Recently I was at Half Baked at Studio 338, a big venue in south-east London more than capable of holding a couple of thousand ravers. Though the music was on point, with a killer line-up including Tama Sumo and Motor City Drum Ensemble, everyone in my crew felt claustrophobic. Thankfully the bar was not an issue and neither were the toilets, but space on the dancefloor was scant, leading to friction – people shoving themselves through the crowd, others finding it difficult to dance and a general feeling that there were just too many people in the dance. Sadly, gone are the days when you could really let loose while dancing to house or techno – no more evident in the antagonism directed towards shufflers who are often lambasted for ‘taking up too much space’. If you go to most clubs nowadays you’ll find people simply side-stepping and bopping up and down; constrained by the lack of space, they never get to truly go for it. Over the last few months I’ve heard untold complaints from people about overcrowding at parties like The Hydra to Fabric and XOYO.
So why the crush? Maybe because the amount of space dedicated to our music is slowly diminishing. We seem to lose a couple of good venues every year; most recently in London Crucifix Lane fell victim to the expansion of London Bridge station, and Plastic People also closed earlier in the year. In tandem with the dwindling number of clubs, there has been an outright increase in people wanting to party to electronic music; Londoners, people from the rest of the UK and foreign visitors all pack themselves in to the Capital every weekend to get their fill – and, of course, the clubs need to cater for them. But at what cost? It’s always a temptation for promoters of a popular night to go over-capacity sometimes, and not just through greed: it’s hard to turn away people who are just desperate to experience a great line-up, and not everyone has the heart. But by letting too many people in they diminish the experience for everyone. Not only are many young people in London forced to live in cramped, overpriced and often sub-standard rental accommodation, more often than not, they’re forced to rave in these conditions, too!
Doubtless, much of this is done to cover costs as the demand for bigger line-ups puts increased financial pressure on those running the parties – as well as the rising costs of rent or venue hire. It’s totally understandable, but it taints the enjoyment of the night. A female friend of mine put it like this: “Every time I go out nowadays I get barged left, right and centre, there’s a bad atmosphere or I’m just not comfortable in the club. It’s putting me off going out.”
Ajay Jayaram, who runs The Hydra with his partner Dolan Bergin, told me, “It’s very easy to forget, when you are in a busy multi-room club, that even when the legal overall capacity of a space is being adhered to, the ebb and flow of a night means that at certain points – especially when the headliner comes on – there will be a rush to see that act. The logical thing to do would be to put the next ‘strongest’ act on at the same time to counter this effect, but of course that brings it’s own problems in terms of people then having to make a choice. It’s actually part of the reason we don’t generally like to advertise set times in advance, as we prefer to promote the idea that people can come to enjoy the night as a whole.”
There are improvements to be made, and some clubs and promoters are clearly aware of the situation and seem to be working on it. Krankbrother and Half Baked organise the occasional ‘intimate’ party at a small venue with limited numbers, which creates a better atmosphere all round. Likewise, both The Hydra and Oval Space have won the right to throw 24-hour parties which may go some way to regulating the numbers of people on the dancefloor, eschewing the usual peak-time crush and encouraging people to go out at more unorthodox hours, as has become the norm in cities like Berlin.
Of course it would be nice to have more club spaces, but for now the responsibility lies with the people behind the scenes to be mindful of the numbers they’re allowing in to their venues. It’s also up to us as clubbers not to bitch and whine when we get to a great night too late and ‘it’s one-in-one-out.’ Overall, it’d just be fun to be able to dance without getting up close and personal with a stranger’s armpit. We get enough of that on the Tube.