Thursday, 19 April 2007

Vauxhall the fuss?

Lately I’ve been far, far away; not geographically, but to somewhere that’s been compared to another country – the past. My absence from you these past few weeks has been due in no small part to an extended trip down memory lane…so do indulge me as I share my holiday memories with you.

It all began with a hugely positive experience – my discovery, thanks to Margo, of Vauxhallville, quite the most amazing thing to happen to the gay scene for years. Vauxhallville almost defies description, not being easily pigeon-holed (and nor would it want to be) but one could loosely describe it as a weekly extravaganza of film, music, cabaret, dance, arts, craft, drag, fancy-dress, competitions and performance, with scope for dinner, drinking and dancing the night away. From the moment I entered that first night I was hooked. There was a tangible though indescribable excitement hanging in the air that intoxicated and excited me; the feeling that yes, at last, here was somewhere totally new and fresh on the scene (no, not ‘on’ the scene - in addition to it) where I felt at home in a way I hadn’t since…well, since Dirty Dishes circa 2000.

I got to discussing this idea of one’s having a ‘home’ on the scene with Margo and Jerry over Sunday lunch (Jerry’s killer chilli-tuna salad washed down with rosé) and it quickly transpired that both Margo and I – two men to whom the term ‘shrinking violet’ could never be applied – had felt for a long time now that the scene, such as it is, held no appeal for us. Gone were the days when every weekend was a blur of danceanddrinkanddrugsanddicksanddowners and Margo wondered aloud if, given that the opportunity for such weekends still more than existed, and in fact was far from confined to weekends, we were missing out on something by not indulging. No, I answered; we don’t club like we used to because the clubs aren’t like they used to be. Sure there are a million and one nights to choose from under myriad names alluding to their promised extremeness (Later/Beyond/Gravity...) each offering something more than the others (Better lasers! Bigger sound! Hotter go-gos (though why one would want to see Belinda Carlisle sweating is beyond me)! Open later/earlier/forever!) But therein lies the total non-appeal; the scene, bar a few once-edgy-now-mainstream nights like Popstarz and Nag Nag Nag, has become totally homogenised, with one spread of saucer-eyed muscle-boys under a mirrorball in Boyz being totally indistinguishable from the next, and the next and the next…

Our – OK, my – clubbing hey-day was from about 2001-2004, beginning with my move to the then-nascent gay Mecca of Vauxhall and ending fairly abruptly when I met The (then narcotic-unfriendly) Ex. Back then, the idea of an after-hours club under a railway line was totally new; I remember still the excitement I felt being handed, as I left DTPM, a flier for something called ‘Orange’ at ‘The Viaduct, South Lambeth Road’. We piled into a taxi, headed home (conveniently just off said South Lambeth Road) for more vodka and a line or two, then made our way to what we had established was the rebranded Dungeon Club to see what this Orange thing was all about. What we found was an arch, just the one, its walls - bare but for a few cheaply-made UV banners – dripping with condensation, a few green lasers cutting through dry ice and pounding hard-house from a not-bad sound system. This was being danced, swayed, raved and monged to by a totally mashed-up crowd of pretty gay boys, grotty stray boys, black girls, crack girls, she-males and don’t knows, fuelled by God-knows-what cocktail of pills, powders and liquor, all of it being indiscriminately poured, popped and snorted along the length of a bar staffed by a couple of boys who appeared to be the most out of it of us all.

Of course, we fucking loved it.

Nothing else quite came close to replicating the excitement of those early-days-of-Orange until Action came along in the early noughties. Here was a club – no, a super-club – with sound, visuals, publicity, venue and most importantly, crowd unlike anything we’d ever experienced, here or abroad (I make the distinction as even Home in Sydney failed to come close) and for the few short years that it thrived it was to us the ne plus ultra of Saturday night excess. Being held only fortnightly, you'd start looking forward to the next event pretty much the second you embarked on the walk of shame home. But, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, Action was bound to beget others and as we all now know, the result was that within a few short years every last damn railway arch in SW8 had been taken over, gutted, made over and relit to become an only-extremely-subtle variation on a no-longer novel theme. Over Good Friday brunch Glenda quipped that a so-minded entrepreneur could simply ‘knock Vauxhall through’ into one sprawling, laser-lit, muscled behemoth of a club and be done with it; we laughed but inwardly I think all wondered if just such an all-conquering act could be all that far off.

Nostalgia for a smaller scene, with less choice and whole fortnights between parties might seem absurd; minimalism may work for interiors but surely when it comes to nightlife, more is more, right? Not for me. I miss those heady days and the almost unbearable anticipation. I miss the thrill of being handed a flyer for somewhere ‘new’ that really was new, in concept as much as in name. I miss those 3AM taxi rides from EC1 to SW8 and the walk of shame home; hell I even miss the dripping walls of The Viaduct. But we grow, and we learn, and we take those precious memories and put them in a box until, as happened to me as I walked into Vauxhallville, something triggers in us the same rush, the same excitement, the same sense of being there as something so new and fabulous and you emerges blinking into the sunlight and seizes the Zeitgeist by the throat.

I’d like to say that these fond reminiscences are all that’s been exercising my thoughts of late, but on the contrary; as far as the trip down memory lane goes we’re not even at the corner by the lamp-post yet. But, much as I wouldn’t show you all my holiday snaps at once lest you get bored, I’ll save some of the story for another time. For now, I’m off home – it’s Vauxhallville tonight, and I’m planning on making a whole load of memories for the future.

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