The aniseed smell of Jägermeister mingled with sweat coats the insides of my nostrils like cling film. I inhale deeply, savouring the top notes of aftershave that waft aggressively in my direction. Exhaling Paco Rabanne ‘1 Million’, I open my eyes, wrench my trainers like two Pritt Sticks from the black floor and walk through a haze of humidity into the cavernous belly of an actual club.
It’s funny how months, even years can fly by in a flurry of carpet slippers, park visits and all six series of The Sopranos but the red light of a laser or the rhythmic thumping of bass, gently tickling your eardrums can catapult you back in time, to a person you once were, a skin you wore so comfortably, a hedonist, a club-goer.
It’s “freedom day”, I am at a nightclub in Tottenham and I feel alive. Not just like I have a pulse alive, but completely, energetically vital. I am at The Cause, a club space dedicated to dance music in what used to be an old car mechanic’s depot in northeast London. And like all modern fairy tales the night begins at the stroke of midnight on Monday morning, except no one here is wearing a ball gown, quite the reverse, less is definitely more this evening.
The night in question is an LGBT+ event but revellers make up every sub-section of society; girls, boys, non-binary, gay, straight, bi, black, white, Asian, we have all come for one purpose: to party. A wolf whistle sounds from somewhere at the front of the queue and everyone checks their iPhone screens; it’s one minute past midnight. Suddenly throaty cheers and ripples of clapping erupt along the queue. It’s the hottest night of the year and the air is viscous, but in this moment, there is a palpable sense of relief and an almost perceptible exhale.
Despite the lifting of restrictions, rising Covid infection rates remain at the forefront of our minds. This morning it was reported that daily Covid cases were in the 50,000 range, exceeding levels recorded in January despite 69 million vaccines having been administered. The Cause co-founder Stuart Glen outlined his Covid-19 safety measures for reopening last week, “we’re definitely going to ask people to have a lateral flow test before they come. We’ll leave masks down to personal choice. Other than that, we’ll ensure the venue is regularly cleaned properly and our staff are tested daily,” he told the Evening Standard.
Nightclubs have been experiencing challenges for almost a decade, with 21 per cent of all UK clubs closing in that time. But since the pandemic, more than 666,000 jobs have been lost across the nightlife and entertainment industry, with clubs and bars being among the first things to close and now, the last to reopen.
For most of us this is the first time we have danced in a room that isn’t our kitchen in almost two years, or 483 days to be precise. As the doors swing open, people rush to the dance floor and beads of sweat sprout like salty dew drops on upper lips and no one bothers to wipe them off. There is something deliciously primal about the bumping of flesh against flesh, music so loud it slightly hurts, an armpit to the face. As the night goes on and the heat continues to rise, men shed T-shirts, women scrape their hair into sweaty buns, and a thick mushroom cloud of perspiration hangs over the dance floor.
At first it was freaking me out because there were loads of sweaty bodies touching me, but at the end I just surrendered to it
The bar is a hub of frenetic energy, people stand elbow to elbow in a tableau that is at once completely banal and wildly thrilling. Queuing for a drink used to be one of the more tedious aspects of the clubbing experience, but today it feels ludicrously illicit. At 3am the night is in full swing and each heady sip of vodka mixer has successfully melted away all vestiges of lingering anxiety. Masks have been abandoned, girls are making best friends in the toilets and a man in the smoking area has asked for a drag of my cigarette. There are, of course, limits. But everything feels – almost – normal.
Before I leave just after 6am, I speak to one of the DJs Kanyin Williams about how it feels to be back behind the decks again: “it feels euphoric, it feels so normal, like nothing has changed really,” she gushes. “At first it was freaking me out because there were loads of sweaty bodies touching me, but I think at the end of it I just surrendered to it. It’s probably one of the best nights out I’ve ever had in my life.”
Looking around me at the flushed faces, closed eyelids and flailing arms it seems obvious that clubbing is more than just a pastime, or an industry designed to make money, in this moment it feels like a transcendental experience. After two years of hand sanitising, isolation and soaring anxiety rates, it’s time to celebrate these endangered spaces in all their sticky splendour, so to borrow the words of another prodigious clubber, “Let’s Dance”.