Music

UK Nightclubs Are Becoming Extinct – But Does Anybody Really Care?

When you really stop and think about it, nightclubs are bloody weird places. 

Hundreds, or even thousands, of people all paying money to enter a small, dark, cube in order to be crammed up against fellow sweaty humans, while music plays too loud for you to talk, lights flash manically with the aim of weeding out the epileptics in the crowd and you consume as much booze and drugs as you can handle without collapsing.

But despite this, they're firmly established as a mainstay of British culture. It's what you do on a weekend: watch football, go to the pub, end up in a club (or as The Rakes put it in 2006, Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)).

Or is it?

Figures released this week by The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) show that more than half of the UK's nightclubs have shut in the past ten years - from 3,144 in 2005 to 1,733 in 2015. While it's not entirely clear what is defined explicitly as a 'nightclub' - ultra cool underground hotspots are counted alongside your Vivid and Elites, as well as the upstairs of pubs with a hastily assembled PA and a late licence - this is clearly a huge shift in culture.

London's legendary Ministry of Sound

There's a host of reasons for this change: Resident Advisor gives a thorough account of the vociferous police crackdown on legendary Glasgow club The Arches, describing how police treat nightclubs far more harshly than other types of business.

Similarly, councils seem to be quick to act at the slightest hint of a complaint from residents - often new ones moving into areas where establishments have operated for decades without trouble - witness the campaigns to protect Ministry of Sound and the likes of venues such as Bristol's Fleece and Manchester's Night & Day.

ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls specifically referred to this in a statement that read, "People want to have their cake and eat it. If you want vibe and to live in a cool area, then you need the other, edgier side of it", while Night Time Industries Association chairman Alan Miller also said: "I think the biggest problem and challenge to all of the nighttime industries are the authorities' attitudes towards them - how they're increasingly regulated and being blamed for crime and antisocial behaviour."

However, is the real reason the fact that - quite simply - people just don't like clubs any more? Or, perhaps, they have never been that good?

Of course, if you're a true music fan, there's more than a lot to be said for the regular appreciation of a skilled and inventive DJ playing great tunes that are expertly selected in the presence of like-minded individuals. For true music fans the club will never die. The UK has a long and proud underground club culture, and even the more mainstream end of it - Ministry, Cream, Gatecrasher (in the glory years), Fabric and the rest tend to attract genuine music fans who aren't just using the whole thing as purely a backdrop for pulling and getting smashed (not that the two are mutually exclusive).

But for the casual punter, perhaps it's not surprising that going to a sweatbox meat market every weekend, getting ripped off with paint stripper spirits, watered down lager and hearing the same tunes every time has lost its appeal, particularly when there are so many other nicer alternatives.

Music for your own parties has never been so easily available; streaming TV gives you an easy alternative for a weekend's entertainment and, of course, the relaxing of licensing hours for pubs and bars means that there's no longer an 11pm kick out with the local club your only option of carrying the night on towards its destination of oblivion.

Even pulling - the one calling card that clubs surely thought they'd always have in their favour - no longer requires loud music and dodgy lighting: all you need now is a smartphone, Tinder and some low standards (as detailed in this week's viral Vanity Fair article).

There's no doubt that the thought-free mainstream local dance-athon can be a grim experience for most -overpriced drinks, sticky floors and lairy blokes - and that's probably why it's on the decline in the face of all the competing factors outlined above.

Although admittedly it is slightly sad to think that there's now a very real possibility that younger generations will probably never experience the morbid thrill of being dragged to a dubiously neon'd shithole Oceania in Southampton. Propelling you into an evening of almost perpetual disdain with the exception of several fleeting, contradictory moments when a massive cheesy hit comes on. Injecting your ears with feel-goodness and hypnotising everyone in the room as you collectively proclaim "tune!" 

Betraying every emotion in your body. Caught up in a weird smiley collective on a rainy Saturday night where for one moment you feel true euphoria. 

Then someone's sick on your shoes.

Follow Dave Fawbert on Twitter: @davefawbert

(Images: Shutterstock/Wikicommons/Rex)