Disco 2006? - Britpop Takes Over North American Nightclubs

Story and photos by Johnston Farrow

I walked into the club for the night called Panic! for the first time not knowing what to expect. Yes, I was a more than a fan of the Brit-pop, Mod, Indie and Northern Soul advertised on the '60s Vespa scooter-adorned poster ever since I first heard the strains of "So Young" from Suede's groundbreaking Brit-pop classic in high school over ten years ago. But what did DJs from Halifax know about British music? Did they rock yellow skinny ties and corduroy jackets just as I did as a teenager, singing lines from Pulp's "Underwear" as a way to get girls to go out with them? I think not.

It was as if I had stepped into a Camden bar circa 1995. Blur's "Girls And Boys" blared from speakers. A crowd of a few hundred trendy, cool kids danced shoulder to shoulder, shout-singing every single word. It was beautifully controlled chaos. My necktie and corduroy jacket looked a little sharper that night.

The British are invading. Again. Over the last few years, a resurgence of Brit-inspired club nights, not seen since the Brit-pop heyday of mid-'90s, have been popping up all over the colonies. New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Boston, and even my out-of-the-way hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, play host to Anglophile music nights, welcoming large groups of similarly minded music fans.

Just as bands such as Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Elastica and Suede honed in on a distinctively British vision as a response to Nirvana-inspired, early-'90s grunge ten years ago, North American kids are headed to the club to listen to DJs playing Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, The Libertines, Bloc Party, and most recently, The Arctic Monkeys and Editors, as a response to shitty Top 40 clubs that are more meet markets than they are places to dance and look good.

And boy, do the wannabe-Brit kids look good. Rarely does one find a better-dressed group of individuals sashaying around their handbags. Like the goth and swing fads before it, attendees dress the part. Ties are practically a requisite. Tight-fitting dress shirts are welcome. Dress pants are encouraged, and the latest Euro hairstyle is a must. At the monthly All England Club parties in New York City, participants dress completely in white tennis uniforms, a la Wimbledon, as a tribute to the great music being produced on the other side of the pond.

"America defines the music, Britain refines the music," Travis' frontman Fran Healy once told SPIN, an apt description of the current state of the music industry. While the indie-rock scene slowly makes headway in the U.S. as the most credible and exciting genre, middle-of-the-road, grunge-lite, beer-sponsored arena bands still largely dominate radio.

...they provide a place for those of us who are sick of the current state of popular music and/or a monotonous 9-to-5 lifestyle to stick our middle-fingers in the air and say, 'I want something different.'

Unlike North America, the UK has been producing an abundance of acts that you can dance to again. It can be argued that the debut from Franz Ferdinand - a band admittedly influenced by Brit-pop - made it acceptable for bands to make smart music you can shake your ass to, AND that might actually get played on the radio.

And it's not the recent explosion of excellent acts that draws people to the club. It's a celebration of everything great about British music - starting with the Beatles, Stones and Bowie, on through the mod-sounds of The Kinks, The Who and the Jam, with the post-punk bands like Joy Division, The Cure and Siouxsie And The Banshees, the retro-stylings of Duran Duran and Human League, and the precursor to contemporary rave music, New Order and Depeche Mode.

Of course, there are the acts of mid-'90s England that brought the party back to indie music. You will be hard pressed to find albums that celebrate and dissect weekend culture as incisive as Oasis' Definitely Maybe, Blur's Parklife, and Pulp's Different Class.

It's as if UK artists are more in tune with their audience. They make music with the common person in mind, those who work in a shit job and have no sense of future, those who blow off steam dancing and drinking to songs that don't insult, but rather empathize and inspire. In other words, it's the good music that brings the dirty pretty things together.

Not only are these British music events something different from a regular night at the dance club, they provide a place for those of us who are sick of the current state of popular music and/or a monotonous 9-to-5 lifestyle to stick our middle-fingers in the air and say, "I want something different." It's our stylish revolution. So give us a gin and tonic, drop a Smiths record and let's feel supersonic, long into the nuclear night.


The Pill - Fridays @ Great Scott

Panic! - Fourth Friday @ Darkroom & Third Wednesday @ Smart Bar

Lipgloss - Fridays @ La Rumba

The Mod Club - Fridays @ Halo

Halifax (Canada)
Panic! - Fourth Saturday @ Tribeca

Los Angeles
Bang! - Saturdays @ The Ruby
Underground - Fridays @ The Tempest

Poplife - Saturdays @ The District
Revolver - Fridays @ Pawn Shop

New York
All England Club - First Thursday @ Lolita (Tripwire Chip's night)
TisWas - Saturdays @ The Annex

Hands And Knees - Fridays @ Manhattan Room

San Francisco
Popscene - Thursdays @ 330 Ritch Street
Leisure - Fourth Saturday @ Cherry Bar

The Mod Club - Saturdays @ Revival
The Mod Club - Saturdays @ The Mod Club Theater

Washington, DC
Bliss! - Fourth Saturday @ Black Cat
Mousetrap - Monthly @ Black Cat

(did we miss one? email us and we'll add it to the list)


Johnston Farrow is a contributing writer for The Coast, Halifax, Nova Scotia's weekly news and arts guide as well as a freelance writer for Exclaim! and ATX Magazine. Status Single, his take on trends, dating and pop culture can be read at his blog.

Disco 2006? - Britpop Takes Over North American Nightclubs