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Creating the’ decadent sunset macrocosm’ of nightclubs

Famous squads have offered artists the perfect platform to design fantasy environments, says Chris Hall

Caligula throwing a party ,” was how the funk musician Rick James described the famed Studio 54 in New York, which opened in 1977. There was a cocaine snort” Man and the Spoon” feature that would descend from the ceiling where necessary, there were mounds of cash in the back area, unisex bathrooms and stunts like Bianca Jagger riding a horse on the dancefloor conducted in accordance with a naked humanity covered in gold glitter.

The key event about Studio 54, which is available in a brand-new expo about world golf-club culture at Vitra Design Museum, was its adaptability. It could become a different fantasy environ to act as backdrop for the scandalous dress and theatre of the working party goers- such as when four tonnes of glitter were dropped from the club’s ceiling on New Year’s Eve or when the fashion designer Valentino had a circus-themed birthday party with sand and mermaids on trapezes.

” The 60 s and 70 s pictured the rise of the idea that you don’t design a nightclub, you drawing the negligible design parts to make a nightclub ,” says Catharine Rossi, a design historian at Kingston University, who has co-curated the exhibition.” What’s important is not the physical infinite- truly the nightclub is just a receptacle. Clubs are made through lighting and sound, psychotropic medications and people .”

A lieu to gate-crash: Manchester’s post-industrial Hacienda with hazard-marking stripes on the lines. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Kelly

A new stage set would induce a new persona.” Historically, nightclubs have acted as openings for freedom of expression and safe openings because they’re buried ,” says Rossi.” They’re hide from daytime standards and beliefs about behaviour and identity. At nighttime we can try out different identities .”

Playing with personas was something Andy Warhol was drawn to at Studio 54, where he would document this emerging culture with its transformative prospects. The club had a door policy where exclusively celebrities and the beautiful or unconventional were allowed in- those searching their 15 hours of notoriety. This was a surreal, decadent, autumn macrocosm and whether it was Truman Capote, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones or Andy Warhol, it was mutually beneficial, the golf-club burnishing their image and vice versa.

The exhibition will be crammed with a fascinating affluence of blueprint detail to go with the photographs and simulates- interior furnishings, lighting, album motif, style, and the graphics of flyers and signs. One of the exhibition rooms will be allocated to a din and igniting station, without quite being a mock-up of a nightclub.” If you’re going to do an exhibition about nightclubs ,” justifies Rossi,” then elements like feeling and ordeal are key parts of the design of the cavities and how that intend is exhausted or suffered .”

Staying cool: the Philippe Starck-designed Les Bains Douches in Paris. Photograph: Foc Kan

In the 70 s and 80 s, New York societies, such as Area, Club 57, the Mudd Club, Paradise Garage and the Palladium, offered a artistic stage to masters. Nightclubs became galleries. Keith Haring designed flyers and summons, formatted exhibits and facilities, and decorated a huge mural inside the Palladium. His canvas was also the human body, coating Grace Jones with his signature kinetic drags for a live accomplishment at Paradise Garage in New York in 1985.

Another legendary guild that features heavily in the exhibition is the Hacienda in Manchester, with its innovative post-industrial design.” Nightclubs have evolved in line with the changing nature of our metropolis ,” says Rossi.” In the 1980 s for example, the post-industrial city led to the opening up of infinites from warehouses to factories .” Whereas Studio 54 was about exclusivity and debasement, the Hacienda was about inclusivity and a different kind of escapism. In short, it was the difference between cocaine and ecstasy.

Ben Kelly, who designed the Hacienda, says that it seemed logical to him to use the visual language of mill interiors given that it was a former boat showroom and had an industrial feel.” There was a line of columns passing through the seat, which inevitably would be hazardous where people were sucking and dancing. I placed stripes normally used as hazard markings in the workplace on the articles in the nightclub, and yellow-and-black stripes on to the riser of the stage. There was another safety issue getting on and off the raised dance floor, so I applied roadside bollards and set cat’s eyes into the concrete flooring. The industrial usage evolved through practical reasons .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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