This is the second post in a two-part series where I write about club culture and the vicious problem of sexual harassment on dancefloors. You can read the first part here.
In 5 years of clubbing, my focus was strictly on dancing.
31st December 2015
I remember the first time I felt the booming kick-drums of a dark, Berghain-esque techno track thumping in my chest, here in Dubai.
Deian Markov had just dropped Ben Klock’s classic ‘Subzero’, at the region’s best (and my favourite local) electronic music festival – Groove on the Grass – to devastating effect. I began to stomp with joy, like a man possessed.
3rd August 2018
I can never forget Aretha Franklin’s passionate voice washing over and purifying me at Dekmantel Festival, where Ricardo Villalobos was in fine form. I was one reveller amongst many in an exotic crowd at the Amsterdamse Bos.
I raised my hands to the heavens and began to clap in ecstasy. Looking around, I noticed many were doing the same.
18th October 2018
I was pounding my fists wildly to the squelchy, bass-heavy, TR-909 influenced acid in Analog Room. In the thick of this madness, A Guy Called Gerald and I exchanged a look. He flashed a toothy smile; of course, he was toying with me!
I paused to catch my breath and sip my water, shaking my head in delight.
The only thing that mattered in all those moments was the music. I’d close my eyes and lose myself to a repetitive beat, feeling as free as a songbird. Having worked up a sweat on the dancefloor, I’d go home safe and sound. Anticipating the next glorious night.
As a man, I can have these cathartic experiences week in and week out. Without worrying about who’d grope me. Or wondering if my drink would get spiked. Not thinking about dressing up, or down. After all, there would be no thirsty pair of eyes wandering to my cleavage.
One fateful night, my world was turned upside down. It’s when my utterly naive perspective of nightclubs changed. What follows is the blow-by-blow account of when my eyes were opened to the horrors that women have to face on dancefloors.
The night began how it always does. By breaking bread.
My comrades for the night were taking far too long to leave the hostel – they wanted to get sufficiently drunk to save money at the club. Understandable. But as a rule of thumb, I always aim to reach the club early – I don’t drink, so it works nicely for me. This is because I want to catch the warm-up DJ in action.
After what seemed like ages, we headed out.
The night was still young. And we were looking to have fun. After all, we were celebrating my 25th year of life.
We arrived at Control Club, an establishment that promised quality house and techno. At the door, I bumped into a jovial Lebanese group. Turns out they were from Dubai too and taking advantage of the Eid break.
Great minds think alike, eh?
The hours passed by quick. Before we knew it, it was 3 AM. My friends were tired (alcohol no doubt playing a role) and decided to call it a night.
As for me? I wasn’t going anywhere! It was my quarter-century, and I was celebrating it the only way I knew best; by dancing the night away.
The club was divided into two rooms, with a bar in each. There was a third bar in the lounge outside, which doubled as a smoking area.
I was in the main room, where a local DJ was providing the beats to my birthday.
I was looking for someone to talk to when I saw her. She seemed to be enjoying the music far too much, which was lovely. But what intrigued me was that she didn’t look Romanian.
“You’re not from here, are you?” I asked, with a massive smile and twinkle in my eye.
“I’m Scottish!” she beamed, as only someone from that magnificent country could.
“Who are you with?” I enquired, surprised to see a girl out on her own.
In response, she pulled a bespectacled, gangly dude towards her. I had earlier noticed him disinterestedly looking around the club.
My first thought was that he resembled Harry Potter.
So for the purposes of this story, I’ll call him Harry. His girlfriend: Kate.
“Nice to meet you, Harry and Kate. My name’s Karan. I’m from Dubai, and I’m so happy to be celebrating my 25th birthday in Bucharest!” I yelled, both to make myself heard over the music and out of sheer joy at finding some Scots.
“What are you doing all the way out here?” asked Kate, who seemed to be just as happy to meet me.
“What are you doing all the way out here?!” I playfully retorted.
With names exchanged, nothing more had to be said. I instantly felt a stronger connection to Kate, who was more exuberant than Harry. Her energy levels matched mine, and I loved it.
We danced away until, as these things usually go, the DJ played a track all three of us instantly recognised.
“Mate, this is my track! I fucking love this song!” I exclaimed to Kate.
Without thinking, I hoisted myself up on the table in front of the DJ. I told him it was my birthday and thanked him for playing this. He shook my hand and wished me happiness.
I began to dance freely. Out of the corner of my closed eyes, I noticed Kate recording me, and couldn’t care less. The entire room seemed to be buoyed by my excitement, and the energy levels noticeably increased.
Another guy wanted to share this marvellous moment. So he got up and stood beside me. I turned to him, half expecting a dance-off. Turns out, he was one of those types.
The kind that come to clubs to show they’re having a good time rather than actually having a good time.
He had his phone’s selfie camera open. Nevermind that it couldn’t capture his face in the club’s lighting. He needed a Snapchat/Instagram video to show his ‘friends’ and justify coming to the club.
“Oh, you poor, poor man. Why don’t you just enjoy the moment?” I asked myself rhetorically.
After shooting his 10-second video, he immediately stepped down. Or was that because he spotted the bouncer?
It may have been a bit of both. The burly Eastern European told me to get down. I tried telling him it was my birthday. He couldn’t understand me, so I got down as fast as my legs would allow.
I couldn’t afford to get thrown out of the club, not tonight of all nights!
I got down and hugged Kate and Harry, feeling on top of the world.
“Is this what the vibe at Sub Club is like?” I asked excitedly, as adrenaline flowed through my body.
“You know Subby?!” Kate responded, eyes popping.
Sub Club is a crown jewel in Glasgow’s nightlife, an institution with a 30-year history.
“Of course I do! I’ve always wanted to dance there!” I shouted delightfully.
Amidst all this excitement, Harry offered to buy a round of drinks.
I politely declined, asking for a water instead.
So he went to the bar, while we stayed behind on the dance floor.
This is when Kate was sexually harassed for the first time. It would happen later again tonight.
Before we go further, I’d like you to watch this short clip to get a feel of the club.
Please watch it. It will help immerse you in this story.
Kate was dancing a few feet away from me. Taking a moment to rest, I looked around, sipping my water.
Which is when I saw him staring in my direction.
He was standing alone in the corner of the dancefloor.
What struck me first was his unsteady posture. Then, his blank eyes. I could tell his head wasn’t in the right place.
I continued to observe. He didn’t seem to notice me.
I looked back at Kate. I turned to him.
He was raping her with a ravenous gaze.
“You can look as long as you don’t touch.” I thought, feeling protective towards Kate.
He kept staring. Until something in his foggy mind clicked.
With a few long strides, he covered the distance between them.
I knew what was about to happen. So I hurriedly rushed forward.
Alas. I was too late.
He raised a greedy hand and felt Kate’s behind.
Alarmed, she turned. She saw me in the middle and pieced together what had just happened.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I confronted him, angrily.
“I…I thought she was my friend.” came his meek reply.
“Bullshit! I saw the way you were looking at her! Who does that to a friend anyway?” I was livid.
“Karan, let it go.” Kate’s gentle Glaswegian lilt interrupted us.
“What do you mean?! You know what he did to you.” my anger giving way to confusion.
“It’s okay. It’s happened before. I don’t want Harry to know.” she said, defeatedly.
With that, Kate dragged me away before it was about to become physical.
“How is – how was that okay?!” I demanded to know, mere feet away from the perpetrator.
“You’ve seen Harry, he’s not one to fight. I’d rather just avoid him knowing, you know what I mean?” explained Kate.
“I’m not one to pick fights either, Kate. But I will fight for what’s right. And that wasn’t cool.”
“I know. But please just don’t tell him. I don’t want to ruin our holiday.” she finished.
Harry returned with two drinks, and we pretended as if nothing had happened.
I’d never experienced this over the past 5 years of clubbing. Probably because I was too focused on dancing.
It dawned on me that I was massively unaware of the numerous issues women have to endure each time they go out.
I turned to my friends, who were arguing. Harry wasn’t feeling the music, so he decided to step out for a smoke. He handed his drink to Kate and left the dancefloor.
Soon after, the music began to pick up again. So did the mood.
I looked at Kate, merrily swaying to the music with her eyes closed, holding two Jack and Cokes.
In that transcendent moment, I knew she was the happiest person in the room. She was incredibly sweet and reminded me of my friends from the UK.
We had only known each other for a few hours, yet bonded in a way only two strangers on the dancefloor could.
Clubs accelerate the process of getting to know people.
So I wondered…why Kate?
What had she done to be sexually harassed by that lecherous man?
Just because she seemed to be alone? What role did alcohol play in affecting that vicious man’s thought process?
Do men always prey on the friendliest women?
Just as I was processing all this, Kate was sexually harassed again. Twice, in the span of thirty minutes.
A clumsy man dressed in black suddenly sidled up to and started grinding against her.
She couldn’t do much to fend him off but move away, as her hands were occupied with two drinks.
He continued to awkwardly inch close.
I moved forward and pushed him away, poking him in his temple.
Righting himself, he looked me in my eyes.
“Are you crazy? What the fuck is wrong with you!” I bellowed.
I stood toe-to-toe with him. I could smell his breath, and it reeked of liquor.
The vulture tried to respond, but all it could manage was some intoxicated gibberish.
“What made you think you could do that to me?” asked Kate, too kindly for my liking.
This glassy-eyed creep could barely stand.
I knew we wouldn’t get anything out of him. We decided to leave and look for Harry in the lounge.
“Argh! What the fuck is wrong with men! Why are we like this?!” I shouted at the sky.
“Tonight’s been alright. I’ve seen worse.” said Kate, matter-of-factly.
“Are you okay?” I enquired, putting my arm around her shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I won’t let a few arseholes ruin my night. I’m Scottish, innit.” smiled Kate.
I gave her a tight squeeze, appreciating her effort to lighten the mood.
She wouldn’t say it. But her voice wasn’t deceiving me. Her night had been ruined.
We left the club soon after to make the long but lovely walk back to our respective homes.
The time had finally come to part.
Even though I hadn’t connected with Harry as I had with Kate, his company was welcome.
I bade goodbye, wishing him the best.
I turned to Kate. We embraced, unsure as to when we’d see each other again.
“Katey. Mate. I’m gonna miss you so much!”
“I’ll miss you too. Come visit us in Glasgow! I’ll take you to Subby. It’s always a cracking night out!” she said, with a hearty grin.
“One day. Until then, take care of yourself. Try and stay out of trouble, can ya?” I teased her.
“Thank you so much for everything, tonight. I appreciate it.” she said, lowering her voice an octave.
And with that, we headed our separate ways.
I turned one final time to look back at them.
Kate looked back too. And gave me a flying kiss.
I cheerfully waved back with a peace sign. Then faced the road ahead of me, bathed in sunlight.
Bucharest’s streets were abuzz with activity. The capital’s workforce had stirred a while ago.
I walked and walked. Putting one foot in front of the other. I knew the way. But just as night had turned to day, the scenes were still raw in my mind.
I searched within myself for meaning. I knew that tonight would permanently stick with me, just as that first guy’s hand did to Kate.
Or how that second guy wouldn’t leave her alone.
Sexual harassment scared me. As a man, it will probably never physically scar me. But trust me when I say: it stung to watch my friend suffer from the uncontrolled sexual urges of my fellow men.
As I write this, DVS1’s piercing ‘Black Russian‘ plays on repeat.
I can see a million faceless women in my mind’s eye. And with each sharp clap in that track, I can feel another million wanton male hands laying claim to what is not theirs.
And I am filled with a white-hot rage.
What if tonight, instead of Kate, it was my sister?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to curb sexual harassment. If it doesn’t take place as blatantly as it did in this story, you can bet women are still being groped as they navigate through a rowdy dancefloor or milling crowd.
That said, here’s what you (as a man) can do to combat sexual harassment on the dancefloor.
First off, if you get a little too horny for your own good – for God’s sake, go easy on the drink, man.
- Keep checking with your female friends to see if they’re fine. It doesn’t hurt to ask because sometimes, women can keep mum about it.
- The above doesn’t just apply to your friends. When taking a break from dancing, look around and see how the women around you are doing.
- If you spot something ugly, step in. It doesn’t matter how much bigger the other guy is. Man up. You’d be surprised how many bigger guys I’ve taken on, armed with nothing but a level-head and street smarts. Sometimes, all it takes is a well-placed quip to diffuse a tense situation.
- Can’t do anything? Immediately raise the alarm. If security does not listen, speak to the promoter. If that falls on deaf ears too, speak to the DJ. Stop the party if you must. But don’t let that man get away. Because then he’ll do it again. And again. Giving him an arrogant air of invincibility.
Last but not least. Don’t be a creep.
Although if that’s just who you are, reading this probably won’t change your behaviour.
But you’d better believe that as long as the sun shines, I’ll do everything in my power to fight sexual harassment.