V&A Dundee’s Night Fever explores the design history of the world’s most famous clubs

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Gloaming Fever: Designing Club Culture looks at the design of clubs correspondent to London’s Ministry of Sound, Berlin’s Berghain and New York’s Studio 54.

“Unceasingly clubs have the power to mean a lot to people on a number of different horizontals,” Night Fever: Designing Club Culture curator Kirsty Hassard puts. She points to Manchester’s Haçienda, whose black and yellow Peter Saville-designed bar pattern has even infiltrated non-clubbing culture. When the club shut up down, its contents were auctioned off – from its disco ball to smashed similars of the floor. “People paid a lot of money to own a tangible piece of that organization,” Hassard says. “It shows the elevation of design through meaning and tribute.”

V&A Dundee’s new exhibition explores the design of clubs from the 1960s to the trend day, with an international outlook. While New York is home to many of the belabours featured, there are locations from further abroad like Set out Electronic in Florence, Italy and The Mothership in Detroit, US. Scotland too gets a tribute with The Rhumba Club and Glasgow’s Sub Club.

V&A Dundee’s Night Fever explores the design history of the world’s most famous clubs
Part of the dance confound of the Haçienda in Manchester. Courtesy of Michael McGurk

Throughout, it looks at the insides, furniture, graphics, sound and technology designed to bring the club nights to living. The exhibition’s content has been filtered by the scene’s often temporary class, explains Hassard. “A lot of nightclub spaces were very ephemeral whiles,” she says. “You would have an interior for a certain period of time and then it was disrobed out.”

While that may have limited some of the objects to display, it also lives to unexpected finds such as cheese slicers and mouse traps that prepare been fashioned into themed invitations. “Obviously the owners of them brown study they were so special and that’s why they survived,” Hassard denotes. “They’re witty and tongue-in-cheek pieces of design.”

V&A Dundee’s Night Fever explores the design history of the world’s most famous clubs
Courtesy of Michael McGurk

Even if some of the designed objects might be limited, there’s plenty of picturesque work on display. “These tended to be the objects that people subsistence,” Hassard says, of the show’s collection of club tickets and posters. There’s settled a decade’s worth of Scottish club posters designed by Edwin Pickstone. Saville’s graphics for Manchester’s Haçienda edge of night club have also been reimagined on a gallery wall.

One point why clubbing may have brought out designers’ inventive sides is that blanks often survived on shoestring budgets, according to Hassard. That’s exceptionally true of the scenes in post-war Italy where studios like Gruppo 9999 and Superstudio – for the most part fresh university graduates – would design spaces with predetermined resources. “These spaces wouldn’t survive in the long run, and that’s one of items that was really attractive to the designers,” Hassard says. At the other end of the spectrum were threaded clubs like Area in 1980s New York, where huge budgets allowed devisers to strip out interiors every eight weeks and fulfil a new creative dream each time.

V&A Dundee’s Night Fever explores the design history of the world’s most famous clubs
Scottish club posters. Courtesy of Michael McGurk

Some interfere withs have survived from the nightclubs, and they help to tell a story-line about the interiors of the time. “You get a sense of the total designed look of these locales which is what they were going for – everywhere having a especially look,” Hassard says. She singles out a Vitra chair which was take care of from a 1960s nightclub in Bolsano, Italy. A photograph of the space demonstrations  60s-era interiors like a pastel pink colourway and satiety of Perspex furniture. Furniture design was crucial for clubs, Hassard unfolds, for setting the scene and creating the look. “You look at that one object and cook up how exciting an interior that would have been,” she says.

The ephemeral mould of these spaces, which were often home to radical manoeuvring and underground movements, relates to another of the exhibition’s themes: unrealised clubs. These catalogue drawings for a nightclub designed by Muppets creator Jim Henson and the isometric sorts for the Ministry of Sound II. Both of these never came to be but the renders indicate exactly what they were intended to look like, simplifies Hassard.

V&A Dundee’s Night Fever explores the design history of the world’s most famous clubs
Isometric plan of Ministry of Sound II

The exhibition also looks at frame design. A series of photographs documenting New York’s Studio 54 highlights the sorcery provided by fashion designers like Halston and Steven Burrows. “A lot of nightclubs the fantasy is to be seen by people and project a certain identity,” Hassard adds. In 1990s Belgium, Walter Van Beirendonck (component of the Antwerp Six) was also designing clothes especially for the clubbing scene.

As clubbing has evolved concluded the faces, so too has its reputation. The exhibition’s final section looks at developments in the German techno get around with the establishment of Berlin’s Berghain and Tresor. It also explores technology intend, from synthesisers to the lights that illuminate the dark spaces. “There’s innumerable of a feeling of ‘we’re doing something incredible here and we should be protecting the architectural afters’,” Hassard adds.


An exhibition designed with “disco twinkling of an eyes”

V&A Dundee’s Night Fever explores the design history of the world’s most famous clubs
Courtesy of Michael McGurk

The exhibition has been designed by Munich-based studio Oha. Co-founders Sami Ayadi and Jan Heinzelmann set out to develop a space that reflected the themes of the exhibition, with an emphasis on uncovering and graphics inspired by the real-life venues. A neon Night Fever conspicuous opens the exhibition, while a colour-changing light display creates shadows of queuing visitants on the wall.

Lights are set up on rigs throughout the exhibition, and details aim to be period correct. “The idea is to use the right lights from the right era,” the designers say. This widens to other details of the exhibition. In an early section, a black and white grid wallpaper is enchanted from a pattern at Italy’s Superstudio, for example. In a later room, Peter Saville’s Haçienda persuasion has been reinterpreted on a wall.

V&A Dundee’s Night Fever explores the design history of the world’s most famous clubs
Courtesy of Michael McGurk

Ayadi and Heinzelmann entertain used the practical elements to create a sense of mood too. For example, divide ups are divided by a metallic silver curtain so that areas are distinct but placid evocative. “It doesn’t just divide the section but it gives the 80s section a disco look with specifications to Studio 54,” the designers explain.

One of the highlights of the exhibitions is an “infinity cell” which doubles as a silent disco, Ayadi and Heinzelmann say. Visitors take up a mirrored pathway which have LED strips. “The mirrors give you an infinity desire,” the team adds. There are headphones for visitors with different playlists, from descendants to disco. “You really get the feeling like you’re in a nightclub – it’s a disco moment where people absolutely start to dance,” they say.


Creating an “authentic view” of clubbing

Glasgow-based conception studio Too Gallus has created Night Fever’s identity, which showcases four days from clubbing history. The studio has also designed a series of idents for the fair’s social channels and to play on displays at the venue. “The identity could cause easily slipped into a parody of itself,” studio founder Barrington Reeves suggests. “First and foremost, we wanted to speak to people in that world and been knotty in clubbing.”

Reeves describes clubbing as “second nature” to him; his father was labyrinthine associated with in the Haçienda and his mother was involved with the Northern Soul movement. The inquiry phase involved talking to relatives and family friends to get an “authentic see of what clubbing was like at the time”, he says. This helped the studio to last against a cliché view of the clubbing, according to Reeves.

V&A Dundee’s Night Fever explores the design history of the world’s most famous clubs
Dance floor at New York’s Xenon in 1979. Ceremony of Bill Bernstein

The identity spans four periods of clubbing, with credentials to Jewel’s Catch One bar in Los Angeles and 1980s nightclubs in Miami. These visuals catalogue familiar icons like smiley face pin badges as well as the more technically-advanced view of contemporary Ibiza nightclubs. For observant viewers, there are ‘easter eggs’ – cryptic clues – in each of the scenes, Reeves explains. For the 1980s club era, the lighting fitments are accurate to the time, for example.

“We felt like the identity would be best-selling if one person who experienced clubbing at the time saw it and recognised it,” he says. “The right man will see the right things.”


Night Fever: Designing Club Education is running at V&A Dundee from 1 May 2021 – 9 January 2022. Tickets start from £6 and more news about booking and opening times is available on the V&A Dundee website.

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