The shifting landscape of London clubbing and where to next?

One after one they are closing or re-forming; changing music policies, closing times and crowds… disappearing. The London authorities are with all forces pushing the underground, the alternative and the partly unknown electronic music scene further and further out of central London. Leaving us wondering if they will leave any 1000+ capacity clubs for us to embrace, or will they not stop until every single venue in Central and East London has a “no-sneakers-policy” and to enter the VIP a table booking of £800 is required. The speakers that gave us the dark and heavy deep house and techno now reluctantly pushes Avicii, Coyote and remixed Rhianna tunes to the dance floor. Where did our great underground superclubs go?

The first sad goodbye was a first love of many, Turnmills in Farringdon. This 1700 capacity venue was one of the first UK clubs to have a 24 hours drinking licence. Turnmills have hosted for some of the original underground parties such as Smartie Party, The Gallery and the first ever after-party in the UK, called Trade. The reason behind the closure was announced to be the expiry of the lease of the building.

After its close in March 2008 the building was left unused for a few years, and is today home to a few new offices and a restaurant. There was rumours among party goers of a re-opening back in 2010, and one off club nights to be hosted in the space by Forbidden Fruit and Deep Under (the team behind various warehouse parties in East) but nothing happened and slowly, slowly the crowds that once walked in troops to dance on the corner of Turn Mill street and Clerkenwell road found other venues to get their musical fix in.

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Most of the club nights tried moving locations, one success story is The Gallery that manage to find new home in Ministry of Sound, and Gavyn Mitchell (promoter and resident DJ) is continually going from strength to strength with his The Gallery promotion and DJ career and can proudly state to be one of the few to have had a successful move after the closure of Turnmills. Others where not so lucky, and the sounds of Smartie Party, Heavenly Social, City Loud and Remembrance is only memories to tell the grandchildren.

For those who been on the scene a while the play garden of the King’s Cross courtyard is not a far off memory, and you might remember that behind King’s Cross station was a haven for party goers, from the years of the early 90’s until their memorable close in 2008. The courtyard was home to the three clubs that placed London on the world map of places to dance before you die; The Key, The Cross and Canvas ruled the underground club scene for over a decade.

Their 36 hour joint closing party is still a resurfacing subject when talking about the better clubbing days, alongside the August Bank Holiday festivals held between the three venues; TDK Central. Billy Reilly bought the arch based venue of The Cross back in the beginning of the 90’s with the vision to open a wine bar for pre-clubbing drinks, Camden Council however granted him a 24 hours license and the idea of a club became more reachable. Across the courtyard there was a club called Bagley’s, running the biggest electronic music night in the capital, and in the summer of 2003 they asked Reilly to take over, and so was The Key and Canvas born.

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According to Reilly himself there was planning permissions being drawn on already when he signed the lease for the Cross (back in 1991) for a re-development of the King Cross area, but they went ahead anyway and managed to run the club for more than 10 years. The King Cross court yard was the place where dreams of a conquering London on the music scene started, taking head over Berlin, Detroit and Ibiza, so once closing it was a feeling of defeat among the raving nation and a feeling that London had lost its crown.

The next sad good-bye was to The End in 2009, this was the true remarkable notice of the end of an area, and the club land was to never be the same. The End was a 1200 capacity underground (basement plan) venue in Tottenham Court Road. They opened the doors in December 1995, and was founded by DJs Layo Paskin and Mr C, the people that had the honours to dance here all say the same; there is no place to compare it to. The End was the starting point of successful DJ careers, promotions and the start of many love stories – with music, people and between friends.

World famous within years, the club also ran a record label. Over the years, The End had some of the biggest talents behind the decks and on their label, and in typical style, the closing party went on for more 24 hours. There is still stories being told about the crazy things that happened during the event, apparently, a sofa had been taken home, and there was self-service in the bar after the lights gone on! The End closed to make space for offices but due to the low in the property market, the property developers that bought the building decided against turning The End into a block of flats or offices and instead joined forces with club promoters (John Alist) to open the venue up again in May 2009 as The Den.

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Not holding the same success as the space previous but is still today running as The Den, but the whispers among the crowds is that it will never be the same. As said on their website by wilt035 two days after the closing party;

The only thing that could have made that night better was £20 in the goodie bag and giant poster saying “ONLY KIDDING!!! See you next week!” sums it up pretty well.”

Then there was Matter in 2011, being transformed in to Proud2, a little cheesier and easier to handle, so the three year (planning) project of a super underground and limit pushing venue, only managed to stay open for 2 short years and once closing became a turning point among venue managers, club owners and ravers. As now the changes in the clubbing landscape became clear. Matter was the second venue from the team behind Fabric, Cameron Leslie and Keith Reilly, a 2600 capacity live music venue, with 200 speakers and a version of the original Fabric’s ‘BodySonic’ dance floor, the ‘BodyKinetic’ floor. Why is it no longer there?

During the summer of 2010 they announced a temporarily close that would last during the summer, but due to financial difficulties and also as they were under pressure from TFL (and their continuously delayed Jubilee Line upgrade, making it difficult to reach the venue in the 02, Greenwich) they unfortunately never recovered from the economical set-back and we were forced to say goodbye to another handful of loved musical gatherings. It was put on the table that the competition from central – easy accessible- venues, with equally good sound-system (but not necessarily as good line ups) was hardening competition, and combined with difficulties from the London councils and TFL the super clubs was entering a new stage of struggling.

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The changes in music popularity, the overall musical and venue politics and not to be unsaid, the change in drugs – meant the normal norm of a good club night was not enough to have full house week after week, the Superclubs now needed to bring something different not to lose interest and get ran over by ‘radio’-house venues, and at the same time they also have to fight a continual struggle to keep their licenses and not to get in the crossfire of TFL developments.

One place understanding the request of a continued underground club scene was Cable. Located in the arches of the London Bridge area, they opened the door not long after the closing of The End in 2009. Cable offered bare brick walls, concrete floors, great lighting and top class sound system– a true underground and rough venue, bringing focus on the music and the crowds that where to danced there. They were greeted with open arms from the first day.

Cable became the home to worldwide promotion WeFearSilence, but hosted for various nights, including Ketoloco and after parties such as Jaded (formally at The End) and the SubTerrania afterhours. Cable closed its shuttle for the last time earlier this year (2013) due to expansion of the rails at London Bridge.

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I met with Ivan Mestivan and Mauro Ferno ( SubTerrania) to talk about their influential time at Cable hosting one of the few Saturday morning after parties ‘SubTerrania afterhours’, and by listening to them talk it becomes clear that we are merely scratching the surface of the void these venues leave in the clubbing foundation.

We couldn’t believe it when they informed us that they were closing. I felt gutted, upset, worried and sad all at the same time. Gutted and upset because it would close, worried for the future of our party and all the bookings we’ve potentially had to cancel.

“Sad because we all see how our industry is being defeated year by year, how many clubs already gone and how many more will have to go, until they realise they are ruining the clubbing industry in London? I remember us playing one Saturday morning when all these men in orange waistcoats and white helmets came in and started measuring the celling height in the middle of a full dance floor of 400 people, it was such a surreal sight, and no one really understood what was happening… so we just kept on playing. Some of the people in the crowd thought it was stunt set up by us!” Mauro starts, soon to be followed by Ivan as he start to talk about the decision to go to Cable and not to another venue.

We wanted a venue for SubTerrania- meaning underground- that gave you the feeling of a true underground club and decided to go with Cable mainly due to Jaded being our Sunday after hours of choice, we had some amazing mornings over there, but also when we’ve played for them (Jaded) a couple of years ago and we saw first-hand how special that balcony area is!”

“The club tick all the boxes for a successful after hours event. Sound system was high standard, the area and the staff is great, it just had that home feeling somehow, and from the DJ booth you had an amazing intimate interaction with the crowd! I think those reasons made it a special place.” Mauro agrees and continues “Cable had a certain spirit and a cosiness that only a few clubs have, and as Ivan mentioned before, felt like being at home…There was an instant connection from the first day.

They both agree on, even though re-homing to Area, that there is a special connection between every DJ or promoter with the venue where their career takes the turning point to success, where the dream becomes career.

Expect to say goodbye to more of the larger musical establishments – last year a proposal to close down Ministry of Sound was close to being agreed on, but got stopped by the 26.000 online signatures collected, including some of the biggest names in the music industry, and the latest ones to bite the dust is 93 Feet East (2012) that got raided and closed down as they lost its license due to drugs use within the premises (among other reasons), and Village East (2013) that just got closed after violence in the venue. But the support given to Ministry of Sound shows that there is still a great interest to have continued XL venues running in London providing great club nights. The general opinion is that here is nothing that compares dancing next to 1000 of similar minded people in a venue that breathes music and history to the core.


About the author

Marketing, Social Media and creative writer, Maria has worked extensively in the music industry with venues and promoters, including The End / AKA. “I love to write. I love the challenge trying to give a memory to the reader through worlds – and I am always trying to write with feeling, passing the memories on".

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