Defining the New Nightlife Culture

by Gamal Hennessy

NCI was founded in 2011 to elevate nightlife culture. Four years later, the nightlife environment has experienced inevitable change and the culture has adapted to match new patron expectations. As we head into 2015, we need to re-examine our definition of nightlife culture to help us understand exactly what we’re trying to protect.

Seize the Night

In 2010, I published a book called Seize the Night: The Business and Culture of New York Nightlife. In that book, I defined nightlife culture as adult oriented activities occurring outside the home and revolving around social connection. I conceived of nightlife culture as a lifestyle made up of:

  • Drinking
  • Dancing
  • Dating
  • Smoking
  • Eating
  • Listening to music
  • Performing
  • Socializing
  • Communicating
  • Rebelling against mainstream society

I focused on the historical and social movements that used nightlife as a breeding ground, laboratory and spotlight. In my definition nightlife wasn’t a time, because nightlife activities could start at brunch and continue long after the sun rose on an after party. Nightlife wasn’t a place, because the energy could be created in a bar, lounge, club, loft, warehouse or open air space. Nightlife culture wasn’t confined to a time or space because it was a lifestyle. I saw it as a perspective on life that focused on pleasure, sensuality and the reinvention of identity.

The New Normal

The rituals of nightlife have changed since the release of Seize the Night:

  • In many venues, dancing has been replaced with everyone taking iPhone video of the DJ (See Why Are You Staring at the DJ?).
  • The smoking ban has forced smokers outdoors and created a noise backlash that has shut some venues down.
  • Socializing is in a nightly struggle as people interact more with their phones than with the people around them (See the Death of Conversation).
  • The cultural and social rebellions have eroded with certain communities blending into the mainstream or disappearing completely.
  • Dating apps have altered the process of sexual selection to thumb swipes and profile reviews.
  •  The invention of a nightlife identity has been replaced with persistent individual branding, where people use nightlife to project a persona to match their message.
  • The music and drinking are still there, but when DJs can upload their sets online and cocktail culture becomes more common, what drives people to keep going out?

Nightlife is Dead, Long Live Nightlife

There is always a vocal group ready to denounce the current breed of nightlife. They fret over closed venues and pine for the former glory of “the better days”. In many cases, the people who make up this group are the people who recently decided to abandon the lifestyle for their own reasons (See Nightlife is Doing Exactly What it Needs to Do). But nightlife culture isn’t confined to a single time or place. It is a lifestyle and a perspective. Nightlife culture is about taking control of your identity, finding your passion and enjoying the experience. Drinking, dancing and sexual expression are all roads to the same place. If you enjoy the journey, then you’re taking advantage of what nightlife culture has to offer. That experience of exploration and release might be harder to find now, but if we look up from our phone screens long enough, we can still create and participate in something that can elevate us all.

Have fun.