Cambridge nightlife is changing for the better

From Strawberries and Creem to renting out pub basements: the possibilities are limitless.

Clubbing creem open deck Opinion soul butter strawberries and creem student nights

Cambridge has a not undeserved reputation for relatively sub-par nightlife compared to other major student cities. Yet this comparative lack of development also presents some unique advantages for would-be promoters, DJs and musicians. 

The city is far from alone in this regard – students from Bath and Durham regularly forsake their own towns and travel to Bristol and Newcastle respectively for nights out – but what makes it unique is the type of student population it hosts, specifically those at Cambridge University. Outside of Oxbridge, nightlife can play a major factor in a student’s choice of university – for someone devoted to bass music and club culture, Bristol or Leeds and their well-regarded scenes would be a much more tempting prospect than more isolated places like Durham or St. Andrews.

Yet inevitably, the cult of Oxbridge means that many of these kinds of students are directed – by schools, teachers and personal choice – to unis with much less variety club-wise than they would otherwise prefer, particularly in the case of Cambridge, being much smaller than Oxford. This leads to a student population in which a significant proportion have nightlife tastes that are being insufficiently catered to, if at all.

Unsurprisingly, there have been movements in recent years to address this. Creem, known for their hip-hop club nights and the annual Strawberries & Creem festival, has developed from playing the music many Cambridge students want to hear but can’t anywhere else in the city, to booking the artists themselves. They hosted Big Narstie at Fez earlier in the year, and it got a reaction that proved without doubt a strong following for grime and garage at Cambridge and ARU.

Even more impressively, after booking Skepta as headliner last year – just as he was experiencing a mainstream revival – this year’s lineup features heavyweight names such as Nelly and Kano, as well as a host of other talent. As co-founder Chris Jammer explained, the festival was started from scratch almost exclusively by students and ex-students in Cambridge.

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Only an event run by students would host a grime MC at an 800-year old university

Creem and its offshoots may represent the more impressive aspects of student-run nightlife in the city, but there is a whole host of other groups putting on events of similar quality – Arcsoc and Embassy are known for their house/disco and techno nights respectively. The Open Deck nights at the Portland Arms have also quickly become a regular fixture, although as much for their study-friendly hours as for the music – as one Tit Hall fresher approvingly put it: “you can go out then be in bed by midnight.”

As the main commercial potential for student nights in Cambridge remains in established, mass-appeal events such as Life and Cindies, students face little competition and small booking costs for putting on nights, and things can get even more DIY with pub events like Open Decks. Robinson fresher Tiernan Banks put on Soul Butter – a night started by friends in Norwich – at the CB2 Bistro in east Cambridge earlier this term.

Assessing the state of nightlife in the city, he remarked that “Cambridge is great for putting your own stuff on, there’s so many venues about that’ll give you their rooms for cheap or for free. But more than that, Cambridge is good because there’s very little going on nightlife-wise, so people actually tend to hear about it if you do put something on.” Basically, the “Cam club scene is very small therefore it’s easy to start stuff.” He did however express a concern that club nights were “detrimental” to the live music scene – perhaps a reflection more on wider, more general trends in student culture.

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A 20-minute queue for Life won’t get you fairy light action this strong

If all this activity signifies anything, it’s that far from the stereotypical workaholic image, a small but sizeable portion of Cambridge students care about diverse, interesting nightlife, and an increasing number of them are taking matters into their own hands – in a climate favourable to doing just that.

So next time you’re standing empty-eyed in Cindies at half-one, with a VK in each hand and serious existential dread in your stomach, remember that the ingenuity and creativity we’re supposedly renowned for can extend to your nights out.