Microclubs: the commuter-friendly alternative to the all-night rave

Smart clubbers no longer dance the night away – they hit the dancefloor straight after work, or on a Sunday afternoon

It's not yet 8pm but the queue for entry has already formed at 93 Feet East, a nightclub and gig venue on Brick Lane in London's East End. Thirty people are waiting to be searched at the door as the bass line thuds from inside the club. The post-work crowd have already been here for a couple of hours, sinking sundowners out of plastic pint glasses, knocking back Jägermeister shots and dining on burgers from the stall set up for clubbers wanting to line their stomachs before the night begins. Inside, a DJ plays house records.

By 9.30pm, the dancefloor is in full swing as clubbers, drinks in hand, are already looking a little worse for wear. Condensation occasionally drips from the ceiling. It looks and feels like the early hours of the next morning.

This is "microclubbing", club nights crammed into the hours before midnight, often starting from the late afternoon. Events with well-known DJs are rescheduling the timetable of a traditional club night out, abolishing what Phil Dudman, clubs editor at MixMag, the dance music and clubbing magazine, calls "last train syndrome".

"A lot of all-night clubs empty quickly come midnight," he said, "and we've seen a shift in the ritual of the warm-up to a night out: people are more inclined to just get straight into something these days – where the vibe is already in place."

The recession, the increasing difficulty of obtaining late-night drinking licences and changing working hours have all played a role in the rise of the microclub. "It's clever economics," Dudman explains. "It's cheaper to go to a club night at a bar – entry is mostly free and you can have a few drinks where they are averagely priced. All-night venues tend to charge upward of £5 per drink, which is a lot in the current climate."

This shift towards earlier evenings out, without losing the sense of hedonism of an all-night club, has been gaining momentum over the past few years. Kate Hutchinson, clubs editor at Time Out London, which first identified the phenomenon, believes that, as the number of clubs and bars has increased and as venues battle for customers, putting on an official club night in an ordinary bar – thereby making it a destination – has become far more attractive to clubbers.

"I've seen a rise in the number of venues that have capitalised on the microclubbing idea – Early Doors Disco at Drink Shop & Do in King's Cross has really cottoned on to the concept that you can have a drink and a dance that's not in the sweaty warehouse-rave sense and still be able to get the last tube or train home," she says. "It's commuter raving."

Early clubber Louise Pyne-Jones, 32, believes part of the reason why microclub evenings are proving so popular is down to the changing priorities of a generation who do not work regular hours. "Not everyone works Monday to Friday, nine to five these days," she said. "A lot of people work over the weekend or have children and commitments, so nights that start and finish early make sense – no one is missing the opportunity to dance and have a good night out."

The compressed hours are not a problem for some big-name DJs. The Lock Tavern in London's Camden Town has hosted DJs Andrew Weatherall, Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers among others at its popular Sunday parties, which start at 3pm.

Casper Clark, promoter and booker at the Lock, said microclub nights have a big appeal for popular artists and DJs: "They can play a more obscure or light-hearted section of their record collections, for a more relaxed crowd than you might find in a big club. And free entry makes it a democratic process, where nobody is going home at the end of the night with a pile of cash. It's an opportunity to play 'for the love' and give something back to their fans."

Gokcen Dincer, 24, has been clubbing in London since she arrived from Turkey to study English three months ago. She is a fan of British pubs and bars, and aims to end her night out as the clock strikes midnight: "This is my last stop – there's no need to stay out until the morning when I can dance and have a great time before the last tube home. There's something really appealing about ending the night on a high."

Dincer's opinion is echoed by Per Bertelsen, owner of the Blagclub in London's Notting Hill. He said the shift to earlier club nights started as a result of licensing issues at venues, but it suited people who had children or had to work the next day. "Club culture is partly about communicating through dancing, and punters seem to want to start earlier these days," he said.

But mostly, Bertelsen said, the appeal of microclubbing, whether during the week or at weekends, is the short hit of fun without the need for a long recovery time: "You live to fight the next day without feeling too rubbish."


Shahesta Shaitly

The GuardianTramp

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