clubs

clubs
   The main precursor to the contemporary club was the 1950s coffee bar. Invariably containing a jukebox full of rock ’n’ roll records, the coffee bar became a meeting place for young people in the evenings and at weekends. The first ‘proper’ clubs drew upon a similar clientele. Containing little more than a simple record player, these clubs became the focus point for emergent youth subcultures such as mods and teds.
   As the ‘R&B’ boom of the early 1960s gathered pace, the ballrooms of the previous generation became venues for dancing to pop and rock music. Of particular importance were those venues in the North of England that played the latest soul music imported from the USA. Northern Soul clubs such as The Wigan Casino and The Twisted Wheel in Manchester attracted a clientele who took their dancing very seriously. Often arriving with several changes of clothes, the dancers remained throughout the night until as late as 8 am. Legend has it that the air at The Wigan Casino was thick with the smell of liniment and talcum powder, the former used to prevent muscle-strain, and the latter used to prevent the floor from becoming sticky, enabling dancers to spin around at rapid speeds. Some establishment figures expressed concern at the burgeoning drug culture of the club scene in general, and there is certainly evidence to suggest that amphetamines and other stimulants were used to facilitate all-night dancing.
   As pop and rock music became increasingly popular throughout the 1960s, so more clubs were developed. Of particular importance was the rise of the Tamla Motown label whose roster included The Supremes, The Temptations and The Four Tops. It was during this period that a split developed between those venues that employed a band to provide a musical accompaniment to dancing, and those venues that merely played records. The former type of venue has developed into the modern rock venue of today, while the latter has developed into what we now generally consider to be a club: a place that plays records and is licensed for dancing. This split has developed into the divide between dance music and rock music that continues to this day. The early 1970s saw the development of a specific style of club known as the disco. Discos subsequently became the dominant form of nightclub in Britain, although specialist clubs that played music drawn from rock genres remained popular. Discos emphasized the other-worldly nature of the club experience, with their disorientating lights, elegant surroundings and a glamorous clientele. These clubs played soul and the emergent musical form of disco, a style of electronic dance music that emphasized its ‘artificial’ nature. It was during this period that the role of the club DJ became particularly important, with some DJs commanding considerable fees for their ability to transform recorded music through the usage of technology and through mixing two or three records together.
   While the disco was the dominant form of club until the mid-1980s, there were exceptions to this rule. The punk rock explosion of the mid-1970s led to the opening of punk clubs in London such as The Roxy and The 100 Club. Spurred on by these developments, punk fans from other cities developed their own scenes. Clubs such as Eric’s in Liverpool were the meeting point for the new generation of musicians who were to become the famous stars of the 1980s. As punk developed into new wave, the distinction between dance music and rock music was temporarily blurred by the experimental dance music of British bands such as The Human League, Depeche Mode and New Order.
   The arrival of house music in Britain in 1987 led to the birth of the British club culture that we see today. In particular, the birth of acid house is seen as a defining moment. Legend has it that the British house club boom was started by a handful of working-class holiday-makers who had been clubbing in Ibiza and decided to attempt to replicate the experience during the winter of 1987– 8. ‘Balearic’ clubs such as Shoom in London became increasingly popular. It was around this time that the drug ecstasy was first widely used in Britain.
   Although initially centred on London, the acid house scene soon developed elsewhere in the country. Of pivotal importance was The Hacienda club in Manchester, with its resident DJs Mike Pickering and Graeme Park playing American house records to an enthusiastic crowd. As the acid house scene grew, it became apparent that a new type of nightclub was needed. The old discos were perceived to have lost their vitality, and the atmosphere in discos was often spoiled by alcohol-fuelled violence. In the search for new venues, acid house promoters began to use greenfield sites, disused warehouses and industrial buildings. This is the origin of contemporary rave culture.
   As legislation was introduced to outlaw unlicensed raves, more and more venues were built to accommodate house culture’s move back indoors. The important clubs of the early 1990s were Quadrant Park in Liverpool, Eclipse in Coventry (the first house club to obtain an all-night dancing licence), and Shelly’s in Stoke-on-Trent. The early 1990s explosion in clubs has been fuelled by an explosion in dance music itself, with a bewildering array of sub-genres entering into the lexicon of contemporary youth culture. Modern clubs are more popular than ever before. Containing a startling battery of sound and lighting technologies, they are perceived to be places where young people can escape from the harsh realities of contemporary life and spend a few hours dancing. Most modern clubs are connected to a specific style of dance music such as techno or jungle, and employ ‘guest DJs’, valued for their musical knowledge and technical skills, who can command thousands of pounds for a few hours work. Also central to the modern club is the resident DJ who can attract a regular clientele who will visit the club every week.
   STUART BORTHWICK

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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