Design: Dorothy Studio / wearedorothy.com

The weekend is no longer an escape, it’s a cultural asset. Clubbing and rave culture is treated with the care of a heritage site. Pay your entry fee, experience its wonderment and go home knowing some institutions will be cared for, if the price is right.

The well-trodden narrative that capitalist-powered philanthropy will save clubbing’s soul has cruelly prevailed. ‘Sponsor a raver’ adverts aren’t far behind: ‘Donate to receive your free cuddly raver teddy bear, cute bottle of water in hand!; receive updates on the progress of your wide-grinning, fuzzy-eyed charity case looking for an afterparty!’ Developers will now even pay for soundproofing, just so they don’t interrupt your fun. Because building a tower of gentrification atop four walls of cerebral escape is fine as long as those below are restrained to near silence. Redevelopment is drugging club culture into submission. And yet, such a dichotomy – that clubbing is there to be saved or restored – blindly overlooks the exploration and innovation taken by partygoers, promoters and club owners; those who continue pursuing artistic endeavour and community value in the face of a rigged fight with redevelopment agendas.

Clubbing still exists, as does rave culture, albeit in a new form, with new challenges. This reluctant cultural asset of ours isn’t static, nor defined. Clubbing is not a monument. It’s malleable, curating and establishing pockets of subculture in the first light of the morning after. Its purpose, its former glories, have become clouded by tourist appeal; the chance to experience something that encapsulates human energy and progression, a sensation that’s close to listed building status, owned by the National Trust.

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The cultural influence of clubbing and its continuing footprints across the world is the energy powering CLUBTOGETHER, a brand new web app created by Liverpool-based design agency Dorothy, in collaboration with Rhythm. The web app allows users to input memories of parties, raves, venues, DJs and promoters, generating a real-time cartography of club culture, both contemporary and nostalgic. It’s far from a misty-eyed look back towards the acid house boom. Its purpose is to provide a visual accompaniment for the subcultures, circles and movements generated by collective human movement and soundtrack. Those that perforate current popular culture and society, and those that defined fashion, friendships and experiences right through from the 1980s to now.

When launched in early May, ClubTogether aims to be a reference point for human action, a spotlight on the diversities emitted from shared experience.

“When I mention clubbing to people, everyone interprets it in a slightly different way,” says James Quail, creative director at Dorothy. It was James who sketched out the initial idea for the web app, with the focus on interpretation and personalised moments carrying forward the idea from blueprint to launch.

The inspiration for ClubTogether stems from a similar exercise carried out by Dorothy. In 2018, the designers researched and mapped out the history of rave culture, placing familiar DJs, clubs and promoters onto a print that replicated the circuit diagram of a 303 synthesiser. The print, with its distinctive euphoric yellow, mapped out the cultural wingspan of the Second Summer Of Love, and followed an initial run of prints that provided a cartography for dance music and electronic music. “The reaction to the acid house print was great. From the initial research to the print itself, it was all received really well. It was such a lovely feeling to see that it was embraced by so many people,” James tells me. The print quickly caught the eye of electronic music media with the likes of former Haçienda resident Graeme Park singing its praises online.

“I thought it would be lovely to create a resource where people can show what’s happening now, in a democratised sphere” James Quail, Dorothy Studio

While the print proved a success, the room to develop the idea was palpable to James and the rest of the team. “We got lots of emails and feedback, and it was all really positive, but a portion of it was people who were saying, ‘Hey, I love this, but you’ve forgotten this’, or, ‘You haven’t included these top 10 club nights in New York at the moment, or five things happening right now in Birmingham’.” The reaction shifted the project from a nostalgic take on a faded cultural moment to an opportunity to create a platform that tied the old with the new, the happening and the departed. It became an effort to observe ourselves, our actions, in real time, with the same nostalgic smiles that memories from 30 years ago would generate. “When we were doing the maps and planning things out, it was difficult to not enter into it with a personal slant,” James adds, discussing the process of research for the original print. “The memories and experiences you feel to be important because they were part of you at the time.”

“There were so many great things people kept feeding in, things that they were heavily a part of, that were in the community of this particular scene or subculture. They simply wanted to share it with us in a way of saying ‘look, this is happening now’ or ‘this happened in 88’. There was a real will to contribute, with people asking if there’s any way we could include their memories in a future edition.”

Although there was widespread demand to refine the layers of acid house nostalgia, the calls to expand beyond the 1980s brought the idea of ClubTogether closer to fruition. There was clear excitement for partygoers to chronicle their own personal halcyon days of rave culture. And it’s not without good reason. The transient nature of parties and promoters is a stark reality of the environment clubbing and dance music faces in the contemporary era. What is now can’t be forever, unless it hands over its autonomy at a price.

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The room to create a platform that projected a real time picture of rave culture presented itself to James and Dorothy, a space where a two-week-old party at 24 Kitchen Street would sit in as highly regarded as the final time the lights came up at the Haçienda. “A lot of the things were not really in the timeframe we were looking at on the print. So, I thought it would be lovely to create a resource where people can show what’s happening now, in a democratised sphere, showing how much others would be into it.” ClubTogether essentially verifies the existence of relative nostalgia, personal memories of the moment. Yet, intrinsically, it will aim to show a picture of change; the current state and participation in clubbing experience all over the world. In time, it could prove to be a useful tool for assessing where our cultural assets truly are.

“The way it works is that you can filter the web app to specific location, club, or specific night, DJ, or year,” James explains, noting that all entries onto the map are user-generated. “My hope is that you can look at, for example, Liverpool, and slide the filter along so you can see what has been here in the last couple of years, and what’s been here ten years ago, 20 years ago; and then slide it back to now and see how people connect, communicate and cluster into communities, finding the links to Quadrant Park, The Kazimier, Invisible Wind Factory.”

“Ultimately, it’s going to be as big as people want to it be,” he underscores. “It’s entirely based on the level of interaction, the memories people input. What is happening, what has happened. That’s how the project came about in the first place, in a way, so it kind of shapes how the platform works a little bit.”

ClubTogether provides the grounds to observe the emergence of scenes, subculture and communities, all interlinked under the roof of clubbing. For James, it will offer users and viewers the opportunity to embark on a “visual archaeology of club culture”, with the ability to pin point shifts in musical circles, or even channel the changing landscape of cities based on interaction with existing and redeveloped clubbing institutions.

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The visual culmination of ClubTogether is set to occur on LightNight 2019. The event will take place within SEVENSTORE, a brand-new concept retail store opening in the Baltic Triangle, with LightNight offering a unique opportunity to experience the retail space and visual installation. The store, which brings together fashion, music and art in innovative, community-focused ways, has been a partner on the ClubTogether project since the inception of the idea. Corresponding with the inspiration for the web app, club and rave culture mapping acts as central creative starting point for SEVENSTORE’s opening programme and resulting community activity.

Housed within the basement of SEVENSTORE, the evening of 17th May will see a first viewing of the ClubTogether installation, specially curated for the LightNight celebrations. Throughout the evening attendees will be encouraged to share their memories and experiences via the web app while being immersed in an evolving timeline of clubbing and subcultures. Music on the night will be suitably provided by Graeme Park, with support from SEVENSTORE radio show host Andrew PM Hunt. Alongside the installation there will be a specially curated photographic exhibition featuring the work of Mark McNulty, including his visual relics of the Liverpool rave scene.

ClubTogether brings a democratic approach to cultural mapping. Away from Facebook’s advertising-led algorithms, memories will be given the space to breathe and connect, joining the dots of a future facing cultural cloud. The web app invites you into moments passed without having to look through the lens of a mobile phone camera. It brings you back to where you were, where you are, when loosened from the accepted structures of reality.

 

ClubTogether is part of LightNight, with the installation open for first time viewing on Friday 17th May. Visit clubtogether.me to participate.

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