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Still from iconic ‘Brandy & Coke’ garage photo series
Still from iconic ‘Brandy & Coke’ garage photo seriesPhotography Ewen Spencer

How can mainstream club culture become more inclusive?

The UK needs safe club spaces for their queer, BAME and female demographic – we investigate how to push ahead

The best things about clubs are often the clichés – the universal head nodding, the unifying tracks, the bass drops, and the DJs. Last year, however, the clichés were almost overwhemingly depressing ones – predominantly straight white male DJs dominating line-ups, and club-goers bemoaning a lack of safe spaces.

By now, the idea of a ‘safe space’ has almost become an empty media buzzword for people too lazy to realise why they’re important, but the concept remains, because the infrastructure in existence needs to open its eyes to the UKs shifting demographic (one that enjoys 14% of its population from BAME communities, where 10% of the population identify as LGBT, and where women outnumber men by almost a million).

Last year was definitely an insightful look at how many DJs missed the mark when it came to making clubbers feel at ease. From Ten Walls’ shockingly homophobic Facebook rant, to PC Music’s GFOTY making a “joke” about appropriation to Boddika tweeting that non-English speakers should “fuck off” toDSTRKT’s racist door policies, it seems as though the aggressions didn’t even tried to remain micro; they were everywhere. This then culminated in Kindness’ now infamous RBMA lecture where he spilt the tea on how damaging and insidious industry racism can be, and how this affects the music.

So how can promoters work to ensure that this year does better? The club as an agent of social change has often been criminally underestimated. It’s here that (IRL) friendships are made, tastes are developed, and people from diverse backgrounds can integrate. Inclusivity is crucial, because at its best, the club can be a platform for cultural experiences that feel unrepresented in the mainstream. At its worst, it can be a nightmarish vision of itself – fragmented groups listening to dark, fragmented music. It’s why we feel particularly protective and angry when DJs make minority communities feel marginalised, or worse, unsafe.

To that end, it’s hugely important that we combat the problem moving forward. A few activists from within the electronic music scene are attempting to shift the balance of power when it comes to DJ line-ups. The ‘Very Male Lineup’ Tumblr popped up last year as a challenge to the ‘bromoters’ who continue to promote male-dominated DJ line-ups at club nights like Deviation, FWD>> and Dimensions Festival. The theme continued with ‘Female:Pressure’, a network of female artists who campaign for more women across the dance music world. In 2013, they released a survey “addressing the lack of…visibility for female artists in the electronic music scene” and their study findings showed that festivals, labels and clubs worldwide featured less than 10% of women.

Discwoman, a Brooklyn-based DJ collective, presents the most exciting news from female DJs on their platform. It features pieces on techno-feminism, talks from Venus X and throws parties where all the DJs are female. Over in the UK, small contributions from DJs like the UK-based Nightwave, ran DJ workshops for girls aged 8-16 last summer in Glasgow. It’s also worth noting that Nightwave, who is from Slovenia, is not only championing the next generation of girls but is perhaps inviting some conversation about the importance of championing immigrant sounds. She told Dazed: “We wanted to make sure none of them start going to clubs thinking all DJs are men. It's extremely important to address the gender balance on DJ line ups to inspire future artists instead of discouraging young girls to have a go. You can't be what you can't see! I'm sure guys are fed up with sausage fest lineups as well – it's boring as fuck.”

It’s unclear as to whether more white female DJs will necessarily result in visibility of women, and men of colour, or members of the LGBTQ community. Never the less, it’s a step in the right direction. Although what’s clear is that the notion of working alongside ‘bromoters’ to get diverse voices heard can be grating.

It feels as if the tide is changing, and there’s an argument to say that the organic visibility of DJs, is more satisfying than quota filling. Bodyparty, a monthly club night started last year, identify themselves as “an intentionally queer safe space for black and brown bodies” and they have began a conversation about the necessity of such spaces. This year also looks to see more of artists like Kamixlo, Uli.K and Endgame’s Bala Club, who started as a reaction to “feeling anxious in club spaces”. It also promises to see more of the excellent DJ collective, BBC Azn Network – DJs from a range of backgrounds (Mongolian, Pakistani and Armenian) playing sounds from both western and immigrant diasporas. One third of Azn Network, DJ 2shin, commented last year: “Clubs in the West End of London are still astoundingly open in their racist door and music policies” and these clubs aim to challenge that.

Alongside Bala Club, Bodyparty, and AZN Network nights, last year saw the launch of Night Slugs’ Club RezButterz took grime across the UK and the globe and lesbian hip hop collective Holla! enjoyed five years of their acclaimed east London club night. In the same way that more niche gaysian club nights like Club Kali or Latin American night La Pollera Colora have done in the past, all of these have created a scene for themselves outside needing to placate mainstream promoters.

Outside the club, the success of excellent DJs like Neptizzle playing Afrobeats on Reprazent radio, or the wealth of different DJs on NTS, radio is increasingly, a platform for a new generation of voices to be heard (which even Radio 1 and 1xtra are catching on to). It’s resulted in a wealth of thrilling sounds coming from the likes of 1xtra DJs Sian Anderson, Clara Amfo, Jamz Supernova and A Dot (who also happen to be women of colour) booked for massive mainstream line-ups. Jamz Supernova, who has a slot on 1xtra, explained: “When I started raving, I don't remember any female DJs but there's a lot more of us now. Female promoters are a good thing – it encourages more female DJs, more music by women, it’s a positive cycle which makes sure things are moving in the right direction."

Building platforms is crucial to championing the best of British club culture, and in the wake of closures and arts funding cuts, it becomes more and more essential to create spaces that people can safely congregate. As the landscape changes, it’s the responsibility for our clubs and its culture to reflect the plurality of DJ talent and audiences. 

London’s club culture is thriving, and this year looks to continue to make that point, despite a climate which has attacked and ignored large swathes of people. Thanks to the frenetically-paced grime at Butterz club nights, Club Rez, PDA parties, Bala Club, Azn Network’s upcoming Caller Tune night and countless others, this year will continue to stress a simple point: if you’re bemoaning the death of club culture, you’ve misunderstood.