Dal 17 al 19 luglio del 2015 si è tenuto a Firenze nell'"Auditorium del Duomo" il convegno internazionale "Everyday life in the 21st Century City", noi abbiamo partecipato con un paper che era una vera e propria provocazione in cui facevamo incontrare urbanistica e club culture. L'intenzione era quella di rendere evidente come fossero cambiati radicalmente i loisir notturni e con essi la metropoli. Quando il paper era già terminato abbiamo continuato a interrogarci sul consumo di tempo libero notturno e ci siamo imbattuti inevitabilmente nel recente rapporto tra Real Estate e club culture a Roma. Se sul rapporto tra Real Estate e arte è stato scritto molto, qui ci trovavamo improvvisamente con delle contiguità di tipo nuovo. Quando Cassa Depositi e Prestiti affida temporaneamente spazi come l'ex Zecca di Stato e la ex Dogana di San Lorenzo ad agenzie creative che vi organizzano eventi notturni di club culture si genera un cortocircuito inedito per questa città. Le dinamiche della vita notturna si stavano ulteriormente evolvendo rispetto a ciò che avevamo scritto. Ci siamo presentati al convegno aggiungendo alla fine del nostro intervento una riflessione su questo cortocircuito e ci torneremo in futuro con nuovi approfondimenti.

Ex Zecca dello Stato, Roma 2015, p&p fotografia

Rome: The de-territorialization of leisure-time events at night

Daniele Vazquez Pizzi Università IUAV di Venezia, Scuola di Dottorato in Urbanistica

Laura Martini Politecnico di Torino,  DASP – Dottorato in Architettura, Storia e Progetto

The modalities according to which people meet and use their leisure-time at night have profoundly changed in the last decade or so in the city of Rome. Until the end of the twentieth century nocturnal leisure-time appointments were generally associated with neighbourhoods full of venues and clubs that were genuine entertainment districts. Testaccio and the area around Via Libetta were the traditional hubs of Roman nightlife and they still have an important role. The various venues in both of these districts dedicated to night-time entertainment had a fairly predictable identity and were fairly distinct from others in the same district as regards the kind of urban subculture that they represented and promoted. Since one knew what to expect from them it was not really necessary to find out about the various events, shows, concerts or DJ sets they offered. If a group of friends decided to go out at the last moment they knew what they would find in these districts and they could choose a specific venue depending on the urban culture they were interested in. The consumers of leisure-time at night could follow well-established trajectories, going regularly to those places where their own culture of choice was permanently located.  Obviously in a city as large and varied as Rome such trajectories did not always lead to the main districts dedicated to nightlife, and the venues dedicated to specific urban cultures were usually dispersed around the city. Nevertheless, the choice of the neighbourhood was not entirely random, as each urban area was characterized by a certain atmosphere that encouraged or hindered the expression of certain cultures. The important thing is that the city offered various trajectories within a network of clearly defined choices for people’s use of their leisure-time at night. There were some exceptions such as illegal raves and we will see how this exception led to a new kind of nightlife, but the city was basically a system of localized urban cultures, not always in nightclubs as such, but sometimes in pubs or bars.  These venues publicized their initiatives with posters, flyers and leaflets printed on paper and these guides to events, concerts and DJ sets were often incomplete as they were bound to filter out a lot of information. Nevertheless, if you wanted to enjoy your late night leisure-time and participate in a specific form of urban culture, this system of relatively stable choices provided the public with some basic “guarantees” even though people were not fully up-dated as to what the night’s events would consist of. Then, with the mass diffusion of social networks and smartphones, the gradual separation of specific kinds of urban subculture from fixed locations, and the invention of new ways of enjoying nocturnal leisure-time, this system of stable trajectories became de-territorialized.

The entertainment that the night-time entertainment districts provided was no longer so predictable, the numbers of venues and clubs promoting a certain kind of urban culture steadily declined, and the locations offering occasions for sociability and fun were no longer just the usual clubs, cultural associations, squats, pubs and bars. The old system of stable choices still partly remains but there is no longer any guarantee that you will find what you were looking for, nor can you even be sure of being allowed to enter the venues on any given night. In order to find out about the range of choices on offer the public now needs more information, and this is no longer communicated by means of posters, flyers and printed leaflets, but by online guides that are being continually updated, such as “Zero”, and by social networks like Facebook. These sources not only provide information as to where the forthcoming initiatives associated with a certain urban subculture will be temporarily located, but clubbers can also predict how successful these events are likely to be, by looking at the number of people who have declared their intention to participate and who are listed as “going”. Specific urban cultures can be regularly located at a precise venue, as was the case for the event called “Fake” at the Fanfulla cultural association, and as is now the case for the events “Butter” and “RNY” at the Vicious, “L-ektrica”  at the Lanificio, “Smash” at the Circolo degli illuminati, “Glamda” at the Circolo degli Artisti, “Amigdala” at the Goa, “Anarchy in the Club” at the Animal Social Club, etc. But these nocturnal events are genuine cultural projects promoted by social groups that are becoming less and less frequently located in one place, not even for the length of the “season” of events, generally corresponding to the period from September to May. Instead these projects are often mobile, some more so than others, and they can be hosted in various different places according to their “elective affinities”, with events often being located temporarily in a specific venue for a single night.

Moreover, the growing popularity of secret parties held in private apartments or places such as disused and abandoned villas, theatres and discos that are transformed into dance halls for a single night means that one has to make the effort to ensure that one will be admitted, which often entails following a selection procedure consisting of several steps. These secret parties are more similar to evenings in a club where people buy and consume than to real parties that are free of charge. In some respects, in addition to their clandestine atmosphere, they have learned the lessons of the illegal rave, especially as regards the way information is communicated so that people can locate them. Nevertheless, while the modalities for finding a one-off event such as a secret party closely resemble those of the rave, the concept is very different, as illegality and clandestinity have been replaced by exclusivity and elitism. Now the snobbish sense that one is at a special event that not everyone is admitted to, even though they wanted to participate, is deliberately cultivated and the entry conditions are similar to those of the exclusive upper-class and bourgeois parties of the twentieth century.

The de-territorialization of the stable and well-established trajectories of the city has thus made the use and consumption of nocturnal leisure-time more selective, exclusive and controlled. If one has not been directly invited to an event via e-mail, Facebook or Whatsapp, one not only has to find out about it, but one also has to be put on a guest-list, procure tickets or obtain permission so as to have access to it. Sometimes getting onto the guest-list is quite easy, but it can also require belonging to a relatively exclusive social network, as in the case of the “Alchemy” events. This system is motivated by people’s desire to be more sure of meeting people who are similar to themselves and these are rarely uncontrolled events during which anything can happen. There is usually an accepted register of behaviour and a more or less agreed etiquette that regulates the guest’s behaviour, with some transgressions that are allowed and others that are not, depending on the kind of event. The increase in the number of “theme-nights” indicates an increase in people’s desire to be sure of meeting others like themselves and to avoid “the bad crowd”, especially those that swarm into venues on a Friday or a Saturday night without really caring about the kind of urban culture on offer. These theme-nights usually require a particular dress-code, which is not always the same for the same kind of event, and so, in addition to obtaining the necessary information, tickets or permission, the guests must also have access to a wide range of clothing of the appropriate style. Sometimes the guest-list system is so open and apparently inclusive that is basically useless, because the selection is made directly at the entrance to the venue. The policy of the venues is to give priority to groups of girls or mixed-sex groups, and leave everyone else outside, so that groups of boys need to use clever ruses and stratagems. In fact they can often be seen in the crowd queuing up outside, negotiating and reaching agreements with groups of girls so that they can present themselves as a single group to the bouncers on the door who decide whether they can get in. In evenings for gay men and lesbians the opposite is the case and one often sees groups of heterosexual couples being denied access.

We can say that nightlife has become more controlled because it has become a huge business that must be defended and those who host the evening’s events as well as the social groups promoting a specific cultural project have a responsibility to ensure a minimum level of security in contexts that are often overcrowded and difficult to control. This is a necessary requirement for the success of the event and thus the possibility of repeating it. Such control is often delegated to agencies and firms with professional security staff. With the increase in such technical specialization for the consumption of leisure-time at night, due to the need to manage and control the overcrowding of public spaces, the wildest events, which used to be advertised as “bodies out of control” have increasingly withdrawn into private or clandestine contexts that are not open to the general public. Nevertheless more uncontrolled situations are occasionally generated due to the invasion of “the masses” and “the bad crowd” on a Friday or Saturday night. They can overthrow the attempt to establish an urban culture with a certain label, explode the relatively closed circle of its social network in which everyone knows or at least recognizes each other, and produce an unmanageable situation even when security staff are present. From the point of view of the venue and the social group with its own cultural project this a total failure, because such an experience is not replicable and the regular consumers are likely to stop frequenting the venue, but from the point of view of people outside the restricted circle of an urban culture it is often a much more enjoyable evening than usual. “The bad crowd” are a dysfunctional element that can introduce disorder and send the consumption of nightlife out of control and bouncers have learned to identify them and keep them out.

These people are often groups of boys and girls from the suburbs, dressed in a way that does not conform to the evening’s event but with clothes and brands that are no less expensive than those of the regulars. They are only allowed to enter when there are not enough people at the event. These boys consume drugs and alcohol heavily. They conceive of courtship as an assault with none of the recognized and stereotyped rituals of the dance hall. They are genuine experts of “making a shambles” and after their long night out they often go straight to work. Not that the regulars are necessarily averse to “making a shambles”, but they tend to do it with their acquaintances, while the boys of “the bad crowd” do so with anyone who happens to be in the vicinity. Also the girls of “the bad crowd” are less selective, while those that belong to a precise urban culture, although they are equally uninhibited, tend to seek partners whose cultural codes they share in all respects. A “queer” evening, for example, can be successful in two ways: either by consisting completely of gays and lesbians or by including a large number of heterosexuals who know and respect queer culture. If, instead, such an evening is invaded by “the bad crowd” the transgressive codes of behaviour that are accepted and allowed will be totally misunderstood and taken to extremes, thereby causing the evening to fail, despite the fun had by many of the external and “uninitiated” people.  Secret parties can now be accessed by tickets sold in advance in pubs and venues that are reference points for a specific urban culture, at more than twice the cost of a conventional evening. The increasingly unbridled spread of such events is due to an attempt to avoid those proletarian boys and girls who cannot be entirely excluded because they have now fully adapted themselves to the new mobile system of night-time leisure consumption and they are very clever at getting round the filters of selection.

In order to gain access to secret parties the extra step of filling out a questionnaire has recently been added. While on the one hand the intention is to collect more information so as to improve the quality of the parties, on the other hand it is also a way to obtain a detailed profile of the consumers and to have even more control over them.  The density of an event or, in other words, its degree of overcrowding, leads in any case to a different atmosphere or “tonality” for that night. An evening event with a sparse attendance does not necessarily mean that it is a failure, excluding the disappointment of its organizers due to the lower number of entrance tickets bought and the lesser consumption of alcohol. From the point of view of fun or entertainment, which are after all the goods that people are paying for and “consuming”, on a night with a lower attendance it is possible to get to know more new people and to communicate with them and “targeted” form of courtship is easier, as it depends more on the spoken word.

On nights with a very dense attendance, although there are areas in the venues with a lower density, where it is possible to smoke and talk, body language is everything, and it is encouraged by smoke and light effects or the alternation of moments of light and darkness. In these cases individuals are basically reduced to their body and there is no other way to communicate other than by means of one’s physical presence. In any case, the language of the body is no less potent and selective than spoken language and it allows one to immediately understand a lot about other people, often in a more precise way than a conversation based on information about the other, the contents of which are very different. Targeted courtship is however more difficult and it is therefore often impossible to find a person with whom one has already established a minimum of contact and who could become one’s partner. Instead there are encounters with whoever is attractive and available at the moment, although one knows very little or nothing about these potential partners, apart from what their body communicates. Whereas more sparsely attended venues involve less security risks, if they are densely attended they are more unpredictable and there are many risks, and authentic body language experts are often employed to deal with the crowd control. These boys and girls patrol the venue to make sure that any transgressions do not pass the acceptable threshold. Theirs is a kind of expertise no less significant than that mastered by experts of the word, which is strictly speaking more bio-political. This type of control is admirable for the balancing ability it involves in order to effectively manage a multitude of bodies in situations that are seemingly ungovernable. It is one of the forms of technicalization of the consumption of leisure-time at night that ensure its safety and that can even be defined as “regulated transgression” in the city at night. However, if the crowd is too heterogeneous and there are too many groups that do not respect the “label” of the night’s event it may become impossible to control people and this is one reason why such events are organized so that they are all as similar as possible.

The threshold of “regulated transgression” can vary however, and sometimes the control is simply left up to everyone’s common sense.  Another important aspect of nightlife is that today almost everyone has a Smartphone, and while each cultural project has its own photographer for documenting the events and those who attend them, also the practice of taking group Selfies makes these nocturnal events more easily monitored or controlled and therefore safer. There is always an official documentation of the evening and an informal documentation consisting of all the videos and photos taken by the participants. This is a way for the organizers to promote a cultural project and for the participants to share the fun that often continues after the end of the night’s event, and it represents a further aspect of the technicalization of the consumption of leisure-time at night that indirectly promotes its safety.

The issue of the interior spaces of venues has already been dealt with by various other authors who have observed the world of discotheques, while we have particularly studied situations such as clubs, squats, cultural associations and temporary spaces. For events held in these locations the space is usually divided into a main dance hall and one or more smaller dance rooms where different music is played, either managed by the group that is promoting a cultural project or by other guest-groups. The atmosphere in these various dance halls and rooms is usually varied, due not only to the music alone, but also to a different use of lighting and the different sizes of the spaces. One of the secondary dance rooms usually has a lower lighting tending towards total darkness, so that in some cases it is a genuine darkroom (although with a DJ inside). Each hall or room often has its own area for buying alcohol. There is almost always a wardrobe service for a fee and this area is usually particularly crowded on densely attended nights, in addition to a bathroom which is usually inadequate, so that there are enormous queues in front of it. There are always one or more spaces, sometimes outdoors, dedicated to smoking and talking, but the smoking of cigarettes is usually tolerated even inside the dance rooms.  It is however not our intention to explain the internal psycho-geography of these events in this paper, except to point out that in some cases there is still a privé, which is a more private, reserved and exclusive room or space. While in squats and cultural associations these spaces are necessary for the organizers, in clubs they are usually behind the DJ console booth. This space is often full of people but you can only have access to it if you belong to the social network of the venue or the group that is promoting and organizing the cultural project of the evening. Being allowed to enter the privé is not only a question of status, due to its inaccessibility to the uninitiated, but it also means that one can gain access to a kind of sociability that is completely different from that of the dance hall. In the privé everyone is either friends with each other or they are the friends of one’s friends and one has the rather surreal feeling of being in an exclusive party that the other people in the venue can only see from a distance. The drinks are sometimes provided for free and courtship is easier because if you do not know someone directly you can be sure that they know a friend. Thus you can obtain information about them and the risk of having bad experiences with them is slighter.

The desire to associate with similar people is connected to the desire to limit or restrict the social circle of the relaxed and exclusive privé, which offers opportunities for creating new and lasting relationships. Since the system of stable trajectories has been de-territorialized, with the end of the cold season and the beginning of the summer the location of the venues that host events also changes. Cold temperatures and rainy weather favour situations of dense attendance in confined spaces, but with the arrival of the summer the venues are often open spaces, parks, stretches of the banks of the River Tiber or kiosks on the beaches.

The phenomenon of the de-territorialization of the consumption of leisure-time at night remains valid, and in fact things become even more de-territorialized as events move further towards the edges of the city, and many other issues also change, ranging from body language to the factor of density. In most cases, events are less dense, the body communicates less by its dress code and more by nudity. The atmosphere is often more relaxed, as these are temporary solutions and events about which those who are still in town have no great expectations, as they are looking forward to the “real” fun of the summer season. In fact the die-hard clubbers either go on vacation to places where during the summer the nightly entertainment is of the same quality as that of the autumn and winter, or they chafe at the bit, impatiently awaiting the start of the new clubbing season.

We have not considered neighbourhoods such as San Lorenzo or the Pigneto as genuine nightlife districts for various reasons that we feel we should now clarify. San Lorenzo has certainly long been an entertainment district, but it has always been more geared towards the evening than the night, if by “night” we refer to the period between midnight and six in the morning. In San Lorenzo there are very few venues where large numbers of people are able to congregate after two in the morning, except perhaps the “Locanda Atlantide”. Also the Pigneto was, and still is, primarily a district for leisure-time in the evening, although for several years the Fanfulla cultural association attracted people from all over the city, due to the high quality of the events it offered, and over the years there have been various other venues and clubs in the Pigneto open until very late at night, ranging from the Clockwork in the past to the 2N now. It is our view that, following the gradual decline of the Fanfulla and the closure of most of its premises, and due to the relentless and continual evolution of the consumption of leisure-time at night, the Pigneto itself has been de-territorialized and if you go there without knowing what is on offer you no longer have any guarantee that you will enjoy such high-quality events as it offered in its heyday. As regards its nightlife the Pigneto has basically become a gathering place for its residents and those who live between it and Torpignattara.

Once again, despite the inclusiveness (it is enough to have an Arci or an Enal card or to pay a small subscription to the venue in order to be allowed in), whether one wants it or not, people tend to associate with those who are similar to them, since most young people who live in Pigneto or Torpignattara have chosen to do so on the basis of their identity. The de-territorialization of the consumption of leisure-time at night has hit the Fanfulla cultural association particularly hard. For many years it was a central reference point for urban cultures, but one now rarely sees it bursting with people, even though it plays ironically on the theme of current elitism, with events like the REB (Roma Est Bene). This is a clear symptom of the general decline of the entire neighbourhood as an entertainment district.

The last frontier, still unexplored, lies in the relationship between club culture and real estate management. This started to develop in the last months in Rome. Some important sites of the public real estate, that are being reconverted, valorized and sold afterword, have been opened to public access through the process of “public” events, but as a matter of fact rather similar to the secret private parties that we talked about previously. It’s no surprise, actually, that the promoters of these events were the same of secret parties in Rome. If until know was art the main engine to valorize real estate in general, see creative districts, now in Rome even club culture is useful for this kind of purpose. This is the case of the parties that took place in the Ex-Dogana (custumer house) of San Lorenzo and, in the last weeks, at the Ex- Palazzo della Zecca. In these cases for the first time the club events have taken place in an historical monument of the city. We believe that this weird relationship between club culture and real estate will turn in the future more and more effective, as it’s and has been between art and real estate.

From the spatial point of view, in the second decade of the twenty-first century it is now almost impossible to go out to one’s venue of choice and be sure of a good night out. The system of the consumption of leisure-time at night has become more mobile, more unpredictable, and with increasingly restricted access. It seems to correspond to a widespread desire to feel that one belongs to an elite group rather than to an urban subculture, often imitating the rigorous procedures of access to the bourgeois parties and exclusive upper-class clubs of the twentieth century.



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