Monday, 17 August 2015

Death Disco

Everything's over...the novel, cinema, Art, now clubbing....can nothing resist the corroding effect of time? So carry on enjoying old stuff; the kids seem to be, according to the listings I look at once in a while: House, Deep House, Tech House, Soulful House, Funky House - no wonder I'm housebound. And I've no intention of having my slippers surgically removed any time soon.

According to Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers stats the number of UK clubs has fallen by almost half, from 3,144 10 years ago to 1,733 now. Tragic, isn't it? The poor young things who do still go clubbing probably don't realise they're attending museums rather than forward-thinking, cutting-edge, underground dance nights. Teenagers today might only just be discovering House but that's not what's going to keep the scene alive, obviously. These nights aren't even billed as 'revivals', thus creating the illusion that they're offering a new thing. 

What Serious Rock types used to mock about club music is the very thing (well, one of the things) that kept clubbing alive, vibrant and evolving for years. It moved in tandem with technology, for instance, according to drum machine, synth and sampler gear made available. It thrived on music not made for eternity, for examination via headphones and preservation by Rock Classic archivists. Which doesn't stop people commenting on YouTube clips about the 'classic all-time proper music' qualities of a Disco tune. Like Punk, the ultimate in supposedly disposable culture bombing, Dance music adoration by fans assures it immortality.

Then there was the sartorial style, that equally fast-moving, fine art of getting The Look. Haircuts, trouser-widths, shoe styles, shirt collars, fabrics...we shed them all like old skins (even old skins shed them too). Mods, Skinheads, Suedeheads, Smoothies, Soul Boys & Girls, Casuals; all dressed for the club, the parade ground for peacocks, the place to show off your style and, if you had them, your moves.

In the Guardian article that brought this situation to my attention Sam Wolfson talks of 'outsider communities'.  But the Insiders took over long ago, when clubbing went super-sized, forcing the in-crowd (the music-loving, stylish, passionate dancers so crucial to underground UK street culture) out. Naturally. What clubber worth her/his salt would be seen dead amongst a load of idiots out of their tiny minds on a static music scene? 

Besides, there has to be an evolution in music, the motor of the scene. Even Grime got gentrified with a Proms night. Yes! A 'Grime symphony' at the bloody Proms! I must be getting old because that strikes me as absurd, not thrilling, not an amazing achievement or mark of success. But then, the alternate mindset of artists is one of humble acceptance into the hallowed hall of Classical music, as if storming the palace of The Establishment. And the fans in attendance couldn't believe they were in such a posh place, I'm sure.

Yes, clubbing and Dance music has come a long way, from smoky basements to acceptance by the ultimate in Establishment venues. In tandem with underground dives where you first heard that killer tune there have always been big dance venues, of course, but the interesting/new/exciting stuff was elsewhere, surfacing only to chart if it had commercial potential. Whilst not everything I danced to in the 70s was 'underground' music, neither was it branded for mass market consumption and sold as an essential accessory to mainstream Youth Culture. When Disco broke, that was another matter. 

Home entertainment and gastropubs are cited as possible nails in the coffin of clubs. Telly and food didn't keep us indoors although, admittedly, we didn't have the complete season of Breaking Bad to get through and eating out was only for special occasions. Besides, neither supplied what clubbing did - that sensation, excitement, hunger for the night beat, the clothes, the new tunes, new styles, attitude, underground pleasures, posing, footwork (the old kind) etc. 

An 'old man' reflects, typically, about how his scene(s) were better. Of course. I've even seen Ravers mentioned in relation to the current crisis, as in 'old ravers claiming they had it best' - well, surprise, surprise, some of us know that clubbing started before then. We know that dancing to the sound of black America started before Saturday Night Fever too. 

Lucy Mangan also writes in The Guardian about the club-closing stats. Tongue-in-cheek (?) she celebrates. Perhaps she's not being ironic, who can tell, these days? 'The first true triumph of nerd culture' she calls it. She has a point. I mentioned serious Rock-types earlier and their modern counterparts would be the nerds of today; the geeky middle-class ones who cannot and never really wanted to dance. 'The closing down of an entire genre of gathering sites that a certain type of teenager was traditionally dragged unwillingly to every Friday and Saturday night, in a desperate, futile attempt to become part of the cool', she continues. Exactly, the types she's thinking of are the ones that killed clubbing as a real street force. They wanted it so bad, that 'cool', but never had it and only thought they were supposed to get it because the media told them so. 'It almost makes me want to dance. Almost', she concludes. The revenge of the middle-class no-longer-young journalist! At last, via the national outlet she studied so hard to work for (no time, even if she felt inclined, to go clubbing) the nerdy journo can revel in the death of a scene that challenged her ability to dance - ha-ha!

Perhaps it's not so funny. I'm actually sad to see the death of clubbing. As you may have gathered, it's meant a lot to me; a prole who, for most of my life, like others of my class, regularly found something special in night life...not just girls but, yes, 'the groove', the style, the friendships, the many scenes. Can it really be dragging to a close? Here's hoping new music happens that starts something. I say that in a fit of optimistic hope. Sometimes you have to admit that all things have their golden age. I'm glad I went clubbing when it was in rude health. 

Here's a tune that moved us once upon a time...


  1. Surprised you haven't commented on the photo of a 'silent disco'. I have only seen it once, in Galway, but the idea of peoplevin a club dancing to a choice of tunes on headphones seems to be completely missing the point to me.

  2. Then there's the puzzle of kids from the 90s getting nostalgic for disco produced before they were born. A side effect of their parents drunken New Year's Eve parties when they were 8?


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