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.
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.
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.