“When we were younger, I used to look at my mum and stepdad and think, God, your lives must be so boring without The Shuttle to look forward to every weekend,” recalled Adele, my BFF of The Shuttle era, with whom I spent many memorable nights. The Shuttle was an underage nightclub in the seaside town of Eastbourne, which I attended every Saturday night from the age of twelve in 1998, through to 2002.
With the minimal wages from our part-time jobs, we would buy going-out clothes from West One in the town centre. Its dazzling lighting and seemingly infinite stock of synthetic, late-nineties party wear were tantalizing. At the club, sportswear was the big hitter; crews of boys dressed in garish Tommy Hilfiger jackets, jeans and pristine white trainers. Smelling of Versace Blue Jeans fragrance, their Dax Wax-styled French crops decorated the dance. The girls wore crop tops with their bra straps proudly on display. Zip-up tracksuit tops were worn with short skirts and towering heels. We would attach tiny, reflective stars to our faces with cheap, sticky lip gloss.
Even at an early age, the ritual of pre-drinking was imperative. Consumption of bottles of 20/20 fortified wine and White Lightening cider took place in secret – in Gildridge Park or the local NCP car park – hidden away from adults and the police. Arriving at The Shuttle was always wrought with anxiety. You wouldn’t get in if you were wasted, but rather than turn you away, the bouncers made you get a machine coffee from the local taxi rank to sober up. Of course, we all drank our fair share of rancid coffee - anything to get in. As you entered the venue, a stream of hot air hit you from above; it felt like a welcoming embrace.
Worn imitation velvet covered the vast seating area surrounding the dance floor, opposite a smeared, mirrored mezzanine. Fruit machines nestled in the corners. A dense haze from the fog machine and chain-smoked cigarettes filled the air; their odours lingered throughout the black-carpeted venue alongside pungent Tommy Girl perfume. All three floors had bars that served strictly soft drinks and slush puppies; the red and blue churning ice machines were a friendly beacon to an intoxicated twelve year old. I would nurse a strawberry slush puppy all night long, until it became bright red sugar water.
The Shuttle’s music policy was strictly r’n’b and hip-hop. West Coast rap was particularly popular and group renditions of Tupac’s All Eyez On Me often became competitive. I lived for Brandy, Monica and all of the female artists who were signing about being better than you and taking your man. “You could take your own CDs for the DJ to play,” former Shuttle attendee Elliott explained. “Me and Steve would take four or five albums down with maybe one or two songs on them that were good…” We informed the music policy as much as it informed us.
As a symbol of social status, dancing terrified me. I was always shy - a ghost lingering in the background. I’d watch in awe of the confident girls dancing provocatively alongside the cool boys performing routines ripped from music videos to an eager crowd. MTV Base had just launched, so it would seem in retrospect that we were all appropriating an insanely aspirational music video lifestyle to our seemingly dull lives on the British sunshine coast. Saturday night at The Shuttle was a chance to experience freedom and self-expression - projecting our desired personalities - and have a taste of spatial ownership.
A love interest was always prevalent; I had a few boyfriends later on in my Shuttle career, but initially I would just develop obsessions with older, unattainable boys. Couples would be kissing all over the venue, exuding pure teenage lust. The anticipation was often too much for the last song. Eventually, KC and JoJo’s All My Life would fill the speakers while the dance floor cleared and couples would maneuver and mimic each other’s slow dances. Exclusion from this ritual would cause immeasurable pain. Having to watch the boy you liked dancing with another girl was total torture.
As the battlefield for almost everyone from the surrounding secondary schools, the night would end with cheesy chips from the kebab shop and witnessing a fight. Teenage testosterone, underage drinking and provocation to protect your social status were a weekly recipe for disaster.
The Shuttle was everything. It was the stage for our introduction to social hierarchy, substance abuse, sexual awakening, violence and heartbreak. Exposure to an immersive club scene, at such a formative age, was crucial in shaping our social interactions, musical and aesthetic tastes. Almost every time I speak to someone from Eastbourne, we reminisce about The Shuttle. “They were the best days,” we say in unison.