Annie Mac’s Before Midnight: A dance party for nightclub fans juggling children and careers

The Irish DJ’s parties promise all the thrills of a hedonistic night out but with a respectable finish time for older dance-music fans

It’s Friday night, in a 2,000-person-capacity nightclub in London, and the dance floor is packed. A heavy-duty sound system pounds out house music, and a huge disco ball turns overhead. Only one thing is off: it’s 9.30pm.

A woman in the crowd gleefully yells to the throng of people around her: “I’m 15 weeks postpartum, and I’m in the club!”

The party, called Before Midnight, is organised by Annie MacManus, who DJs as Annie Mac. It promises all the thrills of a club – just with an early bedtime. Starting at 7pm and wrapped up by 12am, Before Midnight is one of several recent variations on the hedonistic all-night sessions in which dance music is usually enjoyed, aimed at older fans juggling children and careers.

“There’s an inherent belief that clubbing is for young people,” MacManus says. “There’s now a generation of people who experienced clubbing in its most popular guise, and still want to do that but don’t feel like they belong there any more.”


MacManus explains that Before Midnight was born out of her desire to fit a music career around her duties as a mother of two children, aged six and nine. Late-night DJ sets didn’t mix well with their weekend activities, she says. “It felt like I had jet lag,” MacManus says. “It just wasn’t accommodating for where I’m at in my life right now.”

MacManus says this reckoning coincided with her decision, in 2021, to stand down as the presenter of the BBC’s flagship dance music show, on BBC Radio 1 – a gig she had held for 17 years and which cemented her name as a musical tastemaker in Britain.

Before Midnight was her next act, she says, a fresh project to restore some work-life balance. The premise was simple, she says, “a definitive club night that’s just like a normal one, only earlier”.

The first night, held last year at Islington Assembly Hall, a London music venue, was a one-off experiment. It sold out, and, at the end of last year MacManus announced a 10-date Before Midnight tour of Britain and Ireland – Macmanus will play at Vicar St, in Dublin, on St Patrick’s Day and Banana Block, in Belfast, on Saturday, March 18th.

Before Midnight is particularly popular with women, who MacManus estimated make up about 75 per cent of the crowd. Jodie Brooks, a 44-year-old who has attended every Before Midnight party in London to date, works in advertising and like MacManus has two children aged six and nine. “I just didn’t want the night to start at 1am any more,” she says. “I never wanted parenthood to change me in that way, but, inevitably, it just does. You have to get up and do the Saturday-morning football practice at 9am.”

The coronavirus lockdowns, which took clubbing temporarily out of the mix, made many people in their 30s and 40s re-evaluate how they wanted to spend their weekends. Some, like Brooks, emerged determined to get back on the dance floor but on new, more wholesome terms. With Before Midnight, she says, “You can go for a really lush dinner at six. By eight, you’re in the club”, and “by 12 you’re out”.

Others realised that they liked dance music but not nightclubs. Adem Holness, who leads the contemporary-music programme at the Southbank Centre, a central London arts venue, says that many of the venue’s offerings suit electronic-music enthusiasts at a more mature life stage: performances are seated and finish in time to catch the last Tube home. “We have a menu of different options for people,” he says. “It’s about making the model work for all kinds of people.”

In the past year, DJs and dance-music performers including Fabio & Grooverider, Erykah Badu and Peaches have played gigs at the Royal Festival Hall, a concert hall managed by the Southbank. “I’m seeing people wanting to experience really great music that you might think or assume belongs in a club, somewhere else, or in a different way,” Holness says.

Before Midnight was also influenced by the experience of bringing club culture into a more rarefied space, MacManus says. In 2019 she played in New York at MoMa PS1’s Warm Up, the art museum’s summer series that sets experimental and electronic music alongside contemporary art and design. There, she saw a multigenerational audience dancing together. “It had a big effect on me as a DJ,” she says. “I’m always going to try and reach that type of a dance floor.”

MacManus says that an early-starting dance party is not a totally original idea. Tim Lawrence, a professor of cultural studies at the University of East London who researches nightlife, has been running a monthly London dance party that starts at 5pm since 2018; he says that events like Before Midnight are a way to “pluralise the culture”. During a 2017 tour of the United States to promote his book Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, Lawrence says, he attended an invitation-only party in New York called Joy that started around dinnertime.

Lawrence brought the concept back to London with him and cofounded his monthly dance party called All Our Friends. “It’s about confounding certain ideas that come with the all-night or late-night thing,” Lawrence says. The earlier timetable allows for a different approach to dancing, which can “potentially be more expressive, more interactive and go a bit deeper on a social level”.

But for Brooks, the advertising worker, the appeal of Before Midnight is much simpler: it’s an opportunity to dance to the music that she loves, in a club like any other, and be home in time for bed. “You get all the joy and the love,” she says. “You get to be a part of something again. And you don’t feel out of place.” – This article originally appeared in The New York Times