“When you build a club, you’re doing is exactly that, you are building a place where people come together with the same mindset and similar interests and they share a similar kind of view about fashion and music,” says Toni Tambourine, legendary dance music PR and a door picker for some of the most notorious London parties of the 90s.
Door policies continue to be a topic of conversation within dance music circles in the UK and in wider culture, from mainstream, West End clubs enforcing flagrantly racist policies to underground party-goers debating whether a door policy enhances or diminishes inclusivity in the dance. But, at clubs that endeavour to uphold the original spirit of dance music, careful door picking can create an atmosphere in which people, ironically, feel welcomed in.
Toni has door picked for infamous raves like We Are You at the Scala or Sign Of The Times, which was attended by celebrities such as Alexander McQueen and Björk. “When you are inside you can feel like you are part of the group,” he says, “like a special place for your people.”
A good venue should try to create a little alternative universe offered only to those sharing the dancefloor. Having a door picker can greatly contribute to the creation of the right atmosphere. Some of the best London nightclubs of the 90s like Turnmills, The Cross and Scala had firm door pickers, which is part of the reason why the venues are now a major part of dance music history.
Cozette Mccreery has doorpicked for parties like Boombox at Hoxton Bar and Ponystep at Regine’s in Paris. “Richard Mortimer [Boombox party host] wanted a club we could all just hang out and have fun at and where someone famous could do the same and be welcomed and not hounded. On the flip side any famous person giving attitude and demanding VIP areas and the like was quickly shown the exit”, she chuckles.
Door picking is an extremely tough job. If not done correctly, it can be used as a cover for racism and discrimination. “Jesus, I’d hate for someone to think that’s how to police a door. Although I know it exists,” Cozette says. “My policy goes along the lines of ‘will this person enjoy being here’ and ‘will the regulars welcome them?’ But I’m not about this [excluding based on sex and race]; I live a diverse life and would only wish to be in a club reflecting that.”
Door picking is about being very inclusive towards people in a community and very exclusive towards people who people who won’t respect that community or will aim to disrupt the dance while in the club. If a door policy is imposed correctly – based on style, vibe and attitude – the goal of creating the right space for a community can be achieved. And if people don’t get in first time round, they can notice the kind of atmosphere the club is trying to achieve and try again next time.
Toni insists that the door picker should be “somebody within the industry, in the club universe, someone who goes to clubs, who works with music, who works with people, someone who has an understanding of the kind of people who should be coming in but also somebody who has got a good attitude to stand up to people who aren't desirable.”
Although subjective, door picking is about trying to offer the best night possible by leaving out the troublemakers and anyone who would not be inclusive towards the club’s mentality. It’s important to offer a safe space, as Toni explains: “You want an openness in those clubs and to people to be who they want to be without fear of people who don't really understand your sexual preference and culture.” And when you hear stories about the type of shit that LGBTQ+ promoters have to go through while running a party, doorpicking doesn’t sound like the worst idea in the world.
Clubbing meccas like Berlin and Amsterdam, where doorpickers are a part of club culture (sometimes famously so), make UK clubs seem like “pubs in the corner that you can just dip in and out”, Toni says. The main aim of events and clubs these days seems to rely more on overselling venues and making profit rather than offering a bespoke, intimate experience. As Kazakhstan DJ/promoter Nazira says: “I want it so you can be a freak on the dancefloor and no one is going to look at you.”
A proper door policy is welcome towards the people looking to enjoy music and to build an intimate connection with other people in the crowd. It also protects them from those who are there to show off, look for trouble or don’t even care about the DJ.
Alejandra Cabrera is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Instagram