From spaceships to sweat shops to Studio 54: the world’s greatest nightclubs

From spaceships to sweat shops to Studio 54: the world’s greatest nightclubs

The Guardian

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A veg patch on the dancefloor, invites printed on cheese, $30,000 makeovers every six weeks … a new show at V&A Dundee celebrates a half-century of club culture. Is it a thing of the past?

Dancers grind, twist and pump their bodies beneath a billowing parachute, while other revellers sprawl across six-metre long polyurethane silk worms, or perch on seating made from washing machine drums and refrigerator cases. A VJ mixes trippy visuals to the beat of the music, using junkyard scraps mixed with water and food colouring on an overhead projector, her psychedelic creations drifting across a vegetable patch sprouting from the centre of the dancefloor.

This was just another regular night at Space Electronic, an experimental nightclub that began in an old engine repair shop in Florence in 1969, where music, art and performance were combined in a heady, night-long cocktail. It is one of many such extraordinary spaces featured in Night Fever: Designing Club Culture, a show at the V&A Dundee, opening on 1 May – and providing a welcome reminder of just how much fun we used to have in the before times.

After more than a year of nightlife being almost entirely sofa-based, it seems fitting that nightclubs should now find themselves in a museum. Did we really used to go out? Did people actually queue up to risk the whims of an arbitrary door policy, then pay to have strangers’ sweat drip on them from the ceilings of dark, noisy rooms?

The last half century of club culture featured in Night Fever is a dizzying world away from the solitary routine of neighbourhood walks and Netflix that most of us have got used to. Videos of seas of bodies pulsating in fleshy waves, shimmering with spandex and sparkles, now look as unimaginably distant as some of the ancient artefacts in the V&A Dundee’s historic collections.

“The topic has taken on real poignancy,” says museum director Leonie Bell. The exhibition began at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany in 2018, but it has been expanded with a new section on the Scottish club scene for its UK showing, and the material takes on a newly precious aura in light of the pandemic.

“Even though nightclubs won’t be reopening for a long time,” says Bell, “and many have closed down permanently, we wanted to assert them as critical cultural spaces, just as much as museums are. We’ve never had so many people ask if we’re having an opening party. People are just desperate to go out and dress up.”

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