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Image: Shutterstock / Time Out

How the cost of living crisis is changing the way we party

Goodbye, weekly nights out on the town. Hello, barn raves, working men’s clubs and house parties with pals

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

Not to be dramatic, but the past few years haven’t been the easiest for us youngsters. When we were supposed to be living it up at 18th-birthday parties and freshers’ weeks and graduations, the formative years of our social lives were given over to government-mandated walks and Zoom calls. Then, once all of that was over with and we were finally rekindled with the sticky joy of the dance floor, the economy went down the pan. 

As the whole country starts to feel the sting of the cost of living crisis, many young people are having to ditch the foam parties and sports socials to pay their energy bills on time. Recent research from Ipsos and the We Invented the Weekend festival has revealed that one in three Brits are expecting to reduce the amount they go out socially this year compared with last, with the main reason being they need to save on bills and daily expenses. That’s pretty unsurprising. The average total cost of a night out rose from £68.03 in March 2022 to £73.36 in October. Meanwhile, with inflation reaching 10.1 percent in January, the real value of pay has been falling at its fastest rate for 20 years. It’s tough out there.

But as always, we Gen Z-ers adapt. On the whole, young people aren’t necessarily going out less: just differently. Take 24-year-old postgraduate student, Sandra*, one of the many young people who’ve changed their socialising habits because of the cost of living crisis. ‘When things started opening up after Covid, I went out a fair amount,’ she says. She’s lived in her student town in Scotland for the past five years, going to club nights, bars and, now more than ever, parties. ‘These days, everyone is financially much worse off. I’m now more likely to get pissed and do drugs in someone’s living room with 15 to 20 people. There’s no ticket to get in – what a delight.’

I’m now more likely to get pissed and do drugs in someone’s living room with 15 to 20 people

Sandra has noticed there are more house parties around now than there were when she was a student three or four years ago. ‘If I do go out now, I’ll only go to cheaper events, or to an event where I know people involved, so I can get a discounted entry,’ she adds. And what about the view from the other side of the decks? DJ Skillis runs a club night called Headset in Edinburgh. ‘I have been noticing my core audience going out less,’ he says. ‘It’s just that much cheaper to visit mates [at home] or go for a few at the pub.’

A recent survey by community dance-music platform Keep Hush found that 25 percent of Gen-Z respondents and 13 percent of millennials reported being less interested in clubs now than they were before the pandemic. It doesn’t bear well for the future of the nightlife sector,  which has already been hard done by over the past few years, with a third of nightclubs in the UK closing down between March 2020 and late 2022. 

The poll also found that clubbers are less likely to buy tickets in advance of an event, compared with before the pandemic – a trend which has also been noticed by club promoters. ‘Pre-pandemic we were selling out events weeks in advance, but in the past couple of years, last-minute purchases have become the norm,’ says a spokesperson for Rum Riddimz Run, which puts on events in Liverpool. ‘It’s been even more apparent in the last year or so – we mainly put this down to a lot of customers living paycheck to paycheck.’

Eastern Margins club night
Photograph: HumothyEastern Margins

They’ve noticed that students who started attending university during lockdown never made going clubbing part of their schedule in the way that students have in previous years. ‘Either as a result of a habit of staying in or financial circumstances, they never embraced clubbing culture in the same way that other cohorts have when lockdown ended,’ says the Rum Riddimz Run spokesperson. ‘Students are now going out a lot less often, and when they do, they’re going to bigger events with bigger line-ups and high-profile artists, rather than attending smaller grassroots events.’

Saving up for a blowout, rather than going out every week and coughing up for all the extra costs like transport and drinks, seems to be one of the solutions for punters feeling the squeeze. ‘People are going out less, but when they do go out, they go harder,’ says Eastern Margins, which throws parties in London for the East and South Asian community. ‘There has been a huge increase in competition from festivals that have huge phone book-style line-ups and that naturally comes with high ticket prices,’ says promoter James, of club night Teak in Cardiff. ‘With the lack of options in their own city, I think people are choosing to save up for festivals instead of going out once, or more, a week.’

And for those revellers who do still venture out? Cue the pre-drink mindset. According to research from nightclub owners Rekom UK, 43 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds said they would pre-drink at home more often to save money. Some people on TikTok are even sharing tips on how to actively seek out free drinks – for example, by going to art-gallery openings and other free events before hitting the club. 

People are going out less, but when they do go out, they go harder

All of this is undoubtedly taking a toll on the promoters and venues who rely on bar takings. ‘People are buying tickets extremely last minute, which is leaving promoters feeling very nervous about events,’ says Holly Lester, founder of Free The Night, a non-profit campaign working to improve nightlife in Northern Ireland. ‘Artist fees are also increasing exponentially, hotel prices increasing, drink prices, taxi fees… these are all exacerbating the situation at the moment.’

According to the Night Time Industries Association, eight out of ten clubs are either barely breaking even or losing money due to increased costs, which are being passed onto clubbers via higher ticket prices. And with the government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme and current reduced VAT rate set to end on March 31, the pressures might be about to step up a notch. To increase footfall, some clubs – like Phonox in London and The Loft in Manchester – are offering discounted tickets to people on lower incomes. Others are turning to venues outside of the traditional nightclub: The Night Institute has started running parties in east Belfast in a traditional working men’s club, where the drinks are cheaper, creating a model that’s more sustainable for grassroots promoters. 

With all of this in mind, it makes sense why we’ve seen so many reports of illegal raves and DIY parties popping up around the country over the past six months. While 2022 wasn’t quite the Third Summer of Love some of us hoped it would be, it does feel like Britain might be on the cusp of a free-party renaissance. Cornwall Live reported that there were multiple complaints about an illegal rave in Devon in November, police were called to one in a disused warehouse on the outskirts of Bristol in October and a man was arrested at one in Cambridgeshire on New Year’s eve. We’re seeing news stories like this every week at the moment: just this weekend, the police put out an appeal about two illegal raves which residents said ‘kept half of Sheffield awake’.

Free parties may get a bad rap, and while the safety and security of attendees is undoubtedly more compromised than in licensed premises, there’s a reason why they’re going so strong. ‘It’s an escapism,’ says Tom*, 24, who has been involved in the scene for around a decade‘We get portrayed as being dirty ravers, when that’s completely the opposite from who we are. Our main motto is “leave no trace” – we always clear up. The only reason we’d leave stuff behind would be if the police were trying to move us on [in a hurry].’

Tom owns one of the biggest soundsystems in Norfolk, throwing regular free parties in barns and squat warehouses across East Anglia, as well as ‘link-up’ raves with crews from different counties. He first noticed a spike in people attending his events over lockdown, but says that they are the busiest ever right now. ‘A lot of the attendees have quite a troubled upbringing, have problems at home or mental health problems,’ he says. ‘The scene is a way of having a good time.’

So as we wave goodbye to weekly nights out on the town and say hello to working men’s clubs, barn raves and house parties with pals, one thing’s for certain: we’ll always find a way.

*Some names have been changed.

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