As you may well already know, on evenings you can often find me at local venue The Duchess, where I serve as bartender/box office attendant/manager of sorts/general bitch. I was serving one visibly troubled customer last night, and didn’t have his beverage of choice (one of the night’s recurring themes as it happens, but hey, this post isn’t about stock control failure). Exasperated but clearly just in need of a drink (any drink), he gives me a handful of coins and utters the following immortal line – “Get me drunk so I can tolerate these bellends!”
The ‘bellends’ in question were attending Itchy Feet, a retro-leaning clubnight that’s immensely popular with students – so much so that it’s generally only worth running during term time, when it’s an almost guaranteed sell-out. The night taps into the resurgence in popularity of all things vintage/retro, and according to its marketing blurb, it offers a “unique mix of Swing, Soul, Funk, Rhythm & Blues, Rock ‘n Roll and Ska… the best retro tunes with a contemporary twist… something new out of something old.” (Hmm… new age fun with a vintage feel, anyone?)
Here’s the thing though – we used to do a not-too-dissimilar night called Satisfaction every Saturday, but did the Itchy Feet crowd turn up for it? I think the fact I’m talking about the night in the past tense probably tells you the answer to that. So where does Itchy Feet succeed where Satisfaction didn’t? Well, for one, it’s a monthly/bi-monthly event – trying to make any sort of niche clubnight work on a weekly basis is tough going, particularly in a place like York. But I think that the most important thing is the perception of Itchy Feet as a ‘cool’, ‘alternative’ event amongst a significant subset of students – an event to ‘be seen at’, if you will.
Crucially, however, I don’t think it’s particularly about the music, despite any good intentions the creators of these events may (or may not) have had. The majority of the crowd seem to see it as an excuse to dress up and dance – albeit one with a thin veneer of self-satisfied superiority for them to bolster their own ‘alternative’ credentials with. The people behind Itchy Feet may be dismissive of those modern clubs playing ‘Sexi club classix’ all night, but their creation isn’t as far removed from them as they’d would like to think.
I won’t claim to be any expert on fashion, but think of any musical movement of the past few decades and your mind will no-doubt also fix upon the fashion choices that those bands and their fans made. Mohawked punks, neon-garbed ravers, sharp-suited mods, dyed-black emos, whatever. To me, however, nights like Itchy Feet represent something different – the re-appropriation of music as fashion. This stems back to the impression I got that the music itself is a secondary concern to most of the crowd, whose thought process appears to be as follows: I am here > this implies I like this music > this makes me look cool > isn’t this a nice dress/suit I’m wearing? > more G&Ts please. Knowing the words isn’t necessary (as several muted singalongs demonstrated), and neither is any particularly strong investment in the music. A loosely recognised melody and a catchy beat seem to be all that’s required – and whether that come in the form of a genuinely classic record or a cod-reggae version of a modern song is neither here nor there.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually don’t mind (or even enjoy) a lot of the music that’s played on these nights – my concern is that a large proportion of the crowd don’t like it as much as they’d like you to think they do. And this is the nightmarishly pretentious world that our previously-quoted protagonist saw, like the child who realised the emperor’s new clothes were nothing but a sham – except in this case the child in question turned to alcohol to blot the unpleasant image of the emperor’s naked body from his mind.