Sarah Harris: No City boys, no Hollyoaks girls, let's party!

Bland nightclubs, full of drunk secretaries and expensive lagers
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The Independent Online

When people heard about the all-night squat parties in Primrose Hill, you could almost hear the gasps of horror across fashionable London's pine kitchen tables and the spluttering of organic muesli. These things are supposed to happen in scruffy areas at the end of Tube lines with hordes of ecstasy-crazed teenagers jumping up and down with glow sticks, not in £5m period properties with middle-class neighbours. But this is 2006. "Private" warehouse and squatters' parties have smoothed off their rougher edges. They've gone upmarket.

I don't own any glow sticks, tie-dyed trousers or rave whistles. My friends are generally clean, educated and well dressed, but just a bit disillusioned with the current glut of bland nightclubs, snotty bouncers, drunk secretaries and expensive foreign lagers. So, last weekend we went to a warehouse party in Dalston. The organiser works for a top management company; the invitations - circulated via email - were arty and reassuringly vague because, naturally, no one wants to go somewhere that just anyone can find. Private warehouse parties are the new nightclub guest list: if your name's not down, you're not coming in. When we arrived at the entrance to this seedy-looking pool hall, its flickering neon sign and dodgy stairwell simply reeked of cool.

At a club you have no choice about whether you will spend the rest of your evening rubbing shoulders with a gang of overexcited City boys in sweaty shirts and shiny shoes, whereas at a warehouse party you feel an exhilarating sense of common purpose. In the depths of this east London basement, I am pleased to say that there wasn't a fascist door policy or a three-for-one alcopops deal in sight. The place was heaving with attractive, young media types and art students with good haircuts.

When the illegal party scene first reared its sweating, wild-eyed head during the 1980s, the drugs were the driving force behind young people's need to explode uninvited into fields, airstrips, squats and warehouses. There was nowhere else to go. Today, there are different reasons behind the rising popularity of these "private" parties, where the drugs are, for some, a pleasurable extra rather than the raison d'être of the party. As the Dalston warehouse warmed up, the trendy young professionals were politely doing their recreational thing, but there didn't seem to be the same anarchic abandon that everyone was panicking about in the Eighties and Nineties.

Seventeen years on, the smarter warehouse party culture is growing - this time not as a political reaction to a repressive government, but against the blandness of commercial mainstream culture. In an age where big brands are all vying to "own" youth culture through massive commercial sponsorship of club nights, gigs and festivals and you've got the cast of Hollyoaks mincing around rock festivals with posh picnic hampers, clean wellies and drinking designer smoothies - it's simply become "uncool" to be seen buying into it. As one of my friends put it: "You don't want to go out and feel like you're being sold something; you want to feel like you're a part of something."

The average warehouse party may be difficult to find; it may be held in a crummy venue where the warm drinks are served by uncommunicative Eastern European art students - but at least you're not being patronised by big mobile phone companies or running the risk of bumping into the entire IT department out for someone's leaving do. The Primrose Hill house party is an example of the high premium that we tend to attach to something that we have had to struggle for, or why else would we bother?