Image: Keep the Faith

By Students, For Students – Warwick’s Counter-Culture Nightlife

It’s a label near synonymous with our university – doubtless, it will have influenced your decision to enrol to some degree. It’s often the flaw we have to most rigorously defend from our more privileged friends who go to Leeds, Manchester, Bristol or any of the other universities that manage to combine academic prestige with a reputable clubbing scene – that Warwick nightlife isn’t worth a second thought.

Indeed the cancelling of Warwick’s summer party – which previously had big name acts like Clean Bandit – and several gigs at the Arts Centre for lack of sales have left Warwick seemingly one of the more musically desolate campuses in the country.

The existence of not only any sort of scene but such a diversity of genres in Leamington is a testament to a committed student community.

Nonetheless, the pre-dominance of the Warwick’s SU stick-fest POP! over the midweek society and sports social calendar, and the unchanging, anonymous uniformity of Smack and Neon – both owned along with The Duke and Fizzy Moon by Leamington mogul Steve Smith – is a cocktail that’s provided the perfect incubation for a varied student-run night culture.

“Outside of the standard Smack, Neon and Kasbah club nights, almost every successful event here is run by current or former Warwick students,” says Tom Lord, DJ instructor for Warwick Bass Society. Over the past decade, Warwick students have put on an unprecedented number of successful student nights. The list of nights catering for audiences neglected by the SU and mainstay club diversity is impressive: bashment, funk, techo, disco, drum & bass, house, hip hop.

The existence of not only any sort of scene but such a diversity of genres in Leamington is a testament to a committed student community. “During my three years at least I’ve been to just one night run by fellow students” Ella Pearson, a Leeds finalist tells us. “I only went as I knew the person running it – it didn’t sell that well and I think left the organiser in a bit of debt. This city has such strong established clubs that draw big name acts it’s almost impossible to break in as a student”.

…whilst we get to play the lesser-known stuff we love, overall we don’t take ourselves too seriously…

Indeed A.J, a finalist who’s been involved with over five different nights and various house parties series tell us: “Without coming here I might have remained an observer, but not having a lot going on forced my hand in getting involved. I might have never discovered my passion for music and events without the base level of shitiness on offer at Warwick […] So I guess I have mans like Dave Ramsey (DJ at Neon and Smack) and Steve Smith to thank for making it so abysmal here that I had to get stuck in.” Credit is also due to the venues that are so receptive to student-run initiatives – particularly the Zephyr lounge – which has hosted over nine nights, five of which have sold out.

In regards to what kind of sets and styles of music resonate most with Warwick students, a certain balance has to be struck to appease the whole crowd, A.J suggests: “Banging tunes are a must, but push the envelope too far and you risk clearing the dance floor of all the awkward kids from the home counties that you have to rely on to fill the club and make it a truly live night.” Similarly Josh Halliley, a Warwick student and one half of disco night Keep The Faith, explains: “One of the appeals of our night is that whilst we get to play the lesser-known stuff we love, overall we don’t take ourselves too seriously – some DJs seem apprehensive to play something that everyone will know, but if an all-time classic like Chic or Sister Sledge unites the whole crowd then it can only be a positive.”

The nature of the student-run scene is such that – though events come and go, and few stand the test of time – it better accommodates creativity and changing tastes. “The most popular music trends have been mirrored in the local scene, right up to the current Disco trend and the popularity of the fantastic Keep The Faith,” explains Mikel Chinnery, co-founder of Bootsncats, which began as a student night four years ago and enjoys continued success to this day.

Tom Lord, a DJ at student nights ranging from grime to bashment to bass to hip hop, echoes this sentiment, explaining that being a hip hop DJ and being a bass DJ are different jobs altogether:  “If I’m playing a hip hop night, I’m trying to be everyone’s favourite jukebox. You have to go in knowing the biggest songs people are listening to at the moment; there’s only so much choice you have over what you can play. If I’m playing a bass night, there are no restrictions. People there want to be surprised, to hear new sounds, and they’ll give you a lot more of their time.  It means you really have the opportunity to curate a vibe and give something new to the crowd.”

A culture that has birthed some of Warwick’s most innovative nights, the scene’s success is nonetheless dependent on a number of factors, be it the tastes of each student intake or attracting a critical mass of students for commercial viability. Mikel tells us: “These things come in waves – this year’s been lively and last year was fairly flat […] we’ve still had a lack of groovy bookings locally with most of the emphasis having been on big bass and hard rhythms from Switch and Cut and the like.”

Although its development has been punctuated by the rise and fall of nights that did and didn’t fit the tastes of a rapidly changing student body, Warwick’s counter-culture nightlife has proven itself to ever-evolving, constantly fresh and not to be underestiamted.

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