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Developing the’ decadent sunset world’ of nightclubs

Famous fraternities have offered masters the perfect stage to design fantasy environments, says Chris Hall

Caligula throwing “states parties ” ,” was how the funk musician Rick James described the famed Studio 54 in New York, which opened in 1977. There was a cocaine snorting” Man and the Spoon” aspect that would pitch from the ceiling when required, there were accumulations of cash in the back room, unisex bathrooms and stunts like Bianca Jagger riding a horse on the dancefloor led by a naked human covered in gold glitter.

The key thing about Studio 54, which is available in a new show about world squad culture at Vitra Design Museum, was its adaptability. It could become a different fantasy environment to act as backdrop for the outrageous attires and theatre of the working party goers- such as when four tonnes of glitter were stopped 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 identified the rise of the idea that you don’t design a nightclub, you delivering the minimal pattern parts to make a nightclub ,” says Catharine Rossi, a pattern historian at Kingston University, who has co-curated the exhibition.” What’s important is not the physical opening- truly the nightclub is just a container. Clubs are made through lighting and sound, psychotropic dopes and beings .”

Interior
A place to disintegrate: Manchester’s post-industrial Hacienda with hazard-marking stripes on the columns. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Kelly

A new stage set would stimulate a new persona.” Historically, nightclubs have acted as spaces for freedom of expression and safe rooms because they’re obstructed ,” says Rossi.” They’re hidden from daytime standards and presumptions about behaviour and identity. At darknes 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 alternatives. The association had a door policy where only celebrities and the beautiful or unconventional were allowed in- those endeavouring their 15 minutes of prominence. This was a surreal, decadent, twilight world and whether it was Truman Capote, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones or Andy Warhol, it was mutually beneficial, the fraternity burnishing their likenes and vice versa.

The exhibition will be crammed with a fascinating affluence of motif detail to go with the photographs and models- interior furnishings, illuminating, book designing, style, and the graphics of flyers and postings. One of the exhibition areas will be given to a din and igniting installation, without fairly being a mock-up of a nightclub.” If you’re going to do an exhibition about nightclubs ,” excuses Rossi,” then elements like environment and ordeal are key parts of the design of the rooms and how that design is spent or knowledge .”

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

In the 70 s and 80 s, New York teams, such as Area, Club 57, the Mudd Club, Paradise Garage and the Palladium, offered a creative platform to masters. Nightclubs became galleries. Keith Haring designed flyers and summons, set exhibitions and facilities, and painted a huge mural inside the Palladium. His canvas was also the human body, painting Grace Jones with his signature kinetic makes for a live achievement at Paradise Garage in New York in 1985.

Another famed club that features heavily in the exhibition is the Hacienda in Manchester, with its innovative post-industrial design.” Nightclubs have advanced in line with the changing nature of our metropolitans ,” says Rossi.” In the 1980 s for example, the post-industrial city led to the opening up of spaces from warehouses to factories .” Whereas Studio 54 was about exclusivity and decadence, 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 expression of mill interiors given that it was a former yacht showroom and had an industrial feel.” There was a line of columns ranging through the seat, which inevitably would be hazardous where people were boozing and dancing. I applied stripes normally used as hazard commemorates in the workplace on the editorials 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 caused dance storey, so I applied roadside bollards and mount cat’s seeings into the concrete floor. The industrial language derived through practical reasons .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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