Kevin Braddock lets rip on how club culture killed our sex lives and how to put that special kick back in. Couples twist, jive, mash-potato and hitchhike with each other like 50 years of House, Techno, Hip Hop, Electronica, Drum & Bass, synthesisers, club culture, raves, Ibiza and Ecstasy never happened. Something strange is happening in London nightlife. People are dancing with each other again. Once a month a crew of promoters stage an event called Jerry’s Joint in a tired, red-walled old pub called The Boogaloo. It is a dim dive off an arterial route out of the city that looks and smells as if it hasn’t seen a vacuum cleaner in years.
The club isn’t the only regular Fifties evening in the capital. It probably isn’t the only nightspot with a music policy time locked the other side of 1962. It definitely isn’t the only London club where they play Little Richard, Eddie Cochrane, pre-psychedelia Beatles, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent, Elvis, Big Joe Turner and hundreds or other rock & soul singers your parents probably hadn’t even heard of, back to back on 45s. But it’s probably the only jive joint run by “cats” whose average age is 25 – people who’ve seen everything the world’s clubbiest city has to offer and decided the only beat that bites wears a leather jacket, a pair of faded 501s and quiff that defies gravity through Black & White’s pomade.
Jerry’s is a drinking club. Beer and shots are the intoxicant of choice. This is a good act to follow if you want to put the sex back into your nights out; alcohol is a social lubricant and makes people think about sex. Other stimulants are not necessary. People go there to sink ale, pop their collars and curl their lips over a cigarette, or flop round on couches, talk the weekend out and share discoveries of new old music. Because Jerry’s joint is a dancing night, people also go there to shake a leg for the opposite sex. Cute girls dress in primary coloured A-line dresses, prom shoes and bobby socks, and twirl round a tiny dance floor in the space vacated by some table and chairs. People feel like they’re starring in “Happy Days” or “Grease”. Boys empty their jars of beer, step out of the shadows and throw poses on the edge of floor before taking the first slender hand that whirls their way. Elvis’ “O Sole Mio” cha-cha-chas on decrepit speakers. Couples twist, jive, mash-potato and hitchhike with each other like 50 years of House, Techno, Hip Hop, Electronica, Drum & Bass, synthesisers, club culture, raves, Ibiza and Ecstasy never happened.
Saturday night winds on into the early morning. Elsewhere in London’s club dungeons, clubbers perform a metronomic step-left, step-right, or grind their way further into the tiles of the dancefloor. They dance in the anonymous blur of everyone else, or they dance together but alone, sealed into private euphoric hypnosis under the strobes, staring blankly up at the DJ, or down at floor beneath their feet, or not knowing quite where to look. But at Jerry’s Joint, people are looking each other in the eyes. They’re holding hands, throwing ambitious twirls, twists, pirouettes, spins and jives that look more sincere than professional. People spill out drunk at 2am, laughing and kissing. Resolutions are made to sign up for twist classes on a weekday night to make it more fun.
Everyone who goes there remembers Jerry’s Joint, not necessarily the next morning. What goes on at Jerry’s Joint is no more explicitly about sex than any other club anywhere in Europe. But it shows up just how un-sexy the mainstream club experience has got, just how far away dance music – music meant for dancing to – has left behind what caused it to exist in the first place. No one disputes that dancing’s true evolutionary function is attraction and selection. At Jerry’s Joint the dancing is more like the bit before the sex: the coy, romantic holding-hands bit. It’s like intensely, wide-eyed excitement of initial bodily contact and promise, just like Elvis Presley’s insurrectionary hip-shaking prefigured the global teenage sex-quake of the liberated Sixties. It’s been a long time since dance music could realistically claim to be the unifying social glue of a generation.
It’s ages since clubs were still just clubs – places made up of members known to one another – rather than venues for exploring the limits of your consciousness or flaunting your untouchably cool taste through a forced smile. Plenty of former ravers explain how dance music and stimulants brought them closer to people, but eventually prevented them from connecting with others, because emotions too often proved artificial and shrivelled up in the 6am red-eye daylight through the exit door. Meanwhile, the clubland vogue for spontaneous, narcotic sex in the toilet cubicle may well be a fantastic memory to save for your retirement, but is there a more brutally lonely, dismal experience than fucking over a broken cistern? In many London clubs at least, today’s experience is defined by fear instead of interest, by a cold, commercial loneliness. Forget about meeting new people.
Clubbing today often reminds you how difficult it is to connect with others in a moment when you can have 30,000 friends in MySpace.com and a million imaginary porno-partners online, but still can’t find anyone to feel close to on a Sunday night. Isn’t this what it was all meant to be about? If Rock & Roll was the first moment when explicitly dancing was about attracting, then maybe disco was the last. Disco never had any illusions about itself: it was uninhibited, shamelessly flamboyant, relentlessly good-time music designed to throw shapes to in front of someone who caught your eye. Crucially, disco forced men – nature’s ultimate wallflowers – to dance for women in a way that Hip Hop (too macho), Drum & Bass (too fast to dance to and still look good), Trance and Techno (too hypnotic) could never hope to do.
In disco, as with the peak periods in House music, you sang the words and filled in the spaces between with your own imagination, with one eye on your moves and the other on that girl/guy over there. Even though the Paradise Garage and Studio 54 closed down more than two decades ago, tracks by savvy House producers – like Joey Negro’s bluntly seductive “Make A Move On Me” or Masters At Work’s “To Be In Love” – keep returning to disco for a very good reason. Or take the example of current soul sensation Angie Stone’s “Wish I Didn’t Miss You”, which was made a few years back and samples 70s legend The O’Jays’ hit “Back Stabbers”, this has been remixed endlessly by the likes of the Wicked Backroom, and is still played in heavy rotation by Deep House-loving London DJs like Norman Jay. The point being that really good House music always sounds like good old disco music.
Some of dance music’s recent identity crisis is down to its disappearance into druggy introspection. The rest is due to its inability to deliver the soundtrack to the get-together, the build-and-release dynamic that tracks human sexual drive. What is less sexy than an undeviating seven minutes of 303 and 808? Doing a 69 in a toilet, perhaps? Nowhere is this more absent than in the current fad for minimalism and glass-dick Techno which, in the quest to discover the perfect, primary pulse of the libido, completely misses the point that lust music is about the grind, not the solitary bump: just ask Prince, The Rolling Stones, Chic, The Kinks and Michael Jackson. It also forgets that dancers need a beat, but they also like a voiceover such as Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” that narrates how they’re feeling at that moment in time.
Madonna, among others, never forgot this. She began as a dancer and will remain a dancer until she hangs up her leotard for the last time. Songs like “Hung Up”, along with Goldfrapp’s “Strict Machine”, Tiga’s “You Gonna Want Me”, Scissor Sisters “Love In The Backseat” combined with older tunes like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and even Benni Benassi’s brainlessly erect “Satisfaction” and Hound Dogs’s daft but irresistible “I Like Girls” (could it get any more blatant?) are doing more for the sexual happiness of the collective international clubland than the invention of Viagra, vibrators and Vin Diesel in a leather kilt. Jerry’s Joint switches the scene right back to the preforeplay of original hand-holding rock & roll of the Fifties, playlisting music that emerged as a reaction to the extreme social conservatism of an era when science hadn’t even acknowledge the female orgasm. The night is just a strand in a wider romance with the Fifties that goes deeper than just a recycled ironic fad – fun-fun-fun bowling alleys are opening all over London, Robbie Williams mimics The King in his latest video and bequiffed four-piece London bands are coming on all Gene Vincent across the city. The club also hints that many are tired with the dismal unsexiness of “sexy clubbing” places where door prices are dear, people are cold, fake feelings come in wraps or pills and where all you can think about is that you should be having sex, but aren’t. Fifties music describes quaint ideas of love that probably got your parents (or even your grandparents) together.
Revolutionary in its day, rock & roll sounds polite compared to the naked predatory aggression of dance music as we understand it. Maybe that’s why people who never met till five minutes ago can dance with each other when they hear music with lyrics about love and lust. Less about a quick fuck in the toilet and more about teasing, eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand courtship, the ritual at Jerry’s leaves far more to the imagination, which is where the best sex always comes from. Try going out and dancing to music like this if you’re looking for a good chance of some s-e-x. After all, the future of the human race may depend on it.