Nightclubs around the world are getting in step with the environment, employing ingenious methods for cutting down on energy consumption.
On first glance it looks like a squatter's home; the bathtub is a sofa, there are melted CDs used as tabletops and large construction drums double as tables and chairs. But Bar Surya, located in London's King's Cross neighbourhood, is actually an environmental oasis amid one of the busiest and most polluted intersections in the British capital.
Almost everything in the club - named after the Hindu sun god - has been recycled, reclaimed or made from sustainable material; hemp curtains cover the ground-floor windows while newspapers, postcards and CDs are used as wallpaper and discarded paint has been remixed to create nature-themed murals. The chairs, found in rubbish heaps, have been repainted and recovered with a black-and-white jungle fabric. Part of the club's electricity comes from the two wind turbines and solar panels fitted on the roof. The state-of-the-art dance floor uses crystals to generate light, and the club owners hope one day soon it will be able to generate more than half of the club's electricity.
The eco-friendliness doesn't end with the party space; waterless urinals in the men's room and low-flush toilets in the ladies' help save water. So far most clubbers seem more attracted to Bar Surya's house and funk soul nights than by its eco-friendly theme. But, says the bar's director, Paul Edwards, the venue hopes to draw people in with great music and then show guests how easy it is to be green. "We just want people to come in and have a good time and go away with the idea that even if they change their lives by 10 per cent they can still make a difference," he says. "If they aren't aware of their individual impact on the environment, we make sure they know in a positive way by the time they leave."
Bar Surya is just one of a growing number of clubs across the globe that are sustainable. Promoters and investors with a conscience have developed these "green clubbing" locales where groovers can still sway to the trance and drum and base music they love without being detrimental to the environment. Though it may seem counterintuitive (clubs are known more for their loud music than for recycling and saving on energy consumption) venues such as New York City's Greenhouse, Rotterdam's WATT and San Francisco's Temple have gone completely green and are hoping to get other places to follow suit.
The average medium-sized club (think Pacha in Ibiza) uses, according to the British clubbing magazine MixMag, 150 times the energy of a typical household and produces about 12,000 litres of glass for recycling each weekend. So companies such as Rotterdam's Sustainable Dance Club (SDC) have not only developed a dance floor that is powered entirely by clubbers stomping (their movement is converted into electricity by an electromagnetic generator that provides five watts of power per one metre of dance floor tile) but it is also consulting with clubs and festivals in places such as India, China, Brazil and the US to help them become more environmentally friendly. "Just because something is sustainable does not mean it cannot be fun, and so that is why we focused on dance clubs," says the SDC's Vera Verkooijen. "You do not stop doing the things that you like, but you can do them in another way."
Clubbing in a different way was the focus of a seminar at the Winter Music Conference in Miami earlier this year. Though the majority of people who make the pilgrimage to the WMC go to dance to the music that will be played in clubs from Stockholm to Shanghai this summer, some also attend to discuss the latest trends in technology, sound and social movements. One of the seminars, titled Green Initiatives in the Music Industry, focused on green clubbing and conservation. Audience members from places such as Venezuela, the Czech Republic and Canada asked how the industry could become more sustainable when it is dependent upon DJs and clubbers travelling across the globe for dance parties and burning up millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in flights. Part of the answer may be a new consortium - www.greenclubbing.org - set up earlier this year to help promoters, owners, DJs and industry insiders work together to promote green practices at clubs and festivals around the world.
Greenclubbing.org's immediate focus is to get next year's WMC green, while its overall aim is to give the worldwide clubbing community access to information and resources about sustainable practices. Some of the things it recommends are flyers without UV sheens, getting DJs to offset their carbon footprint and recycling sound gear and vinyl. It also hopes to set up an industry-standard certification for venues, printers and clubs that meet still-to-be-determined requirements. "After many years in the music and nightlife industry, we saw there was a general prevalence of promoters, artists and clubbers wanting to do good things but oftentimes not knowing how to get started," says the greenclubbing.org founder Dax Lee, who also sat on the WMC panel. "There is a whole lot of confusion about what it takes to get green or to make an event environmentally friendly so we really wanted to create a resource site so that people in the industry, and the clubbers, could find out what they can do that is practical."
One of the more practical (and obvious) answers is for music lovers to go to clubs that are already green. In New York's Nolita neighbourhood, Greenhouse has been a success since it opened late last year with fans such as Jay-Z, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kevin Spacey coming in to get down on the bamboo dance floor. The bathrooms have low-flow sink faucets and waterless urinals, and the walls are covered in moss.
In Rotterdam, the SDC people (who are currently consulting on a new club being built in Shanghai) helped set up the 1,800-capacity club WATT. The green venue, which opened last year, uses the patented Sustainable Dance Floor (which costs about Dh1.25 million to build) recycled cups, and wind turbines to help avoid fossil fuels. It claims to use 50 per cent less carbon emissions, 50 per cent less water and waste and 30 per cent less electricity than a club of similar size. At San Francisco's Temple, people lounge on sofas and drink from biodegradable cups made from corn starch. The 1,000-capacity club is lit with LED lights while grease from the kitchen is donated to make alternative biodiesel fuels. "Green clubbing is a growing trend, not a passing fad," says Mike Zukerman, Temple's director of sustainability. "The nightclub scene is culturally influential and [we can] really bring about behavioural change."
One behaviour that is proving difficult to address is that of DJs who have to fly in for shows. Some of the more high-profile spin doctors such as Steve Aoki, Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk could play Tokyo one weekend and then jet off to New York and then Berlin a few days later. "The impact of clubbing on the environment is unfortunately very big for the simple reason that international DJs clock up the air miles like nobody else in the world," says Duncan Dick, the features editor for MixMag. Some DJs such as Richie Hawtin support the moves of greenclubbing.org and have called on other DJs to follow. D:Fuse, who recently relocated to LA, uses electricity from renewable resources in his studio, has banned bottled water and has plans to do a charity bike ride across the US to raise awareness about climate change. "I was based in Austin and flying to LA to do my studio work," he says. "I loved living in Austin and did not mind the monthly commute, but it just seemed really wasteful." The DJ Dax Lee thinks that if more performers such as D:Fuse forced the green issue, there could be industry-wide change. "If the Eric Morillos or the Pete Tongs told a nightclub they would not play till they came up with a recycling programme, the clubs would respond almost immediately," Lee says.
While green clubbing has made inroads in places such as London, New York, Rotterdam and Denver the Spanish island of Ibiza has a dearth of eco-clubs. On this haven for club-goers mega-discos like Pacha, Amnesia and Space have not installed any eco-friendly technology nor do they have any immediate plans to do so. When asked if there were any plans to implement green technology into any of their clubs, a spokesperson for Pacha said there were not. "The waste at these clubs that can house three to 4,000 people a night is unreal," says Lee.
It's left to people like Chris Dews, director of the Ibiza-based environmental organisation Greenheart, to provide an eco-friendly alternative. During Greenheart's Earth Celebration, which coincides with the summer solstice, festivities include a beach clean-up and after party, a sunset dinner and an all-night eco-disco under the stars. While Greenheart doesn't have the capability to transform its party into a human-powered discotheque, it does use available resources to keep energy consumption low. Using radio transmitters instead of cabled speakers and reclaimed wood, Greenheart plans to temporarily construct a dance floor near a local beach bar, using less energy and causing less noise pollution. Additionally, all cups and dinnerware are biodegradable and recycled. While Greenheart's events are admittedly more family-friendly than places such as Bar Surya or WATT, all have the same goal: to promote environmental awareness while having a good time. We can all dance to that.