How Has Clubland Culture Changed?

Before you head out to go clubbing this weekend, or go hunting for any Easter eggs, I wanted to share something with you.

These words that I’m going to share with you are the final words from one of my favorite books about club culture.

These words struck me as poignant, profound and sad mostly because they also ring true for me on many levels.

And as I’ve revisited them recently, I’ve thought about how, in hindsight, the morning after or many years later, the hopes and dreams we have for our live music experiences can turn out to be more disappointing than fulling realize or life-changing.

And as I think more about what is said about this account of club culture, I wonder if, and how, clubbing culture has changed since the book was written.

At the end of Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture, author Frank Owen wraps up the book by explaining that the clubland utopia he had originally hoped would change the world, or at least his life, unfortunately ended in a tragic state of disillusionment and disgust.

The book is a wild ride into the club scene in New York city circa 1995 as Owen researches a story for the Village Voice about the use of Special K, the anesthetic ketamine, a new drug that Owen says had migrated from the veterinarian’s office to the dance floor at the time.

I’ve read the book several times and used it as a reference in our previous explorations into how Ecstasy is killing concert fans on at time and our other club culture experiments.

If you haven’t read Clubland before, I highly suggest diving into to it because it paints an engaging and sobering picture of the world of clubbing that many live music fans and clubbers love to immerse ourselves in.

But as Owen shows throughout Clubland, our escape onto the glorious dance floor at our favorite clubs is all to often a precarious disillusioned mix of inspiration, self-expression, tragedy, pleasure and hedonistic adventure that doesn’t turn out the way we initially hoped it would.

And ever since I first read Owen’s final words of Clubland, I’ve always been struck by how they address the very same things I’ve felt during and after my own clubbing experiences that DON’T end in a transcendent community of groove.

That said, Owen’s closing words have always made me wonder whether or not our clubbing experiences have changed since the book was written in 2005.

And if they have or haven’t changed, I wonder, in what ways.  And, more importantly, I wonder what can we as inspired live music fans and clublanders do to learn from the cautionary and tragic story that Owen tells.

Here are Owen’s final closing words of Clubland:

Battle-scarred but fundamentally healthy, having gained if not a whole new outlook on existence, then at least an understanding that life is too precious to waste your time lurking around VIP rooms and getting high, I look back over the last six years with decidedly mixed feelings. I am grateful that I didn’t end up dead, in jail, or a drug addict, like so many of the people I covered. I feel proud that I wasn’t scared off by the numerous threats made against my life.

But I also feel a deep sense of sadness over the harsh truths that I uncovered about a milieu I was once so passionately wedded to. Sorrow not just for the many lives love or ruined, but melancholy at the creative potential squandered, at how club culture had failed to live up to its utopian promises. When I first arrived in America at the end of the 80’s, trying to escape the dead weight of Britain’s rigid social order, I was what went on at American clubs and raves as perfect but temporary democracies of desire, an ideal world where racial, sexual, and social divisions were dissolved in the communal abandon of the dance floor. The mass euphoria and emotional solidarity I experienced while dancing at downtown clubs like the World and Sound Factory seemed like a possible model for a future society.

Nowadays, after too many nights seeing clubs kids’ inhumanity to fellow club kids, I’m more likely to view discos as institutions constructed on cruelty. Club culture is supposed to be about community, self-expression, and joyous release through music. Nightclubs are meant to function as laboratories of style where new trends and modes of being are spearheaded. They’re not supposed to come with a body count.

So what do you think? Has clubland changed for the better or have things only gotten worse? What would you do to improve Clubland?


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