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A Night At Distinct: DIY In The British Clubbing Recession

In the last decade, over half of Britain’s clubs have shut down, with the number of open doors falling from 3,144 in 2005, to 1,733 in 2016. The nation’s once-buzzing party seems to be slowly winding down and aggressive licensing laws, a shift in focus towards festival culture, and the prevalence of uninspiring super-clubs could all be seen as factors in the British clubbing recession. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to find any real sense of character or authenticity in the larger and more commercially appealing venues that remain.

Though closures have affected the south more severely, reverberations have nonetheless crept up the M1, and we are beginning to see the results in Manchester and throughout the north of England. Multi-purpose clubs, such as Fifth and Factory, offer up monotonous weekly imitations of the atmospheres once found in the smaller, more genre-specific clubs, but feel sterile and soulless compared to what was lost in the previous decade.

So what happens when the clubbers of Manchester tire of a lack of diversity, and become bored by the same playlists, in the same venues, with the same people, week in week out? They are perhaps not forced into the extreme territory of illegal raves as some may suggest, but rather are driven to cater to their own needs, and provide their equally fatigued peers with viable alternatives.

In light of these closures, and with the sense that the nightclub itself may be entering a period of stagnation, a burgeoning DIY scene has emerged, fuelled by self-promotion, a refreshingly hands-on approach and a rejection of the idea that the party is coming to a halt. One such night is Manchester’s Distinct, an intimate techno night organised by Ben Morling and Danny Roberts (AKA Mondé and DR, respectively), whose first event in the basement of the Northern Quarter’s Whiskey Jar I attended to glimpse into the grassroots party scene.

Distinct by name and nature, the night stands out due to a focus on environment and atmosphere as opposed to simply the number of guests through the door. Distinct is self-organised down to the impressive handmade sign you see above. Speaking of their inaugural event, Morling says, “We genuinely think we are offering something different, as was part of our objective from the start. The whole idea is to create an experience as an event and to craft unique party spaces that are memorable.”

With the initial idea behind the brand being “to put on good parties with like-minded people and create a community,” Distinct came about through word of mouth, a support network of similar events in the area, and a love for a specific sound. Like-minded local collectives, such as Pooku and Silent Treatment, have steadily built followings with nights at Joshua Brooks, whilst rising brands, like Distinct and Rubric, have demonstrated that venues not typically associated with electronic music can provide the perfect stage on which to make a stand against the cut and paste psyche of the super-clubs. Jack Michalski of Silent Treatment notes, “I feel that there was a gap in the scene for a while, and that it had really lost its way. However, there are a lot of new nights popping up with great ethos and the right party mentality, not just in it to make a few bob.”

The night itself went off without a hitch, with Morling and Roberts hurrying about the basement welcoming guests, readjusting decorations and accommodating for the other DJs on the bill (including FUSE London resident Dan Farserelli), whilst also finding time to perform an impressive set of their own. “As we’ve been running all this between the two of us, we haven’t had the backing of a full team,” Roberts concludes, “so we’ve had to take on all the aspects of running and building the brand ourselves, including artwork, promotion, bookings, decor and logistics. You’ve got to be prepared to say goodbye to a vast amount of your free time, but if it’s something you want to do, then you’ve got to go out and chase it.” This reinforces the fiercely independent and handcrafted sensibilities that have spread throughout the basements of Manchester in recent months, and that define nights like Distinct.

With a wholly unique tone, a welcoming atmosphere and an excellent turnout, Distinct could prove to be a vital antidote to the increasingly monopolised Manchester nightlife scene. By the people and for the people, we can only hope that more follow their lead.

The next Distinct event takes place on 30 July at Whiskey Jar.

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