DIY disco: how to set up a club night

Forget soulless superclubs and enter the wonderful world of do-it-yourself clubbing

The perfect night out is hard to come by. Even in London, the glittering metropolis catering to every hedonistic whim, you can’t always rely on someone else to run a night that plays the very specific kind of music you’ve been craving. The only solution is to put on your own.

In an idle exchange on Twitter, my friend Sammy and I discussed our favourite breakup songs – not the weepy Un-Break My Heart sort, but the Screw You Pal, I’m Amazing power-anthem kind. As we moved from tweets to email, we agreed that this would make a great night out. Neither of us had ever put on a club night before but you should never let having no idea what you’re doing put you off doing things. And thus U Suck was born.

1 Build your playlist

We started by creating a huge, sprawling playlist in which we dumped every breakup anthem we could think of. No genre was off limits, so we had everything from Fleetwood Mac to Daphne and Celeste in there, and we had some long and intricately worded email chains about what counts as a breakup song – should we play TLC’s No Scrubs? Reader, we played it. Choosing the songs we wanted to play was a bit like making a mixtape – it needed to flow from genre to genre without being too jarring, and we had to be sure to save plenty of big hits for later on in the night.

2 Find a venue

Don’t expect to email Fabric and be dropping Rihanna MP3s for the gurning masses by Saturday night. We set our sights low but even East London’s dive bars and hipster hangouts oscillated between “Great idea, how about January 2017?” and being too cool to answer our emails.

It’s safe to say DIY club nights are not the way to make a quick buck. Most venues ask for a deposit that they refund once the bar takes a certain amount of money. After that, you get a percentage of the money they make but if your guests don’t drink enough you lose the deposit. One venue in King’s Cross bucked the trend by offering to pay us to put the night on. “Are you sure?” I asked the bar manager, for some reason trying to talk him out of giving us money. “We don’t really know what we’re doing.” He didn’t seem to mind. We had a venue. We had a date. We had a name and a 157-song playlist of tracks to go with it. All we needed now was for some people to come.

3 Get the word out

As soon as you have a date and venue, set up a Facebook event and invite everyone you know. Tweet the link every other day, post songs you’ll be playing and ask for requests in advance so people feel involved. We pitched the night to as many London listing sites as we could. Having a hook for U Suck really helped get people interested, as did the beautiful artwork one of Sammy’s friends did for us. Pay an illustration student or artistically inclined friend to put together a design that works for posters, flyers, your Facebook event page header and your Twitter profile picture. It makes you look like you know what you’re doing.

4 Setting up

Armed with a laptop, an iPad, a couple of posters and some Blu-Tack, we ducked into the “DJ booth” (which turned out to be a table behind a piano) and surveyed the set-up. Right. This mixing desk thingy looks impressive. We’ve got a few wires here. Um. How do we … what’s the way to … um … where do we plug … ah. We had forgotten to find out how to DJ.

We didn’t want to admit we had no idea what we were doing so we Googled madly, phoned friends and eventually figured it out – but not before seriously considering calling the whole thing off. My best advice is this: ask someone to show you how to DJ before you get there. If you’re playing songs off laptops or CDs and not attempting anything that requires any kind of actual skill, it’s basically just a case of moving the sliders up and down so the right song is playing through the speakers at the right time. That didn’t stop me causing a few clanging silences, but a sheepish grin seemed to get everyone back on side.

5 The big night

The night began at 8pm. By 8.20pm none of our friends had shown up and we’d driven a whole table of strangers out of the bar. We were feeling nervous. By 9.30pm the room was full of excited people, and by 10pm they actually started dancing. It seemed like they were having fun. More incredibly, Sammy and I were having fun – hell, even the bar manager looked like he was having fun.

We learned a lot from that first night, like how to deal with people requesting Jamiroquai (“No”); that people don’t care for pop punk; and that gay guys really love Ashlee Simpson. Standing behind the decks as a room full of people belted out the chorus to Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone, I got a tiny glimpse of what it feels like to be a pop star (it feels amazing).

Sammy and I grinned madly and marvelled at the fact that we had made this happen. And, if you ignore the bit when we thought about slipping out the back and leaving the country forever, it wasn’t even that hard.


Kate Solomon

The GuardianTramp

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