CLUBS / The big issue: Not all nights cater exclusively for the super-slim, the obscenely young and the terminally trendy, as Catherine Eade discovers

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In the current club scene, new and increasingly imaginative nights continue to flourish, and every so often a brand new venue attracts the attention of the masses. But most venues are still mainstream dance clubs aimed at a young, straight, trendy crowd. Promoters are unabashed about dress policy dictatorship, explaining that a good club requires a good-looking crowd. Fashion police stationed on the door ensure that only the coolest of the cool enter venues that positively ooze self-confidence.

Not everybody is happy with this set-up, and the club scene has and is still finding niche markets. The gay scene created its own clubs long ago, giving gay men and lesbians the chance to go to clubs without feeling threatened. S&M clubs are becoming increasingly popular, with a wider audience taking the opportunity to dress to excess: party nights like London's Smashing prove that you don't have to be a poseur to have a good time, while at the Double Six Club the height of hipness is winning at Monopoly.

Meanwhile, the number of smaller, specialised clubs for different social groups is growing. There are club promoters who offer a social service to their punters as well as providing them with a good time. Bobby Pickering runs the monthly night, Bulk, for 'big gay men and their admirers'. Bulk is not just about giving big gay men the chance to socialise, it's a way of inspiring confidence, says Pickering. 'The best thing would be for Bulk to disappear completely and for people to feel they can be accepted in other clubs no matter what size they are.'

Despite the demise of Venus Rising, the much-lauded women-only night at Brixton's The Fridge, some promoters feel there is a need for female club nights. Pumpin Curls, every Saturday night at Turnmills, is a night for feisty females who want a club where they can dance without being chatted up by men. It's not a lesbian club - just a hassle-free night for women. The exception to the girls-only rule is gay men accompanying their girlfriends. The DJs, too, are female.

Even more specific is Planet Big Girl, a club night aimed at big and tall girls. Its founder, Creamy Claire, says she was sick of people staring at her when she went to clubs because she was bigger than everybody else, and she was determined to do something about it. Penny Cee (who describes herself as 'really quite weighty') has taken over the once-monthly night at Equinox in Leicester Square.

Cee says large women are often discriminated against in mainstream clubs, and sees a need for an environment that is non-body conscious. 'Big girls are often considered total failures for not conforming. We are here to change those misconceptions. Big girls are beautiful, sexy, and the epitome of womanhood.'

But is cutting big women off from the rest of society the answer? Cee says you don't have to be big or a girl to get into Planet Big Girl: the club is also open to 'men who like big women', big women's friends and big men.

'Big people are still supressed by the media, but these days more people are standing up for what they are,' says Cee. 'I think women are ahead of men in saying it's OK to be big.'

Chocolates are distributed and the music is carefully chosen. Cee explains it is mostly soul and 90s soul revival - 'something big girls can dance to without getting all sweaty'.

Planet Big Girl monthly at Equinox, Leicester Sq, London WC2; pounds 3.50 before 10.30pm, pounds 7 after. Next PBG is 7 Jul, and the PBG Ball is 11 Jul. Info: PO Box 4110, London SE15 4LR

Bulk, first Sat of the month, Market Tavern, Vauxhaull, SE11; pounds 4. Next night 2 Jul. Info: PO Box 1155, London SW2 IEE

Pumpin Curls, Sat 10pm-3am, Turnmills, 63 Clerkenwell Rd, London EC1

(Photograph omitted)

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