One might think that every club night is different…
There are thousands of different clubs in all sizes, different cities with different people, and even one single club will usually host different parties with different DJs, music styles and crowds.
It is true that each club night has its own magic, but there are also certain patterns that one might overlook in the blur of strobelights, drinks and banging beats. If you understand those patterns it will let you understand what is going on behind the scenes as a guest – and help you plan for the perfect club night as a DJ or host.
Before the doors open
A club night begins a few hours before the first guests arrive. This is when the people behind the scenes are already there: DJs, VJs, technicians, bartenders, doormen and more. This can be a group of 5 people in a small club and several dozen of people in a larger one. Everyone will now prepare their working space for the night: DJs and VJs will use this time to set up their equipment while bartenders will make sure that there are enough bottles in the fridge. Everyone wants to make sure that things run smoothly even when the club is packed.
This part of the evening might look like purely technical and organizational preparations from the outside, but one important aspect of all of this is getting the chemistry right between all the people involved. Between bits of small talk and technical questions (e.g., “Do you know where I can get a power strip?”), the people who will make this evening a success get to know each other a little better. There will usually be discussions about music selection, previous parties, strange guests or memorable events. For example, not always do all the DJs know each other and chatting a bit about their musical preferences will help them to understand what the others will play.
When the doors open and the first guests come in, the party starts with its warm up phase. Most people do not head directly for the dancefloor, but start looking for familiar faces, grab a first drink and chat a bit.
In this phase, most DJs will try to play music that is close to what will be played during peaktime, but not exactly the same. DJs will typically play something that lets people snap their fingers and move their hips a bit, but not already dance like crazy.The art of a great warm up set is to select tracks that people like but that are typically less energetic. This might sound like a waste of time if you came only to dance your ass off, but it is that phase during which the musical rules for the evening are established.
Every audience is different and every DJ has a different style, so this part of the evening often serves the purpose of the audience and the DJ getting to know each other. A good warm up set often lays the foundation for a great night. This phase can easily last for 2-3 hours, and the energy level in the club will slowly rise over that time. A good warm up DJ knows these dynamics and will slowly pull more and more people to the dancefloor.
Now comes the time that everyone came for: Peaktime is when most people in the club are actually on the dancefloor. The energy level in the club has reached its peak now. Most guests will have had a couple of drinks at that point in time and if the music and the overall atmosphere is right, everyone is dancing, clapping, shouting and simply having a good time.
This is the time when the DJ plays the hits. DJs save their favorite tracks for this time and the mixing tempo is usually a bit faster than in the other phases. It took quite a bit of time to get people on the dancefloor and the DJ wants to keep people there as long as possible. While the music usually has a high energy level during peaktime, a good DJ will try to have some dynamics in the mix during this time. In this phase, you are most likely to hear tempo changes, drops, breaks, scratches or other elements that make the set more dynamic.
If the DJ has done a good job during peaktime, there will still be quite a few people on the dancefloor now, but it becomes clearly visible that some people have gone home or at least look like they are about to leave.
Those people who are still here are somewhat different from those who filled the floor during peaktime. You will find the connoisseurs who came to enjoy the music and who just can’t get enough; the night owls who have way too much energy to go home yet; the seekers who are waiting for someone to go home with them – and people with dozens of other reasons not to go home yet.
Most DJs adapt their style to this phase of the evening and play a sound that is again somewhat different: Old hits that were almost forgotten or hidden gems that are too soft, too hard, too minimal or simply too different to fill the dancefloor during peaktime. This part of the night can be very special. If the night went well so far, you often feel a certain kind of trust between the DJ and the audience which can lead to a feeling of flow for both.
Every club night comes to an end. At some point even the most energetic dancers get tired and the DJs, VJs, bartenders, doormen and everyone else wants to go home, too.
There is always room for one last track, and many DJs have a special one that they like to play at the very end. This closes the night for everyone and then the lights go on.
When this happens the club seems to transform into a different place. Could this dirty, ugly room really be the place where everyone had such a good time? And why do all those people suddenly look so drunk and tired? It didn’t look like that when the music was playing and the lights were out…
No one really wants to stay to think about that for longer. Everyone will now pack their stuff, shake hands, exchange hugs and leave the building. If it was a good night, everyone will be gently greeted outside by the freshness of a new day.