Where’s the Dancing? What happened to Scotland’s Underground Clubbing Venues?

people dance in a group

This song is not a new one, but is one we play more often now, and louder. It goes like this. ‘Where the fuck can we put a club night on? Oh God, where are all the underground venues?’

It’s not rocket science to acknowledge the relationship between self-discovery and club culture. If you’re reading this article, I’d bet all £10 in my bank account that you, or someone you love,  has had a deeply intense experience in a sweaty club as some mad music, only previously heard in your wildest dreams, pumps through the high-grade speakers and changes your life. But the continual rise of student accommodation and office blocks, combined with the COVID pandemic, are killing the places – and the people – that provide the party. 

Finding new frequencies that annihilate fear in your brain, via dancing, is a rite of passage. Leaving behind your school playlists or office radios and stepping into the club to hear genres unserved elsewhere can be a spiritual experience. 

Hosting these parties, so you can share the joy such times have brought you with a new set of faces, is part of the cycle. Yet the unfair, unfortunate deaths of adored and financially accessible venues like Studio 24, Flat 0/1, The Art School, The Reading Rooms, and The African Arts Centre (and that’s just a list from recent years) are making this an impossibility. 

Losing so many places in this way is a travesty at face value; more appreciation for grassroots venues should be hoped for at any time. But – without sounding like a conspiracy theorist – why is it always the places playing against-the-grain genres that pay the price? 

Unless you are a slave to intense techno, soft house or mediocre, pop-tinged EDM, where can you go partying in Scotland on the regular? Where can you discover yourself? Where do you find your tribe,and where do you get to experiment with the clothing, decor, and subcultures that come with loving a particular genre of music? Even if you are down to float through the kind of mediocre, mass-produced nights you’re not actually keen on just to beat away our good friend FOMO, you can probably expect to come away from the club having had your arse groped – at absolute best. 

Understandably, venues left in the shit by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic – of which there are many – need to regain their financial security every way they can. The last few places able to offer cheap or non-existent hire fees before the pandemic are now asking for £200+ to hire the same spaces during a weeknight, let alone a weekend; completely fair for the venue, less so for those hoping to provide some alternative nightlife to Scotland’s cities. It’s a particularly unfair situation for so many of those in Scotland who’ve grown up in tiny towns with one awful, sticky-floored “nightclub” playing questionable 90s rave tracks to entertain us. When you’ve been dreaming and longing for escape and hedonism, as is standard young adult behaviour (and this has been amplified significantly by the pandemic), the last place you want to end up for a night out in the city is a carbon copy of the hometown venues you’ve been trying to run away from, just now featuring more expensive drinks, and less familiar faces. 

What’s left are spaces, if you can afford them, that’ve been booked out months or even years ago. So you can plan your club night now, and actually put it on in 2025. Or, you can choose a venue so fresh and/or exclusively underground, that unless you’re close chums with the bar manager’s best mate’s sister then, sorry pal, you won’t be getting in. 

The result, as ever, is more and more young people forced literally underground; to illegal, unstaffed ‘venues’ where accidents and drama are more likely to happen than ever; especially when parties are hosted by young teams being denied the opportunity to explore this side of their lives in a secure way, due to lack of accessible venues. Safe places to discover yourself on a dancefloor shouldn’t be served with a side portion of danger.  

It’s not just the hopeful promoters, bookers and DJs of tomorrow who are downtrodden. So many now-defunct venues used to let you decorate the space how you wished, to tie into a theme of the night, leading to collaborations with art collectives that boosted both of your skills, visibility, and thereby chances of creative work. Have you ever been fully underwater as you’ve got down to afrobeats? Or in a rocket ship blasting to space powered by some hand-built sound systems as you throw your body around to some jungle? Wouldn’t you rather be in a space where true care has been applied to every little detail? 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still incredible collectives running club nights across the country that are pushing boundaries continually. But having one night a month where the vibe is just right, versus knowing that Glasgow’s Garage is open 365 days a year, and you may see the problem. 

Add into the mix that Dundee’s V&A is currently housing an amazing exhibition examining nightclubs and clubbing culture in Scotland. The exhibition biography reads: ‘​​Scottish club culture is built on an ethos of DIY attitude, togetherness, humour, and a tightly knit network of DJs, clubs and promoters’ – and the ignorance toward anything not mass-produced feels laughable.  

So: here is my plea. My call to arms. Who will take the risk? Who will surrender some creative control of a club to a younger generation? Who will make space for those with new visions of parties and what to play to keep you shuffling till 2am? By now, you’re not just doing us a favour – you could be saving a whole generation of ravers. 

The Reading Rooms photo courtesy of Andy Barton (Headway / Missing Persons Club)


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