Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Let the Madness Commence

 Old Portmuthian Michael Roderick takes us on an anthropological tour of 'Tiger Tiger' .

The British and their queuing. What a quaint and time-tested relationship that is. What images of serene politeness at the village post office, as Mr Jones lets old Dorothy chat to Maggie behind the counter as he patiently waits, letting the old dears chirp away and natter. What images! How delightful! How British it is indeed; it’s a national sport and a point of national pride. What a beautiful image it is indeed.

But here is another type of queue.

The violent and gaudy colours, the reek of aftershave and sweat, the crazed amounts of make-up, gels, tans and liquid assortments for the human body, the potions of beautification. I am standing waiting to get into a club, the first I have ever been to, as the night-air chills around me and the lights flare beside me, like some monstrous blue furnace that we are waiting to be fed to. O thou sacrificial flame of Tiger Tiger! Tiger Tiger: Recreation Zone 1 for our august city, for both young and old, and I - a mere mortal, a verifiable clubbing-neophyte -  stand before it, waiting to discover its mysteries and pleasures, desperate to satiate my imagination, which has bewildered me with thoughts of being 18 and being able to go clubbing for months now. The last day of school has been completed, exams are not for some time and I can snugly afford one night to drink, dance, revel. The heart’s sweet pleasures.

With the slightest movements we make our way forward in the queue. The entrance feels more like that of an airport than a club; there are minutes of dispassionate faces gazing at my identification, minutes of check-in, safety and payment. The tension in this crowd - to move, to jilt, to explode in a frenzy of intoxicated energy – is extreme; there is nothing quaint about this crowd.  Babylon is not free and its citizens are legion. I’m with my friends (which thus far seems to be my only comfort) and we saunter to the upstairs lounge, passing those who have already imploded. We continue our journey upstairs. Upstairs where all gather for the main ceremony, upstairs where the ubiquitous pantomime is played out.

Before my eyes there is a scene (picture it) a mass of darkened human beings, some of whom are occasionally lighted by the zooming flash of lasers and the quick-spinning whirl of the mirror ball, looming over the throng like some arcane idol. The body, the whole mass of people, moves as one. It is hard to believe that, within the vast collection, connections and relationships, conversations and whispers are taking place, the whole labyrinthine politics of human drama rolls on.  Where to begin? Well it is time for me to enter this mass, to become part of it and (what is essential for enjoying the night in this place) to buy a drink.

Digital Bacchanal. No-one knew how this began; no-one knew who was the first person to start dancing, who turned on the delirious laserlights and lunatic spectrals and then took the first sip of their first drink (which was served in a plastic, neonlight cup). Instead, one would merely show up, and it would be there, no need to question its cosmology, its creation and destruction, its alpha and its omega, the whole grotesque teleology of how a party thrown at the beginning of 21st Century would begin, and how it would end. No-one could ever remember the beginning, and certainly no-one could ever remember the end. They merely existed. Sing to me muse! Sing of the party!! Sing of the- Oh the languor of youth… Oh the languor of….Calvin Harris! and Jessie J! Yes, this is the delirium of it all, you can picture it now; the assorted extremes of sensation flaring in lights, the music, the jilted madmen movements to the iron beat depth-charging through the air. The only adjective to describe the furious carnival is digital. Terabytes of sensation, noise and the nerves blasted, squeezed and sharpened as fibre-optic cables by the sheer electricity of the stimuli: the humidity of human perspiration befouling the space, the perpetual detonation of music destroying the air, mingling with the lights, the drink, the moving and shrieking humanity, the monstrous synesthesia and psychic bewilderment that is impossible to escape and, at once for me it seems, both ecstatic and unbearable to experience.

With one drink in my hand, lost amongst the nameless deep on all sides, a sudden, second-long shudder takes grip of me. Rule One: if one does not have an island of friends, or at least associates, to anchor to in this place, one is inescapably lost, isolated and lonely amongst the vast collection of human matter. The moment was only fleeting, but it was enough for to decide a course of action which would, I hoped, resolve my isolation and blend me into the swathe: I attempted to dance--- a few jostled movements here, a few hysterical spasms there, grasping at the omnipotent hoot of the music as, no doubt, surfers take hold of a crest or kayakers make uses of a watercurrent, I became bold, turning to the left of me, turning to the right of me flailing falling swinging hooting spilling into groups all around me….  O YES! David Guetta ..! For a few delusional seconds, I was Lord-Protector of the Dancefloor, Emperor of the Beat --- until I came to the sudden realisation that no-one was dancing with me and my dancing itself was hideous. Rule Two: leave the dancefloor when optically requested. The ‘optical request’ is quite simple to recognise: when your surrounding fellow primates look at you with a face of violent disgust and pity. I left. Having escaped from the inferno of the dancefloor, I had  only one option in my mind- a shot of tequila, the usual prescription the doctor orders for psychological adjustment to the clubbing environment. One, Two, Three. A gulp of liquid combustion and the ah! feel the bonfire in your gullet! Much, much, much better…

…At some nameless point in that neon night my friends approach me. I’ve returned to the dancefloor for an unknown period of time and a hot layer of sweat has formed across the surface of my face, no doubt gently evaporating and adding itself to the invisible heated stench of collective perspiration above and around me. Their faces to me are blackened and blurred, and I think one of them attempts to say something, instantly realises her voice-level is insufficient because of the music, and then tries again. Nothing is communicable. I hear nothing, I see nothing; the frenzied movement of the faces and bodies of those on all sides makes visual focus impossible. I shout “What?” several times, and, after the second attempt, press my ear closer to them. But the noise is impenetrable, the room so full of the beat, the apocalyptic wrath of an electric drum. The breakdown of even the closest communication is complete and, after my fourth attempt to solicit the message from them, they smile and point to the doorway, and they leave me their standing on my own, lost in this human apex of hypermadness…

No-one can remember the beginning, and certainly no-one could ever remember the end. We are, of course, all one in the midst of a mass. Occasionally we may become part of smaller and smaller groupings and masses but solitude is rarely absolute. The nocturnal host of the dancefloor is dispersed. They, like me, wake to another day, one of silence and light, and, forgetful of bacchic insanity of the night before, they move on with their jobs, their lives, their families, their miniature universes of which they are the centre. My head aches... my memory aches… my ears and retina and feet ache. The euphoria and the ache… the ying and the yang. Clubbing is a remarkably recent phenomena. Though discos, nightjoints, dance parlours and the like have been around for some time, the true modern culture of clubbing-  the uncompromising and ecstatic attack on the human senses – did not arrive until the twilight of the century, the late 70s, 80s and 90s. As the human race's technology advances, so advances the heightened and exquisite technology of pleasure employed in the club. Technology- the lights, the power, the music – that is the language of clubbing. Speech, human speech, the voice, communication and even the expressions of the human face – which, of course, is said to be the most penetrating form of communication – are annihilated in the clubbing environment. The apocalyptic blast of light and sound create impassable spaces between human and human. As such, my first experience of clubbing cannot be described as 'traditionally' pleasant; for me, there was no quaint conversation or discussion with my close friends, only the onslaught of the indescribable faces of a thousand sweating, beating, pulsating fellow primates. This perhaps raises the question as to why one would ever want to go clubbing at all. Why, friends, would you wish to put yourself in a situation wherein you forfeit all control, you give yourself up to the lights, the music, the beat, and all the annoying complexities of human communication are extinguished..?

The bacchanal has become digital. The very technology used in these places is designed to appeal to the senses that transcend and predate human language- the beat and the light-blast. To express this in words is reductive and impossible.  And yet, whilst I may loathe the vast mechanics which overwhelm the trembling human links that connect person to person, I cannot claim that that tsunami of electric sensation and stimuli is iron-absolute. Who knows, perhaps in that swarming chaos, two souls make the slightest contact between themselves (the delicate balancing of mutual eyeballs or the fleeting brush of the flesh) and are able to communicate genuine warmth and fondness; amidst the boiling furnace, perhaps, for some people, the tenuous flame of human affection takes hold. I don't know.

Read Michael Roderick's article 'Against the Fanatics'


  1. There was me thinking your article would be an analysis of the poem! Clubbing has changed over the years but your description evokes familiar feelings from the 80s and 90s. It is incredible how places so packed with people can sometimes feel the most lonely. I wonder whether you will be going back for many more clubbing experiences? I expect so.

  2. Your birthday is in February yet you didn't go clubbing until school ended in June?


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