Behind the Scenes: The Bouncer

In this series, Flux will interview a variety of individuals who each have different points of contact with the music industry, to shine a light on those who work quietly in the shadows and rarely receive any acknowledgment for the vital role they play in electronic music. Every club night that any of us has attended will have been been closely guarded and monitored by a security team. They are there primarily to ensure the safety of partygoers but also to check that the venue does not become a hotspot for excessive drug-dealing or anti-social behaviour, which could bring the club’s hard-fought licence into jeopardy. Often maligned by club-goers, it is hard to deny in the cold light of day that bouncers have a difficult and crucial job to do. The perspective they gain on club events is far removed from those there purely to dance to the music. We sat down with a Leeds-based bouncer, who wishes to remain anonymous for the purposes of this interview, to find out more.

So how did you come to be working as a bouncer?

I used to work behind the bar. I’d never even thought about going on the doors before a friend of mine pulled a door shift at the bar I was working at. We trained together in Jiu Jitsu and he said that I was better suited on the door – ‘more pay and easy work’ were his exact words. It certainly paid more. So I did my SIA course and got a place at my friend’s agency. I ended up working the doors for about 5 years. The main place I worked was a Lloyds bar that acted as a feeder club to Gatecrasher. But I’ve worked in all kinds of places including massive clubs, small venue clubs, a whole host of bars and lots of event nights similar to Flux.

Had you attended underground club events yourself previously or were you introduced to those kind of parties through bouncing?

I was already quite involved in the underground music scene being a regular attendee at the Custard Factory in Birmingham. I loved house and drum & bass, but anything with a good beat that I could dance to would suffice. Coming at them from the other side put an interesting perspective on it. Being sober at them certainly meant you couldn’t enjoy the music to its fullest and you were constantly on the lookout for trouble or problems. Usually you’d get placed in a certain area to keep watch, which could be annoying if you were hoping to catch the headliner and you were stuck watching over the smoking area.

How do you find the crowds at underground events? Are they easy to deal with and as loved up as you might expect or is the reality that when you’re sober and trying to keep these people out of trouble they’re a nightmare?

I’d say about 90% of the time, crowds at underground events are so easy to deal with. They are much more chilled and there is hardly any trouble, at least at the ones I worked at. Occasionally you’d get a bit of a disagreement happen but most of the time it could be resolved reasonably. The most problems we had to deal with were people who were too far gone and had to make sure they were safe. I’ve had to step in when several creeps were harassing a girl who just wanted to dance but they usually back off when they realise they’ve been clocked. You’d get the odd person who’s on something that just makes them want to fight the world, they can get very unpredictable. There was this one lad who was slim, not that much to look at but was getting super aggressive. We cornered him and when I thought he was backing down he started lashing out again with a strength I didn’t predict. It took 3 of us to get him out.

Compare this to some of the other places Ive worked, where I could guarantee I’d be fighting every shift multiple times, I’d always choose the raves over the big commercial clubs. There, you would get a lot of very rowdy lads who weren’t out for the music but out for trouble. A simple spill of the drink can turn into a full brawl very quickly if we don’t spot it and intervene, whereas most people in the underground clubs if they bump into each other tend to just return hugs rather than fists. Although I have seen the opposite where someone was getting too loved up and the other person was clearly not in the mood. But even then it’s very easy to resolve.

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Obviously there are some pretty tight rules that legally force bouncers to be very careful on who and what they let in to venues – how do you try to deal with this tactfully? Is it hard to balance working duties with ensuring everyone has a good time?

We know the law, and we know who will get the blame but in reality the club will be brimming with class As. If I see it, I’ll confiscate it. If someone walks in and I do a bag search and see it, I’m removing it but I am not going to cavity search everyone. If people are doing stuff in my eyeline I have to have words, usually confiscation and allow them to stay. If I see them dealing in front of me, we throw them out. But like I said we were fairly static, keeping a watch on the crowd as a whole and anyone stupid enough to deal drugs next to a bouncer deserves to be booted.

I know from experience what goes on in there and I see my job as making sure the patrons are safe. I’m not the police. They’re adults and can make their own life decisions whatever they may be. If they’re discreet, not causing bother and enjoying themselves, I’m not going to hunt them down. If you’re a knob then bouncers can usually find an excuse to get rid of you whether you’re on drugs or not.

Sometimes people cite the evident personality clash between arty liberal partygoers and hardened bouncers as something which can lead to disagreements. Was this your experience overall or are those just stereotypes which don’t exist so much in the real world?

I was one of the youngest bouncers usually when we were working (I started at age 20) and considered myself a fairly liberal partygoer when I wasn’t working. Some of my colleagues had been at the job for nearly 20 years and had a wealth of experience that I was happy to learn from. Unfortunately I also learnt that when a bouncer says no, it usually means no. Arguing is always pointless, it only aggravates the bouncer more. Very occasionally I had people be very apologetic, understanding and willing to go with whatever sentence we went with, these people I would sometimes give a second chance. At the end of the day there are rules that we are employed to keep – ignoring these usually meant we weren’t asked back for another shift. Speaking from personal experience I always wanted people to have a great time at these events but sometimes you had to play the hardass. This was most evident when I would come across someone so out of it they could barely stand, their friends would usually be the ones who would argue and I would try and tell them they needed to look after their friend by taking him home. I wasn’t trying to ruin their fun, just to make sure no one died in the club. It can be tough to see it from this perspective when you’ve been drinking or high and all you see is the bouncer in black telling you your night is over.

Did you ever see behaviour from a fellow bouncer which went beyond what is acceptable in terms of physical force? Is this something you think is slowly being stamped out (if you’ll excuse the pun) from the profession?

Yeah, unfortunately. Coming from a Jiu Jitsu background I preferred grappling and takedowns, I found it suited doorwork perfectly as most people have no idea how to fight like that sober let alone when they’ve had a few drinks. It also meant you did very little damage to the punter but still got them to leave the premises effectively. I knew this one guy who would routinely gut punch people as he dragged them out, even if they were cooperating. There was this one time when I was having a beer at a bar after a shift, I saw this guy full on smack one of the bar staff. The bouncers launched on him and gave him the biggest beating the guy had ever had. Me and the other doormen I was with had to step in before they killed this kid. This was about ten years ago.

You’ll always get people who are more prone to violence in a job where you have to get into aggressive altercations with people. If you get a good head doorman, they can usually keep a team under control. My first head doorman taught me, bouncing was 90% talking, 10% fighting and while you still get dickheads in clubs there will always be fighting. But from what I’ve seen, its definitely declined from the taken-out-back beatings I used to hear about.

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There’s been a lot made recently of how much harassment girls still receive these days in the UK’s clubs. Do you think there should be more established procedures for reporting offenders to bouncers than there currently is?

Of course, but I understand how difficult it is to implement, especially in the bigger clubs. Most of the time they can barely give a good description of the guy, just one of the many faceless clubbers in shirt and jeans. I’d always try and investigate anything like harassment but couldn’t devote my entire evening to tracking it down. I’d usually stop any creepy guy that’s taking a half comatose girl home and try and make sure the girl knew them and was happy. But apart from that it’s very difficult. I would say if you are getting harassed, tell the bouncers, they are there to help.

Finally, what’s the most ridiculous incident you had to deal with in your time working as a bouncer?

This would probably have to be when I was working a small club in South Manchester on a Saturday night. There were only two of us working the on the door that night as the other guy had phoned sick last minute and we couldn’t find a last minute replacement. The head doorman pretty much knew half the people in there anyway as regulars so we weren’t too worried. Unfortunately a large group of about 10-12 lads had made their way into the club, they’d done it in dribs and drabs so as not to be turned away. They were your typical racist skin-head scum, but the head doorman knew most of them and said they don’t cause trouble.

A little later on in the night we hear a commotion coming from the beer garden. There were 3 Jamaican guys who had just been sat minding their business when the group decided to start harassing them. Me and the other doorman got in the middle of it all but then one of the skinheads pulls a knife, I then hear bottles smash behind me as 2 of the Jamaicans are now wielding broken bottles. So there we were, two bouncers in the middle of probably one of the biggest messes I’ve ever been in, outnumbered and outgunned. We go back to back, the head doorman talking down the skin heads, me trying to talk down the Jamaicans. I manage to convince them to leave, my boss also talks down the skin heads. I get the Jamaicans out the back door and the skin heads leave out the front. You have to have this confident, aggressive, authoritarian attitude, when dealing with stuff like this or no one will ever listen to you. Its not always about size but presence and force of will. It also helps to have a sense of humour.</span