever cast as “government neutral” or “non-government”, and is now always associated negatively with the foreign government and society. I want to return to the state of identity I had before the government came along, which is my pure identity. In this sense there is an urgency to align myself as Pre-Government, or Pre-Gender if the analogy fits. Gender itself is a false question; they ask if you are male, female, or other, my answer is none of them, the whole paradigm is false as I do not have a gender identity; and it is wrong for society to ask us in the first place. It’s important to have these conversations so people realise agender people exist; and hopefully provide the language, narratives and knowledge for younger people to associate with. I wish I had the newly developed vocabulary we have now to help me understand my identity when I was a teenager. The feelings were there but the framework and role models to understand it were not.
Today there is so much pressure on youth to navigate gender, and though we can be grateful for the infinite amount of possible genders to identify with now, the choice can be overwhelming. Fortunately the rise in non-binary, agender, genderqueer and gender-neutral markers have identified the desire to not wish to make a decision and reject absolutes. Gender nihilism goes one step further to declare ones identity as completely off the spectrum, and the acceptance that it’s ok to not possess a gender identity at all. Furthermore it goes on to posit that the agender individual is not at fault: society is wrong for imposing the gender framework on this individual in the first place; that the individuals identity is not based on the negation of having a gender, and the refusal to be part of that system is only an act of rebellion for those where gender matters.