Jessica Hocking


The aim of this research was to investigate the creation of a club space in Plymouth through the use of ethnographic methods, especially participant observation.  Some academics note the difficulty of researching a group that one is part of due to the thoughts and feelings that one would carry into the field, as noted in the methodology section,


“The more familiar the situation to you, the more likely you are able to make premature judgements and the more effort you will have to make to avoid them” (Kane 1984:54).


However, I have felt that my previous experience of the group has been advantageous to my research.  I have gained easy access to those that I wished to talk to and found it easy to be covert in my research approach as my presence was not unusual.  I have been able to investigate issues that I had observed in my life as a Plymouth clubber before I undertook this research.  For a researcher unfamiliar with the underground music scene in Plymouth the information that I have collected and the observations that I have made would have taken a great deal longer to achieve.  It may not have even been possible for an unfamiliar researcher to have gained access to the core group of locals within the Plymouth music scene, let alone gain their trust in order to discuss particular issues, as it has taken me two to three years to become a part of this group.  My previous friendships with members of the group allowed me to observe if they were lying to me during casual conversations and then confront them.  My in depth knowledge of Plymouth and its youth scene allowed me to make observations and assumptions that would have taken a great deal longer to reach if I was conducting the study in an unfamiliar urban area. 


I did not encounter any major difficulties in conducting my research.  The biggest problem was trying to talk to people in such a loud venue.  The consumption of a couple of drinks certainly helped me to relax and approach people, however, the desire to join in and get drunk was rather strong and was probably one of the most difficult limitations to overcome!  As I mentioned in the introduction to this study, finding relevant literature to back up my findings was somewhat difficult.  There are not as many references within the study as I would have hoped for, however, I feel the references that I have included illustrate my work well and I have discussed some points which I hope others may research further in the future. 


The research undertaken has highlighted the importance of the feeling of a sense of place and belonging to the youth involved in the underground music scene in Plymouth.  I had assumed before starting my research that this would be an important factor in defining the Bus Stop as a club space and was one of the main reasons that I chose to embark on this study.  I discovered that due to the recent large influx of students to the city the locals have felt that they were taking over the youth music scene and now with the opening of the Bus Stop the locals have gained back some of ‘their’ territory, “humans like to have a pocket of space around them which is ‘theirs’ and they resent others ‘invading’ their space” (Storey, 2001:6).  I have shown how these locals have marked out their territory within the Bus Stop through their behaviour, local graffiti and music.


I have demonstrated how music gives meaning to spaces and those within the space and also how those within the space give meaning to the music via their cultural background, thus creating specific atmospheres, as Bennett puts it, “on the one hand music informs ways of being in particular social spaces; on the other hand, music functions as a resource whereby individuals are able to actively construct those spaces in which they live” (2000:195).  The music was the most important factor for attracting people to the Bus Stop, the second most important being because friends frequented the venue, this links with the need to belong, to be part of the crowd,


“There is nothing man [sic] fears more than the touch of the unknown…it is only in a crowd that a man can become free of this fear of being touched…as soon as a man has surrendered himself to the crowd, he ceases to fear its touch”

(Canetti, 1973 in Malbon, 1999:71).


This study has shown the importance to the youth of Plymouth of belonging to a social group and having a space which they can call their own and the varying different ways in which they mark their territory.  It has shown how social groups feel the need to be part of the ‘other’, to be able to distinguish themselves from other groups and how they use music and musical spaces to confirm their identities and mark out their territories.  The work of Bennett (2000) has shown that these desires are also applicable to other urban areas, such as Newcastle.  However, I do not feel that there would be such a core group of locals in a city that was larger than Plymouth.  Plymouth is really a village city, where everyone tends to know everyone else within their cultural group, and it is because of this that there is the core group.  A larger city would have more cultural spaces and therefore more cultural groupings, so although there would most probably be a core group for each cultural space, they would tend to be smaller and not so dominant as Plymouth’s core group.


It would be interesting to follow the development of The Bus Stop to discover if it looses its local identity and becomes more of a student oriented venue in the future.  My belief is that it will not as the owners, and those involved in running the club, realise the importance of being able to provide a space of locals to call their own,


“when the people inside a club feel like they belong to ‘The Club’, a dance event will gain a special quality, which gives a sensation of ‘stepping’ out of one’s ‘ordinary’ way of experiencing the self.  A fragile moment of a sense of belonging to a community is thereby set up, which needs protection” (Rietveld, 1998:175).


Rietveld goes on to note how this community can be protected and defined,


“selective advertising and door policy as well as certain choice of space (neighbourhood, accessibility and visual design) and music (mellow or fast and aggressive) can add to the prevention of this temporary community falling apart” (175).


This sort of local community protection does appear to be happening in the Bus Stop at present.  However, with new influxes of students each year, this may change.  When people move into an area they will always try and fit into certain groups and spaces and it may be that with the new arrival of students in September, they choose the Bus Stop as a space to make their own.





Research Diary


Saturday 25th January 2003


I asked Mitch to give me Tom’s phone number as I know he’s involved in the managing of the club.  I then called him to ask if I could do some research there for my dissertation.  When I called him, Mitch had already given him a ring and asked him for me.  Tom passed me onto Andy, who owns the Bus Stop.  Andy said it was fine and we arranged to meet on Friday afternoon to discuss what I wanted to do and meet the staff.


Friday 31st January


I went to meet Andy and let him know what I wanted to do.  I didn’t really go into a great deal of detail because I don’t think he would have really understood.  I just told him I wanted to research the club seeing as it was a brand new venue in Plymouth.  I had my first look inside.  The club is great, it’s a pretty big space and all of the walls are decorated with graffiti, got to get some photos – note – arrange a day with Emma to go down with her digital camera to take some photos.  Andy introduced me to all of the staff and let them know I was doing research so that I wouldn’t have to pay to get in, he was also happy to let Emma (who’s now my research assistant) come with me all of the time, which is good as I wouldn’t want to go there every weekend by myself and it’s not really safe to be walking through the city centre late at night by myself.  I asked Andy to tell me what their hopes were for the club and what sort of nights they’d be running, he told me it was best to speak to Tom as he was in charge of that sort of thing and Andy was concentrating on his other club.  I wasn’t able to go later on as I had other commitments but arranged to start my research tomorrow.


Saturday 1st February


Opening Saturday night. Combination of Flava/Jungle Fresh/Graffiti Beatz.


Free to get in and a free glass of cheap fizzy wine for everyone.


Good mixture of people aged from 18 to about 40.  All of the normal crew there.  Good atmosphere, everyone was happy.  Spoke to a few local people that I knew and asked their impressions so far.  Good feedback.  The décor is very popular and people were saying that they felt comfortable there.  The club is dark with good club lighting.  Two bouncers on the door, firm but friendly.


Some cheap drinks, selected bottles of beer and alcopops £1.50.  Asked people why they had come, most indicated they wanted to check out the new club.




Friday 7th February


Was a salsa class going on at a cost of £6 per person. The club was very empty, we went down quite early, about 8.30pm.  Was told by one of the bar staff that they open up later for a salsa music night.  We stayed for a couple of hours and a few people wandered in and out again.  Did an informal interview with Tom to find out what the Bus Stop was all about.  I decided that next Friday we’d come down a bit later to see if it livened up at all later on in the night.



Saturday 8th February


Flava tonight which is hip-hop.  We got down there just before 11pm and already the place was busy.  Flava already has a name for itself in Plymouth as they’ve been running nights for quite a few years.  I asked people what had encouraged them to come.  Some students I spoke to said that they’d come last week and really liked the venue.  I asked some of the locals I know and they said they’d come to support Flava as they know the man who runs it and have always come along to support him.  I noticed that some of the backdrops on the walls are the ones that they used to have in the Cooperage, I commented on this to some of the core locals who said it added to the ‘at home’ feel that the club had.  One local told me that Plymouth had been crying out for a place like the Bus Stop, we discussed how there has always been a venue that ‘everyone’ goes to, first it was the Warehouse, then the Cooperage, then the Candy Store and now the Bus Stop, but it has been a while between the Candy Store changing to Zanzibar, which is rubbish, and the opening of the Bus Stop.  There were all kinds of local people there.  Some said that they really liked the venue as they know that all of their friends will go there.  Some commented that they go out to certain venues in Plymouth that their friends won’t go to so it was good to have a place where everyone could go.  There were a lot of people dancing, the girls were the first on the dance floor and I noticed the men just stood around the edge chatting or watching.  This changed later when everyone had had a few drinks and all started to dance.  As we were leaving, I asked people if they would come again and most people were very positive saying that they’d really enjoyed it and liked the atmosphere and the people there and that the music was really good.  One clubber said it was good to have a club that played decent music and not just cheesy chart and drum ‘n’ bass, which is prevalent in most venues in Plymouth.  I decided that I wanted to find out, by conducting a questionnaire, if the fact that the club felt like a locals venue was a really important factor.


Friday 14th February


We went down at about 11.30pm and the club was completely empty apart from the staff.  They told me that no one had been in all evening.  We sat and had a drink and discussed why they felt tonight was such a disaster.  We came to the agreement that salsa music was not that popular in Plymouth and as there was already one club offering that style of music it might be better to offer something that was not readily available in Plymouth.  The management told me that they had decided to keep closed on Fridays for a while and maybe try and sort out some house music nights for the future.  The club closed at midnight.


Saturday 15th February


Tonight was Graffiti Beatz.  This is a new night run by a popular local DJ.  We arrived early at about 10pm and the club was really empty.  There were a small number of the core locals there supporting their friend but not many others.  There was a big night on at the Student Union tonight, but it was expensive so everyone was hoping that it might get busier later on when the pubs kicked out.  There were a few girls dancing but not a great deal going on.  I spoke to the few people that were there and asked them why they had come tonight.  Most were either friends of the DJ and had come to support him or were friends of the staff.  We stayed until midnight and the club did not get any busier.  The staff told me that they were going to close shortly.  I asked all of the people there to fill out my quick survey but only got about 25 completed.


Saturday 22nd February


Jungle Fresh on tonight.  This is another long running Plymouth club night.  I knew it was going to be busy as all of my friends had phoned me asking if I was going out.  We arrived at about 11.15pm and already the place was pretty busy.  The atmosphere was great and there were lots of people dancing already.  Drum ‘n’ bass is very popular in Plymouth, especially with the students and the name Jungle Fresh always pulls a big local crowd.  There was a different atmosphere from the previous two Saturdays.  The people there were pretty much the same ones who were there the other nights, but the music was different.  I checked with the bouncers at 1.15am and was told there were 280 people in there, not bad for a club that has only been open for three weeks.  I managed to complete about 75 questionnaires, asking people outside as they left.  The club stayed open until about 3am.  I observed the core locals had taken over the sofas by the bar and everyone who knew each other seemed to congregate there.  As they came in they all greeted each other and the staff.  You could notice a student/local divide, not that they were not talking to each other, just in the areas within the club where they were seated/standing.  The locals tend to gather around the DJ box or on the sofas by the bar, stating their claim on the space by always ensuring some of them remain there throughout the night.


Saturday 1st March


Flava again tonight.  Again this was a busy night, I checked with the bouncers at about 1am and was told that there was 208 people inside the club.  Pretty much the same things going on as other nights.  The core locals were all there again.  I spoke to some asking them if they feel they will frequent the club often and was told that they are happy that the club is doing well and supporting the local music scene.  Tonight, they had local hip-hop outfits performing, The Cohorts and Gertbiggun.  There were quite a few people from outside of Plymouth that had come for the night as they had heard about it from friends living in Plymouth or through the southwest music magazine “Twenty-four-seven”.  Again, I noticed the girls were first on the dance floor.  I noticed a couple of girls looking bored in the corner and went over and spoke to them asking them if they were enjoying themselves.  One of them told me that she was only there because her boyfriend had dragged her along and she hated the music but went because she didn’t want to stay in by herself.  They were both happy to tell others that they didn’t really like the music.  I noticed a male friend, who I know doesn’t like hip-hop and asked him why he was there?  He told me he did like it.  I wondered why he had lied then I realized he was with his mates and asked him again later when he was alone and he told me the truth!  The club stayed open late again tonight and I managed to ask another 75 questionnaires.


Saturday 8th March


I have decided to make tonight the last night of my study as I have to write it up and it’s going to take ages!  I’ll probably still keep coming socially anyway so if I discover something really interesting after tonight I can always come back.


It was Jungle Fresh again tonight and they had a big guest DJ in, it was the busiest I’d seen the club since it had opened.  It was really hot and sweaty, people (both locals and students) told me that is the way a drum ‘n’ bass club should be like.  I asked them why they had that idea and was told that it’s like other drum ‘n’ bass clubs they had been to and the dirty, underground feel fitted well with the style of music and the Bus Stop supported that kind of image well.  I spoke to people and asked them why they liked certain music and what images/attitudes different styles of music displayed.  The locals again highlighted how good it was to have a locals’ venue and how they felt at home there.  This really has been the main thing that I’ve discovered, that and how they tend to guard their territory and define their territory.  Asked the remaining 25 questionnaires and had a dance!