Great Britain

Nightclubs help bring us together and make us feel alive – I hope they return stronger than ever

My girlfriend often jokes with me “are you a pub-man or a club-man?” It’s a reference to the lyrics of Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do) - George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley’s debut single in 1982. Still, what the question really means is: do you live to be in a pub or in a nightclub?

Coming out of lockdown, with so many nightclubs and music venues shuttered, failing or trying to find a path to profitable re-opening, it feels like the question might be a genuine conundrum once again.

Growing up in England in the 1980s, whether you gravitated toward pubs or nightclubs defined you socially, culturally and maybe even spiritually.  For me, it began when I was 16, in Manchester. In some way, the same forces that led me to thrive in nightclubs landed me in the business of writing and eventually on a magic carpet ride through almost three decades in Los Angeles.

I recall my first ever clubbing experience in vivid detail, at Berlin nightclub in 1981.  Earlier that afternoon, I told mum and dad that I’d be staying at my pal’s house overnight. Instead I was on the bus, going into town, nightclub clothes on under an oversized raincoat. Years later, I would realise that the other kid on the bus, who worked in the club - he was actually Ian Brown of The Stone Roses.

Meanwhile, back to the bus and my outfit. Every item had been carefully selected. Thrift-store jodhpurs. Boots off the rummage at Ravel. Peaked officer’s cap from the Army & Navy. Eyeliner and diamanté jewelry sneaked from mum’s dresser drawer. In my estimation, I looked like Lou Reed on the cover of Transformer. In reality, probably closer to Ricky Gervais in Seona Dancing.

After a can of Scandia Super Lager, off the bus and two uncomfortable barley wines in Corbiéres Wine Cavern - it wasn’t much past 9:30 pm when I walked down those beer-stained steps of Berlin nightclub. I’m at the bar, ordering a Breaker malt liquor. I look around. Two girls on the dance floor, wishing they were in the Human League. A guy who resembles Ian Curtis staring me out.  Then the cross-dressing goth DJ drops The Crusher by The Cramps. And BOOYAH!

I can’t quite describe the magnetic pull - but suddenly I’m on the dance floor, swigging Breaker and doing the hammerlock. I feel electric. I feel alive. And THIS is like home. But not like home with mum and dad and a brother in and out of NHS psych wards - but a real home, where you actually belong. Where all your eccentric moves make you seem perfect and fully realized - instead of being that self-loathing outsider, crippled by alienation, teen obesity and doubt. Yes. This was me. My life. And I was a club-man. I knew it then. I know it now. And somehow the idea felt like rocket fuel.

The same energy from that night propelled me to London, through college, The Wag Club, East End warehouse parties and finally into what became known as Acid House.  It was these clubland tales of drugs, excess and “aciiiiiiiiid” that struck a chord with sci-fi legend Brian Aldiss and became my first novel, Trip City. It was born from a conversation in a pub - but from a conversation I could only have because I was a club-man. A club-man, on some levels unchanged since age 16.

Ever since that night, every story or piece of scripted drama I wrote had a soundtrack. With Trip City, it was A Guy Called Gerald. Later I wrote a film to have a soundtrack of covers by The Smiths. And my current work, LIFELINE, features everything from Elvis, through Latin hip-hop and even Irving Berlin. That union of narrative and the uplifting effect of dance music (or should I say the music you can dance to) began in the clubs, and whether or not it was amplified by the powder or pills is beside the point. My understanding of people and my connection with them began out on the dance floor.

Am I suggesting that if you want your kids to have a career in the arts, buy ‘em cheap booze and send them out alone to nightclubs? Of course not. Still - where do we end up if the big dance clubs or local discos can’t re-open or remain shuttered?

In my father’s day, I may have pleaded that both young and old need their “bread and roses” - but in the UK, after a pandemic, I say that everybody needs a place to gather and dance. Maybe it’ll catalyse great art, or enable people to connect. Maybe the kids will just get sweaty and let off steam. But NONE of that matters. If clubland teaches us anything, it teaches us how to celebrate and how to feel alive.

Trip City by Trevor Miller is being re-published by Velocity Press on 4 June.  The original soundtrack by A Guy Called Gerald will be released on vinyl for the first time.

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