Access All Areas – We spent a night with two London bouncers to get the lowdown on how things are really run in the clubs

Images by Jesse Maricic & Micah Gianneli |

Decoded Magazine likes to present a subject from many different angles, and by wanting to do so we find ourselves eye to eye with the least known of the scene; the bouncers. How many times have they ruined or saved your night?, either by leaving us outside in the queue for hours just to not let us in at all in the end, or by throwing out that idiot on the dancefloor all night, or maybe confiscated your drugs? Of course we all know why they are there, and that they provide a safety net should something go wrong in the venue or with you personally. They all have gone through first aid training and have the required basic knowledge in understanding how to protect us, but it very easy to forget when you not having a heart attack and just want to get to the dance-floor after being outside in the cold for hours.

Decoded sat down with Arman and Olti (not their real names), two guys in their mid-thirties that have been working on the door and dance floors all over London for the last 8 years, they are brothers and colleagues, and they moved to London from Albania after an invitation from their uncle, who also works as a door man.  They did their SIA training together and are now self-employed through the same company.  They look like typical bouncers, both dressed in uniform as they are off to work at an East London warehouse party later this evening. Their clothing is typical “bouncer” style; military styled trousers, black leather jackets and boots that would be suitable for camping.

“We need to dress for all kind of weather as sometimes you are stuck outside for hours, we get given a lot of grief for our clothes, but it’s just a uniform, I don’t wear this stuff when I’m off, I like to think I got a bit of style. But as you might know, as much as ravers takes the piss out of us, we take the piss out of them. We got nicknames for the people we see all the time, the “regulars” so to say.” Arman says with a smile.

We start to talk about the importance of a sense humour in the job, and they both agree it’s one of the most important skills, as they need to be able to joke with punters when necessary, sometimes to make them relax and warm to them, but also sometimes to show their authority.

“Sometimes all it takes to get someone to admit to doing something wrong or to make them tell the truth about something, can be to crack a joke.  Make them feel relaxed, like you are on their side. It might be an ugly trick but it’s very effective. At the end of the day we have to do all we can to protect the people on the dance floor from knifes and dangerous drugs, so if we need to play a bit of a game we will.” Olti says.

Dangerous drugs? I question, so there we have it, drugs, the sensitive subject of drugs. There is unavoidably a fine line between bouncers and drugs. The brothers have worked in some of the most recognized parties and biggest clubs all over London, and they have seen drug take in all shape and forms, and it’s no secret that most clubs, even though they state different, have a fairly relaxed drug policy as long as the drugs are done in private. In the bathrooms for example.

“Most clubs need to display signs with the message that they will arrest you or kick you out if you’re found doing drugs, but it’s not true. They will call us to search you, confiscate your drugs and then let you go. It’s very rare that the police is called, and most of the time you just get banned and a warning from us, the clubs security. I know of one girl who got caught in a club that is now closed, years back when it was still open, and the security found a hundred or so pills on her, they confiscated the pills and a staff member of the club held on to them, this guy was later seen in an after party selling the same pills.

After we hand over the drugs to the club or venue-responsible we do not have responsibility over what happens to them. Some of the larger clubs have “black boxes” where the drugs gets collected in, and all confiscations are also documented online in a shared document with the police, and after every weekend the police come to collect the boxes, but even these drugs seem to “disappear” sometimes.”

Images by Jesse Maricic & Micah Gianneli |
Images by Jesse Maricic & Micah Gianneli |

“It’s crazy really.” Arman explains how the club – bounces – dealer system have changed over recent years. “ Before it was the dealers giving us money and drugs to let them work freely in the party or venue, now a days it’s the promoters. Some of them contact us before the events wanting to work out a deal for us to turn a blind eye to the dealers entering the venue, sometimes providing a descriptions of how the “good dealers” look and always stating how good guys they are. It’s all about throwing a good party nowadays, the competition is very hard as there is too many parties. So a party without drugs, on the East London Warehouse scene that is, is doomed to fail.”

Other times it is the management in certain venues asking them to only confiscate and take action on use of specific drugs, Olti says that if there is a big house DJ playing for example they like to keep the vibe happy and uplifting so they ask the security to minimize the use of ketamine and weed as these drugs tend to make the vibes slow and more suitable for an after party. “It’s all about image, the management and PR team behind every venue and club work hard to get a certain image to every event, and even us, the bouncers, have a role in representing  and maintaining that image.”

So has the drug use have changed over previous years, if the attitude have changed in any way? “A lot” Arman replies;

“Ravers have less respect for us now a day, they take drugs right in front of our faces. And they are clever about it. I saw one girl at a boat party where I was working, she had a cut of straw and a bag of smoothing hidden within her bag, in a small pocket on the side, so she just open her bag, then the small bag, and sniffed from her straw right on the dance floor. No one could really see what she was doing if you were not knowing what to look for. Also, all the small machines that you can buy makes it really easy to use drugs quick, you no longer have to go in the toilet to make lines, they are ready at the push of a button.

We can’t really do anything to drug users in a club, yeah sure, we can kick them out but that it is. There hasn’t been any stories of abuse from a security as I can remember from recent years, and no bouncer want that on his reputation as it will prevent him from getting work.”

When doing their SIA training they get provided information on how to find drugs and signs that might indicate drug use, but they both found the information old and silly as the drugs and the way to take drug evolve all the time. They say the best way is to keep your eyes and ears open and try to prevent whatever substances that might be harmful to come in to the club. One of those harmful substances is GHB. “GHB is our worst enemy, as it is a known rape drug. Every pre event briefing we have, we are always asked to keep a look out for bottles of GHB. It’s hard, as it is a liquid and can be brought through the door in so many forms, other than that we aim to find weapons of all kinds and to establish the dealers.”

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“Like I said before, we might not always let you know straight away on the door that we know who you are and what you are up to, sometimes by waiting there might be opportunities to either strike a new friendship or to gain a little something. A lot of people think we are stupid and don’t understand, or see anything, it’s not true. We see most of the moves in the club, we just choose which ones to react on. The whole club scene is about profit, profit for the venue, profit for the promoter and profit for the dealers, and sometimes profit for us as well.” The brothers let me in on yet another secret and tells me that there is even big established venues that raise the price of bottled water when they know they have a young pill eating audience coming in.

Drug use among bouncers is not widely spread, but both Olti and Arman say they have used drugs both off and on duty, especially on duty when working long hours of a party plus an after party. Their shifts sometimes go on for 14 hours straight, and Red Bull is not enough to keep them alert for such long time. But I can’t help to wonder if being high in such a stressful environment might affect their reaction time and judgment? Olti responds with with “No, I would not say so. I think we are at our best all the time, with or without substances. Working in such a fast paced environment keeps you alert, you have to be prepared all the time for what might happen. We do really care about the people that is there to have a good night, we want to guarantee that they will enjoy their time in our venue. Sometime yes, we might piss people off when we confiscate their drugs or kick their friends out, but it is our job, and sometimes the problem it to great, we can’t just ignore it.

“It’s all about the balance, we need to keep punters happy, the promoter happy and then try to keep the dealers under control. At the same time make sure the staff is safe, that we are safe and that you are safe, it’s a big reasonability. If something happened in the venue we are the first ones to get the heat.  But I love it, I know there might be a few bouncers out there dragging down the reputation for all of us, but most of us are good guys that just like an action packed job. I selected this line of work, and I have come to love it, and it’s especially great when you work for a party regularly and the team and the regular ravers get to know you and say hi. That’s great. “

Arman and Olti both think drugs are necessary to fill up the underground venues, they are right when saying that there would probably not be fully packed after parties every weekend without drugs, or such a good feeling in the clubs. Compared to working in the West End where alcohol has centre stage they both agree on that underground parties have less fights and less trouble in general, they say that everyone seem to be friends, everyone is happy.

“Half of the parties would not be anything near as good without drugs, and some of them probably would not even exist. I think I speak for of both of us when I say that drugs can be great if they are enjoyed reasonably and within limits, just as alcohol. But I would like people to understand that we are there for support and we are there to help.”

I think we do, don’t we? It might be hard sometimes to remember that the security actually are people, and that they are under great stress from various parts of the club. But it’s easy forgotten when you just want to dance.

About the Author

Marketing, Social Media and creative writer, Maria has worked extensively in the music industry with venues and promoters, including The End / AKA. “I love to write. I love the challenge trying to give a memory to the reader through worlds – and I am always trying to write with feeling, passing the memories on".