Rave on

The Reverence of Rave

The End, The Cross, Cable, Herbal, Hidden, Sankeys, Hacienda, Turnmills, Mint, The Arches (Glasgow), Plastic People, Canvas, Area, Mass & Babalou, Madame JoJo’s. The Cellar, The Harley, The Alibi, Red Gallery, Space.

All part of a long list of clubs that have closed or been shut down. London and the UK seems to have recurring ‘Annus Horribilis’ when it comes to clubs and nightlife culture. 29 years ago, The Face began a series of issues dedicated to the persecution of rave culture with a title “The right to party. HM Government VS Acid House.” IMS announced this year that one fifth (21%) of UK clubs have shut down over the past year.

Regulation, misplaced moral panic and changing behaviours are all cited as reasons for this challenging climate. Most infuriating for club culture is gentrification. A venue can spark interest and investment in a forgotten part of town – Shoreditch, Hackney and Kings Cross are all examples from the past twenty years – but a few complaints from residents in shiny new developments and the lights go up, for good.

The power and importance of nightlife culture can’t be understated, the case for its preservation needs to be made more often and more vociferously. Perfectly put by Faithless, “We Come One,” the unifying and communal power of rave and clubs is preciously unique. Think of the wonder and legend held by the likes of Studio 54, or the ferociously devoted fans of Trade at Turnmills – the first UK club to get a 24-hour license and seminal for the introduction and promotion of hard house and techno.

Has the club scene turned a corner however, with a new style of warehouse venue such as Printworks opening and (managing to stay open) alongside some other relative newcomers and ‘arts spaces’ such as Oval Space?

Cameron Leslie, co-founder of fabric isn’t sure. He believes “we are entering a new phase, not sure about turning a corner. I would say for some of the clubs that you mention, it’s interesting they haven’t been replaced. They were genuine indie clubs – not part of a group, not for the benefit of (ultra) high net worth individuals, they were owner operated clubs that had their own styles”.

Indeed, what The End and fabric share is a space designed and developed by DJ’s and music obsessives for punters who shared their passion. The End installed free water fountains around the venue for the benefit of the patrons, had one half of Layo & Bushwacka on the ownership team and was a major platform for emerging talent; Roni Size won a Mercury Music Prize, Fatboy Slim had his UK number one, Erol Alkan went from Best Breakthrough DJ at the 2002 Musik Awards to MixMag’s DJ of the year in 2006 all while residents.

Leslie believes the environment for fixed-venue clubs continues to be hostile. “Before the financial crash 08/09 it was a totally different game. People had money in their pockets, they went out; today it’s the polar opposite” he said. “Young people are squeezed by extortionate rents, lack of job security coupled with huge behaviour change”.

A paradoxical shift that happened during the crash affected artist fees.  “The big skew is artist fees continually going up with audience numbers going down.” says Leslie. This, alongside the rise of festivals especially with a younger crowd presents a problem, with regular studies finding millennials prefer to save and splurge on a festival rather than a regular weekly rave in clubs. A recent survey asked young people how often they go out clubbing to a venue. In ten years, this had reduced from around twenty occasions to a mere 2-3 times a year in 2019.

Leslie also highlights this hunger for ‘large scale’ has consequences. “LWE, Printworks, Abode these massive events extend the festival season, hoovering up the talent as they are now booked so far in advance, smaller venues can’t keep up. The problem with Printworks and let me say it’s a great space and team, but these sorts of things are category killers. They perpetuate the high fees that become the market rate for everywhere, smaller venues of 200-800 can’t afford these and then the pool of talent becomes smaller. This is exacerbated by the current desire to get into a club to get that one-shot-of-a-star DJ for social media as opposed to coming together to have a great night”.

Much as the smaller independent venues struggle, Cameron wonders the effect that this encroaching homogenisation is having: “there are no differentials now. If you look at line ups, there is little difference between who is playing at XOYO and The Egg. They are forced into this artist and economic model as you have to play certain aspects of the game to survive.10-15 years ago, The Cross, Turnmills and us (fabric) each had our own pool of talent that we championed, showcased and that others didn’t poach. There was an interesting and diverse set of spaces with their own distinct programming and sound.”

The era of ‘Star DJ’ is not a new phenomenon however, as fabric opened to counter the big boys of Radio 1 in the late 90’s. Paul Oakenfold opened Home at Leicester Square at the same time as fabric. Home booked the big names and took full page adverts in glossy mags. fabric stuck to its founding principles of strictly underground opening to a drum and bass night. Home closed two years later.

There is also a point here on the eco-system of a club and the talented the people it employs. The design and artwork of venues and nights is exceptional, with flyers and labels existing as pieces of art in their own right; not solely for promotion. Ministry of Sound has championed emerging photography talent, one regular photographer they used in the early 00’s Mario Godlewski, is now one of the world’s most in-demand product photographers. fabric has worked with only two designers since it opened, famous for particularly conceptual designs. One of its first flyers was a hangar on a grey wall; whilst competitors had lurid colours, caps and more sexual imagery. The disruptive spirit remains today with promotional material and album art for fabric’s record label being amongst the most beautiful.

Gay clubs and venues have had a similarly tough time across the UK with dating apps being cited as one of the main problems.  A shining light in the form of JJ Clark who, paired with Jodie Harsh, is responsible for some of the most successful recent gay launches including ‘Room Service’ and more recently ‘Dollar Baby’. Clark feels it is a familiar road we are on. “Good things always come to an end and it’s important to just keep at it and create new and exciting parties and make the best of what’s on offer in terms of venues. I’ve had many of my club homes closed or knocked down, it’s sad but it’s a way of life unfortunately and gentrification has always happened to the areas where the gay people have put their stamp on places.”

Is there a secret to the success? Clark shares the fundamental principle of ‘customer & experience first’: “I think the combination of Jodie and I in partnership works well to bring different influences, tastes and groups of people together. We both have one goal in this context: to throw the most awesome party with great music…a night you’ll never forget.”

So, what holds for the future? Leslie recently hosted a fabric area at Junction 2, linking the festival and club experience, and Clark remains hopeful and has launched a new night ‘Lucky You’ at the gay-owned Circa club on Embankment.

Regulators and the public need to recognise the value of a community of clubs, with unique and distinctive programming, alongside established cultural spaces such as museums and galleries. The case needs to be made to the younger generation of the value of these spaces beyond the seasonal big festivals. At the same time, we need to move on from the current ‘selfie-obsessed’ culture of status and bragging rights and be present within a club environment. Trust a club’s programming and championing of new and emerging talent; ultimately filling it on nights without big name DJ’s.

There is certainly opportunity for brands and technology to help with a focus on behaviour change and championing the real life club experience. The app Dice is doing some excellent work with its positioning of “Dice Fills Rooms With Fans.’ Drinks, fashion and other complementary industries can help with the storytelling of club culture and experience.

Hearing music on a specially engineered sound-system with coordinated light and laser shows is a consuming visceral experience we should all enjoy. Now, more than ever, with concerns around loneliness, isolation and self-absorption from social media, we need to extol the communal virtues of magic under a mirror ball.

Carl Cox’s final song at the closing of Space Ibiza was ‘Wish I Didn’t Miss You’ by Angie Stone. If we don’t all now make the case for the solemn reverence of rave, it may be sung for the loss of an industry over singular venues.

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