How To Run A Club Night: with SIREN
We're back at it with another instalment of our How To series, this time with a focus on how to run a club night. First up to help us learn the ropes are the excellent people from SIREN, a London based collective that aims to create a safe space for those who are underrepresented in dance music. They run parties (more on that to come), but they also publish a zine and online platform, run a monthly NTS radio show, and host workshops. Do they literally never sleep?! Let's find out how they do it...
When and where did the first SIREN show happen, and how did it go?
We held our very first party at Rye Wax on the 14th of January 2016, we had only limited experience with running events before this, and were nervous and daunted going into it, unsure whether it would be a success. We felt there were a lack of parties in London run by and for women and non-binary people. We were frustrated that to go our and listen to the music we wanted to listen to, we’d end up in club spaces where we didn’t feel comfortable, run by and for men. To our relief and surprise, our first night was packed by 11.30pm! The energy was very positive, and we were left feeling inspired.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Well, quite a lot. Over the last 2 years we’ve had to learn a lot through experience, through a mixed bag of success and failures, nothing ever goes quite as you expect. We learnt that when an artist asks you to fly them and their agent over for an underground warehouse party you are throwing for 200 people, you actually don’t have to say yes to paying for their agent as well… We lost an enormous amount of money on this terrible decision. At this event we also ran a bar, and we learnt that we knew nothing about the actual quantity of alcohol people drink. We were left with about 100 2L bottles of mixer that we had to lug around between people’s houses for about a year, before eventually pouring most of it down the drain. We recycled the plastic of course, but we'll never get back those hours we spent schlepping though.
We learnt how to build a darkroom from scratch out of planks of wood and screws in 2 hours, because our then-collective-member Agata insisted with 2 hours to go that we MUST have a darkroom, health and safety be damned. This was of course, an excellent shout. We did learn however if you don’t tell people it’s a darkroom, they might just use it as a deep chat zone.
We learnt that marketing events with impenetrable abstract concepts based around coding and technology as well as a full day of film screenings and workshops might not let people know that it’s actually a rave by the nighttime.... We learnt that shitty men will still come anyways and try to blag their way in and harass people, even if it’s very clear this is a space focussed on supporting women and non-binary people. We’ve learnt that collaboration with other amazing crews and groups, like Room 4 Resistance, Chapter 10, and Intervention and others is both great fun, and extremely rewarding to work together. It’s a great way to introduce both of your crowds to each other and meet new people. We’ve learnt that it’s important to keep the good eggs close, and support and learn from each other.
How do you curate your line-ups?
Our lineups are curated very organically, at any one time there’s an array of artists who are exciting us, and we always try to support and find artists who maybe haven’t played out very much, or played in London or the UK before. We think it’s very important to take a chance on someone you believe in. There are so many people who we booked for their very first gig who are now absolutely smashing it, and just believing in people and giving them the confidence to play out can make the world of difference. We find out about people through personal connections and word of mouth a lot of the time, as well as spending way too much time in the wormholes of the internet.
What makes the perfect venue?
Having a good crowd who understand what you’re trying to do is key, everything else could line up but if the people who go to that venue would cause trouble or make our crowd unsafe it’s a no go! We love venues like Rye Wax or Dalston Superstore where you don’t have to know what’s on, but you can trust that it will be good. It’s also important that the dancefloor is the main part of the club, as opposed to being secondary to the bar. The soundsystem and music quality needs to be good, there’s no point booking amazing artists to play on shitty overdriven speakers. The security, obviously, need to not be macho fascists. Having a venue where the owner, staff and security are all very willing to work with us on enforcing safer spaces policies, and turning away the wrong sort of crowd is essential to making sure everyone has a good night. A good chill out space with places to sit is very important, it’s ableist not to have seating or a place to rest, many people can’t dance for 8 hours straight without a break somewhere comfy! Lighting is important, we like dark but sexy lighting, no strobes! Venue size is important as well - we have experimented with big and small spaces, for bigger spaces it’s stressful to make sure enough people come down and if they don’t. Make sure you have a good smoke machine to make it look like it’s fuller than it is!
For our readers who might be marketing on a shoestring, what should the priorities be?
Talking to people, message everyone you know and tell them about the night, be excited and try to build excitement organically. Word of mouth if you really talk to people goes so much further than Facebook stuff. It’s all about chatting in advance of stuff before you announce it, so when you do announce it, they go “Ahh, this was that cool party they were talking about”. Being true to yourself with an original idea is key to standing out from the pool of promoters. Try to create a consistent and unique visual identity - a logo is good. One of the first things we did before launching was get a logo and the posters for our first 4 nights designed, which was key on launching to create momentum. Support local spaces and start small, build up a small local parties. Go to other people’s nights and support other local promoters, collabing with them can be a great way to work together and let their crowd know about your night. It’s also important to think about when starting a night, thinking ‘Does this night exist already? What void are we filling by creating it?’ Because that always means there’s a reason to do it.
Do…take risks, especially on young and up and coming artists, and if the risks don’t pay off, learn from them and try again.
Do.. support one another and hold onto those relationships consistently, don’t just work with someone once, but build up relationships with artists and a community over time
Be consistent where you can, trying to do too many things at once can leave your crowd confused about what you stand for.
Don’t… be disheartened if you’re operating in London and finding things tough - we know how difficult it can be to run nights here, but the crowds can be amazing if things come together, and no where else are people so up for such an array of weird and whacky music
Don’t...try to put all your ideas into one event. Separating out workshops, film screenings and conceptual ideas from raves and parties works better for everyone than cramming it all into one confusing day.
Do you have any burning words of wisdom on running a club night? Or is there anything else you want to know? Let us know in the comments below!