Brief history? Former policeman John Newman opened a wine bar in Clerkenwell in 1985. His business grew steadily to encompass salsa classes and parties downstairs, during the time as house music was taking hold as the last great youth subculture. John scored the UK’s first 24-hour licence in 1990 and was able to offer the kind of all-night-long dance experience that the illegal outdoor raves had previously provided. First to take advantage of this was gay scene promoter Lawrence Malice, who brought his already infamous after-hours gathering Trade to the club, with a 4am Sunday start. This set the tone for close to two decades of glorious debauchery.
Famous For? Trade was the venue’s most influential club, changing the lives of many who attended via its futuristic pounding electronica and the shear insanity of what was going on all round. Many hardened club goers found it a challenge to descend the winding staircase into wall of pumping male flesh known as ‘Muscle Alley’ and past people having full sex on the dancefloor, but once settled inside, the vibe was that of family. Albeit it seriously dysfunctional one. DJ Tony De Vit rose to global fame from here, before his untimely HIV related death in 1998. On other nights, the Chemical Brothers were residents, Tiesto played in the days before he went stadium-sized, there were US House nights, trance at long running Friday The Gallery and Sunday into Monday events FF and Melt that were often even more full-on than Trade.
What was it like? With bizarre sci-fi metalwork turning the bars into alien apparitions and colourful Gaudi-inspired tiles, this was a visual assault. The tunnel-like main room featured an industrial-strength laser that was installed with scant regard for health and safety, but boy did it provide killer lightshow. The venue was a warren of underground rooms – with a recording studio and even health club to be found deep inside. With orderly queues known to form in front of the best drug dealers, this place was affectionately known by those in the know as ‘Gurnmills’ for good reason. Legendary door host Tom has diaries documenting some of the truly incredible antics that took place, often involving celebrities, but he says ever making them public would be far too libellous. Which is a shame!
Why did it close? The building’s lease came up for renewal and as suspected, the owner wanted to push for a lucrative office redevelopment. The global economy derailed the process for a number of years and the place sat heartbreakingly empty, while London promoters found it difficult to find good mid-sized venues. Meanwhile The Gallery and the promotions team around it went on to huge success in their new home at Ministry of Sound, still dominating Friday nights in London after nearly 20 non-stop years, and also now run successful one-off DJ events plus festivals like SW4.
What’s happening there today? Despite original plans for the redevelopment saving the historic Victorian building, (which was original stables and later a gin distillery before becoming a dance mecca), later planning permission was granted for total destruction via wrecking ball. When taking the photos for this feature, I witnessed sections of the frontage being bulldozed in what can only be seen as brutal vandalism of the area’s history, from the industrial to the rave. No blue plaque is likely here. Tragic.