Jessica Hocking

This dissertation is an ethnographic study of night club culture in Plymouth, Devon.  Participant observation was used to research a newly opened night club, The Bus Stop, in order to discover why clubbing was important to the youth of Plymouth.


This study gives background information on the city of Plymouth and highlights how it has always enjoyed a buzzing nightlife, from when it was a large naval port, providing entertainment for sailors on shore leave to its status today as a busy student city.


I have also looked at some of the work on youth subcultures by members of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and examined its relevance to modern day youth subcultures.  There is a review of some of the literature available on club culture, although, I have noted that not a great deal has actually been written about the experience and importance of club culture, there is however much more literature on the history of the rave and club scenes.


Music is very important in defining spaces and I have explored how music gives meaning to spaces and those within those spaces give meaning to the music.

I have shown the importance of belonging to social groups and particular youth orientated spaces to the youth of Plymouth.  I examined how the core group of local clubbers feel the need to have a local space and how they territorialize these spaces through subconscious behaviour and more obvious means such as graffiti. 


All of the research was undertaken in my home town and many of those that I have observed have been members of my social group.  I have a great deal of background knowledge on club culture in Plymouth and have used this to allow me access to social and cultural areas that may not have been available to a researcher who was not a local.



This dissertation is an ethnographic study of nightclub culture in Plymouth.  I decided to focus on one club in particular, The Bus Stop (see plate 0.1).  This is a new club which opened on 31st January 2003 and is open throughout the week, it is a café selling food and drinks throughout the day and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights it is a nightclub. 

Plate 0.1 – The exterior of the Bus Stop, Bretonside Bus Station, Plymouth.


I wanted to research a topic that is of interest to me and is already part of my life.  I first went clubbing in Plymouth aged 15 and have regularly been out clubbing in Plymouth since then.  Since the summer of 2000, I have been involved further as many of my friends either DJ or run club nights in various venues in Plymouth.    Plymouth has always had a popular nightclub scene and during the mid to late 1990s was drawing clubbers from all over the southwest and from further afield, this will be discussed further in chapter 1.  I wanted to investigate this scene further as I wanted to find out why going out clubbing is so important to the youth of today, this will be discussed in greater detail in chapter 2.


Chapter 3 will be the methodology section where I will discuss the research methods I have chosen and explain why I felt that these were the best methods to use.  I will also give a review of feminist geography and why I feel that feminist methodologies are important to my chosen method of study.  Chapter 4 will be an analysis of the results and I will go into great detail about what I discovered whilst undertaking my research and the importance of my findings. 


Rather than study an already established nightclub venue in Plymouth I felt that it may offer greater information on the development of the club scene to study a new club, that plus the fact that I know the owner and many of the DJs who play there, prompted me to choose The Bus Stop as the location for my study.  Using a new venue as the location for my study will hopefully provide an insight into the creation of a nightclub space, what makes a nightclub a nightclub, and will allow me to investigate the importance of this kind of space to the youth of Plymouth.


As I have been a local resident in Plymouth for many years and know the city very well, much of the background information provided will be from my own knowledge and experience as will many of the current observations of Plymouth and The Bus Stop.


Although, since the Birmingham C.C.C.S. (discussed in Chapter 2.) was set up, there has been a great deal written on youth subcultures, very little research has been conducted on night club culture as a youth subculture, especially using the ethnographic methods that I have used.  During the course of my background reading for this study I came across a relatively large selection of writings and research about dance music and rave culture, this tended to focus on the rave scene of the late 1980s to early 1990s.  Although useful to my study, as much of the work discussed the meaning of music to youth and the importance of the rave revolution to the expansion of the modern day club scene, I was unable to find much up to date work on the club scene.  I came across numerous books on the history of the modern dance music scene, for example, Matthew Collin’s book entitled Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House, this is a fantastic history of the scene and many other writings that I have read have been influenced by this book, as the review on the back cover tells us, this book has become a seminal text on dance culture,


“From its first publication in 1997, Altered State established itself as the definitive text on dance culture…drawing on a wealth of background research and original interviews with key figures on both sides of the law, Altered State examines the causes and contexts, ideologies and myths of Ecstasy culture, dramatising its euphoric narrative from peak experience to comedown and aftermath, and shedding new light on the social history of the most spectacular youth movement of the century”

(Collin, 1997: back cover).


Although this book does offer some information on club culture, it mainly focuses on the rave and drug scenes in the UK and legislation introduced to combat them.


Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton’s book (1999), Last Night a DJ Saved my Life: The history of the disc jockey, is again more of a history book.  It charts the creation and rise of the DJ from their beginnings on American radio to the celebrity status that many DJs enjoy today.  This book does give more detail on the history of night clubs as they are synonymous with the DJ, but again very little is written about the experience of clubbing, what it means to youth and the social phenomena surrounding it.


There are, however, a few selected writings on this topic that I wish to discuss here, to give a background to the research already undertaken on contemporary night club culture.  Sarah Thornton’s book, Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, does look more at the sociology of club culture and also examines club spaces.  In describing what the book is about Thornton says, “I am concerned with the attitudes and ideals of the youthful insiders whose social lives revolve around clubs and raves” (1995:2).  Although Thornton conducted her research on clubs by being a participant observer, she was still an outsider in spaces she researched, mainly due to the fact that she is American and therefore lacking knowledge surrounding the UK club scene and she is also older than the average club goer, she highlights how these factors may have limited her research, “British ideologies about the mainstream baffled me where they might have been taken for granted by a British researcher” (108).


As I was researching a group that I am already part of, I tried to find some comparable research.  A book by Hillegonda Rietveld, This is out house: House music, cultural spaces and technologies, was exactly this, “this study can be seen as an example of how ethnography can work from the inside out” (1998:5).  Rietveld is part of the house music scene, she once produced house music and then decided to research it,


“it was during the course of doing research interviews for this project that I started to realise, with some bewilderment, how much I was actually part of the events which led to the articulation of house music.  Instead of walking into strange territory, I ended up being welcomed like a long lost member of the family…because of this the access to research material was relatively easier for me than for someone who had freshly entered this field of research” (261).


This is exactly my position in the field of my study.  I wanted to study the core group of local clubbers in Plymouth and their relationship to certain club spaces, during the course of the study I actually found that I was also researching myself as I am part of that core group.  This book however, focuses more on the different genres of house music and consists mainly of a history of influential DJs and music tracks.


Rietveld does, however, discuss the spaces in which house music is culturally produced and consumed, namely the club, “the social function of which is mainly that of a meeting place where, traditionally, one can play the ritual of mating on an uncommitted physical level and where one can forget one’s daily realities” (165).  She also discusses the cultural attachment that people may develop to certain spaces, a concept that I will discuss later on in this study.


I have completed a great deal of background reading on night club culture and dance music.  The books I have reviewed here give some idea as to the main focus of a lot of the literature relevant to this study.  It has been easy to find historic reviews of this culture but very little has been written about the importance of club culture and club spaces to today’s youth when creating identities and defining social territory, which are the main concepts examined in this study.


The understanding of youth cultures and space is an essential part of modern geography.  This study will examine the concept of insiders and outsiders in societal groupings and cultural spaces.  It will also examine how certain spaces are created and how people give meanings to spaces and spaces give meanings to people.  The importance of social territory will be discussed and how boundaries are created, transgressed and broken down and how important it is to have a sense of place, a feeling of belonging to somewhere.  All of these are important geographical issues and will be discussed in detail in this study.