This week, Boris Johnson has been considering a decision that will affect the future of London’s most famous nightclub. If the Mayor grants planning permission for a huge development of flats opposite Ministry of Sound, club bosses know their days at the Elephant & Castle bus depot cum internationally renowned temple of DJ culture will be numbered. A single noise complaint from posh new residents would threaten their licence and spell the end of one of the last remaining superclubs from the 1990s dance music explosion.
Luckily they are putting up a great fight, so Ministry won’t find itself demolished just yet. But many of the places that clubbers flocked to every weekend in their thousands in the post-Criminal Justice Act heyday are being erased from today’s landscape.
A ‘perfect storm’ of London property economics, redevelopment zones and major transport improvements (rather than any lack of interest from music fans) has seen off an unprecedented number of key venues in the last few years.
When I was at DJ Magazine, Paul Oakenfold once said to me that important former nightclubs should, at very least, have a blue plaque on the wall. He’s right. These might have often been dank, crumbling, smelly old places, but they are where countless people enjoyed some of the most intense and vital moments of their lives. They are where modern electronic music was crafted, where couples met then got married, where career paths changed and a whole generation learned about the highs and the lows of unbridled hedonism.
Because of the sleazy, druggy, mischievous late night vibe (exactly what makes such haunts so exciting), we tend to reduce their cultural significance. And while there’s nothing worse than the club bore going on about how the music and the parties were so much better ‘back in the day,’ we should give these classic institutions more reverence. Even if we can’t – and possibly shouldn’t – prevent their almost inevitably fleeting existence.
We’ve picked our Top 5 such venues, all of which were in stumble-home-from distance for Kentishtowners (that’s why there’s no Club UK for example, if you’re wondering).
The pictures are quite shocking, but their club history often deliciously more so. Over the next few pages, we show you what’s become of these former nightlife hotspots, and pay tribute to the glorious madness they once hosted…