Photo: Hamza Daoui

The Death of Club Culture

Max Vinall for Curate Magazine — Issue 2: Culture

Planning one night all week. Listening to something mental as you get ready. Wearing your best thing. Meet in the pub. Walk to the club, wait in line, hope to get in, jump up and down in the cold, not wear a coat, pay a fortune then pay another for drinks then suddenly in six hours


Then you stagger off laughing and swinging round lampposts and go to someone’s flat to smoke washing powder and get freaked out by the way the cat is staring then feel like Keith Richards the next morning and realise somewhere along the line you’ve lost your wallet, phone, friends, car keys, tattoo, sense of direction and dignity in the same night. But gained something clearly hilarious like a completely crayoned leg.

Then there’s the remorse, the shame, and the eagerness to do it all again next Saturday.

Clubs were where you said anything, drank anything, blasted your brains out on everything and made the best friends you will ever have in your life for a whole hour.

This was clubbing. This is what you did and this is where you listened to sounds that pumped right through you on a towering system powered by something huge and dark like a Norwegian trawler. It was where you met everyone, where you were amazed at how brilliant people looked and danced and how cool people could be when not working for American Express. Clubs were where you said anything, drank anything, blasted your brains out on everything and made the best friends you will ever have in your life for a whole hour.

And I know because I spent 20 years clubbing in Brighton and London and five years managing the bar at Pushca. These beautifully barking underground all night clubs started off with a few hundred people and after 12 months escalated to thousands. I met more transvestites, drag queens, models, gangsters, dealers, dancers, freak shows and marvellous people in one night than you’d ever see in a lifetime of working at Costa’s on Oxford Street. Once the organisers, in a last minute deal to keep Islington council happy and the club open, paid for a manned fire engine to be stationed right outside the dance floor all night long. It was that sort of place.

But now all that madness, that drug-fuelled loopiness is fading like the last track of the night (which was usually Let’s Go Fly a Kite from Mary Poppins).

Because in the last ten years nearly half the UK’s nightclubs have shut down. To be a little more accurate, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), reported there were 3,144 clubs in 2005 and this figure is now down to 1,733.

Personally, as I’m older and have a little daughter and work all week and go to meetings and nod wisely I now actually want to go to sleep at night. So a part of me is ok with this as the chances of my Victorian doll daughter meeting an utter moron like a younger me are reduced by 50%. And people aren’t vomiting in my garden quite so much.

But why are clubs dying? Don’t da yoof want to go out like this any more? Well, the short answer is yes, but not like that.

Our mobiles are doing more for us than we realise. Apps are taking over as their most used feature — we access them more in a day than we make calls — which means you can use your phone to meet someone nice. Who lives near you. Who isn’t a twat. Or inside. And do all this at home on your sofa where it’s warm and quiet. And as you’re screening them and their screening you the chances are now much higher that you’ll really like them.

As for the music, well, you can download that too. Listen to rave, rock, rap, acid house, grime bungalow, whatever, on your phone whenever you want, or pump it out at home with that person you’ve just met off Shaggr. I made that one up, don’t bother searching for it.

Then there’s the drugs. If there’s one place you could get them as readily as hard stare in Waitrose for asking where the Rustler Burgers are, then it was a nightclub. I once went out in Lincoln and was whisperingly offered some by three different people before I’d ordered a drink from the empty bar. But now, as clubs are on the decline so is the nation’s use of recreational hooterage. Which means we can’t have ever been that into the stuff as now we’d rather meet hot people on our phones and order a Thai delivery and drink red wine on our DFS sofas.

And there’s the ciggies. Smoking is banned inside public places and this is adversely affecting everything from pubs (around 30 are closing in the UK every week) to bingo (everyone is playing online at home where they can puff away). Because if you can’t do that at a club but you can do it at home then it’s another reason not to go to one.

But there’s a bigger picture here as we’re all changing in how we socialise because we’re changing who we are. You can see this clearly with how festivals are evolving to deal with our increasingly sophisticated tastes. Once these were filthy, half-arsed events filled with scratchy beardy people in denim flares and home-drawn face tattoos. But now we have Wine Festivals, Literary Festivals, Cold Food festivals and even festivals for families who can sit on hay bales and drink small batch cider and sway to Mumford & Sons.

Drugs aren’t as cool, but buying celeb cookbooks and knocking up a crab and seaweed risotto is.

Camping isn’t good enough either, we want glamping. Razors need five blades and a battery to perform and food has to be organic, pulled, hand-picked, slow roasted, sun licked and sprinkled with unicorn tears.

Just like students barely demonstrate — and when they do it’s about getting weaker decaf capsules for their Nespresso — we’re simply going off the whole idea of clubbing. It doesn’t resonate like it used to so it’s no longer affecting our culture, press, music, language or fashion. Our music tastes are changing. Club tracks don’t become hits but Ed Sheeran’s merciless twangings do.

Drugs aren’t as cool, but buying celeb cookbooks and knocking up a crab and seaweed risotto is.

Need more proof? Gastro pubs are everywhere now and are loved not by older people wanting a retro kick, but people in their 20s who just prefer a red Chesterfield by a fire with a pint of bitter over a slippery floored, steaming, wide-eyed nightclub.

Last minute holidays soak up our spare cash and now there are couples who’d rather go home to their nice flat because they have a nice flat. I didn’t have a nice flat. I had some four vertical areas of damp held up by peeling wallpaper and spiders’ webs.

This retro love affair affects weddings, clothes, haircuts, cars, glasses, interior design, holidays — everything. We want old style radiators — there are entire shops selling them — and a wood burning stove in the lounge. We don’t want ultra modern. We want comfy and reassuring and warm. We want leather cases for our iPhones, old ringtones and filters that give our photos that 80s look of parental Polaroid.

I didn’t have a nice flat. I had some four vertical areas of damp held up by peeling wallpaper and spiders’ webs.

Last thing, we all have more money. We buy more stuff so we don’t have the same amount of cash to spoil ourselves at the weekend because we’ve been spoiling ourselves all week on eBay and Etsy and Amazon. Making our flats look nice. Grrr.

So yes, this is the death of Club Culture, or at least the last gasp of it. But it’s the birth of another bigger, cooler, better dressed, less sweaty, wiser, more organised one where people are digitally connected, engaged, inspired and informed.

We are much more socially aware, more politically conscious and more creative. We have better visibility about what’s going on in our world — and we’re more motivated and empowered to actually change it.

And there’s less vomiting in my rosebush.

So that’ll do for me.

This article was written by Max Vinall for Curate Magazine. Check out the original article here in our Culture issue.