Palladium Nightclub, New York 1985
Palladium Nightclub, New York 1985. Architect: Arata Isozaki, mural by Keith Haring. Image © Timothy Hursley, Garvey Simon Gallery, New York

Feverish Moves: Designing Club Culture at V&A Dundee

Title:
Night Fever: Designing Club Culture

Dates:
1 May 2021 – 9 Jan 2022

Times:
Thu - Mon 10:00 - 17:00

Venue:
V&A Dundee
1 Riverside Esplanade
Dundee
Dundee & Angus
DD1 4EZ

Kudos to V&A Dundee for bringing the furtive setting of clubs and clubbing into its polished interiors for proper review and inspection in its new exhibition Night Fever. A huge range of design disciplines come together to create a distinctive dance space and this exhibition delights in the evolution of club culture across the decades.

The journey begins with designs for avant-garde clubs in 60s Italy, where gigantic underground spaces were refashioned as arty night-time venues replete with light shows and plastic bubble seating. Experimental jazz, dance and theatre dominated the spaces in this flower-power era and there’s some fabulous designs, artworks and furniture on show.

DJ Larry Levan in Paradise Garage, New York, 1979
DJ Larry Levan in Paradise Garage, New York, 1979. © Bill Bernstein, David Hill Gallery, London
V&A Dundee, 'Night Fever'
A Life of Subversive Joy by Vinca Petersen, 2019. A 20 metre long installation using 600 photographs and 200 pieces of ephemera tell the story of Petersen’s life of raving, roaming and humanitarian projects. Image: Michael McGurk

Early 70s are represented by punchy day-glo posters for London’s UFO club, where Rock, Pop and Psychedelia ruled the roost, while the late 70s ushers the arrival of Disco which swept like a high-energy pandemic across the globe.

Xenon Dance Floor, 1979
Xenon Dance Floor, 1979. © Bill Bernstein / David Hill Gallery, London

John Travolta’s nifty moves for the film Saturday Night Fever inhabit a large screen, while artworks and pictorial displays for New York’s infamous Paradise Garage say more about the authentic down-and-dirty side of clubbing. A room stuffed with super-cool posters and artefacts from the likes of Manchester’s Factory and Hacienda also retains a certain cool cachet.

V&A Dundee, 'Night Fever'
Image Michael McGurk

Things take a seriously trippy turn when we enter the ‘E’-soaked nineties where rave culture strips the music to heavier beats, hypnotic chants and longer tracks. A mesmeric movie captures a warehouse party in full flow: a sea of flailing arms and whacked-out bodies whir within rhythmic strobes.

Evolving technology is also explored. An instrument display includes the famed 909 beat machine which revolutionised the dance scene. Its distinctive hi-hat and bass drum became a ubiquitous staple for House and Techno creators, and a signature back-beat for a generation of clubbers.

Despacio Sound System, New Century Hall, Manchester International Festival, July 2013.
Despacio Sound System, New Century Hall, Manchester International Festival, July 2013. Image © Rod Lewis
V&A Dundee, 'Night Fever'
Mannequin wearing Halston dress, 1970s. Image Michael McGurk

The latter rooms host contemporary live DJ performances via Boiler Room, the Chicago-based outfit whose internet platform has become a worldwide phenomenon for purveyors of beats, Afro, Hip-Hop, House and legions of styles in between. Scottish club culture is well represented with a plethora of recorded testimonies, videos and vibrant flyers. There are headphones throughout with music samples, discussions and interviews.

V&A Dundee 'Night Fever'
Silent Disco area at V&A Dundee ‘Night Fever’. Image Michael McGurk
Sub Club SoundSystem at BAaD_ Glasgow. Photo Brian Sweeney
Sub Club SoundSystem at BAaD_ Glasgow. Image Brian Sweeney

A number of measures are in place across the museum to ensure a safe, welcoming and inspiring experience for visitors and staff alike. All visitors now need to book free tickets to enter the museum, as part of the essential steps to keep visitors safe and to ensure physical distancing.

With grateful thanks to Malcolm Macgonigle for this review.

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