Coming from a small city in West Sussex, my experience of clubbing has been limited. Nonetheless, coming to Birmingham was an eye-opening experience. If you are a student in Birmingham, there is a strong chance you have, either willingly or inadvertently visited Broad Street. It is a place where clubs fester and decisions are made on impulse, whether it’s to take a solo and expensive taxi ride home due to aching feet and a desire for sleep, or to make a drunken food purchase and consume chips in a manner that erases all traces of dignity.
Birmingham’s size as a city and its many universities mean that, there are a large variety of places to visit at night-time, ranging from the sleek and expensive to the grungy and grimy – all offering a different clubbing experience. The club Risa holds a weekly ‘student night’ which is unsurprisingly invaded with students on a night-out. It’s cheap, cheesy fun and impossible to avoid bumping into someone you know. With multiple different rooms, fun-lovers can embrace the ‘rewind room’ which plays a constant loop of songs that wouldn’t be out of place at a wedding disco, all whilst its inhabitants dance on a light-up floor, a prospect that sounds dodgy, but surprisingly is complete, unabashed fun.
Beyond Broad Street clubs do seem to appear more alternative; Birmingham offers up The Jam House, a club endorsed by Jools Holland himself, which has live music and a dress code that ensures a level of smart, classic fun. The Jam House also hosts the event Itchy Feet which is popular with both students and members of the public, due to its nostalgic nature. There are also smaller pubs worth a visit for a different kind of evening; The Victoria offers an intimate atmosphere, with reasonably priced cocktails, live comedy and themed nights.
Club culture is undoubtedly dominant in Birmingham and their large variety of clubs on offer means that there is arguably something for everyone. As a large proportion of them actively cater towards students, it’s unsurprising that this form of socialising is so popular with undergraduates. Bliss holds the weekly student night ‘Stupid Tuesdays’ and other, smaller clubs also embrace the student customer. Snobs, a decidedly indie club, offers NUS card-holders discount on a Wednesday. As a student, therefore, going out during the week is oddly justifiable, due to the reduced prices and social aspect. This leaves Saturdays and Sundays as no longer days of play and rest, but those of reading and writing. If, of course, a student can balance this odd lifestyle then the backwards week can work out alright. However, when the opportunity to go out and dance is endless, there is the temptation to revisit the same places repeatedly, out of habit and desire for a cheaper night, leading to a lack of new experiences in the city. I find that when friends ask me what I think of Birmingham, I find myself with only an insight on the best clubs and the cheapest drinks. This has happened, because ‘going out’ is favoured by so many and lauded as the most ‘social’ aspect of university life. It can be argued, however, that going out can be oddly anti-social. There is the impossibility of having a conversation within a club (most consist of ‘WHAT?’ being asked repeatedly) and there is the difficulty of navigation within larger venues. Gatecrasher, for example, should hand out maps as trying to find a friend once inside is like navigating a maze or a labyrinth. Finally reaching said friend with a feeling of achievement is only dampened when they announce they want to leave and you realise you have spent most of the evening ‘finding people’.
Clubbing is pushed upon freshers as an integral part of the student lifestyle and freshers packs include a different club night for each evening of the week, which whilst is undoubtedly enjoyable, leaves a sad absence of more alternative nights. Clubbing is argued as a perfect way to unwind; however, when a worthy day of work hasn’t been achieved and the decision to go out overrules notions of study, it can be an unfulfilling experience.
Does clubbing encourage hedonism? Papers like the Daily Mail frequently report on pictures of students passed out on pavements, screaming anxieties of ‘Broken Britain’ and how students simply drink their loan away. There is a definite culture of drinking at any university, however, this element of student life is undoubtedly overblown, a stereotype enjoyed and perpetuated by the media to damn and critique society on a broader level. It can be argued, that the true nature of clubbing can only be judged when it is considered as to why a clubber drinks and goes out. Students may drink to forget, or to numb or ease feelings of stress, self-loathing or insecurity – like the media suggests.
However, there are other reasons why the culture of clubbing is so dominant within university life. Speaking to a friend, I was helped to realise my true feelings upon the subject as she explained what clubbing is to her: ‘Birmingham has so many clubs, so it’s hard to avoid going out, but I go clubbing because it’s fun. It’s excusable whilst I am young and as long as I am a student, I’m going to go out. It’s the perfect time to do so.’ Whilst I agree that Birmingham’s club culture should be enjoyed, it’s important to remember that there is life outside of Broad Street and it should be explored in order to fully experience Birmingham.
Words by Lottie Halstead