Could roller disco save clubbing?

A series of skating events, starting tonight, will be hosted by high-profile DJs, as music promoters experiment with new ways to make the crowds roll in. Emma Love reports
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The Independent Culture

DJs these days pop up in the most unexpected places. Not just in nightclubs or on the summer festival circuit, but now as entertainment at roller discos too. Yes, you read that right; it seems that roller discos are having something of a moment, helped along by a healthy dose of well-known DJs on the decks and plenty of live performances by bands. But is this latest mix-up in the arts world a step too far – we're already used to seeing poetry and book classes at festivals, dance in art galleries, theatre under railway arches, pianos on the streets and debates in nightclubs – or simply a brilliant swing back to all things 1970s with a cool, live music twist?

The first of these events, happening at the Village Underground in London's Shoreditch tonight, is Vauxhall Skate (Vauxhall cars already sponsor Brick Lane's successful annual art car-boot fair – now they're getting in on the music scene too), where the line-up includes Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Richard Jones, Remi Nicole, former Libertines front man Carl Barât and Queens of Noize all taking it in turns to spin the tunes. Then, from 6 August, for the second year running, Nokia Skate Almighty arrives at Tower Bridge for a five-day, outdoor roller disco-fest. A bit of a lucky dip – the live music and DJ sets start at 5pm every day and you won't know who will be playing on your one-hour skate slot until you get there – you could find yourself rocking round the rink to live performances from the likes of Little Boots, Calvin Harris or the Holloways.

Obviously, as with all the summer music festivals, the success of these roller discos-turned-music events totally depends on the programme of acts booked and their appeal to the audience (surely no one could deny that Sophie Ellis-Bextor screams roller disco?). So while the DJs may not be the kind of heavyweight, superstar names that immediately spring to mind when you think of Creamfields or the clubs in Ibiza, they are an altogether cooler crowd who have clearly been booked because they know how to get a fun-filled, roller disco party started.

Insanity Artists, part of the Insanity Group of Companies, are responsible for booking many of the acts involved in both events. For managing director Andy Varley, getting the music policy right (a bill with both cutting-edge and established talent) is paramount to the events' success, but equally important for the artists themselves. "If you look at the music industry, there's less money coming from the sale of music and a huge proportion coming from live events. It's great for artists to do the traditional venues and festivals, but to be aligned with a global brand like Nokia Music is another important string to their bow. It opens them up to more earning potential, but also to a totally different demographic audience."

Varley is right: any opportunity to encourage a wider audience towards music and the arts in general can only be a good thing. Someone who doesn't consider themselves a contemporary dance fan might not pay to go and see a show, but put those dancers on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, or in Tate Modern, and suddenly you can appeal to a totally different range of people. Likewise, not everyone's a natural festival fan, so it's easy to see why some would prefer to spend a night skating to being crammed together with thousands of others in a field – roller discos are guaranteed to be far less muddy and cost less money, for a start.

As for those music purists who might be slightly snobbish about the whole idea of serious artists getting caught up with the fluffy frivolousness of roller discos and the pink legwarmer brigade, well, that kind of thinking is simply outdated. What continues to emerge more and more throughout all art forms, including music, are innovative, fresh ways to push the boundaries, as genres find new forms of crossing over: roller skating during a live performance won't take anything away from the music, it will only add to it.

DJ Goldierocks, who's doing a set at Nokia Skate Almighty, is known for her interactive Goldierocks Soundsystem club nights, which often include performance artists, theatre workshops and even huge games of spin the bottle. She believes that having live music at skating events and offbeat nights such as these is the way forward. "In Europe and London, the clubbing scene has got quite saturated and a little bit dowdy, so nights that combine fun and theatricality with music are great. I've never done a roller disco before but real performance and art is about exchange, and the energy of nights like this are what make them true music events."

Similarly, Tabitha Denholm, one half of DJ duo Queens of Noize, who are playing at both skate events, thinks that just because something is fun doesn't mean it can't involve good music. "I don't see why you can't have roller skating and live performances in the same room; skating is a really rhythmic, satisfying thing to do to music. Roller-skate parties are going back to my roots. Growing up in Maidenhead, everyone went along, it was like a religion, and the DJs would always play tunes that were ahead of their time," she recalls.

It's not that roller discos haven't always had DJs on the decks, rather it's that by introducing high-profile names and live bands to perform alongside them, they've suddenly upped their game considerably. What was once just a kitsch night out with a touch of nostalgia has become a music event that counts. The question is what's next: live gospel choirs singing Christmas carols at ice-skating rinks? Now that would definitely be something else worth getting your skates on for.;