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A nightclub (also known as a discothèque, or simply a club or disco) is an entertainment venue which usually operates late into the night. A nightclub is generally distinguished from bars, pubs or taverns by the inclusion of a dance floor and a DJ booth, where a DJ plays recorded music.
From about 1900 to 1920, working class Americans would gather at honky tonks or juke joints to dance to music played on a piano or a jukebox. Webster Hall is credited as the first modern nightclub, being built in 1886 and starting off as a "social hall", originally functioning for as a home for dance and political activism events. During US Prohibition, nightclubs went underground as illegal speakeasy bars, with Webster Hall staying open, with rumors circulating of Al Capone's involvement and police bribery. With the repeal of Prohibition in February 1933, nightclubs were revived, such as New York's 21 Club, Copacabana, El Morocco, and the Stork Club. These nightclubs featured big bands (there were no DJs).
In Occupied France, jazz and bebop music, and the jitterbug dance were banned by the Nazis as decadent American influences, so as an act of French resistance, people met at hidden basements called discothèques where they danced to jazz and swing music, which was played on a single turntable when a jukebox was not available. These discothèques were also patronized by anti-Vichy youth called zazous. There were also underground discotheques in Nazi Germany patronized by anti-Nazi youth called the swing kids.
In Harlem, Connie's Inn and the Cotton Club were popular venues for white audiences. Before 1953 and even some years thereafter, most bars and nightclubs used a jukebox or mostly live bands. In Paris, at a club named Whisky à Gogo, founded in 1947, Régine in 1953 laid down a dance-floor, suspended coloured lights and replaced the jukebox with two turntables which she operated herself so there would be no breaks between the music. The Whisky à Gogo set into place the standard elements of the modern post World War II discothèque-style nightclub. At the end of the 1950s, several of the coffee bars in Soho introduced afternoon dancing and the most famous, at least on the continent, was Les Enfants Terribles at 93 Dean St. These original discothèques were nothing like the night clubs, as they were unlicensed and catered to a very young public - mostly made up of French and Italians working illegally, mostly in catering, to learn English as well as au pair girls from most of western Europe. In the early 1960s, Mark Birley opened a members-only discothèque nightclub, Annabel's, in Berkeley Square, London. In 1962, the Peppermint Lounge in New York City became popular and is the place where go-go dancing originated. However, the first rock and roll generation preferred rough and tumble bars and taverns to nightclubs, and the nightclub did not attain mainstream popularity until the 1970s disco era. Sybil Burton, former wife of actor Richard Burton, opened the "Arthur" discotheque in 1965 on East 54th Street in Manhattan on the site of the old El Morocco nightclub and it became the first, foremost and hottest disco in New York City through 1969.
Disco has its roots in the underground club scene. During the early 70's in New York City, Disco clubs were places where oppressed groups such as homosexuals, Blacks, Latinos, and Jews could party without following male to female dance protocol or exclusive club policies. It brought together people from all walks of life and backgrounds. These clubs acted as safe havens for homosexual partygoers to dance in peace and away from public scrutiny. Disco was a genre for people to explore sexuality and push the envelope on the dancefloor. Disco clubs acted as an escape from such depressing environments and acted as the fantasy marginalized peoples could escape to forget oppression and racism. Disco clubs originally functioned as liberated party spaces and were seen as places of political statement.
By the late 1970s many major US cities had thriving disco club scenes which were centered around discothèques, nightclubs, and private loft parties where DJs would play disco hits through powerful PA systems for the dancers. The DJs played "... a smooth mix of long single records to keep people 'dancing all night long'" Some of the most prestigious clubs had elaborate lighting systems that throbbed to the beat of the music.
Some cities had disco dance instructors or dance schools which taught people how to do popular disco dances such as "touch dancing", the "hustle" and the "cha-cha-cha". There were also disco fashions that discothèque-goers wore for nights out at their local disco, such as sheer, flowing Halston dresses for women and shiny polyester Qiana shirts for men. Disco clubs and "...hedonistic loft parties" had a club culture which had many Italian-American, African American, gay and Hispanic people.
In addition to the dance and fashion aspects of the disco club scene, there was also a thriving drug subculture, particularly for recreational drugs that would enhance the experience of dancing to the loud music and the flashing lights, such as cocaine (nicknamed "blow"), amyl nitrite "poppers", and the "...other quintessential 1970s club drug Quaalude, which suspended motor coordination and turned one's arms and legs to Jell-O". The "massive quantities of drugs ingested in discothèques by newly liberated gay men produced the next cultural phenomenon of the disco era: rampant promiscuity and public sex. While the dance floor was the central arena of seduction, actual sex usually took place in the nether regions of the disco: bathroom stalls, exit stairwells, and so on. In other cases the disco became a kind of "main course" in a hedonist's menu for a night out."
Famous 1970s discothèques included "...cocaine-filled celeb hangouts such as Manhattan's "Studio 54", which was operated by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. Studio 54 was notorious for the hedonism that went on within; the balconies were known for sexual encounters, and drug use was rampant. Its dance floor was decorated with an image of the "Man in the Moon" that included an animated cocaine spoon. Other famous 1970s discothèques in New York City included "Xenon", "The Loft", the "Paradise Garage", and "Aux Puces", one of the first gay disco bars. In San Francisco, there was the Trocadero Transfer, the I-Beam, and the End Up.
By the early 1980s, the term "disco" had largely fallen out of favour in most of the English-speaking world.
During the 1980s, during the New Romantic movement, London had a vibrant nightclub scene, which included clubs like The Blitz, the Batcave, the Camden Palace and Club for Heroes. Both music and fashion embraced the aesthetics of the movement. Bands included Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Human League, Duran Duran, Blondie, Eurythmics and Ultravox. Reggae-influenced bands included Boy George and Culture Club, and electronic vibe bands included Visage. At London nightclubs, young men would often wear make-up and young women would wear men's suits.
The largest UK cities like Leeds (The Orbit), Newcastle, Liverpool (Quadrant Park and 051), Swansea, Manchester (The Haçienda) and several key European places like Paris (Les Bains Douches), Ibiza (Pacha), Rimini etc. also played a significant role in the evolution of clubbing, DJ culture and nightlife.
In Europe and North America, nightclubs play disco-influenced dance music such as house music, techno, and other dance music styles such as electronica, breakbeat and trance. Most nightclubs in the U.S. major cities that have an early adulthood clientele, play hip hop, dance-pop, house and/or trance music. These clubs are generally the largest and most frequented of all of the different types of clubs. The emergence of the "superclub" created a global phenomenon, with Ministry of Sound (London), Cream (Liverpool) and Pacha (Ibiza).
Techno clubs are especially popular around the world since the early 1990s. Famous examples are Berghain, Bunker and Tresor in Berlin, Omen and Cocoon in Frankfurt, Distillery in Leipzig, Tunnel Club in Hamburg, Warehouse in Chicago and The Haçienda in Manchester.
In most other languages, nightclubs are referred to as "discos" or "discothèques" (German: Disko or Diskothek; French: discothèque; Italian, Portuguese and Spanish: discoteca, antro (common in Mexico only), and boliche (common in Argentina only), discos is commonly used in all others in Latinamerica). In Japanese ディスコ, disuko refers to an older, smaller, less fashionable venue; while クラブ, kurabu refers to a more recent, larger, more popular venue. The term night is used to refer to an evening focusing on a specific genre, such as "retro music night" or a "singles night." In Hong Kong and China, night club is used as a euphemism for a hostess club, and the association of the term with the sex trade has driven out the regular usage of the term.
A recent trend in the North American, Australian and European nightclub industry is the usage of video. VJs ("video jockeys") mix video content in a similar manner that DJs mix audio content, creating a visual experience that is intended to complement the music.
The beginning of the 21st century saw financial growth of the nightclub industry in the United States. However, the number of nightclubs and employees has been decreasing. In 2010, there were nearly 45,000 bars and nightclubs across the country.
Many nightclubs choose who can enter, on bases other than just age, e.g. dress code and guest list. This is used to make their status as a nightclub more "exclusive". Quite often, there are no clear policies governing entry to a nightclub, thereby allowing the doormen to deny entry to anybody at their discretion.
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Many nightclubs will only allow entry by association, such as the former Paradise Garage and Playboy Club. A number of gay nightclubs that prefer to cater to an exclusively male clientele will deny entry to a group of lesbians but will welcome a lesbian with a number of male gay friends.
In most cases, entering a nightclub requires a flat fee called a cover charge. Some clubs waive or reduce the cover charge for early arrivers, special guests or women (in the United Kingdom this latter option is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 but the law is rarely enforced and open violations are frequent). Friends of the doorman or the club owner may gain free entrance. Sometimes, especially at larger clubs in Continental European countries, one only gets a pay card at the entrance, on which all money spent in the discothèque (often including the entrance fee) is marked. Sometimes, entrance fee and cloakroom costs are paid by cash and only the drinks in the club are paid using a pay card.
Many nightclubs enforce a dress code in order to ensure a certain type of clientele is in attendance at the venue. Some upscale nightclubs ban attendees from wearing trainers (sneakers) or jeans, while other nightclubs will advertise a vague "dress to impress" dress code that allows the bouncers to discriminate at will against those vying for entry to the club. Many exceptions are made to nightclub dress codes, with denied entry usually reserved for the most glaring rule breakers or those thought to be unsuitable for the party. Certain nightclubs like fetish nightclubs may apply a dress code (BDSM) to a leather-only, rubber-only or fantasy dress code. The dress code criterion is often an excuse for discriminatory practices, such as in the case of Carpenter v. Limelight Entertainment Ltd.
Large cosmopolitan cities that are home to large affluent populations (such as Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and London) often have what are known as exclusive boutique nightclubs. This type of club typically has a capacity of less than 200 occupants and a very strict entrance policy, which usually requires an entrant to be on the club's guest list. While not explicitly members only clubs, such as Soho House, exclusive nightclubs operate with a similar level of exclusivity. As they are off limits to most of the public and ensure the privacy of guests, many celebrities favor these types of clubs to other, less exclusive, clubs which do not cater as well to their needs. Another differentiating feature of exclusive nightclubs is, in addition to being known for a certain type of music, they are known for having a certain type of crowd (for instance, a fashion-forward, affluent crowd or a crowd with a high concentration of fashion models. Many exclusive boutique clubs market themselves as being a place where one can socialize with models and celebrities. Affluent patrons who find this marketing message appealing are often willing to purchase bottle service at a markup of several times the retail cost of the liquor. London's most exclusive boutique nightclubs include Amika, Cirque Du Soir, Project, The Box, and The Rose Club. These venues are frequently visited by an array of A-List celebrities from the fashion, film, and music industries. All are located in London's prestigious Mayfair, except Cirque Du Soir and The Box, which are both located in London's sex capital, Soho, and the both have a more risque theme.
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Many nightclubs operate a "guest list" that allows certain attendees to enter the club for free, or at a reduced rate. Some nightclubs have a range of unpublished guest list options ranging from free, to reduced, to full price with line by-pass privileges only. Nightclub goers who are on the guest list often have a separate queue and sometimes a separate entrance from those used by full price-paying attendees. It is common for the guest list line-up to be as long or longer than the full-paying or ticketed queues. Some nightclubs allow clubbers to register for the guest list through their websites.
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Most nightclubs have a team of security men (also known as "bobbies" or bouncers). They have the power to remove people from the club. Most major clubs have balconies specifically for this team to watch over the clubbers. The team would only intervene or ask for removal if the clubber is extremely drunk, physically ill, breaking club rules, or hurting/abusing other clubbers. The majority of the team stand by doors and make sure that no-one enters in that way. Other jobs for the team involve locking up and asking people to leave once the club closes.
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