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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.