'A marked departure from Jersey's thriving 70s to 90s nightclub scene'

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Comment by Jodie Yettram

JERSEY’S identity is commonly associated with its unique culture, rich history, strong finance sector, and beautiful scenery. However, for many young people in the Island, rigid definitions of what it means to be ‘Jersey’ are stifling their ability to explore their identities and connect with like-minded communities.

Jodie Yettram

Jersey, to me, is a complex mixture of feelings and memories. It’s the place I call home. The beaches are undeniably beautiful, and the Island’s green spaces offer peace and tranquility. I cherish the strong relationships I have with my family and friends.

But despite the natural beauty, the sense of security and the rich connections that bind me to this island, the social and cultural opportunities can feel somewhat limited. It feels like being stuck in a bubble.

At the heart of the problem is the abundance of red tape and regulation that surrounds certain social activities. One of the most notable examples in recent headlines is the restrictive licensing laws on music venues, which impose limits on operating hours and even include the ridiculous ‘no dancing’ law on Good Friday. (Although, at least we can now dance on Sundays!)

Increased policing and regulation have also had a chilling effect on Jersey’s once-thriving underground music scene, which featured bunker parties and raves at Elizabeth Castle and nights at Inn on the Park.

A party at Noirmont Point in the 80s Picture: Dave Morgan

The tales of Jersey’s underground music scene are recounted by the most unexpected sources; I can’t tell you who, but rest assured it’s those you would least expect to be dancing all night at a bunker party.

These stories paint a vivid picture of an underworld carved out of the rugged cliffs, where people danced to the relentless pulse of bass and electronic beats. The anecdotes highlight the DIY spirit of these raves, with organisers bringing their own equipment, lighting and sound systems to create an immersive experience that was raw, gritty, potent. These ‘old-timers’ reminisce about the ‘good old days’ with a tinge of nostalgia, convinced that the youth of today will never truly understand what it was like.

Young people are also feeling the pinch of increasing regulations on their ability to enjoy the Island’s natural beauty. For example, recent restrictions placed on overnight camping at Le Port only permit pre-booked camping between 9pm and 9am and have banned the consumption of alcohol. The bureaucratic nature of these rules is discouraging young people from utilising these spaces and is jeopardising the cultural and social life of the Le Port community.

For this easygoing group, Le Port represents a quintessential Jersey experience: gathering around a fire, sipping a cold beer and enjoying a leisurely barbecue while basking in the sunset and listening to the sound of waves crashing.

Many young people express frustration with the Island’s lack of spaces for socialising and self-expression, which drives them away to seek experiences elsewhere. Although the Les Quennevais skatepark is a positive step towards providing social spaces for young people, it might not meet everyone’s needs or be located close enough to be easily accessible. This is evident from the reports of young people gathering in places like Millennium Park and bus shelters, which has led to complaints on Facebook about young people being a nuisance.

ROJO’S Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (35854080)

Jersey’s nightlife scene is notably lacking in variety, with only five nightclubs remaining: the Watersplash, Rojos, Havana, The Royal Yacht and Vittoria. Many of Jersey’s establishments are undergoing a process of gentrification, exemplified by the multi-million-pound refurbishment of Chambers. Previously a cosy and enjoyable bar known for its live music, the atmosphere has now been entirely transformed. The contemporary design evokes a completely different ambiance, and the emphasis has shifted to food offerings and service standards. For me, the establishment has lost its charm and character, reflecting the larger issue of a lack of cultural vibrancy and diversity within Jersey’s nightlife.

As young Jersey residents depart for university and encounter the dynamic and multifaceted nightlife present in other cities, the monotonous and uninspiring aspects of the Island’s social scene become all the more apparent.

While I understand that it can be challenging for a small island to cater to diverse tastes and preferences, the current scarcity of options is a marked departure from the thriving nightclub scene that existed from the 1970s through to the 1990s.

Imagination at Inn on the Park Picture: PROFESSIONAL PICTURES

This network not only provided entertainment but also helped retain young people in the Island. During this period, popular spots outside the centre included Les Arches in Archirondel and Woodlands in Grouville, while L’Etacq, Corbière, Sands, and the Château catered to the western part of the Island.

The central area boasted nightclubs such as Raffles, The Blue Fox, Kontiki, Thackerays, The Buzz Bar, Follies, The Deep, Maddison’s, Lords, and La Buvette. Bonapartes and The Firehouse at the Fort were also popular. While this list is not exhaustive, it underscores the dearth of nightlife in the Island today.

Jersey nightlife in the 80s Picture supplied by Catherine Walsh

The Facebook group ‘Jersey 80s Fotos & Fun’ features numerous celebratory posts that showcase the friendships and experiences that were integral to the social scene of that era. The comments on various posts reflect the exuberance of the time: ‘It was one great big melting pot of kids out to have a good time’ and ‘Great time in our lives that I’ll always remember as the best 15 years of my life’.

Describing the changes in Jersey’s nightclub scene, one member of the Facebook group lamented: ‘It was non-stop party in the pubs “7 days and nights a week” constantly…Now it’s a ghost town, with the majority of pubs closing early.’

Jersey nightlife in the 80s

Members of the group have pointed to several factors contributing to the current sterile culture. These include the escalation of alcohol prices and cost of living, the conversion of many pubs and clubs into housing, the implementation of drink-driving laws and inadequate transport options.

Additionally, they note a differing outlook among today’s generation, which is allegedly influenced by the dominance of technology, social media and a more narcissistic culture. One member notes: ‘Millennials mate – they ain’t the same breed as we were…gotta be home early to make sure the man bun looks okay.’

Will we reminisce about our youth with the same celebratory nostalgia? Or has the current lack of social spaces and restrictions on social activities hindered our ability to form close-knit communities and explore our identities? It seems difficult to imagine a Facebook group entitled ‘Jersey 2020s Nostalgia’ with pictures of kids hanging out in Millennium Park and posts expressing a fondness and appreciation for being a young person during this decade, which saw our social lives hampered by the pandemic.

While the lack of spaces for self-expression and socialising contributes to young people leaving the Island, another reason is lack of job opportunities. Although there are opportunities in certain sectors such as finance, there is a lack of diversity in the job market which makes it challenging for some to find work that aligns with their skills and interests.

The consequences of this trend are far-reaching. The loss of talented and creative young people represents a significant blow to the Island’s economy and cultural vibrancy. It also further exacerbates the challenges faced by young people wanting to build a life in the Island, who may struggle to find a sense of belonging and purpose without the support of like-minded individuals.

To address these issues, it is essential for Jersey to embrace a more inclusive and open-minded approach to cultural identity. When discussing Jersey’s identity, the idea that the Island’s culture needs to be ‘protected’ is often put forward. But Jersey’s identity is not a static entity that needs to be shielded from change or outside influences. It is multifaceted and continually evolving and adapting.

Policymakers should endeavour to expand and diversify conceptions of the Island’s culture, creating a more dynamic and inclusive sense of what it means to be Jersey.

It is also vital for policymakers to recognise the importance of social freedom and find ways to balance safety and order with the need for young people to express themselves, form connections with their peers and engage in activities that are central to their sense of identity. For example, authorities could work with music venues to create more flexible licensing laws that allow for a greater variety of performances, venues and events.

To promote greater inclusivity and diversity in Jersey’s cultural scene, it is important for local authorities and community members to work together to create more supportive policies that embrace the Island’s rich cultural heritage while also recognising the need to create space for alternative identities to express themselves.

Only by doing so can Jersey truly thrive as a vibrant and diverse community, attracting and retaining talented young people who can help shape its future.

– Jodie Yettram is a University of Sussex contemporary history masters graduate, who has recently returned to the Island after travelling in South-east Asia for six months. During her studies, she researched social and cultural history, with a focus on youth culture, cultural resistance and identity politics.

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