How 2022 changed clubbing culture, maybe for the better
Written by ABR on 24/11/2022
This story originally appeared in i-D’s The Royalty Issue, no. 370, Winter 2022. Order your copy here.
If you were born the year Eric Prydz’s “Call On Me” gyrated its way to number one in the charts, congratulations: you’re of clubbing age now. And boy, do dancefloors in 2022 show it.
The switch from locked-down listlessness and watching Euphoria on our laptop screens to chasing euphoria on our uncooped weekends was instantaneous, more so than anyone might have guessed. Expected trepidation was in the mud from day one; skulking around the bar with the occasional headnod was never an option. Short of doing cartwheels to happy hardcore, this year’s audiences could hardly have been more raring to get stuck in.
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The physical and psychic damage of staying inside for the greater good is going to play out in strange and difficult ways, with the pandemic’s burden set to fall in a cruel and uneven fashion. That can’t be overlooked. Yet the line between preservation and puritanism wobbled dangerously at times during latter lockdowns; those scolding the young for wanting to cut loose were projecting their frustrations, setting unrealistic moral and interpersonal standards. Expecting a generation to forestall their coming-of -age summers and real-world experiences in perpetuity was a fantasy.
Because we need clubs, bars, academies, and sticky-floored student unions. I do, you do, and they – the kids – especially do. Teenagers require the bandwidth to get sauced, get blasted, overdo it, make mistakes, to wake up coated in sweat and roiled with regret. A place to define your own habits, comforts, boundaries, and passions under the guidance of a strobe and thunderously loud music: to feel out who you want to be and what you want out of your personal time.
Having been let loose after taking one on the collective chin for north of eighteen months, festival bills reflected a step change in what young audiences seek. Everywhere you look, music is dangling its legs over the edge of gleeful intensity: from the carnal bounce of Shygirl and Charli XCX, neon-hued larynx-shredding from the likes of Ashnikko and Bring Me The Horizon, to fire tornados of community-nourished jazz. Pop-punk is running riot, and 2023 will only dial that up when Blink-182 and Paramore return. Even indie is off the naughty step, reverted to its most swaggering and sleazy form, harking back to the moment when sweat dripped from the ceilings and down the back walls of alternative clubs.
And that’s before you factor in dance music at all, where a kind of turbo rave delirium has overtaken; a vibe that prioritises hit after dopamine hit of pop samples, rapidfire BPMs, and tongue-in-cheek aesthetics (and we could be talking solely about Bad Boy Chiller Crew here). Riotous and unpretentious multi-genre blends are in; dull, entrenched promoter syndicates are out. Purists of a certain age and sensibility are going spare at how purportedly unserious it feels, but honestly, sack the grousers off. Can sunglasses get any tinier? Is it a bubble? Will it sustain? Well, here’s a question for you: does it actually matter?
For those who came of age during 2020’s powerful, galvanising, and much overdue moral and social realignment, there’s been a renewed corrective to change the face of club culture. All-white and all-male line-ups feel like a dusty relic. Fashion is drenched in colour and liberated from gender binaries; you don’t need a BeReal alert to prompt a mile-wide smile.
To that point – you only have to peer as far as the synapse-tingling bangers released by collective Eastern Margins. Or events thrown by the young British South Asians behind Dialled In, the stream-smashing numbers put up by nouveau junglists PinkPantheress and Nia Archives, or the electrifying residency sets undertaken by Yung Singh, to get a sense of UK club culture’s tectonic plates shifting. To see wave after wave of gunfingers raised aloft, you understand an untapped audience was ready and willing to meet the moment.
Nowhere is this sense of ground-up cultural rejuvenation more explicit than by tallying who ran the UK singles charts this summer. Scottish production duo LF SYSTEM came out of seemingly nowhere to stick at No.1 with “Afraid To Feel” for eight weeks on the spin, even shutting out Beyoncé’s Robin S-pinching “Break My Soul” (The Edinburgh lads’ cheeky response to Bey — tweeting “maybe next week, good effort x” as she stalled in the silver medal slot — is arguably the apex of Scottish piss-take patter).
Then there was “Baddest Of Them All”, a genuine word-of-mouth revelation that carried Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal from the fertile world of new garage producers-DJs to a place in the history books – not least because the song was No.1 when the Queen died.
That’s not to say everything’s rosy. The economic incentive propping up live music is, for lack of a more graceful phrase, fucked. Burnout is surging through creatives like a forest fire, and any promoter, rock or rave, will confide that the success of any given event is a crapshoot right now.
What makes it worthwhile, though, is the megawatt energy surging from music and art spaces up and down the country. The pills, thrills, and Lucozade-fuelled comedowns were a given, but after the slow torment of void-staring lockdown, it’s the sense of collective spring which supercharged a summer that many – old and young – will tell you was practically unrivalled for its sense of controlled chaos and ecstatic vibe. Be it the basement or main stage, you can feel it in the air and on the floor.
To break the fourth wall here: trust me, clubbing in the mid-2010s could be fucking awful. No sense of direction, just a see-saw between moody techno blokes with an overinflated sense of superiority, or rooftop afternoon events where you’d get rinsed £40 just to spend another dozen on a pulled pork bap. A real rough patch. To paraphrase Fred Again… emergent posterboy of earnest 2020s clubbing: in sound, aesthetic, colour, and vibe, it was high time to turn on the lights again.
After a brutal couple of years, clubs and music have a youthful and cheeky glow again. Fissures remain, but the darkness has been expunged. We owe a heap of gratitude to the fresh blood, the next wave, the new generation who are seizing the moment with impunity. Enjoy it while it lasts: going out in 2022 has, despite the world ablaze, been a blast.
Photography Jermaine FrancisSpecial thanks to Eden and Samuel at Howl, Vogue Rites, Somerset House, Pablo at Dalston Den, Joanna Smirnova at Henhouse, Matt at Black Heart, Kaiya at Steamdown, Katie at We are Indigo, and Will Barnes
Photographed August to September 2022