Running a clubnight is a risky business. You’d have to be brave, or mad, or both, to attempt it.
Any worthwhile project is, to some extent, a gamble, but that’s not an excuse to be sloppy. Sure, you can throw a house party, invite your mates round and have a great time, all without having to do much planning. But the moment you decide to charge people for the entertainment you’re giving them – the moment, in effect, that you decide to go pro – you have to take things much more seriously. It’s not just about booking DJs you like and bigging yourself up on Facebook. You have to think about sound quality, security, pricing, hospitality, promotion – in short, and if we may be so crude, you have to be on top of your shit.
At the same time, you don’t want to stray too far from the basic house party ethos. As soon as a clubnight begins to think of it as something beyond an excuse for likeminded people to dance to the music they want to hear, in an environment that appeals to them, it’s already begun to lose its way.
It’s a contradictory business, quite frankly, and there are no hard and fast rules. But before you decide to sink a two months’ wages on flying Derrick May over to play your local pub, you’d do well to drink in the advice of some people who actually know what they’re doing. In the third instalment of our occasional How to.. series (following How to… start a record label and How to…open an independent record store), FACT has assembled a few pearls of wisdom from founders, promoters and resident DJs of current nights we rate and past nights of legend.
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Shandy (Crazylegs, Bristol): “Bring something unique. Have your own fucking angle. Too many people start a night because they want to be that guy who runs a night — if you’re not doing something original you’re just adding to the noise. There’s only two ways to build a successful club night — to be different from everyone else, or to be the best in your chosen area. And when you’re just starting out, you don’t have the resources or the connections to be the best. So you need to have something unique.”
BUILD A VIBE. RELY ON YOUR RESIDENTS AND NOT ON BIG NAMES.
Illum Sphere (Hoya:Hoya, Manchester): “I’d say that if people were thinking of starting a night, then put as much emphasis on all areas as you do on whoever you book, if not more. At Hoya, the crowd, residents, visuals, sound, door price, everything are just as important as the guest who plays. They’re just a bonus. If you’re relying on a super big name to bring people through the door, those people won’t give a shit when the big guests aren’t there. I guess that’s why we do the secret guest thing now… You can’t buy a vibe, you have to build one, and invite select people to play and be a part of it. It’s more than just a headline name on a poster.”
Judy Griffith (Fabric, London): “[Resident DJ Craig Richards] plays across the board. That’s why, in the end, we program our nights around him. He’s the centre point of the club, and just as important as the guests we bring in.
Mala (DMZ, London): “Even to this day we book the lineups late. We’ve got an event in, what, three weeks time and we still haven’t decided the lineup or even spoken about it. But that’s the way we’ve always been, it’s not a planning thing, it’s more of a vibes, more of a feeling and we’re happy with that.”
CREATE THE NIGHT YOU YOURSELF WANT TO GO TO.
Reecha (Standard Place, London): “After dubstep mushroomed, the sense of community kinda disappeared. Everything became a bit dislocated. The sound changed, bigger venues. It got to the point a couple years ago when we were all thinking the same thing – that we missed the small intimate vibe when where you could actually go and have a good time with your friends. First and foremost I think we just wanted to throw a party that we actually wanted to go to ourselves.”
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THE RIGHT VENUE IS KEY.
Tony Wilson (The Hacienda, Manchester): “About a week before we opened I was showing somebody around and they said, ‘Who the hell are you building this for?’ And we said, ‘Well the kids.’ And they said, ‘When was the last time you saw the kids? It was in Rafters, wasn’t it, nine months ago and they were all wearing raincoats and long drab clothes, watching a band in the corner of the room. So why are you building a glossy New York discoteque?’ I was rather stumped, I couldn’t answer that question. Of course, as it turned out, it worked out briliantly.”
MAKE THE SOUND AS INTENSE AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN.
Nicky Siano (The Gallery, New York): At the old Gallery, it was very intense, because it was much more similar to the Loft, because there was only a very small area. The dancefloor, I eventually built a wall totally around it. The sound was intense. I remember someone having an epileptic fit one night because they were just driving them self so hard. After about fifteen, twenty months, we got closed.
KEEP IT DARK (LITERALLY).
Skream (Skreamizm): “[There are] too many fucking lights…I was saying a minute ago to someone, I haven’t felt like I’ve been in a rave for so long, because everything’s a visual show now, or a light show. The second Skreamizm show, that was at Dublin, at the Twisted Pepper, only about 300 people and not one light on.”
SERVE YOUR COMMUNITY, SERVE A PURPOSE.
Erol Alkan (Trash, London): “I remember the first night of Trash, only 60 people came. But I knew all of the 60 people. So, it felt like a club. And my advice has always been, to people who’ve tried to start their own nights, my advice would be to serve your own community first. I don’t think you should start at clubs to simply fill dancefloors. I think great clubs serve a community, and I think you can attribute that to every great club in the history of time. From every great disco club to any club, you know? It served a purpose.”
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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CROWD. NO REALLY, IT IS.
Joe Claussell (Body & Soul, New York): “Back in the day, as now, people come to Body & Soul with a feeling that it’s a party that belongs to them. It doesn’t belong to the DJs, it doesn’t belong to the organisation, it’s a party that their spirit is a part of. And that’s what makes it so special. There are always new people intrigued by what we’ve been doing, and always new faces showing up alongside the older faces.”
Sarah Lockhart (FWD, London): “If you become a regular punter then everybody’s treated as equal. We’ve fiercely tried to maintain that ethos, sometimes to the point where we’ve emptied the club out for six months because it’s turned into something popular and generic. We’ve had to destroy and rebuild it to hold on to the focus on music-obsessed people, and not those who are coming to get pissed.”
STAY ON TOP OF YOUR PAPERWORK.
Ralph LTF (Wifey, London): “When we put on DJ Funk he was refused entry to Heathrow in an ordeal that lasted five hours, involved Robin [Howells, Wifey co-promoter] travelling to the airport twice, both times expecting to see Funk on our side of customs, and both times finding him on the other end. He’d been given incorrect information about his visa from a booking agency (that will remain unnamed!). That drama was all taking place as the night was going on. I found out for definite that he wasn’t getting into the country about an hour before he was supposed to play his headline set, sat on the door facing a queue of people waiting to get in. Total nightmare. Everyone was amazing in dealing with it and our crowd were cool about it. But I’d recommend always being 100% sure about visa stuff and making sure you get a breakdown of how an artist expects to get into the country.”
Benji B (Deviation): “The past five years have been an ongoing learning curve as there are always things that pop up when you least expect them to. Our advice would be to double and triple check everything – if at any point it involves paper work or obtaining a licence for a venue then make sure you have copies of absolutely everything.”
HEDONISM IS TO BE ENCOURAGED, BUT BEST TO KEEP THE POLICE HAPPY.
Danny Rampling (Shoom, London): “There were no restrictions in that club, at the beginning, whatsoever. All you wanted to do, that was conducive to that atmosphere, you could do it. Like all of the good clubs that have stood the test of time. Also, the authorities weren’t aware of what was going on at the time. Which was great because we were running an illegal party. We could have got hammered for that. But it was a party and, fortunately, the police force were understanding. They could see it was run properly. It was adults running the place and it was efficiently run and safe. It was only when rave went major and it started to attract 25,000; and gangsters. That’s when the police slammed into all of us.”
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ACCEPT THAT YOU’RE AT THE MERCY OF FATE.
Ralph LTF (Wifey, London): “The success of your night is determined by all kinds of factors. Some of them you can try to control, but if it rains, or all your friends have a tiring week at work, or someone puts on another night down the road – there’s nothing you can do about it.”
DON’T WORRY ABOUT FASHION…
…BUT NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE ZEITGEIST.
Fil OK (Nag Nag Nag, London): “What made the club so successful? One word – zeitgeist. There was something in the air, and we seemed to hit the nail on the head. The music of the time, the fashion, the energy…people really needed a focal point for all this, and we were it.”
KEEP THE FAITH, AND LET THINGS DEVELOP NATURALLY.
Benji B (Deviation, London): “The best nights in the history of club culture have started small and grown organically. Have faith if there are only 50 people at your first night. Better to have the right people tell their friends word of mouth, than rely on temporary hype. Longevity is king.”
Shandy (Crazylegs, Bristol):“You know nothing when you start promoting. Everything you learn, you have to do it through fuck-ups and getting lucky. Everything moves so fast – the artists you’re booking, the agents you’re dealing with, the ways you promote, you just need to be immersed in it, there’s no shortcut. It can get pretty disheartening if you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere but it’s the same as anything – you just need to stick it out and work hard, never compromise your vision.”
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