A broken fake ID
Image: Shutterstock / Time Out

RIP the fake ID: why young people aren’t going out anymore

Does teenage rebellion still exist in 2024?

Annie McNamee

You remember the days. Assuring your friend that she definitely looks like her older cousin’s co-worker, especially with a ponytail in. Hovering awkwardly around the corner from the off-license as your one 18-year-old pal does God’s work for the rest of you. The pit in your tummy as you recite a fake birthday to the bouncer of a sticky-floored nightclub – remembering your star sign, memorising your imaginary postcode – and the elated relief when he lets you in with a raised eyebrow and a reluctant nod. Finding increasingly inventive ways to get around age-restrictions was half the fun of being 17, but today’s teens seem to be going off going out altogether.

‘You definitely see fake IDs less than you used to,’ says one bouncer at a popular student nightclub in Bristol. When he started working at the venue a decade ago, he’d encounter a load of fakes on any given night – but not so much anymore. ‘The worst one I ever saw had the back on upside down,’ he says. ‘The ones we do see are getting a lot better and it can be harder to catch them. But they’re definitely rarer now.’

Something has certainly shifted. A few weeks ago, as I walked through the Triangle, Bristol’s premier hotspot for stumbling freshers and lovers of three for two Jägerbombs, I noticed that the local Sainsbury’s was busier than all of the clubs combined. Two years ago, dancefloors would’ve been filling up at 11pm on a Monday.

This wasn’t a fluke: since that night, two of the clubs in question have closed their doors for good (RIP Gravity and Mbargo, you will be sorely missed). So: where are all of the youth? Has the entire Covid generation just ditched underage adventures for a good night’s sleep? 

Comfort is key

The answer, it seems, is home. And this isn’t a uniquely Bristolian phenomenon – according to GlobalData, the number of Gen Zs who plan to socialise less with their friends outside their homes had increased to a fifth by the end of 2023. Back in January, club chain Rekom, who owned dozens of spots favoured by younger demographics including Atik and Pryzm, went into administration and had to close 17 venues across the country.

The going theory seems to be that the back half of Gen Z just aren’t interested in the high life, with papers like The Telegraph reporting on the generation shifting ‘from rowdy behaviour to clean-living kids’. These days, young people go to bed early and go to the gym before school. They’re all vegan and sober-curious, they’re not having sex, and the only drug they’re interested in taking is sertraline.

Is there any truth in it? Fresh off the shirt-signing high of her last day at school, 17-year-old Sofia from Glasgow is a self-described extrovert – but she talks about clubbing as if it’s a chore no one will volunteer for. ‘A couple of my friends who are already 18 have gone to bars or pubs just to try them out, but even that isn’t common,’ she says. ‘No one’s ever said “oh my god I wish I wasn’t at this party, I wish I was at the club. People’s houses are definitely the place to be.’’’

You definitely see fake IDs less than you used to – they’re rarer now

Although Sofia’s older brothers went out before they turned 18, she can only think of one person her age who has a fake ID, and they’ve only used it to get into a bar once. It’s mostly used, Sofia tells me, for buying booze to bring to house parties. She explains that she’ll probably try out clubbing when she turns 18 this September, but until then it’s just ‘not worth the hassle.’ 

‘I don’t have an older sister, and fakes are so expensive,’ she says. ‘[It costs] like £90 to 100 to make it work and you have to buy it online, so you don’t know who you can trust. It’s definitely somewhat a money thing.’

Children of the recession

According to Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industry’s Association, that ‘money thing’ is the single biggest thing keeping people away from clubs. ‘The student market was always really reliable for us, but even they’re not spending as much anymore,’ Kill says.

‘They used to come out readily midweek and enjoy nights out with their friends, but the affordability of everyday life means that they can’t afford to do that now. Freshers week has completely turned on its head.’  

Pryzm nightclub in Watford
Photograph: Shutterstock

According to teenagers themselves, this is true. ‘We mostly just go to ’Spoons, the prices are a lot friendlier there,’ says 18-year-old Patrick from Newcastle. ‘Drinks are just so much more expensive in clubs. Then you have to get a taxi there and back – it adds up quite quickly.’

Of course, the cost of going out is impacting veteran clubbers too. Dani, who is the co-founder of the queer-centred nightlife security group Safe Only, has been going on nights out for nearly a decade. ‘It’s not just that people aren’t going out,’ they say. ‘When they do, they’re spending less; we’re all pinched at the moment. It’s really worrying in terms of the financial longevity of the nightlife industry.’

A bigger picture

A lack of disposable income is clearly a huge factor in the decline in clubbing for everyone, but students, whether at university or school, have never had loads of cash – it’s why pre-drinking, to avoid spending cash in bars and clubs, has long been part of the night out in its own right. Something deeper rooted than an overdrawn bank account has shifted.

The affordability of everyday life has turned freshers week on its head

‘A lot of my friends would feel quite anxious clubbing I think,’ Sofia says. ‘I know a lot of people who are going on their [end of school holidays] and they’re planning to bring drink covers and testing kits. They’re planning to not drink as much as they do back home, just to stay safe.’ 

According to a government report, reported cases of spiking in the UK have skyrocketed from 316 between January and March of 2021 to a whopping 1746 between April and June of last year. It’s understandable that Sofia and her friends are apprehensive about heading out into that climate. 

The new cool  

Clearly, standards have shifted. On top of being less common, fake IDs don’t even seem cool anymore. None of the teenagers I spoke to had the slightest interest in getting one, nor did they revere their peers who had managed to – but it’s not true to say they’ve lost interest in going out altogether.

‘We’re all pretty aware that if you go out, you don’t get back until three, 4am,’ says Patrick. ‘You wake up late, hungover and you’ve basically wasted the day. A lot of my friends are focused on their exams and future careers, so we stick to pubs at the moment.  

Interior of Drumsheds, new superclub in Tottenham, London
Photograph: Henry WoideDrumsheds nightclub in London

‘We just got used to keeping ourselves entertained during lockdown. We do enjoy nights out, we go clubbing for birthdays and special events, you know. And some people do go out every week – it’s not as if it’s unheard of, just less common.’ 

Sofia agrees. ‘There’s definitely a bit of overconsumption,’ she laughs. ‘If you want to call it that.’ 

The kids are alright after all

It seems like young people haven’t, generationally, turned their backs on nightlife. They’re just enjoying it differently.

‘The next generation have started coming [on nights out] now, and the nights they’re putting on are quite different in tone to the previous events,’ says Dani. ‘#MeToo and accountability culture has had a huge impact on nightlife…. [people who began clubbing after covid] are much more conscious of consent and safety. People want to make sure they’re offering a warm welcome to queer people.’ This seems to be the paramount concern for young organisers: at the centre of these events is inclusivity and comfort rather than alcohol and drugs. 

Michael also agrees that the industry is changing to match the desires of young people. ‘You can see this with the rise in day parties, pre-midnight club shows, that sort of thing,’ he says. He assures that there is still ‘an appetite for people to come out and enjoy their nights,’ but if we want to appeal to a risk-averse generation we have to speak their language. ‘People need to be able to rely on transport,’ Michael says. As well as being able to get home safely, they also want to trust that they won’t be spiked or harassed. 

The recession has all but killed teenage rebellion, but it didn’t kill their desire to drink with their friends. After a childhood full of aggressively unprecedented times, today’s teens prefer their nights to be fully under their own control. They’ve got little interest in spending an entire day’s wages on a fake ID only for it to be confiscated, they don’t want to waste time trying to sneak into clubs that don’t even play the music they like, and they don’t really seem to mind waiting a couple of years to enjoy all that the messy world of nightlife has to offer. 

Don’t worry though: Sofia leaves our call eager to get back to her celebratory leavers bottle of Smirnoff Ice. It seems like some things will never change. 

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