This weekend, something called David Attenborough’s Jungle Boogie is coming to east London. No, the Bafta-gobbling national treasure hasn’t taken up DJing to top up his pension fund. But he has inspired a tribute night that will transform Oval Space into a rainforest, complete with leafy backdrops, a stage made from roots and cardboard cut-outs of the man himself. When Jungle Boogie took over the same venue last month it attracted a surprisingly varied sell-out crowd, with irony-loving students queuing for drinks alongside fortysomething Dave fans.
‘My business partner Will and I came up with this idea at the start of the year,’ says Jungle Boogie’s co-founder Louis Jadwat. ‘We’ve got lots of experience of doing something different with the club space and providing a more immersive experience for clubbers. When we were students we saw how popular David Attenborough was, so we thought: Why not tie his popularity to our experience with creative club events? As soon as we tried it, it took off massively.’
Of course, themed club nights are nothing new. School Disco was packing out the Hammersmith Palais with grown-ups in stripy ties 15 years ago, and freshers in red swimsuits have been punching the air to the ‘Baywatch’ theme for even longer. But the current crop of themed club nights is next-level niche.
‘A lot of people living in London nowadays have very little disposable income. When that income stretches to just one or two nights out a month, it’s got to be something that really grabs you’
In December, I went to a night celebrating the lesser-known Madonna album ‘Erotica’. It had brilliant drag performances and a Madge-themed quiz, and I still can’t quite believe it happened. In March alone, pop-culture-loving Londoners bopped at nights honouring cult ‘Black Mirror’ episode ‘San Junipero’ and underrated Canadian songbird Carly Rae Jepsen. If God is a DJ, his 2018 congregation probably want him to dress up as Giles from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.
‘A lot of people living in London nowadays have very little disposable income,’ says Adrian Storry of Throwback Events, who promote nights celebrating everything from ‘Beetlejuice’ to the Spice Girls. ‘When that income stretches to just one or two nights out a month, it’s got to be something that really grabs you. A themed night that’s targeted at what you’re actually interested in makes more sense than just going to a standard club night which might not deliver what you want.’
Dave Salisbury of Massive Arms Promotions, creators of events including Alan Partridge Disco, says the trend is also a reaction. ‘Honestly, I think it has something to do with the lack of personality of some modern club nights. There’s a lot of samey nights now – you turn up knowing you’re going to hear all the same tunes as last time. It gets boring and people want something more unique.’
‘When I started running events eight years ago we had to use flyers to advertise them. Now it’s about what’s being advertised to you online and what people are posting on their socials’
It’s difficult to disagree with either of them – we’ve all felt the shame of waking up with a thumping headache and realising we’ve spunked away £50 in a rubbish club that played ‘Summer of 69’ and the ‘Grease Megamix’. Themed nights benefit from a real sense of occasion and often feel like better value for money.
In addition, all three promoters say they wouldn’t be booming without Facebook and Instagram. ‘It just makes it so much easier to promote these kinds of events and do theme nights that are a little bit cooler,’ says Storry. ‘When I started running events eight years ago we had to use flyers to advertise them. And for clubbers, it was all about who you knew: someone had to tell you about a cool night that was happening. Now it’s about what’s being advertised to you online and what people are posting on their socials.’
Facebook may have made clubbing a more egalitarian experience, but it also has a dark flipside. The ease of creating a Facebook page for a theme night tapping into a pop culture phenomenon like ‘Stranger Things’ means that inexperienced promoters can cobble together events without proper planning. A ‘Mean Girls’-themed brunch in February, where the venue ran out of both food and drink, was such a cringe-filled disaster that our reviewer said it recreated ‘that cold, isolating feeling that’s unique to high school’.
‘It’s frustrating when you see these clickbait events on Facebook that don’t actually tell clubbers what they’re going to get’
‘It’s frustrating when you see these clickbait events on Facebook that don’t actually tell clubbers what they’re going to get,’ says Jadwat. ‘I advise people to check the promoters’ other pages to see what events they’ve done before – if there aren’t any photos of previous events, be very wary.’
Themed club nights can have other pitfalls, too. When Salisbury booked ‘The Office’ actor Ewen MacIntosh (aka Big Keith) for his night celebrating Ricky Gervais’s sitcom, the dancefloor ground to a halt for an hour while the actor posed for photos with superfans. Over the years I’ve been to enough themed pop nights to know that clever props and decor can’t bail out a dodgy DJ: if the music sucks, people will be ordering an Uber.
Still, the promoters believe this trend will continue, with themes becoming ever more specific, though Jadwat warns that anything ‘too cheesy’ could dilute nightlife culture. So maybe my idea of a daytime TV night hosted by a Lorraine Kelly impersonator is a no-go.
It’s easy to sneer at themed club nights, and one person’s clubbing hell is another’s dancefloor nirvana. I’m not someone who dreams of doing a conga with Keith from ‘The Office’, but I had a wonderfully blissful time at Push the Button’s Minogue vs Minogue Referendum 2 night last year. It climaxed with Emily Thornberry MP telling a packed Royal Vauxhall Tavern that Kylie had defeated Dannii (narrowly) after clubbers cast votes in a ballot box. As long as themed nights bring people together for brilliantly ridiculous moments like that, they’ll have a place on the London club scene.
David Attenborough’s Jungle Boogie is at Oval Space on Fri Apr 20.