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Extracts from the book

Inside Clubbing - Sensual Experiments in the Art of Being Human

Cover of the book Inside Clubbing - Sensual Experiments in the Art of Being Human by Phil Jackson

Snapshot: Saturday Night Out on The Town

You enter the club down a dark corridor; the music getting louder as you approach the end; walk into a brightly lit space, which is dominated by a large, pink, music box about seven foot high and ten foot long in which a live ballerina is performing. I immediately warm to the space. This is going to be fun. Grab a beer and catch my bearings. This space is a bar area and overlooking it is a balcony, which is presently empty. Two corridors lead off from the left-hand side, but they're both closed off and everyone is forced to pile into this one area. On either side of the music box lie two small podiums upon which the Hush dancers are already in full flow. Hush hires people to dance and look fabulous for the night in order to get the club moving and impose a glamorous aesthetic upon the space. It is important to get the right look because the Hush team understand the importance of watching and being watched in clubs and their aesthetic encouraged big-looks, which gives the event a larger than life appeal. The podiums are full of drag-queens, delectable boys and lingerie-clad women and they are givin'-it-some. This immediately brings a grin to my face; they look great, sexy, fun and their efforts pay off because the gagging-for-it crowd who have been waiting and waiting to get in start to go off almost immediately.

The intensity is already building and I decide it's time to get an edge so I find myself an out of the way spot, which isn't easy in such a brightly-lit room and surreptitiously drop a tab of acid. It should come up in about forty minutes to an hour. So I do a little boogying, smoke a few fags, enjoy watching the crowds swirl by and check out the mighty, fine, looking women, dressed to kill and slaying me with every immaculately manicured set of lips. Grrrr down boy.

The space is staged managed beautifully using the logic of critical mass, when the bar is packed and people are shaking a booty the main dancefloor is opened up. Later on when folk need a breather the balcony will flourish. However, people are having so much fun that there isn't a huge rush to get into the main floor, which prevents a lull in the proceedings. The main floor is a much bigger space and dark. The speaker stacks double as podiums and there is a raised platform on the far side; in the middle is yet another podium, this one larger than the others though not higher. (Drug-fucked people have a tendency to fall off things.) The music is loud; banging House, relentless beats that physically invades your flesh. Sweet. The acid is coming up nicely, weaving its way through my system. Colours are crystallising and taking on that dazzling psychotropic intensity. The room looks alive with potential - potential for what I'm not sure. The tallest drag-queen I've ever seen passes by with her entourage. I notice what looks like a group of bodyguards, for whom I'm not sure, they are massive men and I have to get through them to get to the loo. The biggest seems to be four times my width and twice as tall; I feel like a midget; can't work out whether he is truly that huge or if my sense of perception is changing. I smile and say: 'Excuse me.' He smiles back and ushers me through the group.

From the toilet cubicles the occasional sharp intake of breadth is the only indication of the night's chemical content. The more trippy I get the more trolleyed everyone else looks. I try to convince myself that I appear sober. Who am I trying to kid? I make another trip to the bar and to my astonishment it's stopped serving alcohol. It's 2.00 a.m. There's another seven hours to go before the club shuts and it's going to be water all the way. Never mind. I decide to head off to the main floor for a spliff in the shadows.

Boom-Boom-Boom, merrily sucking on a spliff, the room's filling up and the speaker podiums are all bagged. On one is a woman in a gold, sequinned bra and mini-skirt, seriously sexy, she's already givin'-it-some vent. The lights are reflected upon her tinselled muscular body, she looks fabulous changing from red to orange to green, smile plastered over her face, magnificent and strong. The dervishes start to inhabit my feet; this time fuelled by the growing, buzzing energy unleashed by the LSD. My body's loosening up, it feels sinuous, sensuous and strong. You can savour the energy pumping through it, lithe like snakes, erectile and passionate, alive, my whole being feels like a cock hovering at the point of ejaculation. The gap between the music and I has gone; I am possessed by a friendly daemon, but there is no sense of losing myself, if anything I'm me to the power of three: Uber-Phil.

Time has lost all meaning; I have no concept of where I am in the chronology of this event, just music, dancing and people that's all that matters. I stop for a breather and move out to the other bar to cool down. The balcony has finally been opened; people are grooving up there and watching the party. Some guy is beating out Tito Puente style riffs on the bongos; the crowd has caught the fever. A group of women in multi-coloured wigs pass me by sucking on lollipops. I have never wanted to be on a stick so badly. Divine madness reigns, but it is so good-humoured so impeccably social that it seems not only normal, but oh, so right. I slurp down water, mouth parched from dancing, drenched in sweat, but I've moved beyond giving a toss about how I look. The party's got me by the tail.


"Never trust spiritual leader who cannot dance." (Mr. Miyagi, The Next Karate Kid, 1994)

"I was trained as a dancer, I worked as a dancer, I have always danced, I've always enjoyed dancing, but I never really felt like a dancer until I started taking drugs and dancing in clubs. That taught me more about dancing than any other experience of dancing ever has." (Female 41, 19 years experience)

The music unleashes a sensuous fever that infects the crowd, leaping across the floor with incredible rapidity, luring more and more people into its virulent grasp. The embodied residue of the week, your weaknesses, anxieties and strengths are channelled into the dance and so transmuted into movement, energy and heat. They are not simply forgotten their form is altered and their shadows are expunged from the flesh. The dancefloor is on-one and I don't mean drugs, I mean living, not in the physically and emotionally confined spaces of everyday life. Grey flees the building to be replaced by vivid reds, burning oranges, iridescent blues and a slither of topaz. You ain't in Kansas no more. You're on a dancefloor and it is fearsome fine.

At times this can literally feel transcendent; it is a physicality that takes you so far beyond the everyday experience of your own social body that it feels like a sublime manifestation of self-in-world. As one informant said:

"If you haven't fucked god on a dancefloor, then you've never truly danced." (Male)

In terms of its physical intensity club dancing does seem comparable to the possesionary rites of Candomble or Vodun. I have taken myself elsewhere on a dancefloor, I have inhabited a carnal and exhilarated body that has felt transcendent. However…There was no god on my dancefloor, there was no cosmology of possession, no expectation of spiritual ascension, just people, booze, drugs, grins, music, all packed in on top of one another combining to produce an experience that becomes more than the sum total of its parts. 'It's the bollocks' just about sums it up.

The ability to express yourself physically without fear of censure in a club was demonstrated by a number of incidents that I observed on the dancefloor. On one occasion I watched a lone male simply stand on the spot and leap up and down grinning as hard as he could at everyone around him. He looked like he had popped a few Es and for a moment his physicality became that of an excited child. His sense of exhilaration was instantly communicated to the strangers who surrounded him, he ceased to be separate from the group, he became a physical emblem of the club's growing euphoria. On another occasion I witnessed a young, heavily-set guy suddenly burst into a reasonable and extremely energetic interpretation of Irish Dancing. He looked like he weighed around eighteen stone, but in an instant his body began to defy gravity and his feet flew, sweat poured off him, his eyes were clenched tight shut and his face radiated sheer joy; it looked both majestic and deliciously silly. These incidents give some indication of the level of physical freedom tolerated in clubs. You don't have to look good when you dance; it is enough to simply dance and express your passion for dancing and this freedom is one of the most important qualities of clubs.


"There are only two types of music: good and bad." (Duke Ellington)

"Without music life would be a mistake." (Nietzsche)

"Sometimes the music makes me insane; I can't stop dancing; it feels like my heart will pop; I'm covered in sweat, but the beat keeps driving me on. I HAVE to dance, there's no other option the music's in control." (Female 32, 9 years experience.)


If I believed in god, then that god would take the form of a bass beat. Raw, guttural and sublime the bass enfolds and possesses, it is the heartbeat of clubbing, both archaic and wise, infusing both time and space with the organicism of a living thing. The arrival of sub-bass heralded an intensification of the cult of bass, once only explored in its most extreme manifestation via Dub it began to creep into the realm of dance music as more and more musicians recognised its awesome power to envelop people. The advances in sound recording and reproduction, which have occurred in the current electronic age of music, allowed bass to reach a visceral zenith that sank deep into the flesh of those who experienced its intoxicatory allure.

Such a bass has the ability to sculpt air and charge it with an electrostatic frisson, which makes it tangible to touch, akin to being immersed in water. The driving power of this subcutaneous force is a source of energy in itself, it hits your gut, genitals and chest with a kinetic surge of desire that can at times become so intense that it is physically overwhelming and you're forced to turn away for fear of puking. A pumping bass beat launches you onto the floor before you've even thought about it. Its immediacy is lascivious and virulent and the rhythm it carries infects entire rooms. A Rastafarian women I met at a Dub night explained that:

"Bass is a communal thing for Rastas; it immediately links you to people and to Jah. There is obviously no scriptural reference to bass, just a shared feeling that brings you together and makes you all one."

The emotional power of bass is derived from its material quality that enfolds the listener within the tune. Sometimes it is heavy and dark like someone's creeping up behind you possibly with an axe clutched in their sweaty, psycho paws at others it is exhilarating like the kick bass of Techno that imbues you with instant energy and makes dancing feel like a form of sonic surfing.


"Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions." (Woody Allen)

The last dimension of club sex, I want to look at, is the relationship between sex and drugs. This is a relationship that occurs in all areas of clubbing; in fact Sex clubs often seemed less druggy than other clubs did because their primary focus was on sex. Drugs can radically alter the way people experience sex because they shift the sensual and social parameters of those sexual encounters.

Certainly, sex on Class A drugs is very different from sex on alcohol, which can often boil down to twenty minutes of rather uncoordinated rumpy-pumpy followed by immediate collapse. Sex on drugs tends to go on far longer; you can afford to relax more, you have more energy. Ecstasy does not diminish sexual desire that desire simply travels down an altered socio-sensual path. It is articulated and experienced differently; just being touched feels wild as does kissing, licking and watching. There's also the communicative quality of the club drugs that when part of a sexual encounter changes the way people talk about sex, they are franker and more open about it. Sex becomes less antsy and more relaxed.

Some male informant's say they have problems sustaining an erection on drugs, others don't. It depends upon the drugs and how long they're actually engaged in sex. As one explained:

"Your hard-on can come and go when you're having sex on ecstasy or any other drug really, partly because of the drugs, partly because you spend so long fucking that it gets tired and disappears. It doesn't matter though as you just change what you're doing or have a break, maybe a spliff and a laugh. Penetration stops being the be all and end all of fucking; you get more imaginative and inventive. I've probably learnt more about fucking by losing my hard-on than I would have if it had stayed because even when it's gone it doesn't mean the fun has to stop. When you're drugged-up your whole body can feel like a dick so the fact that your six inches of prime love has gone wonky isn't so relevant." (Male 34, 16 years experience.)

Another said:

"I enjoy having sex on cocaine, but sometimes I really can't cum. It's like your dick turns into a dildo. It can stay up, but it goes numb so orgasming is really difficult. It used to drive me mad, but I've got my head round it now and I just get off on what's happening. I can always finish off next morning when the feeling's back in it." (Male)

You can certainly take too many drugs to be able to have or enjoy sex particularly as you get older. The sensation of numbness, my informant speaks of, is not an uncommon one, but if you don't over indulge in them drugs can alter the socio-sensual experience of sex quite dramatically. Cocaine and speed can give you the energy of a sexual dynamo and the numbness, which can accompany them doesn't mean you necessarily loose your erection; it can stay, but it just does not feel as intense. The upside is that sex goes on for longer because premature ejaculation isn't a problem. An informant said:

"I like sex on E because it's more relaxed. It's more like a long and intense session of foreplay than a quick fifteen-minute shag and I prefer that. You touch and stroke and fuck and touch and laugh and fuck; it's not so mechanical; it's far more fluid; it lasts longer and feels different more intense." (Female 34, 16 years experience.)

This sexual element is an important part of all drug experiences. Sex and drugs can compliment one another and radically alter the sensual intensity of people's sexual encounters at a physical level in terms of how their body feels during sex and at a social level in the way people interact with one another during sex. A number of informants said that they enjoyed smoking marijuana before having sex because like a couple of drinks it relaxed them and one of my female informants stressed how much she enjoyed sex on LSD. A point of view reiterated by Timothy Leary:

"I'm saying simply that sex under LSD becomes miraculously enhanced and intensified. I don't mean that it simply generates genital energy. It doesn't automatically produce a longer erection. Rather, it increases your sensitivity a thousand percent. Let me put it this way: Compared with sex under LSD, the way you've been making love-no matter how ecstatic the pleasure you think you get from it-is like making love to a department-store-window dummy." (1990: 127)

From my own experience I would add that a high degree of trust between partners and knowledge of the effects of LSD were as important as the drug itself during sexual encounters. Otherwise they can become confusing because of LSD's ability to warp the way you feel and see the world. As one informant explained:

"Sex on acid can get a bit freaky; you can't work out where you end and the other person begins. You look at them and they can mutate in front of you; they can seem skeletal or wolflike. It can take you a moment to recognise them, but if you're with someone you trust, then these feelings just add to the sex because they don't get scary, they're just exciting." (Female 41, 19 years experience.)

For the vast majority of clubbers the relationship between sex and drugs is explored away from the club space, but it is an important part of the club/drug experience that radically alters the socio-sensual parameters of sex. When combined sex and drugs alter and intensify the experience of each other, but as one informant pointed out:

"Fucking and drugging's great, but you have to be careful; you can get careless. I've been so out-of-it that I've forgotten to put a condom on and that's risky. So now I like to get prepared, have plenty of condoms, unwrap a couple so I've got them at hand, take my time. It just means I don't have to wake up in a panic the next day." (Male 32, 14 years experience.)

Dressed to Thrill

Once a crowd has gained the confidence to start dressing-up it swiftly becomes an integral part of their clubbing experience. I have seen people dressed as: rubber nurses, leather bishops, go-go girls, cowboys, dandy highwayman, wonder woman, a hammerhead shark (accompanied by a Furby), carnival queens, freakish clowns, ringmasters, Victorian school-teachers, voodoo priests, devils, bunny girls and boys, drag-queens, transvestites of all shapes and sizes, big babies, angels, pantomime horses and 1940s film stars and they were just the looks I could vaguely categorise. One of my favourite costumes was simply a guy who'd stuck multi-coloured scouring pads to his head and wore them with a black suit; every time the light caught him the scourers would glitter like jewels, simple, cheap, very effective. This was a highly creative club environment; many of the looks were homemade and people had put a great deal of effort into their construction. They were big, imaginative costumes that challenged the basic conformity of the world of fashion. This was not the space to feel glamorous in a little black Gucci dress because you would have simply looked dull in comparison to the rest of the crowd who'd eschewed the classificatory labels of fashion in favour of personal expression. As one informant explained:

"I have a PVC cheerleader's outfit I made myself a while back. It's beginning to fall apart so now I wear it looking all fucked-up. The arm got split because I've buffed up since I made it and I thought: 'Well either I don't wear it or I use it.' I put this cross belt thing on it, strapped toy guns on my legs, then gaffer taped a couple of light pens onto the shoulders. It was my 'Columbine High Cheerleader' look. There's a lot of creativity in clubs and personally I find it a more valid form of creativity than most of the stuff I've seen in the Tate Modern because people aren't being up their own arse. They're being true because the only place this creativity is coming from is themselves. They do it for themselves and for the party. You know call me cynical, but I have a nasty feeling that the art world's just about money and bullshit nowadays while this is just about people making stuff for the joy of it." (Male 26, 8 years experience.)


"The road of excess to the palace of wisdom leads…
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough."
(William Blake, 1978: 96-97)

"We had a system: we'd start the night with a couple of lines of speed and then go out drinking after that we'd take a pill and club-it-up. Once the pill was starting to fade we'd drop a tab of acid, which would see us through till the next morning. Then it was more speed and off to the pub on the Sunday for a booze up. By Sunday night we were all completely wasted; no one had slept we must have looked dreadful, but it was hardcore. We were unstoppable party machines for a while there, but after a while we had to slow down; we were all completely mashed and it was getting out of control." (Female 29, 12 years experience.)

The urban environment is extreme in itself it acts as a pressure cooker that intensifies experience; you negotiate it with your guard up. In many ways ecstasy is the direct antidote to the sense of underlying anxiety that infects urban life. It allows you to experience the crowds, which make up a huge part of the urban experience in a very different way. Certainly part of this encounter arises from the social rules that surround much of clubbing, but ecstasy allows you to fully experience those rules as an embodied force because those rules were created from within the ecstasy rush. Once you have experienced this embodied state, once you've learnt what those social rules feel like you can go onto recreate those experiences to some extent without the drug because you know how far you can go in a club and how to interact with people while in the space. Which is why I was constantly being mistaken for an E'd up party animal when I'd only had a couple of beers. Once you've become confident in clubs, once you can just let your hair down and go-for-it, then you look like you're on E. You have created an embodied emotive model that underpins the reality of the rules of clubbing.

I must reiterate that I'm not talking about people feeling scared and then taking E to relieve that fear that is not what happens, rather by taking ecstasy people release themselves from the body by which they hold the anxieties of city living at bay. They resist this anxiety by creating a resistant body that allows them to negotiate the social reality of the metropolis without it becoming experience in mind as the idea of fear. It is held in the body, it is a particular musculature, a set of emotional parameters, a subconscious physicality that arises from the anonymity of our social encounters, which take place in the stranger led world of the city. It is most evident on the tube: silence, no eye contact, a studied invisibility within the mass of commuters, very few people smiling all the things that are altered in a club crowd. This is not fear as an overwhelming force; it is fear as a general level of anxiety about other people's possible intentions and actions. As LeDoux explains in The Emotional Brain: "Bigger brains allow better plans, but for these you pay in the currency of anxiety." (1999: 177)...

"Why do you think the 'Clangers' are on at four in the morning; it's got sod all to do with nostalgia; it's because it appeals to drug fucked people who've just got in and their heads are still fizzing. You can see the change especially at the weekends; the programmes start when the pubs kick out; they tend to be viewing for drunks and as the night goes on they get less drunk and far druggier. It's comedown TV for a drugged-up nation and the TV companies know their market and cater to it. They'd never admit it of course, but it isn't very surprising considering the amount of drugs that the media world consumes; they're like Dysons stuck on maximum suck so of course they know what's going to appeal to their fellow druggies." (Male 31, 13 years experience.)...

Amphetamine on the other hand is seen as a street-drug, cheap, effective, utterly unglamorous, the working-class version of cocaine that costs £5.00 to £10.00 a gram. The basic currency of the accelerants is raw energy and the feeling of this energy surging through the system alters the accelerant user's relationship to the world. Externally the world remains much the same, but from an internal psychophysical perspective it becomes charged with a potential for engagement. Speech becomes strident, ideas explode into the mind and you feel like you can communicate at warp speed. This is an emotionally intense language somewhat evangelistic in its passion by being grounded in a sense of certainty that can on occasion seem almost aggressive. Bodies become empowered and revitalised as their rhythmic structure quickens and they develop that restless coke and speed physicality: constantly playing with their noses, eyes darting around the space scanning the room to see where the action is, a positive tension between self and world. It is exhilarating; you feel turbo charged and fuel-injected, the human equivalent of a formula-one car...

"I started clubbing in the sense of taking drugs and clubbing in 1990. Before that I had been in clubs in fact I remember going to The S Club, everybody else was on drugs and I wasn't and everybody was out-of-their-heads. I was looking at them thinking: 'I don't get this really. Why is everybody jumping up and down really enjoying this? I just don't get it.' Then later, as I said in 1990, I went in and a friend gave me some E and suddenly it was: 'Oh now I get it, now I understand, I know why they're jumping up and down and smiling so much and having such a great time." (Female 29, 10 years experience.)

This is an example of discovering the socio-sensual limits of alcohol. My informant was going to clubs and drinking, but she still didn't 'get' clubbing, which in the early 1990s would've been orientated around ecstasy. Drink could allow her to engage with the club experience to a certain degree, but she obviously didn't feel that her experience was as intense as the rest of the crowds who looked like they were having a better time than she was. It was only after taking ecstasy that she understood why they looked this way as her own experience convinced her that they were indeed having a better time than she was...

Drugs in all their forms, legal or illegal, play an important role in creating the socio-sensual intensity of clubbing that makes clubs feel radically different from other times and spaces in people's lives. The club drugs help generate a range of experiences. They each have different properties and propensities that will be heightened or occasionally destroyed by the 'set and setting' of the particular club they're taken in. Ecstasy was important in shifting people's ideas about what constitutes a good night out and its arrival revitalised the nightlife of this country. It facilitated the change into an alternate social and sensual experience of the night in opposition to the booze-fuelled sociality that preceded it. That shift defined the model of what a club should feel like for punters and made them more intense spaces. This model has shifted as fashions and drugs changed. Ecstasy is only one drug amongst many that now plays a role in generating the party. Intoxication changes over time. It has a pattern and people's knowledge of their chosen drugs deepens with experience, rather than ending up 'completely screwed' by years of taking drugs my informants have become chemically literate. This is not an unproblematic process and it has its risks and its dangers, but my informants believed that these risks had been worth taking from their own personal perspective because the times they had spent intoxicated had added something important to their lives.

The Vibe

"It's similar emotionally to being in a football crowd. It's the same crowd psychology thing. When you're part of one body of people screaming goal or whatever you feel great because you're connected to those other people. It feels like that, it's that intense, but there's no enemy, no losers, we're going yes to ourselves and each other, not because our teams beaten another team. We're going: 'YES WE ARE US AND YES WE'RE TOGETHER.' It's a non-aggressive yesness. I think the essence of truly great clubbing is everyone scores a goal and nobody loses." (Male 32, 14 years experience.)

On his seventy-first birthday I took my Dad out to a club, a heaving sweaty sound clash where I was going to be the MC. Dad had no idea what to expect; I had no inkling of whether he was going to enjoy it or not and we'd told him that we'd take him home at any point if he wasn't having fun. At 3.00 a.m. he was still on the crowded dance floor, smiling away and grooving-on-down with my girlfriend whom he had been chaperoning while I dashed back and forth from the microphone to our table. Everyone was grinning at him; people would come up and give him a kiss or a hug; his head was steaming from the heat. It was a fabulous night and he partied like a pro, dancing away, chatting to people, saying he was "in seventh heaven" and "on cloud 9".

My Dad had no previous experience of the contemporary club environment, yet his own mental model of how to behave at a party, which had been created in seemingly very different spaces still allowed him to negotiate and enjoy the club experience, but it was his willingness to put that party model into action and to participate that made the real difference. As one informant suggested:

"People have to participate in the clubs and the crowds; participate and lend something of themselves to the social situation and the ones that do, well more often than not, they're the people who would lend themselves to any social situation, be it their Dad's re-marriage, Granny's birthday or whatever. They're the best ones; the ones you really want in a club, but I think you have to remember that there are always people who participate and there will always be people who are passengers." (Male 27, 10 years experience.)

My Dad summed it up when we were talking to him after our night out. He admitted that he had been a bit worried about going and he hadn't been sure what he was letting himself in for, but he had decided to go because 'it would be an experience' and that whatever happened he had already decided "he'd stay until the end and make the best of it" and that's exactly what he did. Any opportunity to dance and he danced. If people came up to him he would smile and chat to them immediately. When he got a bit tired he'd just sit down, have a natter or simply watch the mayhem with a huge smile on his face until he was ready to get into the groove again. When the scantily-clad girls came up to give him a kiss he'd pucker up with glee. He refused nothing and seized everything and with only two glasses of whiskey inside him he was certainly the soberest person at this party. As a fellow party goer commented to me:

"Is he your Dad?"
"WOW I hope I can party like that when I'm his age; he's wild."
"Yes, he taught me every important thing I know." ...

"People seem to think that they can buy a good night out. They expect to have it handed to them on a plate, just because they forked out twenty pounds to get through the door and they're paying way over the odds for their drinks. They think that they should be having a good time because they're spending money, but that's not the way it works; you've got to get-it-on in a club; you've got to make it succeed and if there isn't enough people pumping it out then clubs just fall on their arses." (Male 26, 8 years experience.)

Sensual Experiments in the Art of Being Human

Clubs offer an alternative socio-sensual environment that is grounded in a process of radical sensual intensification, which underpins an alternative set of social experiences that feel very different from the everyday social practice lodged in the habitus of our culture. Over time these experiences have become democratised, they have become mainstream. The percentage of young people in this country who have encountered them is growing rapidly as is the amount of people who have continued clubbing and made it part of their adult lives. Clubs have initiated a process of sensual change largely bereft of a specific overarching ideology and these changes are part on an on-going process that is still being worked out on the ground. Different groups use this sensual shift in different ways, they mould these experiences into a social form that suits their needs and desires. They are felt most intensely within the social relationships that make up an important part of the experience of clubbing. Whether interacting with strangers or hanging out with friends the sensual charge of clubbing reverberates within and radically alters the form and depth of these social encounters. This is not an un-problematic process, it has its dangers, but it also has its rewards and my informants viewed those rewards as worth the potential risks they were taking. The bodily techniques people encounter via clubbing can escape the confines of the club space and can be woven into people's social practice in the everyday world. They grant them new perspectives upon that world that challenges the embodied logic of the habitus. This is particularly evident in notions of intimacy, gender relations and a shift in people's moral perspective upon sensual pleasure, all these things are not entirely down to clubbing they are also part of the social changes occurring in the wider everyday world. Clubbing simply provided an arena that allowed these wider ideas to become experienced as socio-sensual actualities. They were embodied and this process of embodiment created its own logic of practice that in turn generated a wider shift in social perspective amongst clubbers.

Back Into the World

As the power of religion wanes our perspective upon life and death is altered. People no longer think they will enter the eternity of either heaven or hell and life is seen as being finite, which alters our perspective upon both the future and the present. They want to live now, in the present, they want to seize life and savour it whenever possible because they know they're going to be a long-time dead. The death of god has entirely altered people's relationship to the world at an embodied level. The practices that orientated them towards a religious eternity have lost their power to create meaning and grant succour to people in times of pain and hardship. Real people and real pleasure are replacing god because they provide lived and tangible points of connection to the world out of which a lived sense of meaningfulness arises. Yet, we live in a culture that is deeply suspicious of pleasure and refuses to grant it any real social worth. It discounts pleasure as escapist, immoral and unworthy of serious attention, it refuses to recognise that god has gone and that people feel its absence and they are attempting to live their lives without that god. It is religion that is escapist because it refuses to allow humans to stand on their own two feet and live entirely human lives in all their confusion, doubt and impermanence. This is not an easy transition to make; religious practice played a huge role in structuring the Western habitus and replacing it with alternative practices that carry the same sort of social and moral power is a complex social problem. People are creating their own altered habitus, rather than simply accepting the habitus of the culture in which they are embedded. This sensual freedom challenges and partially erases the body transmitted to them by culture, but that culture will resist this transference of sensual allegiances and attempt to re-impose itself, even when people are seeking ways to fulfil that culture's own ideological premises. As this sensual slippage is based on practices it is only through the continued creation of alternative practices that it can sustain its existence within the body.


Throughout Western history the urges, desires and passions of the flesh have been treated with suspicion. Subsequently the social and moral frameworks that surrounded the body stressed discipline and constraint suffusing that body with a moral depth, which made it a unique social object that was ordered internally by the habitus and externally by the gaze. As the power of Protestant-Christian morality receded it was replaced by a new philosophy of health, which translated that older morality into the rationalised scientific language of the twentieth century. The body remained problematic within this new medical cosmology of restraint that denied sensual excess any value or worth.

As the 'civilising process' imposed new internal and external constraints upon our bodies people began to feel stale and monochromatic, drained of passion, trapped within the physical boundaries of the habitus and denied any form of social expression. Despite our culture's wealth, its security, its claims to individualism and freedom people still felt discontented. In comparison to the rest of the world Westerner's were lucky, but they didn't feel it. They perceived themselves as trapped, rather than liberated, a mode of perception that arose from their own stifled flesh and manifested itself as a nagging urge for more. Although people did not want to return to violence to grant their lives passion, they did want a way of challenging the sense of constraint they felt within their own bodies. Waves of experimentation during which the dominant habitus was challenged came and went. The arrival of cocaine in the twenties, dope in the fifties and LSD in the sixties all generated novel periods of socio-sensual experimentation that caused the moral panics of their times. Each of these waves were bigger than the last and eventually ecstasy took these bodily extremes beyond the confines of the bohemian world and out into the mainstream because it was such a profoundly social drug that could be easily incorporated into the increasingly important sphere of leisure. All over the country Cinderella-Rockafellas died a swift death and rave swept through both the suburbs and the cities. The flesh had slipped its leash and hedonism was the order of the day and in the process dancing became acceptable again particularly for men, which in turn changed the music we listened to and the way we experienced it. The boundaries of the night were expanded and people got use to seeing the sun rising to the beat of a pumping tune. They felt alive in a way that their own supposedly freedom-loving culture could not fulfil.


Class A: The most illegal drugs or generic term for all illegal drugs. Speed is Class-B. Marijuana is Class-C.
Cock-Strap: Leather straps worn around the base of the penis and scrotum, highly recommended.
Coke, Coked-up: Term for cocaine and being under the influence of cocaine.
Comedown: When the effects of the drugs sadly start to wear off.
Come-on: An attempt at seduction, signalling sexual interest.
Coming up: The transition from sobriety to a state of ecstasy or LSD intoxication.
Crashed, Crash out: Had enough, slumped, asleep.
Crustie: Traveller, free spirit, fond of dogs.
Cum: Orgasm.
Cut a Rug: Dance.
Deadheaded: Unimaginative, scared and suspicious.
Disco-napping: Falling asleep for a brief part of the party, then waking up and starting again.
Dominatrix, Dom: A woman who wields the whip in an S&M relationship.
Double Barrels: Simultaneous vaginal and anal penetration.
Downer: Feeling miserable or people who make you miserable.
Drag-Queen: Big theatrical transvestite.
Drum 'n' Bass: Dance music, originally Jungle, heavy bass, multiple drum riffs and rhythms.
Dub: Style of music often with a heavy bass line that existed before clubbing in its contemporary form, often associated with Rastafarian Culture.
Dungeon: Space in Fetish clubs set aside for S&M play.
Ecstasy: Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, MDMA. Drug with strong euphoric effects.
Feel the rush, Rush: The sensation of coming up on drugs, also excitement.

Copyright 2004 Dr Phil Jackson