The effects of the pandemic and the corresponding inadequate government support have put UK nightclubs and dance music culture under threat like never before. Now more than ever we can’t forget just how important that culture actually is. 

Consistently undervalued, benign government neglect is very familiar to DJ culture and nightclubs. But now nightclubs are facing a potentially industry-ending double impact of the global pandemic alongside the government’s lack of support. According to the All-Parliamentary Group for the Night-Time Economy, UK nightclub culture is heading towards “extinction”. The report contains an industry survey that concluded:

The UK nighttime industry makes a huge financial contribution to the economy employing around 1.5 million people and generating annual revenues of £66bn pre-covid. In dance music, we’ve become accustomed to putting a monetary value on our culture because we need to defend it, and those in power only understand the language of the market. But there are way more important aspects to DJ and nightclub culture than simply its contribution to the national coffers. Nightclubs and raves and the surrounding culture have also enriched countless lives in many different ways too, as well as being the site of some of the most important UK cultural creations. 

In a society based on the primacy of an individual’s ability to earn in the marketplace, dance music culture provides an alternative model based on community

UK club culture – the network of venues, promoters, DJs, live performers, backline staff, the whole interwoven nocturnal eco-system – has been the scene for a series of revolutionary and world-beating musical genres that have continued to put the UK at the very centre of the global music industry. DJs, producers and promoters created rave, jungle, drum & bass, the Bristol sound, UK garage, broken beat, UK funky, dubstep and grime, sub-genres where UK artists took templates from elsewhere and wrought exciting, credible new forms from them. In terms of producing high-quality music and events that have defined and driven other artists and scenes around the world, over the last thirty-odd years the UK has been untouchable.

Also, although I’m wary of giving too much meaning or value to what is often simply a commitment to hedonism, there’s no doubt too that for many of us, dedicating ourselves to clubs and dance music has had a genuinely positive effect on us and those around us. Yes, we were a tribe of dedicated pleasure seekers but in seeking out the particular pleasures of the disco you had to open your mind. You had to accept the reality of partying with people from different backgrounds who you maybe wouldn’t have hung out with before. You’d need to have an open mind to the music because certainly in the first few years of acid house and rave, and at many points since, dance music has been genuinely revolutionary.

Photo by Antoine Julien

And to fully partake in a club night you need to open yourself up to new experiences, let yourself go a little, allow that group energy to take the wheel, and permit your ego to subside for a few precious hours. In a society based on the primacy of an individual’s ability to earn in the marketplace, dance music culture provides an alternative model based on community.

Looking back now I realise that we take something away from dance music and DJ culture, and bring it back with us to our day-to-day lives. It might just be nothing more than a slightly more tolerant attitude. Perhaps we bring back a little more empathy or compassion perhaps, or a realisation that we are not alone but fundamentally part of a group. Those unmatchable dance floor experiences are, in part, the making of us. 

DJing introduced me to the search for the finest examples of any given genre, of any particular label or producer or artist… it taught me to strive for the very best

The lives of me and my friends were all greatly enriched by our time spent on various dance floors. We gained an increased appreciation of and love for music, both in and of itself but also its power to unite and provide joy, transcendence even. Club culture gave me, an awkward, gauche teenager with bad hair, a welcoming home-from-home, a temporary nocturnal residence where I comfortably made friends with people I would have otherwise never interacted with. It ingrained in me a genuine sense of equality, for we are all the same on the dance floor. 

Club culture taught me history, broadened my mind and enlightened me to the gay culture that had been so important in so many elements of the dance scene we now inhabit. It made me fall in love with the music of Black America, the music that drove the whole thing, and in learning to appreciate these faraway experiences I also learnt something of their struggles for rights and equality, and how these struggles still shape many peoples’ lives. 

Club culture gave me freedom and excitement. DJing gave me pride and joy; it’s culture worth fighting for

All those nights of dancing showed me that joy is freely available for a crowd of people if the DJ knows how to navigate their way there. It demonstrated that I could be a part of something bigger, simply by being there and that I didn’t need to have my culture spoon-fed to me while I passively observed, I could take an active role in making the night. And then there is DJing, which introduced me to the search for the finest examples of any given genre, of any particular label or producer or artist, to become discerning in my musical journey; DJing taught me to strive for the very best. 

Photo by Alexander Popov

Sooner or later, maybe in stages or tiers, but eventually, we all hope to be back in nightclubs again, with a few friends, a bunch of strangers, and the sound of beautiful music filling our ears, prickling our skin and making our insides rumble. But there is a danger that the clubland we return to will be vastly reduced, or perhaps even heading for extinction – and that our children might not get the chance to have all these wonderful club-based experiences. We need to be active and campaign for genuine, culture-specific intervention to protect nightclubs. This could mean dull things like writing to your MP, standing for local councils, supporting and campaigning for your local venues, setting up or signing petitions, making your social circle aware of the situation. And if anyone has any better ideas then I’m all ears, but in the meantime, we have to bother to do the dull things.

Club culture gave me freedom and excitement. DJing gave me pride and joy; it’s culture worth fighting for. 

Harold Heath is on Twitter.

8th June, 2021

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You currently have an ad blocker installed

Attack Magazine is funded by advertising revenue. To help support our original content, please consider whitelisting Attack in your ad blocker software.

Find out how

x

A WEEKLY SELECTION OF OUR BEST ARTICLES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX