Vogue Clubbing: Debating Door Policies
Your name is down, but you’re not coming in.
Ignorance, collared shirts, a lack of German and general muppetry are all reasons to be denied entry at a club, even as a ticketholder. Few brits are used to such disappointment, but for our neighbours over in The Netherlands, Germany and Europe’s further reaches like Georgia – door policies are standard practice.
It’s sore to see the deflated expression of a punter denied, beaten by the austere yet intangible policy of a nightclub. Bruised egos peter back to the taxi rank, facing a melancholic uber to somewhere slightly less exclusive, but for those who passed through the concrete pearly gates – steamy euphoria awaits.
In Britain, such door policy injustice is barely witnessed. Whether waiting to see a Wigan Pier Bounce revival or queueing for a night of Rhadoo and Ricky V – if you’ve got your ticket and you’ve taken the right things out of the wrong pockets, you can be pretty confident that you’re getting in.
So, why the difference in standards?
Weekenders and crowd control
There is a difference with UK club events compared to other parts of Europe in that they don’t typically last as long. Aside from London’s seemingly inimitable FOLD and Fabric; weekender events are not much of a thing in today’s UK scene. But go to Amsterdam or Berlin and they are commonplace, usually beginning on a Friday or Saturday and rolling on to an indeterminate end around Monday…
We spoke to Amsterdam based artist, label and record shop owner Ilker Soylu, who felt “neutral” about Dutch door policies, continuing that it is “simply because I don’t like them to be used discriminatively but I understand that clubs want to clear out any bullshit to sustain a good environment.”
Regardless, longer events demand a more seasoned and somewhat cautiously selected crowd. If clubs are expecting to run for 24-48+ hours, people need to stay engaged because things fall apart when the crowd members drift o or succumb to sparks of paranoia about next weeks to-do list.
London based DJ – re:ni succinctly put it to us that “nightclubs began as sacred spaces for specific communities”, so when we start dismantling and diluting these communities, the vibe gets lost in turn. Instead of leaving with serotonin-induced epiphanies of societies highest potential, a poor crowd leaves a musky scent of estrangement, symbolic of an unconsummated unity.
The trouble with letting any and everyone in is that clubs can all too easily fill with a crowd of babbling, instagramming, existentially confused individuals past 2am, unaware of why their Hermes belt or Prada dress no longer earns them Belvedere and a clean table. Instead, confused cocktail bar attendees face a sweaty barrage of bodies and the unconsented requirement to act as a crutch for the sloth-eyed man who has taken too much of his missus’ K again. This sort of unfiltered door selection can result in an environment reminiscent of your least favourite afterparty, in which rotating ecstacy hands are the only dance move left and people look more in need of therapy and a warm bath than another stomping kick drum.
But who really gets to say that some should and others shouldn’t enjoy music and further, how can a selection process be fair?
I distinctly remember one pre-pandemic September morning, queuing up for my monthly fix of De School’s ‘Het Weekend’ session. The queue was comprised of leather, latex, tucked in t-shirts, rolled up trousers, trenchcoats and an indelible hum of excitement. Though, the people in front of me did not offer much hope for crowd quality.
As the unwritten guidelines go, groups of more than four are not advised and generally, people enter alone or in pairs. It’s a game in some senses, but those immediately ahead of me seemed unfamiliar with the rules.
After failing to accurately quote anyone on the lineup, the first two men in question reached for a backup plan. They tried to persuade the doorwoman by boasting about how many drinks they were going to buy at the bar. Swiftly denied. “Next…” she gestured, behind an eyebrow of impatience. Then came the two directly in front of me – collared shirts peeking out of their hoodies. No need for questions this time – denied on dress code alone.
Before it’s my turn, a DJ arrives wearing his own black collared shirt, nods to the doorwoman and enters. Behind him – the four barred troops in his wake, two of whom stare in wordless dismay at his collared shirt. I got to the front, answered the lady about the artists I was excited to see and proceeded, but not without a slight tinge of sympathy for the fallen soldiers left behind.
In this case, it’s obvious to see that rules vary depending on who you are. If you’re there to provide the music, you can wear whatever the fuck you want, if not, follow the rules. By the time I had left, I had forgotten all about the people who hadn’t got in and went home smiling about how decent we are to each other when we’re shaking our limbs to music.
Despite the UK having an ‘all-inclusive’ sort of policy, a key difference is that many clubs then hire security who seem intent on booting out most of the clientele. By selecting more cautiously at the door, the advantage is that people inside need less monitoring. Firstly, because door policies tend to favour people with an understanding of the club’s ethos and rules, and secondly because people who like the club are there to hear the music rather than bain-marie their brains into a warm boozy soup.
So, the next time you see a baseball-capped, bomber jacketed bouncer ejecting ravers as if they’re working on commission, it’s worth remembering that the inclusive door policy might demand that.
Finding a good crowd in London
Despite London’s general lack of door policies, some events do the crowd selecting for you. A line-up in itself is an artistic curation, but so often they succumb to a money-making formula. When chatting to Birmingham born and London based DJ – re:ni, she continued that:
“This ‘promoter industrial complex’ is unhealthy for the entire ecosystem of artists/smaller promoters. The line-ups aren’t imaginative and tend to attract a certain type of person or group who aren’t actually invested in the music or artists booked. What I’d say to ‘promoter crews’ is – are you actually contributing something to the scene or are you just wanting to be part of something and taking up space as a result?”
On the other hand, it’s fair to acknowledge that someone needs to actually make some money to continue putting on events. But perhaps, not at the cost of integrity?
Most of us would love to throw the best night of our life with people we know are gonna enjoy it, but if all we’re left with afterwards are silhouetted memories of exultation and a sore bank statement, the likelihood of another party settles as little more than a dream.
Taking this into account, re:ni went on to share some of the spots that she feels are striking up a good, honest vibe and doing so without going out of business:
“What venues like Ormside and Venue MOT have been cultivating in SE London, and artist-led parties like Rupture, No Symbols and Chapter 10 (all London) feel authentic and as a DJ you can feel when people are there for the tunes – there are regular heads who I’ve seen rolling solo to the same venues for years. There’s one guy who I swear I’ve seen alone at every single decent night in London in the past 10 years, if you’re reading this mate, big ups for the commitment!”
Why can’t it just be simple?
Getting the right crowd is a fine balancing act and it’s easy to see why places will face criticism for choosing who can and can’t listen to music. In a city like London, where electronic music venues are viewed by the government as obstacles preventing new housing builds, it makes sense that clubs miss out on the luxury of being picky about their partygoers. Similarly, while a club is operational and has a decent noise permit, part of the sane response is to get as many people coming down as possible.
On the other hand, the foundation of these very such places is to represent something intimate, to build an environment where people can feel at home amongst strangers and cultivate an atmosphere that sheds DJs and customers in their fairest light.
When it comes to our neighbours in Germany and The Netherlands, door policies are more stringent and particularly so at places with longer events. But there is also something to be said for Dutch and German governments who seem to welcome clubbing as a cultural activity in a way that the UK does not. This mindset makes it easier for clubs to survive amidst increasing demands for housing and also gives owners more autonomy in how they want to run their venue.
While these factors remain out of reach for the UK, well-considered lines ups and a dedication to building something communal might be the best filter we have.