They say the clubs are dying, and they’re right.
Start me talking about clubs, and I’ll get a hazy look in my eyes. Clubs are where I grew up. They’re where I met other gay people for the first time. They were probably the first time I felt that I belonged somewhere. They were where I first took drugs, then to the after-parties, and then on to some hookup in a dingy basement.
But if you go there today, they’re not the same place. As a gay man, they’re threatening rather than friendly. The decent folk have moved on, replaced by a gaggle of hen parties, ‘ironic’ straight clubbers and the occasional indie kid. The vacuum has been filled by the Grindr crowd and noxious, vacuous queens. People have stuck their fingers up at being in an environment where they need to feel on guard for six hours of their Saturday night.
So yeah, we’re in a post-clubbing era. The really big gay clubs in Britain are either dead or struggling: places like the Nightingale and Mission. A lot of the smaller ones, like Trash Palace and Black Cap are gone entirely. A night out in Soho now invariably means pouring more money into the G-A-Y franchise. There are some good nights to be had out clubbing in East, but the nights are inconsistent and infrequent.
What everyone invested in the clubbing universe – the DJs, the promoters, actually that’s about it – would like is for everything to go back the way it was. For eager, willing, nubile clubbers to pile through the doors once more so they could provide them with piped in music, overpriced drinks, and second rate DJ sets.
But maybe people just don’t want it all that much anymore. What clubbing promised, but never quite provided, was a human connection. A promise that six hours later, our life would look very different. That in a crowd of two thousand people, we’d find someone who would help us feel not so alone. Clubbing could never deliver this. It’s just too hard.
The clubs are a form of torment. I know, I lived that life. You’ll always start a night out very excited and full of high hopes about what the night can bring – then gradually get more drunk and forget about why you were there. Typically in the latter stages of a club night, you will see people aimlessly wandering from room to room.
What used to hold the whole edifice up was that there was no alternative. There was no easy way to get drunk with friends, no easy way to meet new people, and very little in the way of shared experience that didn’t involve clubbing. Supermarket alcohol has got cheaper, the Internet has made it vastly easier to meet new people (remember when online dating used to be taboo?) , and there is street food on every corner.
And guess what, people have realised that they don’t need to go clubbing all that much anymore. There’s a few clueless people that don’t realise, or won’t accept that times have moved on, but that’s not going to be enough to sustain it in the long run.
Soo… clubs need to offer something different.
Make live music part of the mix. Not cramming two thousand people into a tiny space and making them wait for two hours, but a proper live music experience.
Focus on music that people can’t hear on the Hit 100. People don’t go to clubs to pay to have their YouTube or Spotify playlists played to them.
Forget trying to cater to everyone.
Make clubs a place where people actually feel good about going.
Hire door staff that don’t have a permanent chip on their shoulder, and fire those that do.
The truth is that customers are sick of going to clubs where they feel like cattle.
The era of the big brash superclub is dead.
Focus on building a community.
And let the best one win.