Everyone Welcome? The Great Door Policy Debate

Words by: Cila Warncke
Posted: 22/10/09 14:06

Door PolicyEveryone's favourite Contakt making Canadian DJ megastar, Richie Hawtin, may or may not have been thrown out of Berghain recently. He and/or members of his entourage might have torn a curtain, or gotten underfoot, or unwisely started with the bouncers. His Facebook update following the event (or non-event) railed: "U know what, BERGHEIM (sic) is a great club once you are inside, but why does the door policy have to be so fucking ridiculously hard. Come on guys, you have a great club but don't act so egotistically cool. We would all love to play and work with y...ou, but you need a serious attitude adjustment!!!"

Faster than you could say "DC10's been bulldozed" the internet gossip mill went tilt-a-whirl. Message board commentary flew. Some moaned that they didn't get into Berghain either. Others said (a little smugly) that they always did. One thread of opinion held that whatever the case or cause, any club with the chops to chuck out Richie deserves a round of applause. Hawtin re-emerged to spoil the fun by insisting indignantly he hadn't been thrown out. He'd merely left.

Not that it matters. What lies behind the forum frothing is a debate dance culture can't settle: are clubs a Utopian space where the hypnotic power of music eliminates the need for rules? Or are they another cog on the wheel of the corporate leisure industry and therefore subject to the same regulation as bars, theatres and bowling alleys?

In the "Utopian" camp are free-party fanatics, Balearic nostalgists, psy-trance scenesters and message board bleaters bitter about not getting into Berghain. On the other side are clubbers who, out of musical snobbery, ordinary snobbery, or pragmatism, are happy to submit to the whims of selective door staff.

Utopianism is woven deep into club culture. Ever since Frankie Knuckles was DJing in bath houses dance music has been an expression of subversion. The Balearic explosion, acid house, Detroit techno and jungle all flourished because they welcomed the fringes of society, they accepted people who weren't accepted elsewhere. With this history in mind, dance fans get indignant if they're turned away from a club for wearing the wrong shoes or failing to meet some arbitrary standard of cool. After all, the whole point of electronic culture is freedom, right? Being able to just be yourself?

In theory, yes; in practice, clubbing's experiments with Utopianism have mixed results. Manchester's Hacienda club was great when football hooligans were E'd up and hugging each other. But when local thugs realised the financial potential of controlling the drugs trade there the hedonism went to hell. Vague hippie idealism was no match for gun toting gangsters. The Hac was finished. The free-party scene in the UK - a reaction to the commercialisation of dance music in the 90s - has a loyal following, but it isn't all peace-love-unity-and-respect. A promoter once told me of his horror at discovering a baby at a squat party, left on a pile of coats by its drug-addled mother.

Everyone Welcome?Are a few bad bananas reason enough to spoil the fun of the whole bunch though? The free-to-be-me crowd disagree. If you want to see really vile behaviour, go to the West End of San An on a Saturday night (or any bar strip, anywhere in the western world). Clubbing, they argue, self-regulates extremely well and the only thing you accomplish with hard-nosed door policies is giving a bunch of clipboard-brandishing twats a chance to play god. There is truth in this, but it fails to take into account the trend factor. The cooler a club gets, by virtue of its unique music and atmosphere (like Berghain) the more likely wannabe hipsters with no interest in the music will arrive, hoping to catch cool.

Fabric is a case in point. Their DJ line-ups are pure class yet the atmosphere is horrific. As anyone who has experienced the now-standard displays of yobbery and sexual harassment will attest the club's "egalitarian" door policy makes it virtually intolerable for people who have genuinely come for the music. In Ibiza Cocoon has suffered a similar fate. There used to be camaraderie on the dancefloor, familiar faces enjoying the music together. During summer 2009 the composition of the crowd was palpably different, with bored-looking posh kids bumbling rudely around the dancefloor, looking for credibility.

Everyone has to start somewhere, though, and perhaps the cool-hunters will grow into the next generation of true dance music aficionados. Who knows? Perhaps clubs which are known for their strict door policy are shooting themselves in the foot - like countries who rigorously bar immigrants only to find their population dwindling. The Utopianism versus selectiveness debate won't go away simply because there is no easy answer. Dance music is, essentially, a rebel art form, and therefore should be uncomfortable about enforcing conformity. But it also needs to protect itself from exploitation. Someone is always going to fall on the wrong side of the line.

One thing is guaranteed: given the rush of coverage of the Hawtin story ejecting A-list DJs has a fine future as a club publicity stunt. Who's next?


Roberto Capuano
Politics Of Dancing
Ralph Lawson