Article – Club Decline?

Club Death

With the help of two clubbing pros (a passport profession favourite) we assess that dance music is on the metal trolley.

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, December 2004)

So farewell then, clublife. You had a long time in the sun – or rather dark – and now people come no longer to praise you but to disparage you. Well, that’s the unanimous verdict of pundits following the cast iron sign that dance music is dead: the category of Best Dance Act has been dropped from the Brit Awards. Er, yes, I suppose. But hold a moment there bucko, for here in Liverpool everything seems tickety clubwise; it’s why most students come here, isn’t it?

So what has really happened to clubs? A glance through listings guides similar to this one from over ten years ago seems to support the pundits’ assertion, as the amount of clubs has dwindled dramatically. Of course, what’s happened is that they were all replaced by the bars that got late licences sometime in the mid-nineties. When pundits talk about dance culture they actually mean ‘rave’ music, born out of the warehouse dance boom of the late eighties and transferred to more licit but no smaller Super Clubs that ruled the club world for the following 10 years. Locally, this meant Cream, which lorded over clublife in Liverpool for so long it actually became the second biggest employer in the city after the council. If there’s any one sign that clubs are on the wane then it is the fact that Cream is no longer what it once was. 1-0 to the pundits.

But Cream never was the only club in the city, so what about clubs that are still around? We put this question to two people: one a club promoter, and one a typical club-going student. Are Liverpool clubs in decline? “I definitely think the scene is a lot busier since last year,” asserts the student. “I was at Chibuku for Dave Clark, Jazzy Jeff and Yousef and all nights were absolutely jam-packed.” “There’s no specific trend I can see,” says the promoter, “some clubs are still reliant on that night’s guests, student term dates etc, but there’s no sense of any dying or being in permanent decline.” That sounds pretty healthy to us. Stuff the Brit Awards, we say.

But has music policy changed? Are the ‘dance all night’ crowds still in evidence, or are people standing around the bar and sashaying selectively, as the move away from clubs like Cream might suggest? “I’d say having a few beers is at the bottom of people’s priorities,” says the student of her clubbing experiences. “The crowd is definitely into their music, and not there to get cidered up.” The promoter broadly concurs: “There’s still people out clubbing that were there at the start of the 90s – some still ’aving it, others more content to nod their heads at the bar. But obviously there’s a whole load of new clubbers who have known nothing except the mainstream dance media and Radio 1’s weekend bias to big house clubs and tunes.”

Ah, word of those shameless self-promoters at Radio 1 brings us to talk of another factor assumed by the pundits to be the death of clubs: their rampant commercialism. It’s not hard to see why, with Ministry of Sound putting their name to more products than Virgin, and DJs charging a fortune to use their names on ‘mix’ CDs.

Plus there’s also the fact that ‘indie’, once a dirty word, suddenly became cool again, thanks to the likes of the Strokes and the White Stripes. Indie and alternative clubs, that is clubs that avoid the otherwise standard House template, always existed through the rave years but recently have gotten bigger and bigger. “I think the indie club culture has exploded lately,” agrees our stude. “People are loving indie rock at the moment and it’s fuelled by living in Liverpool with so many bands and gigs. I used to stroll along to Liquidation on Saturdays after midnight, after a few drinks in town; now you can’t get into the place past 11.”

The club promoter sees these formerly mutually exclusive areas merging: “There’s been some movement into a mixture of styles, evident from the winner of the Cream DJ comp and the success of ‘2 Many DJs’. Dance clubs are more likely not to play a steady BPM all night. And alternative clubs have had a dance element for a while, through from big beat and onto electroclash.” Agreement from student: “In terms of differences between house clubs and indie clubs, the crowds are quite the same. There is no dress code – it’s all about the music and having a laugh.”

Our last thoughts go to the ever-wise head of our club promoter. “Cream succeeded by being in the right place at the right time, but failed because the people that got lucky didn’t actually know (or possibly love?) the music and found it difficult to move on.” Perhaps that is all this supposed death of clubs really is: people didn’t stop going to clubs when Cream finished being a weekly concern, they simply went elsewhere. Although very different clubs, both Chibuku and Liquidation thrived after Cream’s demise. The pundits prophesising doom may also be guilty of not accepting that things are different now and moving on. Meanwhile, club life in Liverpool, despite the proliferation of late bars, continues to be as big as it ever was.  God is a DJ? Praise be.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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