Nightlyfe: Dancing for equity in events

Nightlfye is an events collab pushing for equity, safety, and inclusion in the late night music scene. Leann Yfrah and Emma Boxley give us the lowdown on the project, and interview up and coming BN1 DJRobbie Ballentine.

Imagine, you spend years perfecting your craft. You invest whatever money you may have into your equipment and pour your heart into your work. Until finally your talent is recognised, and you’re given the chance to perform. 

Though when you arrive on your big night, you’re faced with an empty room and no payment for your service. As Brighton based DJ Robbie Ballentine realised, this is the reality for many people in his line of work.

‘It’s a tricky industry, according to Robbie. He explains that clubs continually exploit lesser-known DJs, not paying them for their service regardless of how large a crowd they draw in. 

Whist club owners claim their DJs are being paid in ‘exposure,’ the poor organisation has forced DJs to play entire sets without their names being displayed anywhere, or to play at the same time as the larger names of night, meaning no crowd will gather to provide this ‘exposure’. 

The exploitation of passionate performers is nothing new and far too many club staff, independent promoters, and techs will have similar experiences. 

However, it is not just those working at the events who are suffering with the current state of the clubbing industry.

The dramatic increase in spiking cases reported in October means party-goers don’t feel safe, and are calling for clubs to do more to ensure their protection. With the motivation to run events being so deeply rooted in financial gain, organisers seem to have lost sight of what music events should be about. What should be a safe space to share music, have fun and meet people, has turned into a frightening fight against abuse and exploitation. 

Fed up with these issues, Robbie paired up with Ollie Taylor to manage his event Nightlyfe, which is ‘seeking to bring the best out of the local scene in Brighton’. By collecting unique talents and paying them fairly for their services, Nightlyfe is paving a better future for the Brighton club scene. Emma Boxley and Leann Yfrah sat down with Robbie to hear more. 

Emma Boxley: Okay so, Robbie, tell us how you got into DJing.

Robbie Ballentine: So, I was in the live music scene back in Gibraltar for the last eight years or so doing RnB, jazz, funk, I used to play a lot of rock as well. And then I got into DJing as I started going to various different techno nights back home. And then from there, I got a lot of love for disco and seventies, after I was brought into the Edinburgh disco scene. And then I picked up DJing in March of 2019, when a friend asked me, actually, if I could DJ for a house party and I got lent a set of decks and went from there.

EB: Tell us a bit about how you were treated when you first started working in the industry.

RB: So, my first experience with working in the music industry – it’s pretty tough. It’s hard to get a gig at first. No one wants to employ you when you’ve got no experience, obviously, that’s the case for most industries. But the difference is that because it’s a completely deregulated industry, it’s pretty easy for them to just not pay you. A lot of the time they’ll take people to start out and they’ll just say, yeah, we’ll pay you with “exposure”, which obviously is complete load of rubbish, but that took me a while to get out of. It is a tricky industry. I’d say.

image by Jacob Dickins

EB: And what are the struggles of a young DJ trying to break into the scene?

RB: The hardest part is getting your first, your first gig, I’d say, and the trouble with it is that you need to invest in your trade, you need to invest in buying music, you need to invest in buying gear and it’s difficult to do without being paid for gigs. But at the same time, you have no choice but to take gigs, which are initially unpaid, because otherwise you just can’t get into the contacts, you can’t get foot in the door, so to speak. 

EB: How has nightlyfe started?

RB: Nightlyfe was started when Ollie Taylor, who’s a friend of mine, decided to create an events company, effectively, and he ran the initial two events and he brought me on board for the second event as a DJ. And then after the success of the second event, he decided to bring me on board to the promotion and management team. 

EB: And what are the values behind nightlyfe and how do they address the issues you mentioned?

RB: Nightlyfe is seeking to bring the best out of the local scene in Brighton, because Brighton,  while it’s a very vibrant scene to go out and it’s also largely a student’s scene, there’s a massive saturation of the music in the sense that a lot of nights are simply aimed at what they know people will like. You’ve got loads of student nights where they just play classics and indie music, and there’s very little room for people who have any kind of underground sound or any authenticity, really. So nightlife seeks to try and give a strong platform and a well-promoted platform to people who we think are leading in having any authentic and potentially underground sounds. And we always pay our DJs fairly. 

EB: How are you guys working to tackle issues with spiking and wellbeing. 

RB: So firstly, we want to introduce the importance of a wellbeing officer. So that’s having two people, one male, one female, assigned in the events who are easy to see and easy for you to approach and who act as a liaison. If you ever feel uncomfortable, or if anyone has done anything to you, they are the first point of call because sometimes people feel uncomfortable talking to the venue staff, or sometimes the venue staff are just all over the place cause they’re too busy, if they’re understaffed or whatever. So that’s one thing that we wanted to do. Another thing is establishing zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination, any kind of maltreatment for anybody, uh, especially with Nightlyfe. Nightlyfe is a place for everyone to come and for everyone to enjoy themselves.

Nightlyfe’s night event in March 15th at Volks Brighton. 

Instagram: @nightlyfe.official. 

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