From Ecstacy to Ennui: The Commercialisation of Clubbing

Going to a nightclub on the weekend is one of the unquestioned staples of the student lifestyle. Along with recreational drinking and drug taking, an overfamiliarity with one’s overdraft, and rolling your own cigarettes – these features often go hand in hand with one another. The problem with not questioning such a routine in life is that when it is not challenged it can stagnate, and, little by little, you can easily lose the very stimulation which first attracted you to it.

Reasons abound why we choose to spend our weekend nights dancing in darkened industrial spaces to songs which would make our parents question their children’s capacity to appreciate art. It is just as much of a release for students as it is for any other section of the populace; a release built around losing yourself for a precious amount of time against the wearying routine of weekday life, and appreciating the skill of a professional DJ with likeminded people in a space almost purpose made for this. If the experience is that captivating (or has been made to be by drugs), you might even feel part of a movement, something bigger. At least something greater than your 5 bed in Headingley.

Ecstasy has now become commonplace in the average party diet… When it first broke out, it was a revolutionary injection of adrenaline into a youth culture tired of kicking the shit out of one another on football terraces…

Each generation relies on the ones that came before it, to learn how to behave and how to enjoy itself; clubbing is something which this distinctly applies to. The students of today would not be dabbling in party drugs and 6 hour B2Bs had it not been for the example set by rave culture of the 1990s. Ecstasy has now become commonplace in the average party diet, almost more of an accessory than the gateway to a higher sensibility and empathy for the people around you implied by the name. When it first broke out, it was a revolutionary injection of adrenaline into a youth culture tired of kicking the shit out of one another on football terraces, and the societal divisions so present in the 1980s.



The drug became inimitably tied up with illegal parties either in squatted buildings, like Wood Green Bingo Hall, where over 4000 people attended a rave too big for the police to shut down, or in unlikely locations further afield, such as a cave near Hodge Close quarry in Coniston, Cumbria. These parties could not be more different to ‘going out’ nowadays: they were community centred, bore no cost, and subversive to wider cultural attitudes of the time – an attitude as comical as it was draconian, manifest in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, which attempted to clamp down on the rave phenomenon by prohibiting events playing music ‘predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’. It’s unlikely you’d receive a weekly text from that girl you lived next to in first year bugging you to buy your event tickets early, to say the least.

Attitudes and policing since then have relaxed, and such cringing idiocy in policymaking is less ordinary. That is not to say things are better across the board. Re-examination of this period in history throws into sharp relief just how drained of colour the scene has become today. The occasional rave still takes place, but their frequency has rapidly declined in line with a diminishing appetite for this type of risk taking, in favour of comparatively pedestrian partying. The modern partygoer appears too content (complacent?) with the increasingly commercial offerings that parade as worthwhile club nights.

The recent outbreak of ‘Lo Fi’ producers, including but not limited to, Ross From Friends, DJ Boring, Baltra and DJ Seinfeld, seek to mimic an aesthetic that once was, with today’s kit. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy much of the music put out by this clique, but an appreciation of their output does not merit a wholesale acceptance of what is implied by it: namely that a visit to the source as some kind of musical homage is always the best avenue for creativity. The same issue presents itself with the more substantial genre of Vapourwave, which fetishises analogue crackles and VCR loops as much as ‘Lo Fi’ House does.

Has commercialisation infected clubbing so much that there are no new ideas left?

An awareness of history by a genre or club night is to be feted, not laughed at, but there is fine line between paying homage to something, and ransacking it for ideas. Between the producers and the promoters to whom this applies, there is something broader to be said about the state of music. Has commercialisation infected clubbing so much that there are no new ideas left? Is the experience of going out to be treated as a packaged good that we regularly indulge in, with small additions and tweaks made regularly to give the facade of novelty by its designers, no different to the next generation of iPhone? Divisive as his music may be, the PC Music associate SOPHIE made a statement when he named his first compilation of singles ‘PRODUCT’. It be can argued that SOPHIE and his cohort are too far off the end of art school treatment of pop music, and that this album title smacks of painful edginess and over intellectualising music.

Equally, one can find a telling statement about pop music, and apply it to wider club culture. Has dance music been reduced to an emotionally shallow experience, centred upon a brief frenzy of sensation, free of any deeper significance? The answer to that question must be positive, when considering the same boilerplate Freshers’ parties marched out every Autumn across university towns in the UK, while festivals cram as many big-name DJs into chronically short sets for the sake of wider appeal, rather than offering an innovative or stimulating experience. The only thing that wins out in this situation is the desire to get more and more fucked up.

Dance music and dance culture provided the antidote for a generation of young people in the UK who felt the effects of startling social change; widespread atheism, limited career prospects, and the rise of image obsession. It gave a space for us to forget about all that and to forge connections with one another in a time when the traditional opportunities in life for finding meaning were retreating. If complacency cements itself further, the remainder of that which is good in modern dance culture, will be subsumed by faceless promoters who are more concerned with squeezing every last pound out of a naive target market than contributing anything of real substance.  And ours is an age crying out for substance.

Oliver Staton

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