It is nineteen ninety-three perhaps, or maybe ninety four.
Whatever the year, it is certainly late. It is nearly one o’clock in the morning.
We are in a dark roughhouse basement room. The walls are carelessly painted in a matt black emulsion as are the wooden benches that occupy various spaces around the perimeter. However, it is far too dark to make out any of these features clearly. There is also the odd cluster of more comfortable seating – little wooden stools with upholstered seats, and maybe a low table amongst them. That is as good as it gets here.
The larger of the two main features in the room is the bar which runs along the left hand wall. A rush of bodies stand in front of it, waiting their turn to be served by the flustered staff. The other feature stands in the far right hand corner of the room. It looks like a small brickwork structure, about a metre and a half wide, by a metre tall, by half a metre deep. It emits a dim glow of light from its centre, and a cluster of young people stand around it. This, one senses, is the focus of the space.
On closer inspection one can make out a DJ (the headphones are a giveaway) behind the brickwork. Turntables and a mixer have been placed on the flat surface of this structure, and between them sits a mixing unit and the dim light. A perspex shield is attached to the rear edge of the structure, protecting the back of the turntables from drinks and the public one supposes. There are boxes of records behind the structure and one feels the frenetic energy of the DJ seeking to select and cue up the next tune so as to maintain the audio energy in the room.
This is Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom.
This is a sea-facing thoroughfare named Ship Street.
This is the Jazz Rooms.
Energy explodes here. It pops and crackles and fizzes, an excitable, serene – spiritual – energy expressed in the dancing. You’ll find no formal dancing here; no couples, no pre-planned moves. Here there be inspiration, improvisation and innovation. People – young mainly, but not exclusively so – are throwing their bodies about in time with the music. Some are fast, others slow. There are individuals who purvey intricate footwork while others are only capable of basic steps. There are drunk ones, stoned ones, high ones and various combinations thereof. To the uninitiated observer this is a scene of bodies writhing in the darkness, but to the dancer, this is a secret lake in a forest, or a tropical dreamscape, or the secluded beach of their dreams. The dank condensation-dripping ceiling is an unbroken vista of azure sky. The sticky floor, verdant lawns in May.
These people are lost. They are lost to greed. They are lost to envy and hatred. Strangers are they to avarice and coveting. Violence is a word they can barely understand. In their hearts at this moment, this frozen instant of the mindful moment, they are love. They are the shimmering, glowing oneness of love. They are connected to each other by the rhythm, the melody and the inspiration. The invisible string passing from recording to DJ to dancer to DJ to eternity.
And at five minutes to two a.m. the DJ puts on the last record. He’s agonised over this choice for the last half-hour. This record is the command module that returns the dancers back to the here and now and as such is of great importance in the night’s proceedings. With this record, the theme of the night can be extended but at the same time encapsulated in an aural orgasm of bliss. The record can be something odd or jarring, perhaps a little too new, or a little too old. It will, however bridge the gap between earth and heaven, and allow the dancers to exist simultaneously in both domains.
The lights always come on in the middle of the last track. A momentous moment, for while we are still dancing in other worlds, we yet see our everyday reality around us, and we fully comprehend the entirety of things.
Our coats and hats reclaimed, we stumble out onto Brighton’s stony beach. Maybe we’d share a spliff and silently look at the stars for a while, searching for a glimpse of that brief and recently-abandoned abode that we’d found and lost a few moments before on the dancefloor of