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How to throw your first club night, live to tell the tale and do it all again
- Arusa Qureshi
- 12 March 2018
credit: Bartosz Madejski
Six DJs, promoters, bookers and club managers on their first club night and the lessons they learned
It's easy enough to gather all your pals together, curate a decent playlist of tunes and throw a relatively successful house party. But when you decide to move that party to a more public space, inviting people you don't know while potentially charging them for the night's entertainment, things tend to get a bit more serious. There's always going to be a risk involved when you're putting your time and money into something, but when that something is running a club night, it's all about making sure you stay on top of your game without losing that quintessential house party vibe.
We chat to some Glasgow and Edinburgh-based DJs, promoters, bookers and club managers to get the lowdown on the first nights they ever organised along with key lessons learned from their past experiences.
Alan Miller: 'Work with others, it's more fun'
I've worked on many club nights over the past 20 years, but the first event I fully ran on my own was Abnormals Anonymous, a multi-art form queer performance club night, whose first event was at CCA in 2001. I was determined to make a non-scene space for queer clubbing in the city (this event was the first of its kind in Glasgow) which would explore a deliberately queer programme of culture, politics, identity, art and clubbing completely outside the narrow commercial gay scene. There were short abstract queer films, performance art, live bands, installations, a mass of text and printed provocations, spoken word pieces and a club night with resident DJs.
We had the first performed extra by Louise Welsh of her then as yet unpublished debut novel, ProForma played live (including members of Franz Ferdinand & Divorce), pianist and composer Bill Wells performed a set of Billie Holiday cover versions with vocalist Isobel Campbell, there were film segments by Kendal Koppe (now of Koppe Astner Gallery), a peep show piece by Lucy Trend and Rachel Jury, and an eccentric performance by London feminist group The Max Factory, who vomited on stage after force feeding themselves pizza and red wine and then doing the Jane Fonda work-out.
Crucially, I learned that you cannot do everything single handed. It's incredibly stressful to take on all the aspects of programming, organisation and finance by yourself. I learned that group working with a close set of friends or colleagues is far more effective – and ultimately more satisfying.
My advice would be to work with others, it's more fun. Don't be too ambitious; think clearly about your aims and goals. You'll make mistakes, don't fret them, you can learn a lot from fucking things up once in a while.
Alan Miller is a DJ and freelance arts press officer, working across contemporary arts, music, performance and theatre
Tom Ketley: 'Clubs want the business so get the best deal possible'
The first night I ever put on was a straight student night in a gay club called GHQ. It was every Wednesday, and when we started we knew no DJs so the club sorted who played... Although GHQ is where Theo Kottis of underground house and techno fame learned to DJ playing Swedish House Mafia to 600 VK wielding students.
In truth, we ran it for money as I was a skint student and had mounting debts. I pitched a big promoter at the time to run it with me and we split the money. He got us the most ridiculous deal where we paid for absolutely nothing and the club covered all of the costs from DJs to flyers. It meant that even if only one person showed up we'd make a fiver. Fortunately, it was a massive success and we had 600 folk show up every week for 3 years. And as smelly as this may sound I came out of uni with zero debt and a fair bit of cash saved.
The main lesson I learnt was that the club want the business as much as you do so try get the best deal possible.
As for advice? Don't do it... I'm 28 and still running clubs. Run for the hills!
Tom Ketley runs FLY Club / FLY Open Air.
Colvin Cruickshank: 'Design and create a poster, print them up and get them seen around town'
While studying at Edinburgh College of Art, I put on a fundraiser event for the Anti-Racism Society at The Wee Red Bar with my pal Vik. We were both members of the Anti-Nazi League and wanted to raise awareness and money for the society while playing the records we loved.
I would say don't think about what other club nights are on in town or you will never put an event on.
In my role as Manager, I actively encourage people to book their own party / club night. Everyone should try to DJ and have some fun with it. Just Add People tends to be one of my catchphrases. I find myself repeating this to students often. I can't physically bring folk into the venue, the onus is on them, but I do help and advise at all times – for example before the night happens by sharing links on Facebook event pages.
Design and create a poster, print them up and get them seen around town. It may appear as a permanent fixture later on the walls of the Wee Red Bar, where we have nights dating back to 1984.
You always want people to be happy and go away smiling at the end of their night and hopefully come back and do it again. Put away your smart phones and dance!
Colvin Cruickshank is the manager of Wee Red Bar at Edinburgh College of Art and dabbles in music producing under various aliases.
Missing Persons Club: 'Stay sober!'
Like most people, we started Missing Persons Club as a way to see artists and DJs we admire play in Glasgow and also get a chance to do a little bit of DJing ourselves. We had previous experience between us but the first attempt we made as a collective was at Stereo and rather ambitiously, we booked two artists: Glasgow's TVO and DJ Skirt, who flew in from Birmingham. Before she boarded the flight, she got drunk to calm her nerves as she was concerned about taking to the sky. Waiting for her at the other end was an equally drunk Missing Person who'd fallen asleep in the arrivals lounge. On first sight, Skirt knew exactly who was there to meet her and show her to the taxi.
From that, we learnt that it's important to stay sober! Well at least until the meal or is it the club? I'm sure people will figure that out for themselves pretty quickly.
Missing Persons Club throw parties and DJ at La Cheetah Club
DJ Dwntwn Aby: 'Know your strengths and play to them'
Push It was my first club night project! It was originally at The Flying Duck, where Cat (DJ Sycophantasy) and I used to work and initially met. She had been running club nights for a while but I was a total newbie. We were daydreaming at work, bored out of our nut, asking ourselves: if we put on a club night, what would it be? We then got a bit carried away and made it happen and here we are, three and a half years later.
I would say it's important to know your strengths and play to them. This is perhaps more about collaboration, as all my experiences running club nights are with others, but organising these events obviously involves lots of different responsibilities for different elements of the night. Do what you're best at, do it well and do as much yourself as possible to keep outgoings low. Be resourceful.
Also, make it enjoyable for yourself; you're at the heart of it and if you're in it for the long haul – you've got to want to do it to do it well. Ask, what's your unique thing? What will this night do differently? Look after the people coming to your club, and be nice to everyone (staff and punters). Basically don't be a dick.
DJ Dwntwn Aby manages Push It with DJ Sycophantasy
DJ Sycophantasy: 'Be nice to people, be realistic and do a bit of research'
The first ever club night I organised was back in 2010-ish and it was a witch house night at Nice N Sleazy. I think four people showed up, one of which was Michelle McManus who just happened to be in the building and came down to see what the hell was going on. It was kind of hilarious but also a bit of a disaster.
At that night, I learnt to be realistic and not to be too upset when things don't go to plan or not how you were expecting. When we started Push It, 10 people showed up but we kept going because we knew we had a good thing.
In terms of advice, be nice to people, be realistic and do a bit of research and learn what the scene is like or what's expected of you when you run a night. As a club booker, I see a lot of people who have the right attitude but lack a lot of the basic knowledge and it holds them back. Being rude to staff or unnecessarily difficult is also one of the main reasons why you won't be asked back to a venue. Also do it for the right reasons – running club nights is hard and it's probably not gonna make you rich. Do it cos you love it.
DJ Sycophantasy (Cat) is a booker for Push It and Stereo Club
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