After a year of babe overdose, superclubs getting yet bigger and even more boring, and guest DJs whose fees almost match the size of their egos, the club scene in 1997 had better come up with something new, and quick. Having survived endless predictions of death at the hands of ecstasy-addled gangsters, dance culture - far from being nasty, brutish and short - looks most in danger of sinking into corporate oblivion.
The worst scenario for 1997 is this: the Jeremy Healys and the Ministries triumph, reducing dance music to candyfloss. If anything can save clubland from this ignoble end, it will be the very thing which powered the dance revolution a decade ago - the simple, at times naive, but formidable commitment of clubbers themselves.
A browse through the letters page of Mixmag - always a useful touchstone - is, this month, more instructive than ever. "Big-name DJs are a load of old toff not worth it ... play shit music and are in it solely for the money," writes one reader; "Saturday nights in mainstream clubland have lost the plot, the script, and every last ounce of vibrancy," complains another. Disenchantment is endemic. Very little reason to suppose a new drug as dramatic as ecstasy will emerge to re-ignite them in '97 - but every hope that a new kind of music will bring some salvation. Drum 'n' Bass may have failed to deliver on its promise of world domination last year, but it now seems poised to come good in the next 12 months.
When Acid House first appeared everyone knew they were on to something. Even if they couldn't quite get it. How are you meant to dance to it, we wondered? Then something somehow clicked - and the enthusiasm, albeit slightly bewildered, on the face of clubbers, trying out Drum 'n' Bass , suggests that the same will happen here. Most serious names in House music are heading that way - Cream have persevered with LTJ Bukem, despite a tepid response, and Renaissance have declared they will abandon House in '97. The success of Metalheadz at the Leisure Lounge, the growing celebrity of Goldie, and the frenzied demand for the bootleg Drum 'n' Bass mix of The Fugees' "Ready Or Not", all point to a popularity which is growing from grass roots.
It is no coincidence that Metalheads started out on a Sunday night. Almost all the best nights in the country now take place away from the jaded formula of Saturdays, and midweekers - like Fresh and Funky, and The Next Big Thing, both at the Hanover Grand in London - will set the pace. Likewise, smaller venues will prosper, as the intimacy of clubbing is rediscovered by refugees from the corporate superclubs. This is already apparent on the gay scene - Pride was put to shame this year by a smaller event held just for Londoners. And the newly opened Odyssey club in Manchester cleaned up over Christmas, against much bigger competition. As the larger clubs resort to ever more elaborate gimmicks, a la Manumission - performers, stage shows etc - clubs like Odyssey confirm that all people actually ever wanted was an intimate space where they could make their own magic.
If clubbers do not support experiments by those trying to save the club scene this year, they will have only themselves to blame when there is nothing left but bar staff handing out sponsored key rings in disco multiplexes.
With new albums expected from Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Radiohead, Black Grape, Elastica, Supergrass, Portishead and Primal Scream, new bands will need a surefire attention-grabbing gimmick if they want to be noticed at all next year, let alone to materialise at the top of the charts, as Kula Shaker and the Bluetones did in 1996. Ideally, they should ensure they have someone who is already famous in their ranks, a tactic adopted by Seahorses, featuring the fastest guitar god in the firmament, John Squire. Admittedly, Squire wrote most of The Second Coming, which was rubbish, but he got out of the Stone Roses while he still had some credibility left, and I like to imagine that he'll find the old magic again. I have high hopes, too, for a survivor of another semi-legendary Manchester band, Robbie Williams. Unlike Gary Barlow, he's charismatic. Unlike Mark Owen, he can sing. If he and Squire were to get together, it would be perfect.
Kenickie don't have any famous members yet, but they act as if they do. They are three girls and one boy (I use the terms advisedly: Kenickie are barely out of school) with so much raucous self-confidence that the quality of their punky-pop confection is almost irrelevant. Which is lucky, because so far it doesn't have much quality at all.
Geneva, on the other hand, can lay claim to lush, towering ballads, and a singer who is up there with Radiohead's Thom Yorke in the "anywhere your voice can go, mine can go higher" stakes. Their debut album is on its way from Suede's record label, Nude. Mansun are four flashy, trashy and, er, brashy blonde Britpoppers from Chester, who have already knocked out several albums' worth of EPs. And I'll add Jocasta, Soho's literate Manics / Radiohead-style torch-singers, and Glasgow's hyperactive Supernaturals to my list.
Breakthrough success is overdue also to several bands who released albums in 1996, but didn't get the wild, weeping public approbation they deserved. These bands are Audioweb (indie-dance- ragga from Manchester - where else?); Sneaker Pimps (sexy trip-hop strangeness); Tiger (bonkers New Wave yapping); and the unique Arab Strap, whose debut album, The Week Never Starts Round Here (Chemikal Underground) sounds like Irvine Welsh meeting Jarvis Cocker, Tricky and the Velvet Underground in a grimy Falkirk pub to eye up their ex-girlfriends.
Street fashion will take its direction from the catwalk, which has provided some very feminine looks for the summer that are miles away from the androgynous, pared-down clothes that dominated 1996 care of Prada, Jil Sander and Donna Karan. This year fashion pages will tell women to wear wispy chiffon, florals, frills, ruffles, big knickers, wedge heels, and slip dresses. And if it suits you (Sir), go for it.
Otherwise it will be pop stars, celebs, supermodels and cultural heroes who will reflect and create the times and the fashion. The only thing that changes year on year is who they are, and1997 looks set (already) to belong to the Spice Girls, who will continue their assault into 1997, influencing girls, women and their boyfriends. The five Spices have something to offer every woman: there's a sporty one (Mel C), a funky one (Mel B), a posh one (Victoria), a red-headed dolly bird (Geri) and a sweet girly (Emma). Take your pick. And just for fun, each Spice can be matched to a high-street shop, to help you get their look: Mel B - Kookai; Mel C - JD Sports; Geri - Morgan; Victoria - Oasis, and Emma - Top Shop. Take their sartorial direction, and you should be OK.
But what about Liam Gallagher? His recent haircut from that hideous shaggy mop to a skinhead has upset every New Lad. It took years for those lads to grow out their skinheads in the first place. This surely signals the end of the Britpop look that was so prevalent in 1996. Lads who adhered to the look will either have to get back to the terraces, or get a life.
This year, some trends are guaranteed. Calvin Klein is opening his CK diffusion line shop in February so we can all get the look we've been wearing for years sold back to us at highly inflated prices. He also launches his new shared fragrance CK Be - so, like lemmings, we will flock to the "exclusive" outlet so we can all smell the same again. Tommy Hilfiger's sportswear also reaches our shores next month, care of Harvey Nichols. So this summer the only logo to wear on your t-Shirt will be the red, white and blue Hilfiger insignia - as worn by Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell during London Fashion Week last year; as worn by you this year.
the gay scene
Last year, writer Mark Simpson's book Anti-Gay upset the applecart by debunking the gay scene's brain-dead obsession with E, techno and the body beautiful. Backing him to the hilt was iconoclastic performer The Divine David, whose cult act at London indie club Duckie was widely publicised. The result? A radically changing gay scene. "People are looking for a more sophisticated, swanky, cocktail-sipping nightlife, which you can't get standing in a sweaty basement waving a bottle of Evian," says James Collard, editor of Attitude.
The Divine David, who is appearing at London's Albany Theatre later this month, will no doubt lead the way now that his hilarious pisstake of traditional drag is winning over straight audiences, too, but also set to attract a major following are Jackie Clune, purveyor of superbly cheesy Karen Carpenter and Nolans impersonations, Stuart Alexander whose kinky brand of drag involves sporting a bikini without attempting to disguise his manhood, and Chris Green, who lampoons boy bands. Green's alter ego, country and western drag queen Tina C, is certain to become just as hot, judging by the crowds flocking to his night, Screamers, at London bar The Yard. Despite having performed mainly at Duckie, many of these performers will soon be appearing in Manchester, thanks to club promoter Debs, aka rising cabaret star Twinkle, who opens her night, Gag, there in March.
Anti-gay performers apart, Mark Ravenhill, whose debut play, Shopping and Fucking, returns this month to the Royal Court Theatre, is sure to become a major star. Ditto David Benson, whose one-man show, Think No Evil of Us - My Life with Kenneth Williams, tours this year.
Many of those expected to be gay icons this year aren't gay - take Casualty's new gay boy Sam Colloby, played by straight actor Jonathan Kerrigan, or the actress Gina Gershon (sultry Cristal in Showgirls) star of the much-heralded lesbian heist flick, Bound - a dykon if ever there was one.