A socially-distanced silent disco is among the highlights of Night Fever, which opens to the public this weekend amid ongoing uncertainty over when the country’s nightclubs will be able to return to any kind of normality.
Leading Scottish venues and club nights are showcased alongside some of the most iconic names in clubbing history around the world in the exhibitions, which charts the evolution of nightlife from the 1960s to the present day restrictions, which have brought clubbers and DJs together via streaming events.
Launching on Saturday, the exhibition features rarely-seen archive film footage, photography, clubbing fashion, architectural models and drawings, and furniture and fittings from iconic clubs around the world, including Paradise Garage and Studio 54, in New York, Space Electronic in Florence, Berghain in Berlin and The Hacienda in Manchester.
Originally created by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany and Brussels design museum ADAM, Night Fever has been updated to feature a dedicated showcase of Scottish club culture, entitled The First Big Weekend, after The Arab Strap song.
It recalls the impact of venues and club nights like the Sub Club and Optimo, in Glasgow, Locarno in Dundee, Fever in Aberdeen, Club 69 in Paisley and The Rhumba Club, which has been staged across Scotland since 1991.
The exhibition – which features an eerie laser scan film of a deserted Sub Club – recalls the rise and fall of venues, ill-fated enterprises, the impact of ground-breaking eras like disco and acid house, and the celebrities who helped propel nightclubs into the limelight and the headlines.
V&A will be staging a programme of special events during the run of the exhibition until next January, including a virtual club night on 7 May featuring a DJ set from Scissor Sisters star Ana Matronic.
Speaking from New York, where the Scissor Sisters emerged from the Manhattan nightclub scene, Matronic said: “From the outside, clubbing can look very shallow, and fun and frivolous. But I found myself and my whole mode of expression through nightlife.
“Nightclubs have been safe spaces where people come to meet, have been able to express themselves and express affection without fear. Those spaces are so important.
“There is no doubt how much this whole experience has driven home the need for gathering and communing and connecting. If we don't have night-life, what happens at night?
"I feel so sad for young people at the moment. My god-daughter is 18 and this should be the year when she is going out, celebrating and having fun. She’s just not getting to do that.
“However it does feel that this withholding that we’ve been experiencing is going to result in an equal and opposite reaction, which will be an explosion.
"I think more people who have not been out in years are going to want to go out.”
Mike Grieve, owner of the Sub Club and one of the leading campaigners lobbying the Scottish Government for a provisional reopening date, admitted the unveiling of the exhibition was bittersweet.
He said: “It’s kind of ironic that this amazing world-class gallery is reopening with an international exhibition on club culture at a time when the industry cannot seem to get answers from the Scottish Government about when we will be able to reopen.
“I would hope that the exhibition brings some focus onto the cultural value of the sector. It's very easy to dismiss nightlife as just frivolous post-pub entertainment but in actual fact it’s a fundamental part of life experience. It's very important that that is recognised and done so well in the exhibition.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see how things pan out when we are able to reopen. It seems to me that younger folk who were used to going to clubs are very impatient to get back to it and there are those who weren’t old enough to go to clubs pre-pandemic can’t wait to get their teeth into it.
“It's possible that the gap of a year and bit may mean the next generation don’t care about clubs, but my sense is that there’s going to be great excitement.”
Stine Hope, who runs The Rhumba Club with Wayne Dunbar, said: “I was a bit apprehensive before I saw the exhibition, because of the situation we find ourselves in. At the moment we don’t know if we’re even going to be able to open this year. It's really hard to try to fathom a way through it.
“However the exhibition just gives you that hope that we're going to make it back. There just seems to be a power behind it.
“I hope it’ll make people really want to go back out to a club again. People have spent a lot time at home and got into a bit of a routine. I hope it’ll give them the spark to think: ‘I remember what that was like and really want to do it again.’
“One of the things that’s going to be interesting is around people who maybe thought they were too old for clubs have been watching live streams at home. They probably wouldn’t have ventured out to a club prior to the pandemic but have got back into the music again.”
Lauren Bassam, assistant curator of the exhibition, said: “We’ve tried give to give people snapshots of different bits of club culture from across Scotland.
“We’re showing a 10-minute film, created by Tim Knights, who has been spent the last year contacting all kinds of different people and finding clubs of YouTube of different clubs experiences, from 1990 to the present day.
“It gives you a real feeling of what it’s like to be on a dance floor in Scotland, and that rowdy, riotous, sweaty fund experience everybody has in their mind of a big night out.”