Don’t Bring Back Door Pickers (Or At Least Don’t Pretend They’re Doing Us a Public Service)
Let me tell you a story about the first time I visited Berlin – this supposedly magical place, as everyone told me, where clubbing is the best and the music is the best and yeah, the queues are also the longest and you might not get in because there are door pickers at every club’s entrance but once you’re given a clear by the gatekeeper, you’ll have The Time Of Your Life.
As it turned out, being granted admission to a derelict former-whatever-building-turned-club after seeing the perfectly regular, just-like-me people in front being denied, did not in fact make me feel any better, cooler or authentic as an electronic music fan. Being one of those people, whose love for dance music and club culture stems from its roots of inclusiveness and equality on the dance floor in times of raging inequality in the real world, it actually completely killed my mood and made me want to go home.
Cue Toni Tambourine’s opinion piece in Mixmag posted a couple of days ago, where the former late 90s door picker laments the times in which London’s club scene’s Pearly Gates were protected from the ‘painfully uncool’ by the Clubland St Peter figure that was the door picker.
Now I know I shouldn’t be getting upset over yet another 90s clubber’s staging of the ‘Back In The Day It Was So Much Better’ play – correction, the ‘Back In MY SPECIFIC DAY It Was So Much Better’ play – but hey, I got opinions too and I’ve got a blog so there ya go.
I’ve also had the utter pleasure of discussing this type of rethoric with the legend that is Greg Wilson so I know that many people who actually left a mark on the UK’s club history and culture are not that closed-minded.
So if I can happily live and let live – go to clubs without door pickers and avoid the ones that have them – what is it that I find so particularly annoying about Tambourine’s lament?
Two main issues – language and assumptions.
Let’s explore some examples of the dominating thoughts and feelings and the language used to describe them:
’as though they’d stepped off a catwalk’
’At that time, clubbing wasn’t just about who was DJing.’
‘a place where fashion met music’
‘everyone was beautiful’
‘fit the look of the people we wanted to come to our club.’
‘excluding people actually brings everyone else closer’
‘the dreadfully un-trendy’
‘the hoi polloi’
‘you party in style inside’
‘I felt like I belonged. Like I’d earned it.’
As a fan of dance music and club culture history and context, I’m familiar with the OG New York club practice of putting an outrageous drag queen on the door to seed out the people that could potentially be problematic inside the venue – a venue, usually comprising of a racially and sexually diverse crowd, for whom the club was a safe haven in a world that barely acknowledged their human rights.
But times have thankfully moved on and so have the subcultures around them. Fingers crossed.
As a queer woman who goes out clubbing with her female partner and as on of the Dodgy Immigrant (we’re assigned different classifications upon arrival), I most definitely feel the need of a safe club environment and I’ve admittedly felt uncomfortable on more than one clubbing occasion. However, I’m pretty sure that in any of those instances, had there been a door picker I wouldn’t have been in the venue in the first place.
How about a club makes it clear in their manifesto that certain behaviours won’t be tolerated? How about people are encouraged to say when someone’s being inappropriate and security kicks them out, only after they’ve shown that their place is not on that particular dance floor? How about we let the community form itself around this process of gradually and naturally making it clear what kind of person is welcome to enjoy themselves in that venue?
Diversity – that is a deeply rooted philosophy of dance music and club culture that can be seen as lacking in today’s clubland. I’m admittedly one of those, who have complained extensively about the whitewashing and straightening out of the current dance music scene.
But the main problem with the lack of diversity is different. For a door picker to pick out a diverse audience – comprised of different races, sexualities, economic backgrounds, etc. – it would suggest that a diverse audience is already queueing in front of that club.
That’s a matter of attracting a diverse audience in the first place – not picking it out – and that’s the problem that needs to be addressed today. Is the solution in the choice of lineup, the promotion and the general marketing strategy? (Similarly, long queues, door pickers and ‘earning you place’ in a club are just that – a marketing strategy.)
Personally, I’ve come to associate certain event promoters and venues with a more ‘diverse and genuine crowd’ the same way I’ve come to associate others with ‘dickheads and twats’. The ‘diverse and genuine crowd’ venues and promoters have so far been consistent in their delivery of my good time and as a result, they have me as a loyal follower. Funnily enough, the other type of club, that I’ve learned to avoid, is exactly the kind I’d expect to put a door picker at its entrance.
For a door picker to pick out a diverse audience – comprised of different races, sexualities, economic backgrounds, etc. – it would suggest that a diverse audience is already queueing in front of that club. That’s a matter of attracting a diverse audience in the first place – not picking it out.
Of course, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a certain type of ‘dance music punter/ruiner of good times’ that I too have come to easily recognise based merely on appearance. But I still wouldn’t turn them away on the door – I’d give them the chance to prove me wrong because that’s the kind of stereotyping and prejudice that some us experience on a daily basis already and know that it doesn’t feel very nice.
At the end of the day, door picking is a matter of a human judging another human and anything that involves decisions made by humans is subjective by its nature. Unless you administer an interview process starting two weeks before the night in question, you will be making a decision based on appearance.
At the end of the day, door picking is a matter of a human judging another human and anything that involves decisions made by humans is subjective by its nature.
The right appearance can be learned. We, humans know that very well because we’ve learned the appropriate behaviour and appearance for every aspect of our 21st century Western lives. At work, at a first date, at your classmate’s Christmas dinner with all of their horrible friends, whose loudly expressed opinions make you want to stab them with the steak knife… You keep the right appearance and your reward is that you get to maintain those other aspects of your life in which you can let yourself be yourself – at home, with your loved one, with your real friends and, for some of us, on the dance floor of a club.
At least that’s why I go clubbing.
Let’s not forget that the late 90s-early 00s was a time when UK clubbing and the Superstar DJ culture around it got so overblown that the scene combusted like a Western economy with a bazillion mortgages under its belt (see former Mixmag editor Don Phillips’ excellent book ‘Superstar DJs Here We Go!’).
Inevitably, as with every subculture or fashion trend during humanity’s existence, history will repeat itself. The question is – are we applying what we learned last time and updating it in an appropriate and progressive way or are acting like figurative broken records?
Today’s club scene requires getting tickets in advance and planning a night out in a more music-focused and economically thought out way, rather than one that revolves around making your own super creative outfit.
Toni Tambourine reminisces about the hours spent getting ready for a night out but what about us jeans-and-t-shirt people who spend weeks and sometimes even months, giddy with excitement that we’ll go to a party where our favourite DJ will play for a night before going on a 6-month tour on the other side of the world?
Getting tickets in advance, looking forward to dance to a favourite DJ, whose musical style you care about vs queuing for hours to get in a venue, whose general style you need to fit in? No, not my thing. And I wouldn’t imagine it being the thing of other like-minded people, whose idea of diversity and inclusivity does not include being told ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
And what happens if your friends aren’t judged cool enough to join you in the Special Selective Club or, god forbid, you’re the ‘dreadfully untrendy’ one in your group? When you google how to get in Berghain, alongside the ‘wear black’ and ‘don’t speak while in the queue’ advice (so much for diversity), you’ll see ‘ditch your friends if they don’t get in and don’t look back’ as a piece of wisdom. But what about the rest of us who like our company and who specifically went out with said company to share the night’s music experience after a long and tiring week of making a living and not having time and/or energy to see each other?
‘I think the most important role in a club is a door picker’, says Lucy, who used to be a door picker at Fabric and now practices her art at Studio 338.
Some of us, who go out for the music, would say the lineup and the booker would be of higher importance than Lucy but, to quote my favourite Bulgarian writer, ‘different people, different ideals.’
So bring back door pickers if you want and tell yourself stories about your reasoning behind it and, you know, have fun or whatever. But don’t try to pass it as a high form of public service because, as the majority of the comments under Tambourine’s piece and Mixmag’s Facebook post show, people are perfectly capable of smelling the bullshit.
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