How music ruins your night out…

Posted on May 8, 2014


If I had a price for the most interesting paper I read recently I would, without a doubt give it to ’Lager, lager shouting’: The role of music and DJs in nightclub disorder control published in Addiciones  2009;21(4):327-45 (link); or, because it is presented simultaneously in Spanish, ‘Gritos de cerveza, cerveza’: el rol de la musica y de los DJs en el control del desorden en los clubes nocturnos. It is so interesting it could also not have been a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal…

…In fact, it probably should not have been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

That only adds to the fun though, as I have learned a lot from this particular paper. For example, I did not know this but it sounds great, there is an academic discipline called “Club Health research” which even has its own annual conference (this year in San Francisco: link) and addresses:  Innovative harm reduction approaches to alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, Best practices in planning and managing large scale events, Promoting safe and healthy nightlife environments, Preventing violence and anti-social behaviour, Economic impact of nightlife, and Building local, national and global partnerships for healthy nightlife. A whole new world opened up for me…


Anyway, back to this paper. A first clue at the fact that this may well be an entertaining, if maybe not as scientifically robust as we may have hoped, read, is that “the research method used for this study was participant observation…” as well as “…within a sample of eight Glasgow city centre nightclubs”. And indeed, we are not disappointed. Then again, if you are studying nightclub disorder and violence probably Glasgow city centre is not such a bad shout.

Any paper starting with an Eminem quote as its scientific rationale deserves kudos in my book, so as pointed out to us: “They say music can alter moods and talk to you but can it load a gun up and cock it too?” (Eminem, “Sing for the Moment” (2002)). The author points out that whereas the two main driving forces in the night-time economy (again, a word I did not hear before. There is more to come!) are drugs/alcohol and sexual competition, the third driver is generally overlooked: the music. Apparently, “in some circumstances, music can make the most placid individuals ‘get up and dance’, while in other circumstances, it can be a trigger for them to engage in disorderly behaviour”. That may well be true, but I would say alcohol generally would have a bigger role to play here (incidentally, in my case, and many others, alcohol also makes you a much better dancer). Not so it seems, because I’ve learned that music has drug-like properties, such as self-medication, stimulation or addiction. I did not know this, but previous research apparently indicated that an individual’s gentleness (read aggression) could be predicted from their music taste: gentle fans prefer metal, disco, chart, reggae and soul, while not-gentle (more aggressive) fans prefer rock n’ roll, punk, indie and dance.

So they were right in the ‘50s and ‘60s…rock n’ roll is a bad influence on the youth!


There’s a couple of other important things to remember: apparently the mere presence of music in a bar increases consumption (if only Wetherspoons knew!), while consumption is further increased by louder music, faster music and by country music with a slower tempo (the latter because it makes people sad), and interestingly, the quality of musicianship could impact on levels of disorder….just to be on the safe side therefore, I would call in the national guard at the next Justin Bieber concert. Better safe than sorry!

Having pointed all this out, the author cheerily further points out that: “Given that one can engage in drug-fuelled sexual behaviours in the safety and comfort of one’s own home, what other reasons can there be for venturing out into the Night-time Economy, with all the risks (e.g. violence, accidental injury, arrest, expense, time consumption, etc) that such a venture entails, were it not to find entertainment?” Well if you put it that may, I think I will just stay at home this weekend…I can’t say this partying-business sounds like a lot of fun…


So back to the paper which is going to explore all this. The participant observation method employed involves two teams of two fieldworkers (1 male and 1 female each) or, as they are generally known, students. These teams visited each of a selected eight nightclubs on a Friday and on a Saturday between midnight and 3AM. I don’t know about you, but that seems a pretty cool student job to do (I stuck to order picking in those days). The venues all held an entertainment license, charged admission at the door and offered mainstream ‘high street’, regular dance promotions; or in other words, clubs. Fieldworkers then completed a couple of forms that were used in the descriptive analyses.

Typology of the nighclubs resulted in a description of: 2 Hardcore venues playing happy-hardcore dance music mixes, 2 Cheesy-pop venues playing chart music or oldies, 2 Urban venues playing R&B (including hip-hop and rap), 1 Mixed venue which played cheesy-pop (mainly student rock, whatever that is) and urban, and 1 Old-skool rave club, playing (I am serious, I am not making this up. This is a direct quote!): “no music by artists who was recognisable to any of the observers”. Although: there were no conventional songs and none of the music here (mainly ambient and rave) had any lyrics. I don’t know about you, but although I can mentally form a picture of the places, this typology makes all of them pretty boring…

So the fieldworkers also linked each club to a set of main dancing styles, which is where I start to lose the plot a bit. Probably my age, but it is nonetheless very informative. So in case you are, like me, unaware of this and plan a night out:

  • in a hardcore club one either grinds (I know this one from Hannah Montana’s MTV thingie, followed by a predictable outrage in various media), raves, or depending on the club stomps, school disco dances, or engages in ‘sexy dancing’.
  • In a cheesy-pop club one engages in ‘big groups’ (dancing, presumably), energetic dancing, wedding style dancing, or ‘messing about’ dancing.
  • In the urban scene if you want to fit in it is important to grind, hip-hop nod, do some sexy dancing, or strangely enough engage in ‘modest’ dancing (whatever that is).
  • During old-skool raves, do not forget to rave or engage in energetic dancing!

I hope you know what all this  means, but I am lost (and mainly wonder whether my “rhythmic wobble” classifies as ‘sexy dancing’). They clearly picked out a number of classy clubs, given that minor styles that could further be observed were country&western, break dancing and (oh man, yes dude!) the famous air-guitar!

So there seems to be some obvious sources of bias in the data collection using this participant observation method by the four fieldworkers. I would personally say a negative bias towards the hardcore clubs given the use of good study quotes from the observers:

“The type of happy-hardcore stuff they play seems to attract the wrong type of customer which is a shame because if it wasn’t for all the neds [Scottish ‘hooligans’] and the crap music it could actually be a decent enough club.”


“This is the kind of club where people allegedly ‘go for the music’ so little attention was paid to the décor of the club or trying to create a certain atmosphere. The problem however, is that he music is crap and a happy-hardcore version of Bros ‘I owe you nothing’ doesn’t make up for the fact that the place is a hole!”

The author does recognize this methodological problem, pointing out that the above is “somewhat subjective” while it further turns out the second fieldworker has a (and again I am not making this up, it is in a scientific paper) “…particular dislike to happy-hardcore”.

There are many similarly entertaining quotes, obvious over- and misinterpretations of data and biases throughout the paper, so I would very much recommend reading it if you have a spare moment as a “how not to do this” manual. However, I don’t want to leave you without a description of old-skool rave club ‘Saturn’:

…unlike other clubs, patrons were older, drinking less and there for the music rather than to get fucked or pull [attract a sexual partner]…..All patrons very friendly lots of eye contact and smiling. Loved up atmosphere…

From the quote above I would deduct this was one of the female observers, and indeed this is the case, who is (a) 10-15 years younger than others in the club (true as well) and (b) probably good looking (this was not described in the paper, so we will never know. Although we know her name was either Katie or Jemma from the acknowledgments).

Back to the data. For all clubs the number of patrons, percentages female, under 18s, over-30s, middle class, and from ethnic minorities were registered, as well as the percentages drunks or  obviously on drugs, the observed sexual tension (apparently made up of measurements of ‘harassment of females’, ‘sexual activity’ and ‘pulling’) and the observed incidents of aggression. In addition, the number of violent crimes and disorder call-outs for these clubs were obtained from police records. I don’t know what kind of places these were, or maybe its Glasgow but 58-79% of the patrons were drunk in these clubs, except for the old-skool rave club (39%) which instead had 50% ‘obviously on drugs’. Great places by the sounds of it (although of course, it may have something to do with the way this was classified)….Anyway, most incidents of violence were observed in the hardcore clubs (but we didn’t like them anyway) and none in the mixed club and old-skool rave club.

So what does this have to do with the music? Well apparently, “As might be expected the number of incidents of violent disorder witnessed by the observers was closely related to both musical genre and alcohol consumption” , and a bit further down the article: “In common with previous research conducted by the author in nearby pubs, music was again observed to be a risk factor for disorder”. Indeed, most incidents were observed in the hardcore clubs, but that really is as far as the evidence goes (at least for alcohol as a causal factor, most drunks were also observed in these clubs. And even this is a bit shoddy) And if you are interested in the culprit of this behaviour, one only has to look at the DJs since “…it was interesting to note that DJs (arguably the source of much of the disorder)…”.

Music is a dangerous thing; do not be fooled by it! As finally concluded by the author: “Music should be handled with care by nightclub operators and DJs” while “In summary, music is more than just entertainment it is a form of crowd/mind control.” If only George Orwell had known this, it would have finally sorted 1984.

I can’t say I am very impressed with this work (I was entertained though). If anything, it seems over-interpretation of the relatively little data that is available to suit a conclusion. As evidence of the latter, and illustration of how one fits the data into a conclusion, have a look at this quote, knowing from the article that the observers liked the old-skool rave club:

Although, like ‘Saturn’ [the old-skool rave club], no violent incidents were witnessed during the research teams’ four visits to ‘Rapture’ [the mixed-music club], unlike ‘Saturn’ this was felt by observers to been more down to chance than as a result of this ‘mixed’ venue’s patrons’ behaviours.

There is however some data available, so let’s have a look at that. Just for entertainment value I extracted the numbers in the tables of this paper and ran some Poisson regression models. It’s not a lot of data – only 8 points (one for each club) – but let’s see what a univariate (because of the limited data) Poisson model can tell us. Could it be the music?

  • Music genre                      : AIC= 32.62
  • Number of people         : 46.09
  • % females                          : 52.20
  • % under-18                        : 37.86
  • % over-30                           : 52.27
  • % middle class                  : 40.42
  • % ethnic minority            : 44.50
  • % drunk                              : 31.66
  • %obviously on drugs     : 51.58
  • Sexual tension                 : 45.96

So what can this, very limited, analysis tell us. The most important factors are indeed the music and the alcohol, but also the percentage under-18s (from empirical evidence, that makes sense…). Unfortunately, there is not much room for multivariate analyses but let’s put all three variables in the Poisson model anyway and look at the parameters estimates to see what is the most aggression-inducing type of music.

So, looking just at the parameters and adjusted for the percentage of drunk patrons and under-18s, it turns out that cheesy pop is the music genre with most observed incidence, and not the happy-hardcore!

Luckily, the most played artists in each venue were also observed, and in the cheesy pop venues these were: the Pussycat Dolls, Kayne West, Dolly Parton and Queen. Queen, Pussycat Dolls and Kayne West were only played in one venue, while Pussycat Dolls and Kayne West were also played often in other venues. So quantitative analyses of these data can only lead to one conclusion:


Dolly Parton music causes violence!

 I did not expect this at the start of the post….did you?




Posted in: Public Health