This week’s up close and personal comes from an old raver who moved to Cardiff in 1999. Her inspiration: Justin Kerrigan’s clubtastic Cardiff-based flick, Human Traffic. Here’s Jenny to tell us more.
I can still remember the first time I saw Human Traffic. Sounds ridiculous, but that film changed my life. I was living in Exeter and I messed up my A level exams, and so ended up with shoddy grades, unable to get into any of my university choices. I only just managed to get into Reading, but I didn’t like Reading at all. Most of my friends were off travelling, and I just didn’t seem to click with anyone there. One night, my flatmates suggested we watch a film before we went out. One of them had this new film, Human Traffic, on video (VHS!!! Imagine). I’d heard vaguely about it but couldn’t afford to go to the cinema back then, so hadn’t seen it.
We watched the film in the communal area (which was basically the kitchen), all wrapped up in blankets, sitting on uncomfortable kitchen chairs, smoking spliffs and drinking beers, totally absorbed in the whirlwind 99 minutes of clubs, drugs, pubs, and parties, all set in this magical narnia called Cardiff. The soundtrack was amazing, the people seemed friendly, the city like a neon playground inviting you from club to house party, back to club.
I realise, obviously, that the film’s not without fault. The dialogue is clunky sometimes, the storyline abjectly ridiculous. But it’s not really about any of that, so none of that matters. It’s about capturing a moment in time. It’s about being a certain age, being part of a scene, when you might never have really belonged anywhere before. And by those standards, it might as well be Citizen Kane. That’s certainly how I felt about it.
Also Danny Dyer. It is most definitely about Danny Dyer.
I was super fed up with Reading, and my friend Pete was at uni in Cardiff, and so during the first term I bought myself a railcard and took the train there to visit. There was some event on at Solus in the student union – maybe Carl Cox, or something? The entire union was covered in camo netting – it was everywhere. By this point, drugs had entered my recreational lexicon. I hid the pills in my bra and we distributed them amongst us when we got in there. Pete’s flatmates came with us too, they were still in that slightly awkward initial freshers phase, where you sort of have to hang out together because you haven’t met your tribe yet, but they were all lovely, if awkward.
I was off my face, ended up snogging this cute blonde that lived in a student flat a few buildings away from them. The music was a mixture of trance and hard house. It was epic, driving music, with enough weird psychedelic sounds to keep your brain tweaking while you danced and stamped away, blissed out.
Pete and his flatmates ended up meeting loads of new friends that night – we all went back to someone else’s flat in Talybont South, where they produced endless amounts of weed and bongs, lungs, shotties. I never really liked weed so opted to just keep drinking booze and smoking fags. We hotboxed ourselves in that tiny living area until it started getting light, when we all stumbled back to Pete’s flat, shading our eyes from the dazzling October skies.
We couldn’t sleep, of course, so after a few hours fitfully rolling around on the floor, Pete decided we needed a fry up and then to go back to the pub. We didn’t bother showering – I think I just about managed to brush my teeth – and back out into the wilds we went, all wearing sunglasses, clutching cans of Oranjeboom, heading up to Cathays to The Warm As Toast Cafe (Twat … RIP!) for ‘breakfast’.
After we’d managed to hold down the food, Pete started getting a second wind. We headed for the nearest pub – can’t remember which one it was now, one on the way into town. It might have been Inncognito, which later became Cardiff Arts Institute. It was late afternoon by this point and they had DJs setting up in there. We alternated between pitchers of beer and pitchers of cocktails, and although it’s almost impossible to get pissed the day after a massive session, the day-after drinking always felt so nice: like a big cushion around your come down. (I would find out years later was actual real come downs were like: when you’ve got an unforgiving 9-5 and you haven’t slept all weekend and by Wednesday you think everyone hates you and wtf does your life mean and literally want to fall into a hole and die).
Feeling slightly more sprightly, we decided to head into town. It was only about 5pm at this point and all the shops were still open, so I got a whistle stop tour of the most important independents: Hobos, for natty threads; Catapult, for all your dance music; and Spillers, for indie, rock, and everything else. I bought a London Elektricity CD from Catapult (I still have it!) and a Spillers t shirt which I wore over my shirt for the rest of that night.
We went for a burger in the Gatekeeper, and Pete bumped into some friends from his course, who were heading into Clwb Ifor Bach, which really was a ‘Welsh club’ back then: we were only allowed in as we went in with some Welsh speakers, and I got given a membership card to sign that promised that I was learning Welsh (something I’ve still not managed to master, despite having lived here for nearly 20 years now – good job they don’t check up on you anymore).
The night gets hazy after that. Endless trips to the damp loos, as Pete got some charlie off someone in the queue. Sneakily smoking spliff on the dancefloor. I can’t even remember what the music was now, maybe some sort of indie night. The crowd was completely different though. Fewer students. More young professionals.
We got to bed around 2am and slept til about 3pm. I woke up already late for my train, and had to get a taxi to the station. I made it with seconds to spare. I got a Burger King when I was back in Reading and slept through all of my Monday lectures.
And that was the first of many such weekends in Cardiff. I was back in Cardiff every weekend during that first term. I bumped into Meic again (the blonde guy I’d snogged that first night), and soon we were an item. Eventually realised there was no point in travelling back and forth all the time. My heart was in Cardiff. Not necessarily with Meic – we split up after a few months – but in the city. Pete moved in with his girlfriend so I took his room and moved in with his flatmates. Turns out we were a tribe all along!
I thought I might apply to Cardiff Uni, but my grades hadn’t been great, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do – I just knew I was much happier doing anything in Cardiff than I had been in Reading or back in Devon.
I gave up on the idea of uni altogether and started working. Like lots of people, I guess, I was temping, doing all sorts of different things, and then just sort of fell into working in events. I think I got to have the best of both worlds, back then: I hung out with students all the time. I even went to a couple of lectures, just to see if I’d enjoy it. But I didn’t really.
My memories of those days revolve around the nightlife. I made so many good friends on nights out – people I’m still close to now. Friendships forged in sweaty hugs and toilets and on dancefloors across the city. I even ended up meeting some people that had been extras in Human Traffic itself – extras in the house party scenes towards the end. They told me they’d wanted to make it as realistic as possible, so they were all smoking spliffs and drinking beers. TRUTH.
The venues were key. The Emporium, for example – where I spent so many nights – was where part of Human Traffic was filmed. You can even see some of its posters in the background of the scene where Jon Simm tries to blag his way into the club – apparently this scene was shot in the manager’s office.
Then there was Welsh Club. The Toucan. The Hippo. The Model Inn. Club M. Club X. Gretzskys. Metros. Apocalypse or Vision or whatever it was called by the end (it then turned into Primark … and is now some other high street chain shop). The Student Union – Solus upstairs, and Seren Las downstairs. The Philharmonic. Evolution and the party bus from town to the bay. Barfly. Sugar. Moloko. The Point. There was some place behind a fancy dress shop on Clifton Street we’d go to for after hours parties. And we used to go to everything: techno, drum & bass, the reggae parties down the Bay. Hard house was more of a push for me but I’d still go.
There were some nights we wouldn’t leave the house until midnight. These days I can’t remember the last time I was even awake at midnight without there being a baby crying or a dog with the runs demanding to be let out of the house. How things change!
Venues open and close. Unless you were around Cardiff at the start of the 2000s, you probably don’t even recognise half those places I’m talking about. The union is all coffee shops now. I read something recently about how students and young people don’t rave or drink or take drugs anymore, and it made me sort of sad, double sad, for them – that they won’t experience all those amazing things – but also myself. I miss those days. I miss being young and carefree and not having kids or a mortgage to worry about and being able to spend all night roaming around the city, smoking rollies with tramps and going back to random houses for parties.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change my life now for the world. I just wish I’d revelled in those days, in that time a bit more. Also it was a weird time in terms of the internet – right early days, so it’s not like I can just flick through Facebook albums whenever I feel nostalgic. I barely had a mobile phone at that time, and I certainly didn’t have a digital camera until nearly a decade later.
As for Human Traffic now? I actually haven’t watched the film in ages. It’s a treat that I save up for myself when I’m poorly. I love doing that really boring thing of “I know where that is!” when they’re in some of the outdoor scenes. And I know I’m not the only one that really loves it: because I still see articles about the filming locations or interviews with Justin Kerrigan popping up every so often.
Jenny Jones is an events manager who dreams fondly of her youth. She currently lives in Fairwater.
Wanna read more?
- Reel Streets! An amazing in-depth description of the locations!
- Top ten scenes in Human Traffic (Mixmag, 2016)
- Human Traffic: Director Justin Kerrigan reminisces 15 years on from the Cardiff clubbing classic (2014)
- 18 Cardiff bars and nightclubs that came and went in the 2000s (Wales Online)