It’s tempting to think that your generation was the first to really do nightlife well. Not true, as Life After Dark (Simon & Schuster, £20), an engaging and thoroughly researched history of going out to clubs and music venues reveals. A renowned DJ as well as author, Haslam’s account of acid house is particularly strong.
You write that plans for the first military tanks were signed off late at night in a club in 1915 and there were raves in the 1950s. What else surprised you in your research?
I discovered a music hall in Leeds once presented onstage a woman hypnotising a live alligator, which sounds well worth tuppence entry price. I discovered mostly though just how important nightclubs and music venues have been – in people’s personal lives, in certain cities and in terms of being places where important music scenes are born and develop.
Does strong youth culture depend on generational conflict?
Certainly strong youth culture needs evolution, if not revolution. The oldsters claiming their heyday was a golden age are usually mistaken. I saw Joy Division play, I was a DJ at the Haçienda; but even I know that before me people were seeing great live gigs and experiencing great nights out. And that people still do.
You write that house music and clubbing started as an alternative to the high street but then became the high street. What has been their lasting impact on British society?
The acid house explosion at the end of the 1980s into the 1990s was nurtured at the Haçienda but also at Cream in Liverpool. Imagine those two places hadn’t existed; what would the Manchester and Liverpool of today be like? Lower profile. Less energised. We’d have to re-define our views of the two cities.
Intoxicants and nightlife go hand in hand. What’s your view of the war on drugs?
The phrase “the war on drugs” was first used in 1971, by the American president at the time, Richard Nixon. It’s clearly failed. That’s my view.
What’s your idea of a great night out?
People and music make a place. Being surrounded by like-minded people, enthusiasts, all of us either crammed into a little club watching a bright new band clearly on their way to greatness, or on a dancefloor somewhere listening to a DJ drop tunes we don’t know but instantly love; it’s better than staying in and watching TV and it’s an experience far beyond anything a computer screen can deliver. Then the next day you have a ton of things to discuss: what was the music, did you see the haircuts, see that daft lad… All those day-after-the-night-before conversations. That’s actually what my book is like: 200 years of great nights out and what happened next.
Dave Haslam appears at Ilkley Literature Festival, 8 Oct and Manchester Literature Festival, with Tracey Thorne, 20 Oct