Tired of BPM-obsessed bores, queue-jumping liggers and fascist security? Looking for a new clubbing experience? David Hillier explores ball pools, bondage gear and spa parties to find the best alternative club nights across Europe.
Each year tourists flock to all corners of Europe to get loaded and have a weird time, whether it’s in an Ibiza superclub, a Berlin technohaus or on a party boat in Belgrade. Of course, it’s all fine and well when you’re travelling with someone who loves dance music as much as you do, and who only needs a box room, a DJ and a Void sound system to achieve disco enlightenment.
But if your companion is not a techno fiend and needs more from a club than untarnished BPMs, here are some of the best nights out on the continent.
Regression Sessions (UK)
Strictly speaking, it’s a night rather than a club, but let’s not concern ourselves with trivialities. Regression Sessions have been putting on events all over the UK for the last five years and are famous for their ball pits, bouncy castles and expansive production. The vibe is very much adults indulging their childish sides, so if you’re not feeling the drum and bass, house and techno spun by Fabric residents, there’s always something else to do. That might just mean face painting.
Fluxus Ministerija (Kaunas, Lithuania)
Housed in an abandoned shoe factory, the Ministry of Fluxus is an accessible art project that happens to throw twanging raves. You’ll find a different vibe in every cavernous room, and the swirling visuals and chin-strokey art installations will make more sense when you’re two pingers down. The lengths of their parties are legendary – come on Saturday, leave Sunday afternoon. Spend the next two days in your hotel room squinting through the curtains and watching Lithuanian dubbed reruns of Diagnosis Murder.
Elrow states that its primary function is to “entertain and amuse” and it does so through a magical alchemy of the finest tech house and techno in the style of a throbbing technicolour carnival. Their spiritual home is Viladecans in Barcelona, but they’ve had a recent residency at Space in Ibiza, as well as shows in Madrid, Zaragoza and the UK. Expect elaborately costumed actors, confetti drops and endless blow-up toys to joust with.
House parties are great, right? You don’t have to pay to enter and there are no bouncers. You don’t have to secrete your drugs anywhere near your genitals, and no-one’s going to chuck you out for getting frisky in the toilets. Renate doesn’t fly in the face of all these conventions, but the vibe inside this old apartment block is more unhinged house party than urban nightclub. Lose a night and day exploring the labyrinth of rooms, nooks and baroque-decorated bars. There’s a latex covered bed in one room, and rumors of a maze in the basement. Door policy can be tough- don’t expect to roll up singing Oasis tunes and be beckoned down the rabbit hole.
Torture Garden (London/Edinburgh)
A grand old lady of the fetish club scene, Torture Garden started life in the basement of a converted church in Brixton in 1990 and is now Europe’s largest of its kind. A vast celebration of all things sexual fantastical, you won’t get in without donning the sort of bondage outfit you pray your parents never wear. As renowned for its elaborate theatrical performances as its ‘play’ rooms, the bondage side is something you can get involved with as much you wish. There are whipping horses, spanking benches and places for you to get naughty, but if you just want to hang out and party in your gimp suit, that’s cool too.
Szechenyi Bath Party (Budapest)
Budapest’s neo-baroque Szechnyi thermal baths are surely one of Europe’s most iconic public bathing spots, perfect for kicking back, emptying your head and soaking away the stresses of the 21st century. If this sounds like your idea of heaven, stay well clear on a Saturday night, as all year round they run ‘sparties’ where local DJs come down, play a selection of funk, hip-hop and psychedelia, and watch as hundreds of locals, tourists and students get wet and wild in the thermals. In the winter – when the teenage Interrailer to discerning adult ratio will be about 6000% less – they move to the indoor Lukacs Baths.