High Key 1st Birthday Rave At The Rainbow Pub 19/05/23

Writer Beth Exley / Photographer Connor Pope

I’ve not been on a big night out in a long time. Full-time work has zapped my energy and I’ve been feeling like I don’t have much to offer to a dance floor. Needless to say, I was a little bit scared before coming tonight. It doesn’t help that my memories of The Rainbow Pub mainly revolve around the Cellar. Although I’ve had many fun nights there, it is a bit of a sweaty space that makes me feel a touch claustrophobic in my weaker moments. Today has been pretty humid. I’m wearing a thick black T-shirt.

The Cellar calls but I don’t know if I want to answer.

I’m pleasantly surprised when getting my ticket checked. We bypass the Cellar entirely and get to a space I didn’t even know existed. An airy courtyard covered by something akin to a circus tent. Warm lighting and smiling faces greet me. It’s fairly early but I can spot a nice-sized group getting their groove on to the funky garage sounds of High Key co-founder DirtyBulk. It’s just the right sound for this warm late-spring evening, and I can feel the promise of summer in the air.

I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered such sound bouncers. They tell me we’re actually in the pub’s smoking area, but whenever they have events on everyone congregates up here anyway so they decided, last minute, to move High Key upstairs. We exchange a little chit-chat as they search my bag. A few jokes are cracked, and I start to feel right at home.

As I walk through the doors, A4 posters with light blue and pastel High Key branding catch my eye. They spell out an event policy that states:


I’m impressed. As I’m sure most of us have, I’ve had my fair share of sketchy encounters in Birmingham clubs and I have often left nights out feeling scared, on edge, or just a bit gross after unwanted touches or comments. So, I can only imagine how rough people who don’t fit into my fairly privileged category have it out there.

Setting out such great boundaries at the entrance and having them be so prominent, as well as ensuring the bouncers are the kind of people that you could approach for help, is such an important (and easy) step for event organisers to take. It’s amazing you don’t see these safe space policies more often really, considering how widespread the harassment issue is in the nightlife scene.

High Key have immediately gained my respect for making this such a central part of the entry process.

I buy a pint – I’m alone and slightly self-conscious. But before I even have the chance to be fully aware I’m actually on a night out by myself, someone dances over and introduces themselves. We exchange a slightly sweaty hug, and the music pulsates through me. Dirty Bulk has been replaced by Malado on the decks and she really looks and sounds like she’s having fun up there.

The tunes have gotten a bit techier and the crowd has filled up some more. There’s a mix of Kelis’s ‘Milkshake’ at one point that really gets everyone going. Before I know it, I’m spinning this stranger round like we’re the lead roles in some ballet. Hands clasping together as if we’ve been friends for years. I don’t know this person’s name, but I owe them one.

As Karakat takes to the stage I’ve fully embraced my big night out. The music is taking a funkier turn as it moves into jungle territory. Looking around, the crowd is pure good vibes, everyone is smiling and getting on. My dance moves become slightly more suspect, but all self-consciousness has evaporated. The High Key team has done it; they’ve carved out such a lovely, welcoming, and safe space. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so at ease in a nightlife space as a solo woman.

I want to stay longer but, unfortunately, I have work in the morning and a last bus that I need to catch so I don’t end up dropping big money on an uber. I say my goodbyes to my unknown dance partners and the lovely bouncers.

I’m gutted to be missing the last few sets of the night from Murder He Wrote and Ringers, I’ve listened to solid mixes from them both before. But I make my peace with having to leave as I’m safe in the knowledge that it definitely won’t be long before I return to a High Key Night.

High Key 1st Birthday @ The Rainbow 19.05.23 / Connor Pope

For more from Muder He Wrote go to: www.murderhewrote.bandcamp.com
For more from Ringers go to www.soundcloud.com/ringers
For more from Karakat go to www.instagram.com/karakatttttttt
For more from Malado go to www.soundcloud.com/hotel-radio-paris
For more from DirtyBulk go to www.soundcloud.com/dirtybulk

You can find out more about High Key via www.highkeyrecs.com

For more from The Rainbow Pub go to www.therainbowpub.com