Illustration by Beth Nicol
The UK is renowned for its love of a party. However for a country so proud of its rowdy nature we have a surprisingly limited clubbing scene. London had its heyday, but complaints in residential areas and uncooperative councils has led to a serious decline in both mainstream and underground nightlife. Although many may view clubs as places for drunken free for alls, and therefore not care about their closure, clubs can be places of great creativity. Of course there is fun, fucked up element - which should never be dismissed - but there is also room for collaboration and community within the countries nightlife.
The club scene has always been an important part of queer culture, with the club representing a safe space for self-expression in times when the streets were not. The club creates a microcosm of complete acceptance, where partygoers are expected to create a look that not only shows off their creative talent but a part of themselves they may not always feel comfortable presenting. The club also has the power to connect people, fostering friendships and community for likeminded individuals.
The 80’s still remain the most prominent decade for London’s queer nightlife, with the likes of Leigh Bowery at the forefront of club culture. Bowery and the culture he represented are still prominent as the era represents the flourishing of the queer scene and the first steps towards explorative and outlandish expression being revered. In his time Bowery broke many boundaries with his flamboyant appearances and performances, creating his own language through style which has now been imitated by countless designers and artists but was once unique to him. Although there is not the same gravitas attached to the ‘club kids’ of today as there was in the 80’s, many queer artists gain recognition due to their performative style.
Unfortunately, the glory days of the club scene seem to be coming to an end, with the number of queer nightlife spots in London dropping from 121 to 51 in the years between 2006 and 2017. Club culture no longer receives the same idolization it has in previous years, and instead queer institutions like The King Edward IV – Islington's oldest gay pub – are being shut down.
Last year the Whitechapel Gallery hosted an exhibition titled Queer Spaces: London, 1980s – Today. The exhibition focused on archival imagery from LGBTQI+ venues, while closely mapping the creation and removal of said places. The exhibition debuted not long after a drag show held in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to protest the closure of queer spaces, where participants adorned costumes representing prolific venues that have been forced to shut. Both the protest and the exhibition highlight the growing tension around the removal of queer space, and the exhibitions co-curator Vassillios Doupas explained the unique role these spaces play in the community, as they’re about “bringing people together, cultivating relationships. It was about being with other people and realising that you’re not on your own”.
It is clear that the closures represent the silencing of the queer community, as spaces where people can be truly comfortable were limited to begin with and are now further reduced. Freedom of expression is not always easily acquired, and usually requires some form of sacrifice – whether it be loss of family, violence, verbal abuse or another misfortune. The club itself provides solace from social problems and represents a safe space of queer expression, which seems to be being disregarded by those implementing these closures. Some credit the drop in popularity to the invention of the internet and a wider social acceptance of queer culture, but this is a broad generalisation as social advancement does not equate to the eradication of discrimination and the need for safe space.
It is daunting to think of the implications of these closures, but the queer community is refusing to be silenced. Decadent, otherworldly nights like Tremors and Inferno still run regularly, amassing large and loyal crowds. Nights like Harpies in the Sky also run and celebrate trans+ bodies whilst supporting sex workers in the community. The queer scene is still thriving but needs support: more protests, more coverage, more rights to freedom! The club is so integral to a variety of different youth cultures and their development - the queer scene only being one. The club culture of the 80’s is idolised by many, but the club culture of today needs your support and could achieve the same status if given the chance as creativity has only increased.
Written by Isobel Gorman-Buckley