Getting To Know The Dancing Misanthrope - London’s Most Reclusive Clubber
Alan Wen, better known by his nickname, “The Dancing Misanthrope,” parties harder than anyone in London. Like a raver dog, he’s got a knack for sniffing out the city’s best festivities—and once he hits the dance floor, he doesn’t stop grooving until the lights flicker back on.
But Alan doesn’t really drink. Or smoke. Or do drugs. Or have any interest in other people, really. His intentions are so pure they’re almost virginal: the dude just wants to dance. And he doesn’t care if anyone’s watching. In fact, he’s even got a motto: je danse avec ou sans vous, which means, “I dance with or without you.” It’s kind of beautiful, even if it sounds like it came out of the mouth of a French Robyn.
Over the years, Alan’s become quite the legend in London’s underground nightlife scene. Partly because of his uncanny ability to magically appear at every great party and dance for hours in a corner. But I think his mystique also comes from a deeper source: Alan’s approach towards nightlife is full of paradoxes.
On one hand, he’s a self-identified misanthrope—someone who harbors deep-seated mistrust or hatred for humanity. Pull him towards you on the dance floor, and he’ll politely tell you to “shove off” (in a British accent, obviously). But clearly, he’s harboring a different kind of misanthropy than the serial killer or creepy-recluse-who-only-reads-manga kind. Because, well, he’s still seeking out gigantic crowds in order to isolate himself in the middle of them. Why bother?
Ultimately, these paradoxes boil down to one thing: it’s all about Alan’s unadulterated love for dancing to music. And I think he’s really onto something. Because fuck schmoozing around with your friends or trying to rub up on hot strangers or ducking out for a cigarette every ten seconds. As Alan puts it, “shut up and dance.”
THUMP: How’d you get into the London rave scene?
Alan Wen: I entered the London club life in 2009 when I came across a monthly party in Camden called Buttoned Down Disco. I went with a friend and was blown away by the party’s all-encompassing vibe. It wasn’t bound by genres or what’s hip. It was just great music. I left that night at 2am when my friend got tired, but went back again for my birthday the next month. Except this time, when people were ready to call it a night, I just carried on by myself, and I had a blast.
What are the best parties in London right now?
Bugged Out is the best party promoter I’ve discovered. I went to their 16th birthday party, which Erol Alkan headlined, and danced to Daniel Avery, who was still using his DJ moniker Stopmakingme. I still regard both Erol and Daniel as my favorite DJs. They play records like nobody else—not bound by genres, and able to get the room moving at their own pace and style.
Where was that party?
That one was at XOYO, which used to be owned by Bugged Out. I would say that XOYO’s definitely one of the best clubs in London now. Even though it’s in “gentrified” Shoreditch, the programming team runs a tight ship, and the line-ups there have been unbelievable. They’ve got their bases covered…. no pun intended.
What’s the all-time best party you’ve ever been to?
Bugged Out just started this epic rave weekender last year, in the middle of winter, at a family holiday resort in a seaside town. You wouldn’t believe it! It blows most summer festivals out of the water.
Ed Banger, my favorite record label, also just celebrated their 10th birthday this weekend. Justice was DJing, Busy P put together a stupidly brilliant megamix of the label’s best work, and there was an insane hour of special guests like Erol Alkan, 2manydjs, Skream, and Trevor Jackson all DJing B2B2B2B.
Lets move on to your fashion choices. You wear pretty inconspicuous outfits when you’re out. Are you intentionally trying to keep a low profile, or do you dress crazy for special occasions?
I keep a minimalist style. Maybe it’s influenced from old cartoons where characters wear the same thing again and again. Frankly, I'm thankful that there are creative people who dress up so I don't have to. I just like to be comfortable when I dance.
I started wearing the sunglasses way before I knew about Tiga’s “Sunglasses at Night.” I have really bad eyesight so they’re actually prescription—which is precisely why it's not ok for people to try and take them off me. They're not some cheap pretend-hipster shades. I need them to see.
Do you always wear sunglasses?
I think they have a psychological effect. While not blinding me from seeing people, it does seem to limit my field of vision, and in that sense I'm a lot less self-conscious and don't need to make eye-contact with people on the dance floor. Now it's become a signature of my dancing persona.
How do you choose which parties to attend? Is it always about the music, or do you prefer certain types of crowds?
There are a select few acts—like Erol Alkan, Daniel Avery, 2manydjs, Factory Floor, and Maya Janes Coles—who trump anybody else on offer. But I’ve ended up making a lot of friends who are promoters and DJs too, so they’ll invite me to their parties.
The venue and kind of crowd it attracts is also important. These days, it has to take a very special line-up to persuade me to go to a party that’s listed as “East London Warehouse TBA.”
Basically, if I had to choose between a friend's birthday house party—which may guarantee good company but not much dancing space and people playing cheesy stuff off their iPhones—or a warehouse rave, I'd pick the warehouse rave just about every time.
How did your nickname come about?
I’m a fan of paradoxes, and it started as one of my many online pseudonyms. After a few times at Buttoned Down, I decided I should give myself an online presence so that people who had begun to wonder who I was had some sort of access, while I kept a sense of anonymity.
But most importantly, it meant that no one in my old social circles would know how to find me. I find it hilarious that a lot of people don’t know how to pronounce the word, don’t know what it means, or get it wrong. Someone from XOYO did a meme of me where I’m referred to as the “Dancing Antelope!”
Do you really harbor disdain or mistrust towards other people? Or is that nickname sort of a joke?
It’s not tongue-in-cheek at all. I’m actually more asocial than misanthropic, but I like the paradox between misanthropy and dancing, which you’d expect to be a social activity. I guess my misanthropy is more apparent with my thoughts outside the dance floor. You know, the general state of the world, the masses buying into their own oppression, and so forth. And I look up to some pretty misanthropic types too, like Woody Allen and Charlie Brooker.
I guess when I decided to go clubbing by myself, I had no intention of making any friends. So it's a real surprise that I've made so many, and gotten into the close circles of the DJs I admire and respect. But even then, I still consider myself an outsider. Maybe it's just an image I'm actually comfortable with. Even if I do know people at a club, I'm not waiting for them, I'm not dancing for anybody but myself.
I suppose there’s something funny to lowering expectations by calling yourself a misanthrope, and then surprising people because I can actually be kind of a nice guy. It’s certainly better than someone describing themselves as a lovely person who then turns out to be an asshole, right?
What are the biggest benefits of partying solo?
I don’t have to try and organize an event on Facebook and receive non-committal maybes from friends. Now I just tell people where the great parties are at. If you're coming along, great. If you're not, I don't care. I'll still be dancing. It’s in fact The Dancing Misanthrope’s motto: je danse avec ou sans vous.
But what are some of the drawbacks?
You’re vulnerable to groups of dickheads. Luckily, I made friends with a couple of girls who were also going to parties regularly. When you have a few trusted people to back you up, that’s a good thing.
Do you get bothered when people try to chat you up?
If you mean girls, I can guarantee that 75 percent of the time she'll ask the following questions: 1.) What are you on? And 2.) Do you know where I can buy drugs? The answers, by the way, are 1.) Nothing, and 2.) No. And then that tiny margin when I should've asked for a phone number? I was probably too busy dancing and forgot to ask.
Other than girls asking you for drugs, what else triggers your misanthropy?
When someone is trying to get my attention when I just want to dance. If someone wants to talk to me, I don’t really mind, as long as it’s not going to take long. I find it rude when people at the front talk loudly during a gig. I think it was Robyn who sang, “I came to dance, not to socialize.”
What tactics do you use to retain your sense of seclusion in the middle of a rowdy crowd?
I started wearing earplugs pretty early on. I think that and my sunglasses shut off a lot of what's around me. I like the idea of a crowd, but in reality you don't really want to spend the whole night being rammed by bros every time there's a drop.
Can you describe how you feel when you're “in the zone”?
Not really. I just know that once I'm in the zone, I don't want to get out of it until the music's over.
Where did you learn your moves?
It's all pretty much instinctive. I don't really think how I dance is particularly special, or even that good. I just don't like directions, which includes the simplistic hands-in-the-air bullshit. I did grow up watching a lot of pop music videos, so I may try to mimic Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake… or die trying. I just go with that Brodinski track, “Let the Beat Control Your Body.”
Are you aware that you've become a bit of a legend in the London nightlife scene?
Hah, yes. And kind of in other parts of the UK too! Can’t escape it now. Perhaps I should try visiting the States soon…
There’s been some debate on the Internet about whether low-quality warehouse parties are destroying nightlife. What do you think?
I may be misanthropic but I don't have time to be hating on the underground scene's shortcomings, or moaning about how it was back in the day—which was well before my time anyway. People moan about pretentious Londoners not dancing at Boiler Room parties. But when I last went to one, I saw comments online that hated on my dancing. I mean, really, who gives a fuck. Lots of great parties are still out there. You just have to turn up, shut up, and dance.