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food / travel

Italy's Legendary Clubbing Scene Gives Way To The Nomadic Dance Life

Four decades ago, there were 9,000 dance clubs in Italy. Today, there are just 3,000. Where is everyone going instead, and why?

Image of a beach nightclub in Costa Smeralda

Beach nightclub in Costa Smeralda, Italy

Franco Giubilei

ROME — As the sun sets on one era, a new one comes, at least for the dancing bodies of young Italians: they dance on the beach, on agricultural sites, or in villas rented out and made available for partying.

They dance wherever there is a DJ, space to move and enough isolation so as not to anger any neighbors.

Gianni Indino, national director of Silb, an association for club management, records the number of club parties every weekend in the Romagna area, especially in the summer when numbers surge drastically. “The other night, on the coast of Rimini, three club managers agreed to join forces and organize an event by the beach, which brought in 5,000 people," he says. Holding these events outside of regular venues makes these parties "extremely irregular," he says. "Hygienic measures were certainly not up to standard considering that the three managers offered one bathroom each.”

This is just one example of the new fashions taking place in the Roman seaside, which has always been a popular space for nightlife. But this is a tradition that is now expanding like an oil spill on all of our coasts, Indino tells us: “Now, it’s the same everywhere. From the Venetian coast down Romagna to Lazio, Tuscany, Liguria ... It’s the same thing in Sicily and Sardinia.”

Dance under the stars

It’s true that dancing in front of the sea is an irresistible scenario, but unregulated events can also cause damage. "There have been parties organised by agrotourism in order to promote local products such as olives or even sushi that turned out to be complete scams. It’s these abusive situations, wherever they may happen, that take away clients from more regulated clubs," Indino says. "Our world, which has been reduced to 3,000 venues, employs around 35,000 people. And still, for every irregular party that we find, three more pop up."

Whilst the spirit of dancing victorious, there are casualties.

In Italy’s modern DIY partying scene there is another phenomenon which continuously pops up: the rental of villas that come with DJ equipment. These events often happen near Rome, and are frequented by teens. Whilst the spirit of dancing wherever reigns victorious, there are casualties: “Two out of three nightclubs are closing down nowadays. Long gone are the golden days of the 80s and 90s," says Indino.

Also speaking out is another experienced nightclub voice, DJ Cirillo, star of the Cocoricó, known as one of the best techno clubs in the country for several years now. He explains his thoughts on the exodus from venues and into the beaches, or wherever else, “A lot of people feel freed when they dance in places where they don’t need to pay an entrance fee, where they can stay as long as they please, most of the time enjoying the open-air, drinking what they want, and for cheap, too. Nightclubs imply long lines, high prices and oftentimes tricky transportation methods.”

And voilà, boys and girls migrate to greener fields, ones that lack the constraints of institutional organization: they drink at the beach bar, dance on the sand and even, if the night calls for it, take a midnight dip in the sea.

Photo taken inside of the Ritual Club, where young people drink by the bar. The nightclub is set inside of a cave-like structure.

The Ritual Club in Costa Smeralda.


Adapting and embracing these changes

And what about the dying nightclubs? How is it that such iconic staples of the Italian provinces that just 10 to 20 years ago brought in hundreds of thousands of customers have turned into vestiges for bygone eras?

“The real explosion of nightclubs, or discos, occurred from the end of the 70’s through the 80’s and all the way until the new century," DJ Cirillo says. "We really experienced clubbing culture at its height in Italy, but in the last few years that energy has depleted. Nowadays, only Ibiza can hold its head up in the game. The truth is that there were too many options, and most of those options were lacking in quality.”

The Silb agency has calculated the decline: 40 years ago, during the disco golden age, there were 8,000-9,000 venues in Italy. Today, between 3,000 and 3,500 are hanging on.

We can zoom into these numbers and examine a particularly famous area for partying: Rimini, where there were once 150 establishments. Today, there are just 40. This is an irreversible trend, and a sign of decline that, as always, will nevertheless move us forward, and where people will continue dancing, says DJ Cirillo, “It’s impossible to turn back time and live in the past. Fortunately, it is possible to adapt, like my club the Cocoricó did, renovating to fulfill the requests of the modern music scene. We must also consider the impact of social media, ever-evolving and intruding, that plays a role in the lack of creativity in many venues. It’s a reality that interest dies when something takes too much effort to follow.”

Moving beyond the 80s and 90s spirit

We must not have too much nostalgia for a past that cannot be re-lived, and acknowledge current trends.

It is true that in the 80s and 90s there were entrepreneurial spirits who made history in the nightclub scene — from Paradiso Rimini to Babylos to Cocoricó itself — but the new nomadic nightlife can be managed and could even lead to venue models never seen before.

The flow of audiences, these experts say, must be accommodated and organized, according to the appropriate rules. As the saying goes, if the mountain won’t go to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain.

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