EWAN PEARSON on door policies

Text: Ewan Pearson
A German translation of this column has been published in Groove 134 (January/February 2012)

Nile Rodgers, of disco legends Chic, tells a great story of the time he tried to get into New York’s Studio 54 on New Year’s in 1977 and was told unceremoniously by the bouncer to „fuck off“. He and his partner Bernard Edwards went home, got high and vented their frustration musically – over a signature clipped guitar riff they shouted: „Aaaaaw, fuck off!“ And so „Le Freak“ was born.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine – a respected music writer from the US – was turned away from one of Berlin’s very well-known nightclubs, one she has visited many times before and written about. When she argued the toss – all 5’ 4” of her – one of the doorstaff told her „we don’t like you“ and pushed her so hard that she fell over. This kind of experience is so antithetical to the inclusive or loving ideal which it is claimed underwrites house music and yet we meekly and masochistically accept it. We remember the rite of passage of our first nervous wheedling attempts to get into clubs as teenagers. A test of character, of worthiness. The pain or annoyance of being knocked back makes the desire to get in all the greater. Door policies are arguably important – the world is full of assholes and your club is almost certainly going to be better without them inside. They discourage those who might not care for the music or mix happily with the clientele; they create safer spaces for those inside to express themselves as they wish.

But all too quickly these benign functions are overtaken by elitism or caprice. The exercise of power without any need to explain or justify it often brings out the worst in people – as anyone who’s felt like a criminal at immigration or been punched by a policeman at a demonstration knows. If the gatekeepers to utopia lord it over those who want access, pick on or assault those they don’t consider worthy then we’ve gained nothing. The greatest test of character is how you treat someone at your mercy. If you’re unable to show care, politeness or consideration then you’ve failed. And the rest of us in the queue shouldn’t just stand there quietly looking at the floor, hoping it doesn’t happen to us. Our response should be the same as Nile Rodgers’ was thirty years ago.

Ewan Pearson is a record producer, DJ and enthusiast. All of his previous Groove columns are archived on his website.

  • Greg

    Got to agree with this point of view. Despite being around and loving house music in all it’s forms for over 20 years there are nights I’ve missed due to being of a certain age now and a negative experience at the door of a club I used to regard as a home from home. An early 29’s doorman said don’t think this is for you so I walked as I didn’t want to get into an arguement due to sheer embarassment

    I now tend to go to ticketed all day events or if going abroad to see certain DJs I contact them through e-mail if possible and ask to be put on a paying guest list to increase the chances of hearing the music

  • jo

    holy words! Well said Mr Pearson!! Nowdays more often than not you feel afraid of security staff rather than the opposite. It seems like security companies employ more bullies than professionals! Hopefully this will change.
    Thanks for bringing this up!! :)

  • Andrew

    Couldn’t agree more. The irony of these clubs and their xenophobic door policies is appalling. Sorry I don’t look like I’m cracked out on meth, and sorry I’m not ready to participate in swallowing turds in the basement of a night club. Am I missing something? Berghain is overrated.

  • Joy

    I had the same experience at Berghain in April. I mean, I come all the way from San Francisco to Berlin to hear some good techno and I get turned away because I don’t look like everyone else? Because I’m wearing jeans (it was freezing outside, mind you)? It was depressing. Thankfully we headed back to another smaller club with excellent house music and continued to dance until morning. But it still sucked.

  • By the sounds of the experience, I can only assume that the nightclub in questions, is the infamous Berghain.
    I too experienced a knock-back from the club when I visited the city for my birthday and wanted to enjoy the clubbing experience. After that knock-back I have never, and never will, attempt to get in that club again.
    I agree to a certain extent the theory behind it. For example, I have seen at Watergate, they turn blokes away who have shoes on, or look a little bit too dressed-up. I’ve even heard that they ask people who is playing that night. Answer correctly and you’re in.
    To some extent, they have to project the clubbing experience inside the club. And keep out the tourists, stag & hen groups, etc. But the general attitude is b#ll#cks!
    If I was a DJ, I would be seriously wondering about playing there, as thinking about the fans that might being travelling from all over Europe just to see me play there, to then maybe not even get in. That would piss me off!