Banks of TVs in forests, video-mapping onto pyramids, 3D copper skulls – how some of Glasgow's brightest lights are bringing a sense of occasion to clubbing.
A collective of radio geeks, visual artists, DJs and light, production and sound engineers, Vitamins has been challenging the standards of what it is to run a club night in Glasgow – and the UK – since 2009. Their parties are quickly becoming infamous for their creative set-ups and varied musical offerings, and their semi-regular club takeovers are never without a queue ‘round the block. With bookings as mixed as Lunice, Eclair Fifi, El-B and West Norwood Cassette Library, as well as providing an avenue for burgeoning local talent via Subcity Radio, Vitamins’ manifesto is a simple one: the venue is a playground, the bill a platform, and the venture an experiment. Never do the same thing twice, and whatever you do, give it everything you’ve got. Oh, and break the floorboards – and the bank – doing it.
Whilst Glasgow has bred a plethora of popular and respected club nights, most notably in recent years through the Numbers and LuckyMe collectives, there is something about Vitamins that manages to feel both decidedly Glaswegian and international at the same time. Two years in, the crew think they’re beginning to get it down to a fine art. One of the minds behinds Vitamins Sam Murray believes that there is something paradoxically both emblematic of and purposefully changeable about the Vitamins experiment: “When you go to a Vitamins party, there’ll always be a few characteristics – if it’s not in a typical club space, it’ll be in a space that you’ve never been in before, let alone thought about having a party in. If it’s in a club, then the likelihood is that it’s going to be the first time you’ve seen the club set out in that way. No matter what kind of music is getting played, the emphasis is on the crowd having a good time. Vitamins parties aren’t about standing about posing and showing off your new trainers, it’s about getting on your mates or a strangers shoulders and getting a bounce.”
Ah, ‘the bounce’, that wonderful Scottish phrase. It pops up a lot whilst talking to Shaun Murphy too, one of the production heads that runs Vitamins. It seems that the locality and atmosphere of Vitamins feeds an urgency that in turn drives the night and its entire set-up: “Glasgow clubs have an intensity and a bounce that comes from the licensing laws, which close the off-sales at 10pm, the pub at 12am and the club at 3am. You’ve got about 3 hours in the club to go from cloakroom queue vibes to punching fuck out the roof. That’s what we never forget – that short time to just kill it. We’re making a website right now, and I put a placeholder tag line into the template just off the top of my head, but it seems to fit quite well – ‘Vitamins, a Glasgow crew in pursuit of the ultimate bounce’. It’s the bounce that matters.”
“That sense of mystery in the run up to the event means that by the time people get to a location, they are 100% up for it”
The mission extends beyond just the exertions of the bodies on the dance floor however. Every event is meticulously curated to bring the crowds not just a few DJ sets in a dark room, but a truly multi-faceted sensory experience. Rather than stick to one venue and accompanying set-up for a regular monthly slot, Vitamins “try and change the medium as much as possible. Sometimes it’s video mapping, sometimes it’s a massive light show, or an installation, or it can be all three. It really just depends on the budget and the scale of the event. Money is such a restriction. For us to do what we want, we’d need to charge £25 a ticket – or have someone like Red Bull to sponsor us, ha.”
Whilst balancing the books can be an obstacle – often forfeiting DJ fees in favour of a better lights or speakers – it’s not all just about creating a Visual Communications students dream. As Sam and Shaun both say, “our mantra is always ‘We’ll Make It Back On The Next One’, because that’s not why we do it.” The crux of Vitamins is the desire to do something original and fun. Bringing people together. When Vitamins #1 managed to fit over 400 people into a house party with only a few day notice, they knew this was something to run with: “When we started, we felt like there were lots of small new nights starting up and joining the already fairly busy roster of nights in the city. They were booking a big guest, using the same handful of venues, and just being really music focused. That can be a great vibe and we are into those nights too, but we wanted to go outside of that. I just felt like it was becoming hard to differentiate between what was on offer. We wanted to make things really exciting again – that’s why we used different venues, secret locations. That sense of mystery in the run up to the event means that by the time people get to a location, they are 100% up for it. It’s always really just been about having fun. Not just for the audience, but for the four of us doing it. That’s why we do stupid stuff like putting the posters at an angle or going hard on the production. When you’re not really making any money, then experimenting with different ways of doing things keeps us excited.”
Exciting is the word. Since its birth, Vitamins has certainly fed off the word-of-mouth buzz that their events have created, which has become a motivation in itself: “I think some people get excited for our parties because they know it’s going to be a proper event. They understand the amount of work that we put into it, and people are interested to see what we’ll do. This puts quite a lot of pressure on, because if you hype people up and they come and they aren’t impressed, then it’s much more disappointing for them and for us.. it’s gone pretty well on the whole so far though.” It sure is. The crew often hire buses to transport hundreds of clubbers into the night on the promise of parties in unique secret locations, and they’ve yet to disappoint.
One party was held in the middle of a Scottish forest (when the tiny island they originally planned to host it on flooded the night before) surrounded by towering stacks of televisions which were synchronised to the visuals. Another was held inside a mile long, pitch black underground tunnel beneath a Glasgow museum, with the entire walkway lit on both sides with thousands of tiny candles guiding the way into the main underground arch. This DIY approach is not reserved just for the choices of venue however. The production side of Vitamins is a massive part of their appeal: “We have two out of the four of us pretty much focused just on production on the night. We’ve got a sculptor on-board, and two of us are fairly experienced sound and lighting engineers. For Vitamins #5, the party in the tunnel, we were actively on-site for about six days. The first days were just for getting the space in order, two days to load in and two for load out. At times with teams of ten people working on the load in. But rewind back and you’ve got us making a copper 3D robot skull to match the poster. Pretty cool. A fair amount of work goes in. If we were paying ourselves, it wouldn’t meet minimum wage. We like to have a thread run through the night with the location, the line-up, poster artwork, lights, visuals and sound all making sense together. We like to make an impact, to go out of our way to make it different from what people have seen before in each space. We like sitting watching X Factor and working out how to scale it down into a 200 capacity club with a £700 budget for lights.”
“We’ve got a sculptor on-board, and two of us are fairly experienced sound and lighting engineers. For Vitamins #5, the party in the tunnel, we were actively on-site for about six days.”
The greatest culmination of this production-heavy DIY ethic to date was in the Vitamins x Numbers New Years Eve party, where the 2012 theme was taken quite literally: “We came up with an End of Days Mayan vibe. The poster was designed by Glaswegian illustrator Andy King, and it turned out ridiculously good; giant floating hands with a pyramid floating between them, smoke and blocks all around, and the top of the pyramid was lifted up to reveal a diamond. We didn’t want the club to be ‘transformed’ into a Mayan temple or anything; that’s tacky, and we’re not working on Crystal Maze budgets here. This still has to be a club, and papier-mâché is a bad look. So we came up with a design that was a white, 6ft high pyramid structure which had square levels and flat faces. This went onstage on a black plinth with the DJ on the club floor, and we video-mapped onto the pyramid with Adam F from Numbers on the video content. We then had a pile of lights and LED tubes arranged around the pyramid, a smoke machine that came on just before the bells, and two gigantic towers of D&B C series, which sounded so sweet. The neon pink 3D diamonds sculptures were made for the upstairs Diamond Lounge by Sweden, a super talented young sculptor from Edinburgh that we’ve worked with on a few parties, and they were dotted around the space… in between people dancing on tables to Prince and Drake, of course.”
It’s this special mix of intense geekery, work ethic, imagination, sweat and (of course) the love for the music that has culminated in the Vitamins experiment and its growing popularity. You would be hard pushed to find a more creative club experience in Scotland right now, and the enjoyment of it all thankfully shows no sign of abating. What other club goes to the printers with their poster design and says “hey, can you make it squint?” What a perfect metaphor for Vitamins – a club, but not quite as you know it.