Another Look: revisiting club culture
Nightlife

Each new generation of British youth has been defined by its dance music: Northern Soul, disco, New Wave, funk, house, techno, trance, garage, rave, grime, dubstep.

But in recent years, the nation’s vibrant clubbing scene has fallen into decline. Is the party finally over?

As we edge into the 21st century, modern Britain — like some myopic dinosaur — seems mired in a tar pit of nostalgia, unable to break free. Our TV schedules are dominated by long-running soaps, a superannuated version of Merchant Ivory’s upstairs/downstairs dramas, and a fifty-year-old serial about an alien traveling through time in a Sixties police box. The yo-yoing economic mood (coupled with a government intent on restricting civil liberties) has meant that we’ve all sought ways to escape modern-day Real Life™, by looking back to the good old days instead. Our childhood memories have been commoditised, sanitised, and sold back to us in the form of biscuit adverts and faux-village fête baking contests. Each new season, fashions are reheated from decades gone by. Everywhere you look, people are chowing down on old-school comfort food, from gourmet hot dogs to French fries chipped from heritage potatoes. And whilst this was all going on, another strange thing had begun to happen. One by one, the lighting rigs in the UK’s nightclubs had started to switch off. Permanently.

It’s strange, because today’s nostalgic mood is nowhere more evident than in the world of dance music. Records, scenes and club nights are revived, remixed and rinsed out continuously, and compilations of ‘classics’ are released with avaricious regularity. The shadow of Leigh Bowery’s infamous Eighties night Taboo still looms large over avantgarde culture, three decades after it closed. In recent years, London has seen two exhibitions devoted to its influence on fashion, and vice versa — Club to Catwalk at the V&A, and the ICA’s Ibiza — Moments in Love. In general, dance music is more prevalent than ever. It permeates every moment of our waking lives, from the clothes we wear to the soundtrack in our supermarkets. So why, in the last decade, has the number of nightclubs in the UK dropped by half?

I was probably about 12 when I heard my first house records; Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk’s ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ with Darryl Pandy’s, ‘No Way Back’ by Adonis, and Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s ‘Jack Your Body’. I was unaware of the music’s black, gay roots (or of my own burgeoning sexuality) — but it transported me from my middle-class, semi-detached existence in 1980s Devon to the heart of the Chicago underground. And I wasn’t the only one listening; from the Pet Shop Boys to The Blow Monkeys, to Smash Hits stalwarts like ABC and The Style Council, British bands queued up to co-opt the emerging new sound. Producers Stock Aitken Waterman lifted house’s bombast and euphoric pianos wholesale, for a string of mainstream chart successes. Record label Telstar (then home to re-issues by middle-of-the-roaders like ABBA, Barbara Dickson and Bonnie Tyler) began to curate the new abundance of dance music on its best-selling Deep Heat compilations. Youth TV pioneer Janet Street-Porter brought hip-hop and techno to prime time, thanks to BBC2’s Dance Energy show. And by then, house music had begun to rule my life; every Monday night, I’d breathlessly rush to my local Woolworths, to pore over the week’s new releases.

The new sound soon became news. Lifestyle magazines like i-D, Sky and The Face tracked the explosion of acid house and rave culture, whilst the nation’s tabloids ran alarmist headlines concentrating on the narcotics which underscored the scene, and the shady entrepreneurs who were busily cashing in. Dance’s affinity with drugs was nothing new, of course. Amphetamines had fuelled Northern Soul’s all night shindigs, and disco’s final downfall was cocaine.

(This original article continues in our Issue Six)

Dave Spence’s original Hacienda Membership Card: signed by Tony Wilson (Factory), Ben Kelly (architect), Peter Saville (graphic designer), Kevin Cummins (photographer), Ian Tilton (photographer), Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order), Bernard Sumner (Joy Division/New Order), Stephen Morris (Joy Division/New Order), Gillian Gilbert (New Order), Ian Brown (The Stone Roses), Mani (Stone Roses), Bez (Happy Mondays), Rowetta (Happy Mondays), Leroy Richardson (manager), Ang Matthews (manager), Dave Haslam (DJ), Graeme Park (DJ), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Mike Joyce (The Smiths), Dermo (Northside), Clint Boon (Inspiral Carpets), John Robb (journalist), Mark E Smith (The Fall)

*Image on first page: White Trash, 52 Piccadilly, London (1983 – 1985)
Paul Bernstock and Dencil Williams started White Trash in a hostess club to the side of the Burlington Arcade; it ran for three years before the scene moved on to Taboo.
Today, the basement venue is still in use as a ‘gentlemen’s club’

Another Look: revisiting club culture

In Issue Six, we unravel the unlikely delights of the nation’s cuisine, and investigate the long history of our national passion for the exotic. We travel the length and breadth of the country, talking to the team behind Richard James about their sartorial journey from Savile Row to the Andes, and to Lou Dalton about her Shropshire childhood; to legendary Covent Garden retailer Zeev Aram about Eileen Gray’s renaissance, and to Mayfair shoemaker G.J. Cleverly & Sons about preserving their craft in the twenty-first century. We go far beyond Britain’s borders too, from Berlin (to speak to Hugh Dancy, star of American primetime series Hannibal) to outer space, with kirigami artist Marc Hagan-Guirey’s extraordinary homage to Star Wars.

Order now