An ever-changing nightlife culture
The demise of global nightclubs is in part due to healthier lifestyles
In the major centres of the world, there are half as many nightclubs as there were a decade ago. There are various contributing factors: healthier lifestyles; entertainment that meets the demands of the experience economy; new trends in liquor and stiffer legislation in liquor licences.
Greg Walsh launched G&G Productions in 2003-04 promoting under-18 parties in nightclubs. He has witnessed the demise of nightclubs and responded by shifting into the festival space.
"The clubbing scene is almost all but dead, and it’s not just music events and festivals that have caused this. There are tons of new trendy bars and restaurants offering that party feeling," Walsh says. "The world of craft beer, craft gin, boutique wine and whiskey events are all having an impact. The dance market may still be growing, but the rate at which economic spending and partying is growing, is being outstripped by the number of new possibilities of where to spend it."
The African premium market is one demographic that still supports the nightclub industry on hip-hop, R&B and house music nights, but in the words of Johannesburg-based world music DJ Nicky B, "the days of the discotheque club are on their way out".
She says, "Sadly, in many ways, the DJ electronic scene took over from the live scene. But, in the last year or two, there has been a renewed interest in live music."
"I have seen a kind of a turning back to look at ways of including live. For a long time live music was almost dishonoured in the way the electronic scene took over and didn’t allow it any space. More and more, even international acts are looking at working with full bands that have a DJ as one of the musicians in the line-up."
Nicky B was one of the first DJs to integrate live and electronic music about 25 years ago, in Yeoville, then a live music haven. "One of my concerns with a lot of DJs is their sets sound like they could be from anywhere in the world — people playing American and European beats, with no sense of identity," she says.
And that is not cracking it any longer with audiences, promoters and initiatives that are looking for musicians that stand out.
Newtown’s Good Luck Bar was established in 1895. It is the oldest shed in Johannesburg and some say the first Castle draught was sold there. The venue was reopened with regular live entertainment 14 months ago and is going strong.
Gareth Wilson, a guitarist and event booker is a partner in the venue. He performed in the band Southern Gypsy Queens for 12 years and toured all over the world, meeting new people and new music. He books musicians for the annual Oppikoppi festival and he has a huge network and a fresh approach to the music business.
"I always say support the bands you want. The more you can give them, the more we can work together," he says.
With the advent of the global village, online communities and social media, "fan base" is the most important currency in the music sector. And with "pull-power" shifting back to the musicians, audiences are following musicians for their source of entertainment and venues are hiring musicians who attract audiences.
"Live music is definitely on the up again. For the first time in a long time, people are choosing live performances over DJs. The business is moving towards live performance," Wilson says.
A factor in the comeback of live music is musicians performing in genres such as cross-over, and nu jazz is the creation of a bridge between live and electronic music. On the back of an electronic beat and groove, live instrumentation is beginning to illustrate its X appeal.
Goldfish, which consists of Capetonians David Poole and Dominic Peters, were trailblazers in adding jazz improvisation to house beats. They have moved to San Diego to sustain the demand for regular performances in the dance capitals of the world.
Cape Town band Mix ’n Blend, which started as a DJ duo, now play in a nine-piece orchestra of crossover music.
Jazz singer and trombonist Siya Makuzeni performs in Ippyfuze which mixes jazz vocals with electronic groove. Cool Affair and Clair Soulful are mixing their beats with live keyboards; Gauteng House DJs Black Motion and Uhuru blend their beats with live percussion and dance.
According to Wilson, the trend for 2017 will be outstanding, original music.
SA boasts several acts that can set dance floors alight. Cape Town ska outfit Nomadic Orchestra and Johannesburg reggae stalwarts Tidal Waves are favourites. Audiences are also responding positively to Afro-Indy bands such as Femi Koya, Urban Village, BCUC and Brother Moves On. There is strong support for rock n roll with bands like Go Barefoot, Tazers, Boxer, Black Math and Soul Jam.
Live music venues are responding to this trend. Rumours has moved to new premises in Cresta in Johannesburg and there is Arcade Empire in Pretoria, Chairman in Durban and the Galaxy nightclub in Cape Town that has been operating for more than 30 years.
Walsh says that promoters Big Concerts are optimistic about the return of live music.
"They believe there is going to be an economic resurgence in 2017 and 2018 with more discretionary spending by consumers," he says.
"They are pushing back into the bigger shows. They are bringing Justin Bieber and talking about other big A-list arena artists. They are thinking about booking three or four in the next two years which means they are seeing confidence in the big show market, the 70,000-people shows in a stadium, which all but dried up for two years."
The gastropubbing trend is also good news for live music. The spacious Steamworks venue in Fourways looks to offer the perfect mix of crafted cuisine and crafted sounds.
"In London, there are massive superclubs, but every high street has two or three places packed to the rafters with people smoking outside and partying inside. It is food and drink as opposed to just partying," says Walsh’s partner Tahl Evian.
Dancing is also growing in popularity in corporate wellness events and general health.
Greenpop, a tree-planting organisation in Cape Town, used live music to inspire their volunteers at planting time during Reforest festivals. The dancing at dawn before work was so invigorating that it has grown into a nationwide initiative, operated by Secret Sunrise.
"There are several different styles and types of dance meditations [sober dance parties] happening around the world," says Jamie Beron of Secret Sunrise. "The dancing before dawn trend is growing as members are constantly being awakened to the amazing benefits of these liberating sessions."