House party

Who needs to go out clubbing when you have a computer, an Internet connection and a good sound system? Mark Chadbourn reports
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DODGY MUSIC, no water, some E'd up idiot dancing like a hippopotamus with gout. The hardships facing the average clubber are many. But having your wild night of hedonism disrupted by your mum's bridge party is not normally at the top of the list. The latest development in the club world could, however, make that terrifying proposition a regular occurrence. Welcome to Net Clubbing, a concept which, at first glance, suggests it was thought up by brains overcooked by too much dancing and not enough liquid intake.

Webcasts - audio broadcasts over the web - delivered direct from a top venue into your own PC or Mac at home is the latest boom area in a club world increasingly driven by the desperate search for something new. With your machine hooked into a state-of-the-art sound system you can even re-create that nausea-inducing bass rumble and set off your neighbour's car alarm. In effect, your front room - or office - "becomes" the club.

The advantages are obvious: no trouble getting to the bar/toilets/on to the dance floor; no beetle-browed bouncers; you can choose the people you want to dance with. The downside: it's your home.

The whole point of clubbing would seem to be that you go to a "club". The heady atmosphere fired by hundreds of people having the time of their lives, the noise, the bustle, the sensory overload, all appear as vital as the music itself. Yet in the last three years, club attendance has fallen sharply. Obviously, not everyone is enamoured of the oppressive heat, smoke and claustrophobic presence of too many strangers.

The main proponents of Net Clubbing argue that it's actually a complementary activity, rather than something designed to turn the social-minded clubber into a cocooner. Anne Nefet, 25, a regular clubber and DJ, claims it's one of the most positive developments to hit the club world in years.

"The attractions are pretty obvious," she says. "If you haven't been to a club before you can check out what the music is like. There are also archives of gigs, so if you've got a CD burner you can download a whole CD's worth of music. To be honest, it's the music that takes me to clubs. I find the social aspects pretty annoying.

"As the technical side improves, this will get bigger and bigger. At the moment it uses Real Audio, so it's more in tune with the PC. I have a Mac and I've had some problems configuring it. But advances are being made all the time. Soon you'll be able to shoot in and out of various worlds and various stations like you would tuning across a radio.

"The big thing for me will be lots of freedom and less regulation and less censorship."

For Mark Nicholson, 25, a musician, the main advantage seems to be the clubber's nirvana of the venue that never closes. "There's always something in the world going on," he says. "Whenever you feel like it, whatever time of the night or day, you can have a browse. The other thing is that, if you can't get to a club one night, you can still check out the music by going to the archive."

Matt Atkins, also 25 and a musician, champions the egalitarian aspects of Net Clubbing. The elitism of some of London's clubs is endemic, and if you live in rural areas it's even easier to feel out of the loop of coolness. But the netcasts bring a taste of that world into anyone's home. "Plus, by going round to friends' houses to check it out, you still get the social side," he says.

One of the first clubs to make regular netcasts is Sprawl, at the Global Cafe in Soho's Golden Square: it also webcasts its blend of electronic, experimental, yet beat-orientated music. Douglas Benford and Iris Garrelfs, both techno-smart and understand the advantages and limitations of the medium, run Sprawl.

"I disagree with the whole concept of clubbing in your home," Benford says. " Clubbing is a social thing. I wouldn't want to see it replace going to a club as an activity.

"But, for whatever reason, there are always people who can't get to the club," he says. "The webcasts are a good showcase for our music. Now we can reach anybody in the world, but we have a particular following in the US where people tune in like they're listening to a radio."

Benford is thinking about where the technology will take his club in the future. There's no reason why a webcast linked into the right sound systems couldn't have Sprawl appearing at numerous venues all over the globe simultaneously.

The Global Cafe, one of London's Internet cafes, already has a lucrative sideline in webcasts and is constantly breaking into new areas. Apart from regular webcasts covering the diversity of the club scene, it has also put out a documentary event on Gulf War syndrome, a Hewlett Packard corporate webcast and a health authorities drugs information webcast.

For the committed clubber, the lure of the venue will always be unshakeable. But for anyone else, the background to the perfect club atmosphere could increasingly be net curtains and three flying ducks on the wall.

Global Cafe: