What Happened When We Went To The World's First Alcohol-Free Nightclub (Spoiler: It Was Cool)
The Debrief: We sent one of our writers to Stockholm's new sober nightclub - Sober - to see what dancing like a maniac is like without five shots and a bottle of wine...
Last weekend, as an antidote to my yuletide boozing, I paid a visit to Stockholm’s new non-alcoholic club night, SOBER. Prior to this, mentioning this event to anyone provoked the same uncertain response: people nodding, smiling and saying something like 'oh, that sounds…interesting', when really I could tell they were secretly screaming: 'WHAT, A CLUB NIGHT WITH NO ALCOHOL? ARE YOU SERIOUS?'.
I have to be honest, I was inclined to sympathise with their inner mistrust, but I was also willing to be proved wrong. Was it possible to have a really good night out dancing until the early hours, without a drop of alcohol or any intoxicating substance passing your lips/nose/intravenous veins?
Mårten Andersson, a 40 year old Swedish comedian and TV presenter, made the decision to go alcohol-free this past year and started SOBER to give Swedish people an exciting alternative to just getting hammered on nights out. In short, his aim is 'to enlighten people about getting the best out of clubbing.'.
Upon arrival, in order to be allowed entrance, a uniformed bouncer asks you to blow into a breathalyzer to make sure you are at 0% alcohol.
Upon arrival, in order to be allowed entrance, a uniformed bouncer asks you to blow into a breathalyzer to make sure you are at 0% alcohol. I’m pleased to say I passed that first test, despite my 12 hours of drinking the previous day (I’ve got to admit, I was a little worried). So, literally given the green light, I headed on in.
Usually set over 2 rooms, last night’s Boxing Day SOBER was a slightly smaller affair of about 400 revellers, taking place in one rather grand room of the Södra Teatern in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district. The bar at one end was serving a range of ‘mocktails’ and non-alcoholic wines, beers and soft drinks. No menu on offer, I asked the friendly hipster barman to sort me out with something tasty and was served up a zingy sort of ginger mojito. What’s noticeably different about SOBER is that the bar is not fought over in the way it is at normal clubs, people pushing to get served through 5-people-thick queues. In fact, lots of people last night were dancing minus any drink in hand.
The night started with a set from Swedish hip hop group Kartellen (‘The Cartel’). The front man, Sebbe Staxx, a recovering alcoholic, having previously been under fire for his lyrics and his criminal past, is now a practising Christian and lives a totally sober life. The founder, Andersson, clean shaven in a crisp white shirt, introduced the act, making a little speech about the ‘law of attraction’ – the philosophical belief that like energy attracts like energy – basically, if we are positive, this will spread.
When the DJ starts – playing dance remixes of chart classics – it takes a little while for the dancing to really kick off (understandable, considering nobody's drunk), but soon people are covering the dance floor both in groups or just throwin' moves solo, and by about 11.30pm, it looks just like any other pumping club. Lights flashing, DJ complete with arms in the air, people collectively waiting for the beat to drop.
One thing that really strikes you is that there is none of the unpredictability or the extremes of alcohol-fuelled clubs, the mood is more consistent, a lot less messy because people aren't getting increasingly wasted - just a lot more sweaty. I chat to Mårten and he tells me Swedish clubs can get very aggressive, people pushing each other and being antisocial and it's true, you see none of this at SOBER. Ingrid and Helena are at SOBER for the first time and they comment on how positive the atmosphere is: 'People say excuse me in the crowd'. Neither is teetotal, but have driven in today from out of town to let their hair down post-Christmas and, presumably, out of curiosity as to whether they'll actually have fun minus shots. Our conversation is cut short when Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ comes on and Ingrid shouts 'This is good! I’m gonna dance!' - so the answer to that curiosity would be yes, then.
An older guy, Fredrik, is propping up the bar, mineral water in hand, and tells me he comes to SOBER because at nightclubs when everyone is drunk, you have to hide your soberness behind other people’s drunkenness, rather poetically adding: 'At SOBER everyone can see each other with clear eyes'. I can’t imagine someone talking as lucidly as this at 12.30am in a normal night club.
It’s an eclectic range of people – a group of 18 year old girls, shyly dancing in a little group alongside ex-alcoholics in their 50s, middle aged women who look they’re on a wedding dance floor and new-age-looking women with Sinead O’Connor haircuts.
Sandra, 28, dances crazily with two friends in the walkway by the bar for most of the night. She currently lives in LA and loves SOBER because you can have the freedom to just dance, 'without worrying about annoying drunk people and sleazy men'. And it's a good point - there's no bleary eyed arseholes feeling anyone up in this club, they're all too busy dancing their pants off. In a metaphorical sense.
At one point, Andersson has to leave our conversation because some people on other rooms at the theatre are asking that the sound be turned down: 'Why can’t they just be happy that there’s a sober night club happening?' he asks, and I’m inclined to agree. Nothing but positivity can come out of such a phenomenon: so let’s spread the love.
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