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How the nightclub culture has changed over the past 30 years


2016-10-03 05:09:06
The nightclub is unquestionably one of the symbols of late 20th and early 21st century culture, one that means very different things to different people. You may associate nightclubs with some of your first experiences of alcohol, or of falling in love. Others simply think of them as places of good old-fashioned hedonism, while still more people may attach rather more negative connotations to the nightclub, of drunken bad behaviour or drug abuse.

Whatever your own opinions or experiences when it comes to nightclubs, now would seem to be a good time to reflect on how they have shaped our lives, a time when some say that their very existence is under threat. According to the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers as reported by Vice, while there were 3,144 nightclubs in the UK as of 2005, a decade later, this had dropped to just 1,733.

The '80s: a legacy of excess

To get a sense of what state the very concept of the nightclub is in now and to start setting out a roadmap for its future, one has to at least consider where it has been. While New York City was the epicentre of the iconic disco era clubs of the '70s such as Studio 54, during the subsequent decade, London was in many ways the key frontier of the global nightclub scene.

Such clubs as The Blitz, the Camden Palace and the Batcave helped to make the British capital the place for night-time pleasure-seekers to be during the 1980s, as the New Romantic movement took hold and the likes of Yazoo, The Human League, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode blared from the speakers.


This was an age when men were women and women were men, as the fairer sex rocked masculine suits and the blokes got out their makeup. Nor was it just in London where it was all happening in England - Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester were other key UK cities showing the rest of the world how to let it loose during the 'greed is good' decade.

The '90s: the nightclub grows up

As the '80s transitioned into the '90s, in some ways, it seemed that nothing had changed. Europe and North America continued to be the main geographical focal points for by-night hedonists, playing disco-influenced dance music - such as house music, techno, trance and electronica - that retains its popularity in the clubs of today.

However, certain things definitely did change in nightclub culture with the coming of a new decade. For one thing, we saw the rise of the 'superclub', with London's Ministry of Sound opening in 1991 and the debut night of Cream in Liverpool taking place in October the following year. The early '90s also proved to be the era of the techno club, with prime examples including Berlin's Bunker and Tresor venues and The Haçienda in Manchester.

The '00s onwards: decline, but also a whole new vision

Some observers would have you believe as of the mid-2010s, the nightclub as an institution is in terminal decline, hastened by such factors as overly stringent local councils, the rise of the festival, gentrification and moral panic about nightlife somehow being symbiotic with crime and wrongdoing. Others contend that today's tech-savvy Millennials simply can't be bothered to visit a nightclub when they could just as easily make new friends via social networks or dating apps on their smartphones.

However, far from declining, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest that the nightclub is simply evolving in response to the more discerning nature of today's young revellers. As J.C. Diaz, the Executive Director of the Nightlife Association was quoted as saying in a New Theory Magazine article: "The industry is definitely evolving. You're beginning to see people focused on fusion or flavours whether it be cocktails or food. You're seeing new design elements and advanced LED technology. You can make your place look like you're in the middle of the forest or in space. It's becoming more of a real life experience when you get companies like Cirque du Soleil partnering up with a club."

It seems that this sophisticated 'new reality' for the nightclub culture is also extending to how the world's pleasure-seekers seek out and prepare for a visit to their favourite club. Whereas it may have once been customary to simply turn up and wait in line for entry to a club, today, there is a greater tendency for demanding but cultured hedonists to use an exclusive nightlife booking hub like Blu Nightlife to access nightclubs in London and other sought-after venues around the world.

The death of the nightclub may have been declared more than a few times in recent years, but if anything, the latest evidence is that it continues to thrive, even amid the undoubted adversity that has led to the closure of such treasured nightspots as Fabric in London. One suspects, in fact, that the 2020s could be one of the most exciting decades for the nightclub yet.




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