Clubs: Night fever: Discotheques are entertainment dinosaurs making more money than ever before. breaches the disco inferno

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The Independent Culture
You're standing in a New Age, hi-tech dance amphitheatre with a lighting rig that looks like the underbelly of a spaceship. Sixteen Golden Scans Mk III, eight Tiger Scans and 20kW of sound system create a son et lumiere experience to rival a Gulf War blitzkrieg. An opening appears at the bar, a beautiful stranger returns your smile. You're in heaven. Well no, not exactly . . .

Heaven, one of the country's premier night spots, has maintained its reputation as a front- line venue on the club scene, rarely compromising its credibility while running at a profit. Richard Balfour, Heaven's promotions manager, says that 'the key to our being the most successful gay club in the world has been our ability to keep an underground feel to the club'.

You are, in fact, in a disco. It could be one of 1,000 similar clubs around Europe, exemplified by late-night TV's Hit Man and Her and reminiscent of drunken office parties, flamboyant gestures and highly intricate games of eye contact. No expense has been spared on the decor, bar and music system. A disc jockey with a microphone tries to enhance the mood of the night, although his overgeniality quickly becomes an irritant. The predictability of these venues contributes to their overall success: they are uncomplicated and they have no aspiration to enhance the musical education of their customers. Generally, they are ostentatious money-making machines, specialising in sensory overload, maximum profits and hangovers.

First Leisure, owner of more than 30 discos around the country, showed an increased pre-tax profit for 1993 of pounds 2m to pounds 14.5m. In a year when most avant- garde 'underground' clubs were running into financial trouble, the traditional disco went from strength to strength.

Discos rely heavily on the repetition of a broad spectrum of well-known music, and although one night sounds like any other, the constant turnover of new customers keeps the experience fresh. They provide trustworthy entertainment - you know what will happen before you enter, so you can leave your mind in neutral for the rest of the evening.

A recent study by the Department of Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University identifies the attractions of such establishments as excitement, socialising, drinking, 'possible future physical involvement' and, finally, music and dancing. Ian Freeman of First Leisure believes that more people are now drinking soft drinks in discos because of a relaxation in peer group pressure to consume alcohol, but he does not feel that there is a strong association between this and the return of illegal substances to the commercial disco scene. Section 47 of the Criminal Justice Bill, now being read in Parliament, will prohibit the combination of any open-air gathering of more than 100 people with amplified music, making the rave scene in this country redundant.

It is very difficult to imagine how discos nationwide will be able to adapt to the sudden influx of seasoned clubbers through their doors, as is predicted when this Bill is passed. Can they evolve to accommodate these ravers, or will they remain as entertainment dinosaurs, perpetuating the demand for nostalgia so craved by our ailing


Top discos nationwide: Palace, Palatine Buildings, Central Promenade, Blackpool; Paradox, West St, Brighton; Odyssey, 15 Nelson St, Bristol; Tuxedo Royale, Hillgate Quay, Gateshead; Southside, 146 Clapham High St, London SW4; Hippodrome, Leicester Sq, London W1; Discotheque Royale, Peter St, Manchester M2

(Photograph omitted)