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A Magazine for Sheffield

Jim Ottewill Out of Space

Author Jim Ottewill's new book is a fantastic exploration of clubs, their associated cultures and the sanctuary they still give to generations of the nation's youth in good times and bad.

by DJ Tat

Fabric in London opened in 1999.

Rio65trio on Wikimedia Commons.

We have a very close relationship in the UK with the spaces we inhabit in the after-hours to dance with friends and strangers. That relationship goes back decades, and author Jim Ottewill has researched those spaces that are more than just concrete and steel but a whole network of memories, emotions and shared experiences.

Velocity Press have quickly become a leading light within a genre of literature that explores the many facets of club and dance music culture. To the outsider club culture is a tag-team of DJing and drugs, but it cuts much deeper than that. Ottewill explores the physical spaces that often form the backstory to the music. These locations are culturally and economically important, and hold a lot of fond memories for generations of clubbers.

As with previous Velocity releases, Ottewill’s book is thoroughly researched and a must-read for the legions of clubbers who speak with genuine fondness about their own sanctuaries where they danced until the sun came up. This is not just a book that recounts those heady days and the real estate that hosted them, but one that discovers the important role pirate radio and soundsystem culture played in it all. Thankfully, it’s not just a book that looks backward but also casts an eye to the future – one that is ever more digital, delivering a rallying cry to those who continue to fight for clubs to remain within sight of not just clubbers but policy-makers and community leaders.

Beyond mere architecture, these buildings were and are hubs for creative people and their followers to co-exist in. Ottewill notes grimly how venues have been under threat for some time, not just since the advent of Covid, but other existential attacks. These buildings, often found in desirable locations, fall foul of over-zealous local councils and are easy prey to building developers keen to make fast money. This book is a testament to some of those battles, won and lost.

The author has not just cherry picked the big names – we also hear about some of the nights that are long forgotten or were for only for those in the know. We hear how these clubs launched careers which continue to flourish 30 years later. We hear from those involved with clubs that have survived longer than most. Special praise is heaped on DJ Harri, the ultimate resident from the legendary Sub Club in Glasgow, which proudly states: “Founded in 1987”.

Out of space

Out of Space takes us back before the halcyon acid house days to clubs that carved their own way regardless of problems with councils, criminals and a lack of crowds. It can be easy to associate a city with a single club when in fact they were just one of many in the urban environment, each with their story and part of a lively and ever-changing ecosystem. There is no shortage of interviews from club legends and those in the shadows as Ottewill winds his way across the country from Scotland through to Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and London.

Most importantly, the book goes beyond the four walls of each club to the urban sprawl that surrounds it as we’re taken on a local history tour. The author reminds us that clubs and parties, despite operating on the fringes of society, are an integral part of our culture, and many of us have gone through our own rights of passage, often travelling miles to experience our favourite clubs. Clubs and their supporting infrastructure not only have a heritage worth saving but also one worthy of capturing for posterity in a book – something which Ottewill has done justice to.

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