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Circus club night in Liverpool
Photograph: Jody Hartley

I went to the UK’s first proper club night in a year – and it popped off

This weekend, a ‘test event’ party gave 3,000 people in Liverpool a taste of freedom. Here’s what it felt like

By
Huw Oliver
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The whole room is bathed in an ecstatic glow. Immediate goosebumps, smiles on every face. After a year of enforced isolation, finally we are out out again – and it feels really, really good.

This is the UK’s first legal, non-distanced club night since March 2020. The venue is Circus: a massive warehouse on Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock. The line-up includes nightlife titans like The Blessed Madonna and Sven Väth. For 3,000 clubbers, for eight hours only, distancing and masks and hand sanitiser have been thrown out. In their place: hugs, snogs and very little general hygiene.

It may be a party, but everyone is here in the name of science. To get in, we all came up negative on a lateral flow test the day before. Movements and air quality are being monitored constantly to analyse coronavirus transmission in a nightclub setting. It’s all part of the British government’s Events Research Programme, a series of trials looking at the viability of restarting large-scale public gatherings from June 21 – when all restrictions on social distancing are set to be lifted.

Otherwise, this is essentially a Big Night Out like any other. You will still get showered in beer. Men will fall into you. Others will inexplicably charge into the crowd. There may even be a brief skirmish between two hotheads in the circle pit. It’s horrible and yet it’s brilliant.

Blessed Madonna at Circus
Photograph: Jody Hartley

People are busting out their weird fanning and scything and finger-wagging signature moves. A few hours in, I spot a pair of jeans abandoned on the floor – always hilarious. And shoes are a write-off: a man careered in out of nowhere and spewed pink vom on my trainers within a frankly impressive ten minutes of me arriving. (This despite me, as an objective journalistic observer, trying my damnedest to maintain social distance.)

And yet some things are different after a year out of the club. The past year has apparently turned a generation of young Liverpudlians into early-onset dad-dancers. Outfits have been even more carefully planned than usual. There’s also a buzz, a pent-up enthusiasm I’ve never experienced before in a UK nightclub. It’s 5pm, but people are already climbing on their pals’ shoulders. One person shoots their arms in the air, and within a few seconds, the entire room is doing the same.

Most of all, people just want to chat. I’m not really the type to engage in conversation with strangers; for me, clubbing is a way to escape the world, to let loose solo and avoid having to really engage with other humans. But after 14 months of not really having met new people, I enjoy bumping into Aaron, who tells me I’m a ‘sound guy’ over and over, despite the fact I support Manchester United (this I made up on the spot, to test his reaction).

Club night at Circus
Photograph: Jody Hartley

By the loos, I get to know a medical student who congratulates me on the mere fact I’m five years older than him and out clubbing. Inside, I meet two girls who ask me to help find their friend, which we never do. Then there’s the newly engaged couple who I’m incredibly chuffed for (I tell them this repeatedly). Shout-out, also, to the barman who gives me a free Diet Coke when I’m waning. And Jim, who over the course of an intense two hours becomes probably my best friend in the entire world.

But aside from all the great people I run into, two moments from the Circus test event will stick with me forever. One is seeing Jayda G play ‘Both of Us’: a tune released mid-pandemic which is a hymn to the club and all it represents. Finally hearing it in a room full of writhing strangers feels incredibly symbolic.

And then there’s the moment Yousef, the Liverpool DJ and promoter who organised the night, starts his set. Lasers cut across the room. Confetti stream through the air. The song is ‘Free’ by Ultra Naté, with that timeless hook: ‘You’re free to do what you want to do.’

The results of this experiment will determine whether that’s true for the rest of the UK come June 21. So, yes, better start planning that outfit – though avoid nice trainers.

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