Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Hey, Gabba Gabba: Clubbing And The Ghosts Of Good Times Past




Sunday morning, 8 a.m. - I'm in my slippers and woollen cardy, sipping tea. Meanwhile, wrecked youths are no doubt roaming the streets zombie-fashion after a night spent clubbing.

I grow old, I grow old...I haven't rolled out of a club in years...

Reading Clive Martin's piece in The Guardian yesterday I had to remind myself that I'm Past-It, therefore don't know or understand what's going on in clubland.

This line stood out:

   'The sad fact is that clubbing in the UK is no longer the preserve of the hip, the alternative, or even the hedonistic amongst us.' 

'Ah', I thought, 'here's someone who knows what he's talking about', just because Martin's opinion matched those of this ex-clubber who'd fallen into the old trap of thinking his were the best of times. Those of us who've swapped the dance floor for the sofa tend to seek solace by aggrandising our past. Perhaps we do in order to cope with the loss of our younger, more exciting lives.

Martin continues:

   'It's a tragedy, but one that says more about the establishments than the people. A lot of clubs in the UK barely fit their trade descriptions, instead acting as nothing more than pubs that stay open past 1am and play loud music. Legally they're nightclubs, but they seem to fulfil little of that halycon rave dream of community, euphoria and cool promised to a generation raised on Human Traffic and tales of the Ha├žienda. Instead, they're basically modern saloons, where the punters wear Superdry rather than Stetsons, and they're seemingly just as dangerous (even if, because all the tumblers are now plastic, you stand slightly less chance of being scarred for life because of your haircut than you used to). Other clubs seem more neutered than their rough-and-ready predecessors. Bouncers have credentials, DJs have degrees and club owners have responsibilities. They're basically Pizza Expresses with retinal scanners on the door. This doesn't make anything any safer, however; it just makes it less interesting.'

Good writing, but talk of 'that halycon (sic) rave dream of community' set alarm bells ringing. To me the new Summer of Love smacked of futile Hippy idealism spouted by the media and get-rich-quick (usually middle-class) promoters. Oh, and those E'd off their faces, of course. Still, at least Rave put the politics of Dance back on the agenda during it's fight for the right to party in a field.

I followed the article's link to the Vice site and watched this:


It made me cringe almost as much as the Primark riot mentioned in my sheeple shopping post. I had to laugh too, though. Gabba always sounded like a mindless/pointless genre. Actually, I thought it was history by now, but like every other club genre it seems it just won't die.

'I don't think about nothing.'
The double negative.
Why think about anything? It's a waste of time!
Of course he thinks about something. He just doesn't waste time thinking about nothing.

What would I have said to a journalist outside a Disco in the mid-70s?
'I'm here for the birds. And the music.'

In the mid-90s, whilst part of this club, I could see the blandification of club land creeping up and swallowing it whole. Combine the 4/4 regimentation with Superclub clones and a phenomenon was born which ensured that clubbing certainly was no longer the 'preserve of the hip' or the alternative to anything. A few fellow troopers like us soldiered on but we could never win that battle. There are no victories in this square world, only gestures of defiance. Clubbing, like Glastonbury, is nothing more than another cog in the mainstream pleasure machine, signifying nothing more than the sorry lack of imagination on behalf of the masses.

The dear masses. They always get what they want. The industry is eager to serve them.

At least the Gabba-Gabba-Hey mob appear to be there for the music, even if it only makes sense when their brains are mashed by chemicals. How nihilistic! They are the Blank Generation, minus a brilliant anthem such as this. Do they have anthems, and do they sound any different from all the other tunes? 'Tunes'? You know what I mean.

When House and Techno rose to prominence, like Disco, they prompted fogey fury at the lack of 'tunes' and furthermore, lack of 'real instruments'. Gabba goes further (harder! faster!) making most Detroit classics sound as romantic as Rachmaninov.

This is the Failed Banks Generation, whose response to economic collapse is to fink of nuthin and get fucked-up. That rings a bell. Punk proffered the same response to the grim, grey world of grown-ups. Hasn't every youth movement? Rock n' Roll, Mods (albeit by utilising the financial rewards offered by the adult world), Hippy and so on. Behind Punk, though, there was a historical tradition of Anarchist/Situationist thought, if anyone bothered to explore it. OK, most didn't.

Revolt into style; is it possible? Part of The Clash's appeal for me was their style, the pose, the paint splash fashion and sloganeering. A few years earlier, us Funkateers paved the way with plastic sandals and mohair jumpers. Those pre-Disco years are now rendered invisible in the garish glare of the Saturday Night Fever glitter ball. Funk had long gone overground but we revelled in the B-Side anthems of black music such as Gil Scott-Heron's The Bottle and James Brown's There Was A Time, just a couple that spring to mind.

What were we rebelling against? What had the square world got? Work, Politics, Donny Osmond. No point pretending we meant anything, ma-a-a-n, driven only by a desire for style, the perfect beat...and birds.

Gabba is so blank it renders attempts to apply 'meaning' totally futile. Isn't that the point? 'Think about nothing'. Don't theorise, don't explain. The full-on BPM soundtrack pummels notions of 'meaning' into dust. The response to economic decline is 'AAAARGGGGH!', not even Rotten's snarl, or style, or wit backed by Machiavellian Malcy's hi-falutin political pranksterism.

Gabba is a riotous response to the sheeple's nightclub soundtrack but like theirs it offers nothing more than escape from the drudgery of everyday life. In the 70s, we too were living for the week-end, although Funk and Disco sometimes supplied social protest and commentary in the process...


Most of us UK honkies may not have been dissecting those lyrics, but subconsciously they had an effect. We may not have wanted to watch news items, or read about black America's problems, but we sure as hell loved dancing to musical broadcasts about them.

Perhaps my best club is an imaginary one, where sharply dressed punters dance to a different drummer and find time to discuss interesting things. I like to imagine there's a club scene happening today which involves a sense of sartorial style, radical dance music, attitude etc. Places that 'they' don't know about, where youths gather to share a sense of rebellion against all the moronic drudgery around them. Oh, and also to dance, naturally.

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