Having not paid to attend a club in quite some time (being nimble of blag and quick to convince that three tweets counts as “exposure”) I’ve only recently noticed that the housing bubble has been outstripped only a boom in door fees. It’s seemingly not unusual to pay a fee that used to buy you a festival ticket for a night of sub-par sound in a hotter than Hades ‘warehouse’ (read: condemned garage).
When people complain about extortionate door fees the accusatory fingers usually point towards the promoter. “Greedy bastards,” they furiously type, even while keying in their debit card’s security code. “In my day you could see Larry Levan play for six days for a shilling, and still have change for three Mitsubishi Turbos and bag of whizz.”
But while anger in the face of £30 plus tickets is understandable, these keyboard warriors need to recalibrate their sights. Promoting club nights is not a greedy man’s game. Show me a rich promoter, and I’ll show you a man reselling the drugs he’s collected in the amnesty bucket by the door. Which shows signs of entrepreneurship, admittedly, but isn’t going to buy you a Kensington pad and a yacht moored off the Isle of Dogs.
But few people seem to understand the economics of putting on a party. To fill them in, here’s a handy guide that you can cut out and keep. Should you ever fancy spunking your savings on a thankless night of stress and paranoia.
Firstly, you’ve got to find yourself a venue. Once, it was possible to find a nice club where the owner liked the music you wanted to put on, and would work out a deal where you got to keep all the money from the door, and he’d provide all manner of working DJ equipment, a sound engineer, a lighting rig and speakers that were nice and loud and tuned to the space they were set up in. Sometimes, if your night went really well, he’d even split some of the bar take with you.
Now, you give a man who thinks all dance music sounds like roadworks half your ticket sales, for the privilege of filling a former furniture storage depot with kit you’ve hired in, and that gets nicked at the end of the night. If the police don’t shut you down first because you couldn’t get a temporary licence approved.
Then, you need to build a lineup. Remember that DJ whose name you wrote on your pencil case and dreamed of one day discussing musique concrete with over a single malt? Well he’s busy. And that Panorama Bar resident, who played that record that sounded like nothing you’ve ever heard before and opened the shutters and made you rethink your relationship with your father? She’s in rehab.
Instead you have to opt for a tech-house DJ who played across town a week ago, because they’ve got a track in the Beatport deep house top 100 and you can write that on the poster. Oh, and your mate’s brother to warm-up. Which is a loose term for playing Skream and Benga at half ten.
You email the agent, who sends back a quote. You double-check that you requested a man to come and play other people’s music for two hours and didn’t ask him to build you a house. But no, apparently that is the price. You make an effort to haggle by explaining how great the venue is, and how since you’re booking them in January getting crowds in is tricky so having some wiggle room would be handy. But this agent makes Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross look like Gil Gunderson, and so you agree to pay them a fee that would secure a flat in Liverpool. Plus a 20% commission to the agent for screwing you.
At least they’re only flying from Berlin. But just as you find a £40 Easyjet flight their travel agent rings up and explains that because this jock needs the airmiles – the DJ’s dick-swinging equivalent of a baboon’s bright red arse – they’ll need a BA business class flight. And a driver from the airport, because despite being old enough to engage in a Grey Goose-fuelled threesome with two freshers who offer him keys of wonky throughout his set, he doesn’t know how trains work. Oh, and a 4* hotel. For his bag. While he’s missing his flight passed out under a pool table at a halls of residence afterparty.
Then there’s posters. Flyers. Someone to man the door all night (and who won’t dip their fingers in the till). Enough drinks both for this DJ, who inhales vodka Red Bulls like a university rugby team, and your mates, who’ve come down “to show support”. Which translates as demanding guestlist two hours before the door opens, then necking that nice bottle of wine you were saving to enjoy once the night was over and you could finally unclench a sphincter that’s been tight enough to crush diamonds since you realised Wonga was the only way you could fund this techno Xanadu.
And yet somehow, despite being forced to charge an entry fee that would make the Amnesia boss blanch, the punters seem willing to fork over their weekly wages, then fork over next week’s wages at the bar, as if they’re quaffing absinthe in Weimar Berlin and not choking down warm Red Stripe on a Tower Hamlets industrial estate.
Somehow you break even. Maybe even make a couple of hundred of quid profit. So next time you book two DJs. Then three. And the prices keep going up. And before you know it people are mistaking your posters for the Creamfields lineup and you’re chartering entire flights to ship your room three DJs across the Channel, and charging an entry fee that could wipe out the national debt (although it’s all cash-in-hand, naturally). And people lap it up. Because while you can accuse promoters, or DJs and even agents of exploiting the scene for their own grubby-fingered ends, if you keep paying what they charge then it’ll keep happening.
DJ fees, even outside that special EDM coterie that bank a quarter million for each pre-planned set at the Wynn, have spiralled ludicrously. The reason is twofold; you keep stealing their music, so they have to up their performance fees to pay the mortgage, and you keep going to their insanely priced shows. When watching someone play records is more expensive than watching an actual band play actual instruments they’ve shipped around the world with an entire crew in tow, we’re not only gone through the looking glass, but racked up a massive line of ketamine on the other side.
There are ways to fix this though. Firstly, stop expecting to have a good time. These mega events are fuelled by clubbers who only go out once a month at most, and so are willing to pay for a safe lineup where they recognise every name. Forget the fact that with 16 acts performing over eight hours (and really it’s only four hours, since you’re not leaving the house till half twelve before spending the best DJ’s set in the queue) you’re only going to catch four of them. Maybe a couple more if you flit between rooms like a bluebottle trying to find a window. Which your friends will find just as irritating.
Instead, search for lineups where you know one name, or half-recognise a label. You may think you want a night of singing along as the third DJ in a row plays Au Seve, but you do not. Then your nights out become Groundhog Day, and no one ever had a life-changing experience living the same party over and over again. Sure, sometimes you’ll stumble into some weird post-drone club. You’ll either bin it off by two am, but hey, it’s a fiver and you’ve got a bottle of Gordon’s at home. Or you’ll discover something that makes you remember why you fell in love with dark rooms full of strangers and loud noises in the first place.
Second, go out more. Going to a club isn’t a polar expedition. It doesn’t require three months of planning, financing and a group of 20 people who spend the entire night Instagramming each other because they’ve got so fucked they’ll never remember the party otherwise. It’s normal. It should happen often. It shouldn’t cost much, and it should, now and again, reaffirm your belief in music, people and the basic joys of life. And if it doesn’t, then stop. You’ve got too old and your weekends are now for baking courses and trips to Ikea.
A note on the photo, the above piece got me thinking about Louis’ and my involvement with promoting clubs in Uni and so I dug up some images from that era. This one is one I shot when I was involved with ‘Rub A Dub Dub’ in Newcastle , it’s the then resident DJ Jay Fontaine, who incidentally taught me to DJ, and was my long-suffering housemate for a time. – Tom Kirkby, Editor