Earlier this week York’s dear Club Salvation, the pubescent hub of the University’s nightlife, fell victim to what the hilarious scallywags of the Westboro Baptist Church might term a ‘God Smack’, as fire sent from the heavens enveloped its upper floors. That or it was a savvy inside insurance job. Either way, the image of the club being gutted by malicious flames seemed to affect students deeply, as Facebook alighted with a mixture of condolences and lols. To me, it seemed this was an omen, heralding that clubbing in York has finally become so reprehensible that natural forces are intervening. It all happened so quickly.
I came to York two years ago a country bumpkin, unaware of the emphasis that would be put on ‘clubbing’ at the institution. Back then, ‘clubbing’ was, to me, the faintly unpleasant practice of bludgeoning cute baby seals in Canada. I was unused to the concept of heading to a nightclub for entertainment: fun back home in East Anglia would invariably be centred around firing catapults at gypsies or prodding corpses in the local stream with a pointed stick. My clubbing virginity was lost amidst the tasteless décor and pederast-baiting smells of Tru, on the first Tuesday of Freshers’ week. Little did I know then that this heady pit of teenage lust, awful music and laughable ‘DJs’ would be a centre-point of the next year of my life. Fuelled by a burning stomach of nail-vanish-remover-level alcohol, it seemed like the best school disco I’d ever been too; lots of disturbingly over-friendly people, lashings of booze, and cheesy songs I hadn’t heard since the school run in 1994 flooding back to me in a wave of comforting nostalgia. As my time at York went on, the club repeated the same cheap thrills of that night, my motives shifting from meeting new friends to celebrating birthdays to cutting loose after an essay deadline.
These were innocent, golden times. Gallery seemed so classy, Ziggy’s was like some sort of dark, ecstatic bacchanal. In the Willow I felt the rapture of the end scene of Dirty Dancing every night. When I came home for summer my friends could scarcely believe I was such an enthusiastic ‘clubber’. But little did I know, my love for nightclubbing was soon to change tide. I think it must have been the time I went to Ziggy’s sober on a whim. Things I hadn’t noticed while dribbling VKs began to reveal themselves. The queue seemed to last an eternity, made worse by being shunted like a battery hen alongside moronic, sozzled Tory boys abusing ‘minging’ girls with extraordinarily weak ‘banter’. The urine soaking through my boots was so much warmer, the rugby boys’ cocks flashing outside were so much smaller. The club itself wasn’t the edgy joint I’d remembered from Term One, it seemed to be some sort of decrepit squat. Walking in on a girl taking a poo on some vomit in the gents’ forced me into a reluctant Ziggy’s exile. Where I used to find how depressing it all was funny, now I just found it depressing. Around the same time, a good friend was dragged out of The Duchess up the steps on his face by roid raging bouncers after a minor scuffle at the bar. Blood streaming down his face, it was later that he ascertained that they had broken his nose.
Growing less and less enthusiastic about York’s nightlife, I was thrown out of Gallery’s VIP lounge for mockingly playing their shit white piano, and, with the benefit of sober eyes, realised that the class I had once drunkenly perceived in the club was actually an optical illusion caused by balconies, and its comparison to Tru. After queuing for about two hours at the beginning of term, at the front, to get into what can only be described as an unappealing faux-boudoir, only to be told that we wouldn’t get in due to fast-tracking, I gave up on Gallery as well. Even the Willow had sold out, with merchandise t-shirts and entrance fees. The cheek, of asking an entrance fee into what is essentially a rave for those listed on criminal registers in an illegal Chinese loft. Another problem was my attitude to dancing. Honed through a childhood of rock gigs, my over-excited high-kicking, knee-sliding, Kevin-Bacon-in-Footloose aping moves were ill suited to the clubbing environment, where restricted, faintly embarrassed white-boy R&B shapes and finger-pointing Dad-at-a-wedding jiving are the norm. My wild flailing resulted in slicing my foot open on broken glass to Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’, and spraining my ankle star-jumping onto a Swede. Battered and bruised, I had fallen out of love with it all.
Then, as Salvation was announced as the new haven for the ailing York clubber, my hopes rose. In that den of iniquity I had spent many a night revelling in a half-empty club while people queued round the block in vain for Gallery. I liked its pure, unadulterated shittiness. It didn’t try hard like Gazza. It didn’t smell as bad as Tru. Its bouncers weren’t ex-SS like in The Duchess. The air of violence kept you on your toes, while the drinks were at black-market prices. There was plenty of space to dance. But it was too late, the clubber inside of me had died. Looking around at the end of last term I felt an all-consuming emptiness at the nightclub experience. Very few people seemed to be dancing for the love of dancing. Everyone seemed to be posing and taking photos of each other; their whole night just an album shoot for Facebook. There must be better ways for the attention-seeker to prove how ‘awesome’ their ‘uni life’ and ‘friends’ are than putting up pictures of themselves all sweaty and grim in Salvation. Why do people bring cameras to clubs anyway? Why would anyone want to document this fraught descent into shameful low-budget debauchery?
The same fucking songs drilled my head, leaving me wishing that Merzbow or Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music would come on and clear the air. I wondered to myself if the real reason for all this clubbing was sex; if these strange, awkward jiggles were all mating rituals. Most of the clientele had clearly spent way too long on their appearance, orange tans, constricting dresses and clown makeup screaming ‘I have no self esteem, I am a slave to my own conceptions of what others think of me’ in my face. Why go to all this bother for a couple of minutes of fumbling, impersonal, forgettable coitus? Anyway, could there be a worse place to find a partner than Club Salvo? Maybe a EDL demonstration or that paedo-jail that Louis Theroux went to. Or Reflex. Staring blankly at the dry ice wafting over the throng of zombies, I pondered how I could ever have found nightclubbing in any way fun or interesting, even in the so-bad-it’s-good way I did.
The most obvious explanation for joining the hordes of supposedly intellectual individuals throwing themselves so wholeheartedly into this whirlpool of piss and cheese was, of course, substance abuse. I had confused my love of clubbing with a love of getting completely off my face. My ‘clubbing phase’ was also, I later realised, a necessary evil brought on by the harsh constructs of the pre-determined lifestyle of the ‘fresher’ – I couldn’t just sit back at halls, not knowing anyone. Students had carefully set up this culture of clubbing over the decades to act as some intense, horrible bonding experience. After a year of clubbing in York you forge similar relationships to those between close friends made after Vietnam or the Somme. At least there’s something positive. Maybe I’m getting cynical, maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’ve lost my mojo. But I think that this fiery vengeance on Salvation is a sign. My clubbing days are over.
I don’t want to preach, or party poop and become henceforth known as Tom Killing-buzz, I’m just sharing my experience to warn others. And I’m sure it’s possible that some sort of bearable nightclub exists outside of York. I’m also sure I’ll be dragged out again sooner or later. But from now on, I’ll be attempting to keep my partying to gigs. And house parties. And raves. And weddings. And drinking in the bath. Just as long as there’s no queues, no expensive booze, no bodily fluids (other than my own), no DJs telling me they’re about to ‘press the button’, no STIs, no foam, no people off Hollyoaks, no tacky interiors, no shitty garish posters that assume I’m excited by unaccompanied live percussion, no sports socs, no bouncers, and no VIP lounges. And most importantly of all, no girls pooing in vomit. That very near made me cut my cock off.