Itching for More: the Rise of Alternative Club Nights

Originally written for a competition

The night sold out in advance.  No tickets at the door; only a sea of vivid colours, flamboyant patterns, lurid accessories, and, of course, liberal sprinklings of face glitter.  Staff greeted us with garish feathers in their coiffed hairstyles, and revellers in mid-century silhouettes wandered down the stairs, accompanied by cheerful swing music and rousing rock’n’roll.  I wasn’t sure what to expect: dressed in a black floral playsuit with a vaguely Forties look, shiny leather shoes and clutching a netted bow I wasn’t quite confident enough to wear (yet), I had, out of wavering uncertainty, forgone the advertised carnival theme in favour of a more muted approach.  But on the dancefloor, in the midst of enthusiastic jiving, energetic twirling and gleeful singing, it ceased to matter: glitter or no glitter, the ability to immerse oneself in the music and the positive spirit of the night was the only thing that really mattered.

And where was I?  Alternative club night Itchy Feet in Glasgow’s Art School; a night which likes to describe itself as relieving ‘the clubbing boredom of the musically enlightened’.  Musical snobbery aside, its message is simple: clubbing in 2016 has become basic and formulaic, and requires radical rejuvenation.  Its ethos has been undoubtedly successful – spanning an impressive twenty five cities across the UK, it unquestionably caters to a market of clubbers (particularly students) who crave something more than generic chart music repeated ad nauseum.  The night is a thrilling plunge into twentieth-century music: soul and rhythm and blues jostle with swing, reggae and funk, and the appearance of a live band at around 1am injects an energising dose of authenticity as they perform both old favourites and new tracks with a classic, rock’n’roll twist.  I see several people I know – some of whom are unlikely attendees – and they are all invariably enthused about how distinctive the night is, how different it is from their usual Friday night haunts.

Yet a quick scroll through Facebook reveals that Itchy Feet, although perhaps better advertised than most, is not the only club promoter which draws upon this lucrative audience: the Gatsby Club hosts 20’s-style parties in the university’s Victorian-era union, offering a cocktail bar, a big band and a gramophone DJ; 40’s night Blitzed comes complete with era-appropriate bunting; and numerous 60’s and Motown nights across the city, one of which offers four solid hours of vinyl, prove the immense and prevailing popularity of the genre.  It’s a trend replicated across the UK, especially in London, which boasts a veritable wealth of vintage-inspired nights; and it’s clear that a growing number of clubbers are uninterested in what has, until recently, been deemed a youthful rite of passage, and are reinventing clubbing along their own, more imaginative terms.

These club nights are monthly, or infrequent, yet their loyal audiences ensure that they are often sold out; playlists and podcasts utilise social media savvy to showcase the brand’s musical tastes and Facebook photo albums demonstrate crowds of animated clubbers in flapper dresses and zoot suits, keen to involve themselves in a club that is far more about cultivating a memorable experience than your average drunken party.   Its range extends beyond niche tastes – most of the soundtrack of Itchy Feet is reassuringly familiar – and aims to engage all in music that they perhaps didn’t know they loved.  Although commercialised and profitable, the nights represent a move away from a repetitive, uninspired clubbing scene characterised by bland chart music and dull mixes, and aims to speak to those for whom a genuine love of music is paramount in ensuring a successful night out.  This is precisely what is so exciting about this shift: propelled not by the desire to get drunk and dance (although that is absolutely part of the fun), it is rooted in and driven by an unambiguous love of music that extends beyond the new and ostensibly popular.

It is a trend exemplified by Hot Dub Time Machine, the internationally famous club night in which party-goers are musically transported from the 50’s to the present day: its most recent sold-out appearance in Glasgow epitomised an intensity and a sheer buzz that is often only found at the very best of gigs.  Hearing the Beatles and the Kinks in one of Glasgow’s most popular clubs – usually dominated by the most standard and banal chart music – in the midst of a jam-packed, sweaty, lively crowd was an invigorating experience that illustrates the pure excitement of the unexpected; the visceral, absorbing thrill of  reliving bygone parties and throwing oneself into a vital new experience.

Itchy Feet has yet to return; but, like many others for whom Justin Bieber just can’t cut it, the potential to explore new alternative nights is a continual antidote to clubs’ more predictable offerings – after all, who can resist the insatiable lure of feet just itching to dance?

Image credit: I took the photo, but all credit to Itchy Feet Glasgow for the banner!

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