In the past few days I’ve read several articles lamenting the decline of UK club culture – especially in London. Across the country, but more acutely in the capital, late night venues are shutting down at an alarming rate. Even The Telegraph – not usually an institution to defend to young people’s nocturnal activities – piped in, noting that half the country’s nightclubs have closed in the past decade.
The articles I’ve read have proposed several causes. Some of these are economic, noting the financial pressures on young people facing record unemployment, low-paid work and huge student debts. In London, venues are facing a more precarious legal situation: authoritarian regulations imposed by police and increasingly intolerant local councils are seeing higher security measures being imposed, with minor infringements placing licenses in jeopardy.
This can no doubt be partly attributed to the turbo-speed gentrification that is affecting much of inner London, steadily transforming large chunks of the capital into an increasingly bland tax-haven. An insipid, conservative, and risk-averse culture that seeks to capitalise on the ‘dynamism’ of the capital without its messiness and unpredictability is weakening the very cultures that made the city interesting in the first place.
This paints a pretty bleak picture for those, especially the young, seeking escape from the precarity and harshness of Tory Britain.
Yet, there is another interesting trend is happening simultaneously. The Guardian recently reported that the use of MDMA and LSD has increased significantly over the past two years. For adults aged 16 to 59, use of ecstasy/MDMA has risen 37% since 2012/13, while use of Acid is up 117%. For young people aged 16-24, the increases are even more marked
This tallies with a global trend of exploring alternatives to the War on Drugs, including legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis in several American states as well as Uruguay, following earlier experiments in the Czech Republic and Portugal. In addition, there seems to be renewed interest in scientific research in the potential of psychedelics. The recently formed Psychedelic Society, which recently expanded to Bristol, hails this as evidence of a ‘psychedelic renaissance’ in the UK, citing the fact that almost three million adults have used a psychedelic substance at least once.
So despite threats to the UK’s nightlife, there is a clearly a significant subculture with an appetite for exploring altered states of consciousness and different ways of relating to the world around us. It’s worth remembering that the Acid House explosion in the late 1980s also took place in the context of economic recession and hardline Tory rule. Large numbers of people are clearly dissatisfied with the surface realities promulgated by mainstream culture in thrall to celebrity banality. Maybe the current climate is an opportunity to develop alternatives that can’t be so easily commodified or swallowed up by the dominant culture.