In Buenos Aires, nights out start with pre-drinks or "previa" at 1am

Elizabeth Yentumi on nightlife in Argentina, which differs from the UK on more than just the time.

One of the most well known aspects of Buenos Aires is the buzzing nightlife scene. While I’ve never been a club-hopper, something which has always threatened to undermine my student status, I do enjoy the occasional night out and love to dance to anything with a beat. My debut into Buenos Aires clubbing was quite the experience.

Many similarities exist between the standard British night out and its Argentine counterpart. First of all there is the customary pre-drinks or ‘previa’ which serves not only as a fun social prelude to the evening but also provides slight economic relief in the face of increasing nightclub drinks prices. The main difference lay in the fact that the gathering I found myself at began at the horrifying time of 1 am. Three hours later I tried to explain to a group of spirited, stylish portenas (Buenos Aires natives) that by this time in the UK I would have spent a respectable four hours on the dance floor and would be contemplating my journey home and the leftovers I would gorge on before running into the open arms of my bed. This was received with incredulous stares, a few snorts and a ‘Che boluda! Ya no empezó la noche!’ meaning ‘Mate, the night has only just begun.’

It’s now 4.15am. I tried to hide my fatigue and restlessness to get to the boliche, nightclub, while the girls continued to ply me with Argentine mainstay Fernet, an amaro or bitter spirit. Type Fernet into Wikipedia to see a full list of the ingredients to get an idea of this strange, new herb-filled drink. I may like it now but my facial expression after that first sip bore an uncanny resemblance to the look I gave my Grandma after a spoonful of cod liver oil when I was 5 years old. The taste wasn’t far off either. Sadly I couldn’t hide my expression as quickly as I had hoped. We finally arrived at the nightclub by taxi at 4.45am (not that I was aware of this).

Other similarities between UK clubs and Argentine ones include long queues of scantily clad girls teetering on heels, higher entrance fees for men and drinks deals for guests who arrive before a certain time. The real difference, however, can be found on the dance floor. A rhythmic and lively genre of music called Cumbia is played in addition to the popular UK and US chart music we’re used to. Originally enjoyed in the 90s by lower classes and pinched from the Caribbean coast of Columbia about 50 years before, the songs are a fusion of West African beats, Spanish guitars and various Argentine folkloric influences like cuarteto. What this somewhat incomplete definition really means is that people can shake, shimmy and let loose a bit more than when dancing along to the faster, static beats of pop music.

Cumbia also encourages dancing in partners, which is not only good, quasi old-fashioned fun and a bit like a salsa class with tipsy students but also an ‘efficient’ way for a guy to initiate conversation with a girl. Imagine a Latin American Grease. On the practical side, if you don’t dance energetically it doesn’t look as though you aren’t enjoying yourself; just that you are ‘feeling’ the beat. The relaxed vibe allows Argentinians to party until long past dawn. And if staying out until 8am wasn’t enough, why don’t we add a spot of breakfast before we go home? Personally, I was proud of the 6.30am end to my night, although it was slightly undermined when my friends, who I realised were far from quitting the dance floor, made me promise I wouldn’t go home so ‘temprano’ again. A poor show from the British girl who claimed to have a passion for dancing. I made it until 6.55am the next time. I can’t quite hear your applause...

Some things don't change no matter where you are in the world. Photograph: Getty Images.
Getty
Show Hide image

The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

0800 7318496