Having recently released the latest in his outstanding Future Disco compilation series, Needwant boss Sean Brosnan lays out a vision for the future of UK nightlife.

Club culture could often be said to reflect our communities and societies at any given point in time. Clubs are hotbeds of expression, creativity and fashion. At their best, they’re breeding grounds for what the future will look like. Think back to disco, the new romantics or acid house – they all told the far wider story years prior to the mainstream’s love affair.

In 2016, UK clubland found itself in an era of turmoil. And if we can say anything about 2016 in the wider world it was certainly turbulent. So as we embrace 2017 I look to see if things have changed. Fabric has reopened, other new London venues have been announced, nightclubs have suffered attacks and Trump is about to take office in the US. We may be about to enter a new fight back from oppressed subcultures and nightlife in general, and London is perfectly positioned to be at the forefront.

Firstly, let me reveal my position: I love nightclubs. I’ve been going to or DJing in clubs since the minute any security would possibly consider letting me in. I actually forced my dad to take me to see Carl Cox at Star Club in Ibiza aged 14 and played my first DJ set in a club aged 16. I fell in love with everything: the sound, the atmosphere, dancing, the flyers and the culture. When my friends and I were 18 or 19 we went to the same club nearly every week, sometimes twice in one weekend. We drove to other cities in pursuit of the best nights and planned our next attendance weeks in advance. It was common behaviour in the late 90s and I’m sure my story is one that can be replicated by clubbers all over the country. Clubland in the UK felt like a way of life. The question is: are the current generation of 18- and 19-year-olds as inspired? Will there be the number of clubs left for them to love?

With clubs a subject very close to my heart, I explore some of the issues surrounding them and what’s changed in recent years. From why club culture in the UK changed so much over the last decade to whether London has lost its position as leader of global nightlife to cities like Amsterdam and Berlin.

NYC Downlow – a nightclub at a festival, to really confuse things. (Photo: Peter Podworski via block9.com.)


I remember the shape of UK dance music culture really started changing in the late 90s, when festivals turned from being something that mainly free-spirited folk or muddy rock fans enjoyed into slick, highly produced affairs. I grew up near Winchester, and the arrival of Creamfields in 1998 was the biggest event in our local lives at the time. People I recognised from the pub – people with no interest in dance music – were now at a dance festival. That’s what festivals have done: opened up dance music to everyone and anyone. It was the blueprint for the future. A regular clubber or a casual fan could now get hundreds of DJs and live dance acts in exchange for one ticket. But the weekly club night suffered as a consequence.

It suffered again in late 2005 when 24-hour licensing arrived. I remember a time when the pubs shut at 3pm and you had to wait two hours before they opened again – the idea sounds quite ridiculous now, but it’s what made a pub a pub and a club a club. As soon as the bars in any town could stay open until 1am and people could dance in the same place they’d been drinking all night, we all got confused. Suddenly the idea of paying £15 to get into a club and keep the night going past 11pm didn’t seem to work anymore, and running any venue as a strictly late-night space became less attractive for the owners.

The impact of these changes in club culture probably hit London hardest. At some point, various cities have had moments when they mattered most in global clubland – a cultural impact. When it happens, the promoters and nights raise the bar, making the competition better. New York has been there many times, and London too. Paris is currently going through good times. Amsterdam is there right now, and Berlin never seems to let go.

London had enjoyed a leading role in defining club culture and I was lucky enough to enjoy the tail end of the last golden era, playing venues such as Fabric, The Cross, The End, The Key and Ministry Of Sound – these were all great clubs, completely designed around the late night experience.

But maybe we haven’t moved forward quickly enough the last few years and the government hasn’t been encouraging enough ether – and the result is that other cities have filled the void. The recently closed Trouw in Amsterdam was a club that felt truly like an innovation: an artistic space, with a restaurant (great food too), new ways of displaying sound, light and positioning the DJ. Amsterdam took note, and the clubs got better and better. The Dutch government backed Amsterdam Dance Event too, and the results of that investment are easy to see across Amsterdam’s nightlife. Berghain in Berlin is another bastion of innovation, with resident DJs at its heart and recently declared a high culture venue by the German government. It’s probably no coincidence that these two cities lead the charge in European clubbing right now.

There is no doubt London clubs haven’t had the support of authorities and local government in recent years, but did they ever? The recent decline of London clubs runs deeper. Noise complaints are a big factor in recent times, but they’re only a symptom. I’ve seen first hand how venues that once seemed almost isolated in their environment are now surrounded by towering new flats. As property prices rise through the roof, disregarded spaces that only seemed suitable for nightclubs become areas where people want to live. To a developer, that warehouse on an industrial estate in Hackney now starts looking more attractive as 50 new flats. It’s a battle that seems hard to fight, in a city so populated and with not enough homes.

These bigger cultural changes have really put pressure on the idea of clubs as a leisure pursuit too. Just like record shops, clubs find themselves on the fringes of communities, playing much less of a central role than they did 10 or 20 years ago. People’s habits are changing, and it may be that our nightlife just hasn’t changed with them. But there is a possibility that as the world gets more complicated, we will return to the late night venues. Just like in the troublesome 80s, the simplicity of dancing and good times in dark rooms never seemed so inviting.

Perhaps the solution to some of our problems is to focus on that idea of community. Maybe we all need to learn to nurture local talent again. While dance music is now truly global, creating a localised environment for opportunity is essential. Local record shops and clubs in towns across the UK gave birth to DJs, producers and promoters who then went on to national and international success. They enabled them to build networks and experiment, learning their trade along the way. Giving a platform for local promoters to build infrastructure can do so much to build our foundations for the future.

In recent years, promoters of major events in big cities (a very competitive market) have increasingly focused on booking a long list of top names to sell tickets in increasingly bigger venues. Festivals are now at the top of their game and there appears to be an insatiable appetite for them too. The supporting DJ residents, a staple of any respected club, just don’t have the ability to fit on the bill. Now 90- or even 60-minute sets are order of the day often at big events, with ‘headliners’ doing warm-ups. We forgot what made clubs great in the first place: great residents plus great sound and light, great local networks and community. That’s why the temporary closure of Fabric was met with such heartbreak – they believe in each one of these. The club’s temporary closure was a good reminder for electronic music how much we hold those values deep down. Only when they are taken away do we realise what we may have lost.

Promoters and festivals do so much to innovate and take risks that it would be unfair to say it’s a problem just of selling tickets. The headline talent itself needs to learn to nurture the nightclub again. DJs, managers and agents have become excited by the big fees that large events and festivals can offer. If you can play for thousands on a festival stage somewhere in Dubai, why bother playing a small club in Birmingham for a fraction of the fee? Things are starting to adjust and you can see bigger DJs like Eats Everything or Annie Mac doing small club tours and many hot acts stopping at Sub Club in Glasgow just for the experience rather than fee. It’s more than likely we will look back on the whole EDM stadium era as a small glitch in the dance music history. A few years where we forgot what the music was designed for. Much like drinking a cocktail from your mum and dad’s drink cabinet – fun and exciting at the time, but not really something you want to do again.

So what to the future?

The point about community and talent is an important one. While we can’t control the property market, limit the number of festivals or bring back all the clubs we’ve lost, we can invest in a healthy scene that builds from the ground up. One of the reasons I love the UK’s scene in particular is it’s great at being creative and pushing the boundaries – for example, we have the most liberal and musically supportive national radio stations in the world thanks to the BBC. On all levels, investing in young talent and nurturing the next generation of DJs and producers is absolutely essential.

If we look again to Amsterdam and Berlin, both feel like they have created a culture of residents and local music, then exported it. If London has the patience or finance to do the same, only time will tell. The same goes for other cities and towns – we can’t forget those regional towns that are full of the next generation, ready to mix things up. We need to have a platform where they can do that in clubs. Most importantly we need risk takers than understand the history but at the same time want to create something completely new.

There are so many examples of fine clubs and promoters in the UK that it would be disrespectful not to expect great things from all those who continue to make amazing parties. They know it isn’t just about the club; it’s about the music, the artwork, the access, the community, the respect, the owners and the artists.

I remain optimistic and excited about the future of UK nightlife and 2017. I think this is the year we fall back in love with nightclubs all over again.

It’s about everyone (myself included) rethinking what we want our electronic music scene to become so that we can support and help to grow true creativity and excitement. It’s unlikely to be me driving to a club on the fringes of Birmingham for a night out but I hope there is a whole new generation ready to do so. So often with UK subcultures, you see the best of them when they are on the ropes and challenged by authority, the protest starts and we collectively remember why nightlife exists: for freedom, for fun, for expression and experimentation. As an alternative to mediocrity.

I have the feeling we are witnessing that comeback right now with our approach not only to music, but drugs, gender and equality. The outsiders, the misfits and the dissidents are taking back the clubs. Long may they flourish.


Future Disco Vol. 10 – Complete. Repeat. A Disco Drama is out now. Find Future Disco on Facebook and SoundCloud.

12th January, 2017

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