Words by Iain R. Webb
‘I know when to go out, know when to stay in’.
Given the strange times in which we find ourselves, the opening lyric of David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’, c.1983, sounds ominously prophetic.
I became a club kid when I arrived in London in 1977 to study Fashion Design at St Martin’s School of Art, the legendary art school situated in the heart of Soho. Hailing from a tiny village in the wilds of Wiltshire - #notwild - Soho offered all manner of thrilling distractions afterdark, invariably discovered down a shabby staircase. It is telling that the vast majority of nighteries are subterranean. An underground realm, both physical and philosophical, that American anthropologist Ted Polhemus once likened to ‘Dante’s descent into Hell’.
Nightclubs have always been a haven for those who live on the edge of society, the outcasts and outsiders, the other, somewhere to escape the mundane realities of everyday. In the 1970s and ‘80s we lived in squats and low-rent, high-rise council blocks in less than salubrious parts of town, so after-dark working class boys and girls in dead-end jobs, the unemployed and arty dreamers could become star turns on the dance-floor. Gay clubs offered what would now be termed ‘non-judgmental safe spaces’ and although the clientele was pretty much the same, each club retained its own idiosyncratic look and mood. From the glossy Studio 54-lite vibe of The Embassy in the heart of Mayfair to the drab, downbeat, cavernous garage that was The Copacabana in far flung Earls Court. There was the bedroom-sized White Trash and the two-storey super club Bang. My favourite was El Sombrero where the light-up dance floor, no bigger than a dining table, was orchestrated by Emilio Fariña aka DJ Rudy.