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Cowgate chronicles: tackling the city’s nightlife

ByCatherine Penman

Oct 8, 2014
Image: Jaakko Hakulinen

On any given evening in Edinburgh it is as though an entire city of Gremlins has been fed after midnight; it is a beautiful disaster.  In order to fathom the anomaly of the city’s night time escapades I felt it was best to gain a unique insight by venturing into the darkest depths of drunken turmoil with only a bottle of still water for defence. I thought it was only fair to you readers that my judgment, unlike everybody else’s, was not impaired by half a dozen of Sneaky Pete’s ‘Bucky Bombs’. Oh how Hunter S. Thompson would disapprove of my style…

First, if you’re new to nightlife in Edinburgh, the city is divided into two main sections. The aristocracy reside on George Street, whilst Cowgate is dominated by hipsters whose unique subculture is far too anti-mainstream to be defined by any class stratification.

On the night of investigation, imposter indie girls infiltrated Hive in Cowgate. Perhaps their decision to grace the ‘dark side’ with their presence was born out of the necessity to aid their aching toes. Rammed into numerous sparkling contraptions designed for anything but feet, it is no wonder that for these girls, any illusion of class was shattered before the end of the night. Repulsed by sweat-smudged makeup and frizzy club hair, Edinburgh’s princesses retreated back from behind enemy lines. Treacherous heels thrust into one hand, cheesy chips balanced preciously in the other, they waddled home. Preserving morale like downtrodden soldiers, drunken sing-alongs consumed the frozen crowds. 

Meanwhile, inside the club you could blame the hazy lighting, the one pound drinks or the ‘hilarious’ decision to wear a golf visor over your eyes, but there is no mistake: some girls’ faces are different colours from their necks and arms.  For those not in the know, you are likely to feel as if you have just stumbled into a low budget sci-fi movie. To make matters worse, these odd folk are not paid for their valiant bravery but actually dent their own student loans for this look. Beware the inevitable club photos, stored and shared online, tormenting their victim – forever!

The George Street lads, big enough to swallow their pride in Cowgate, were sporting the generic Vans Authentic. Entertainingly, their shoes were the only ‘authenticity’ about their evening’s performance.

Weaving soberly throughout the dance floor with astonishing grace and decorum (now there’s a first) the sight of my camera manipulated the crowds into a constant succession of Rorschach inkblots. The underlying  image mentally incomprehensible, as particular groups formed and dispersed. It was “everyone’s birthday” that evening, which obviously required picture scenarios tantamount to cheerleading pyramids as the men fought to prove to the camera just how fun and outgoing they were. Unfortunately, after a valiant attempt at a particularly acrobatic dance move, sweat, drink and sick claimed a perfectly good pair of cream chinos. Moreover, strangers leapt into rival team pictures, which in the spirit of drunken euphoria, was heartily accepted. Metallica and a glittery Tinker Bell became momentarily involved in Edinburgh’s nocturnal melting pot.

Finally, in the Punk Rock Cave, those without essays due in the morning – as well as plenty that did – were the triumphant victors. Everyone was exhausted, yet inspired by the variety of people brought together under one roof. It’s these types of moments where Jack Wills, thrift shop chic and the off club streakers are finally together in harmony.

Screeching along to Blink 182 with your fellow humans, you feel as though you may have fallen in love with everyone in the room. The diversity is the irresistible charm of the city, it is after all, the small things. Happy to admit I was a part of the awkward, humiliating, lunacy of student nightlife, by 3am, my status: highly intoxicated.

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