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Has the wellness movement killed clubbing as we know it?

From wellness tonics on tap to meditation inspired raves, we examine whether a new era of wellness-oriented clubbing is the death knell for the after-hours benders and stimulant- fuelled frolics

In Ridgewood, Queens, NYC, the Planetarium club at Nowadays serves up ambient electronic music with Kombucha on tap – a chilled out vibe for the wellness set. At LA’s Weed Rave, clubgoers unwind with CBD yoga classes, while at Manchester’s Warehouse Project, Some Gen Z and Y clubbers have swapped vodka tonics and party pills for the clean, alcohol-free buzz of yuzu seltzer. Is this the death of club culture, or the start of something new entirely? 

As we cruise towards the 2020s, we’re witnessing a major shift in the culture of clubbing. Where nightclubs were historically the place to lose inhibitions, get wasted, make friends and make out, now there’s more to going out than getting out of it. This generation of clubbers is drinking less, wants a more holistic experience and is frankly too busy worrying about climate change and staving off burnout to feel shit the next day. With 50 per cent of millennials supplementing their income with a side project, hard work and hard living are a bad combination.

“If I’m out I’ll stick to water or a lime and soda. It’s a health-conscious thing,” says 23-year-old Matt Zara from Brighton. “There’s a relentless pressure to be productive and obviously a hangover or lengthy comedown gets in the way of that. Mental health plays a big part. If you're in a bit of a bad place already, you might avoid heavy drinking or drugs so as not to exacerbate any problems.”

The World Health Organization reports that adolescent drinking has been steadily declining since 2002, with spirit consumption by boys in England and Scotland down from 29 per cent to 3 per cent and beer consumption a mere trickle, from 33 per cent to 8 per cent. According to a Red Brick Road and Opinium survey, British 18-25-year-olds feel that “drinking is no longer a performance-enhancer but a threat to holistic health and productivity.”

“I think alcohol is the new cigarettes – it will become increasingly uncool and socially unacceptable," asserted English journalist Ruby Warrington recently in a discussion about the move towards alcohol-lite living. Her Club Soda NYC event nights follow on from her book Sober Curious and offer an opportunity for sociable meet-ups without the booze hell aftermath. At her ‘mindful drinking’ nights, 20-something party people can enjoy kundalini disco while sipping all manner of sober cocktails; it’s a place for teetotallers to relax without needing alcohol as a prop or feeling judged for abstaining. 

But this shift in the culture of clubbing isn’t just about opting out of alcohol to avoid hangovers and therefore make you a better worker. It’s also not just about alleviating the mental health complications associated with drinking. It’s an impulse reflective of our changing attitude towards health and wellness. No longer merely about avoiding illness and disease, the growing wellness movement has shifted our concern to actively improving one’s physical, emotional and spiritual health. 

As one might expect, there’s a lot of money to be made in the business of wellness. Today the global wellness economy is booming, valued in 2017 at $4.2 trillion, up 12 per cent from 2015. One particularly lucrative area is the business of wellness drinks. These drinks aren’t only alcohol-free but packed with active herbal ingredients that promise to boost brain and hormone function. In West Hollywood, there’s a booze-free, plant-based buzz around Kin Euphorics, a holistic drink brand formulated with cortisol-balancing adaptogens and botanics by Ayurvedic herbologist Jen Batchelor. Her ‘community space’, Kin House is designed for meaningful gatherings, not mind-bending mash-ups. And for those after a warm fuzzy vibe, the CBD craze that’s infiltrated every other facet of life is present and correct in Weed Rave’s nutrient-packed energy drinks. The ingredient du jour, a non-psychoactive hemp extract, has an overall anti-anxiety effect to gently raise flagging spirits. While they can’t legally claim medicinal powers, the subtext is that these health elixirs can offer sparkling conversation, improve mental focus and lift your overall mood. 

Beyond wellness drinks, night clubs have also started embracing wellness activities. For example, Ambient Church offers a hybrid of techno rave meets meditation class that takes place in cathedrals across LA. There’s also Colours of Love, described by co-founder Guinevere Rhonwen as ‘immersive experiences’ that will take place in Berlin, London and Tel Aviv this summer and autumn. These ‘happenings’ combine a little bit of the spirit of Burning Man, a taste of Extinction Rebellion idealism, and a nod to David Mancuso’s utopian New York love-in, The Loft. But instead of The Loft’s infamous fruit punch and balloons, Colours of Love serves up sound healing, dream activations and a sacred cacao ceremony. If alcohol is available, it’s likely to be “mindfully served mezcal paired with food to help redefine the relationship we can have with alcohol. It can be loving, respectful and appreciative, it doesn’t have to be destructive,” says Rhonwen. 

What these events have in common is an unspoken mission to nourish the mind and soul; a form of mindful escapism that’s much needed as economical, ecological and political turmoil continue to hurl challenges at Generation Anxious. Fuelled by a desire for pin-sharp mental clarity in a befuddled world, clubbers are realising that being proactively healthy is, to use a hackneyed word, empowering.

According to The Future Laboratory’s senior futures analyst Victoria Buchanan, this is only just the beginning. “We expect that future socialising will be much more about getting to a deeper place. So we’ll see club spaces pushing even further into the health and wellbeing arena to encompass sustainability, learning and more sensorial experiences.”

So, does this wellness-oriented form of clubbing sound the death knell for the after-hours benders and stimulant- fuelled frolics that until now have been a rite of passage for young people? Is getting into it the new getting out of it? “The night-time economy is in a state of flux and the days of pure hedonism are over, thanks to the changing attitudes of Gen Z and millennials,” predicts Buchanan. “In the future, hedonism and escape will need to provide enrichment or risk being seen as empty, shallow and wasteful to this purpose-driven audience.” 

The sentiment is echoed by Rhonwen, who sees the collective embrace of a more conscious club culture as a necessary shift in mindset. “People want empowering, engaging experiences in every area of their life. That includes raves that make you feel like pure ecstasy without necessarily having to take it.” All good, clean fun then see you at the seltzer bar.