Now, when I was a lad, going into town was an experience second to none. London’s West End was full of forbidden spaces like Soho’s sleazy sex shops and flesh pots which you couldn’t get near, and all the clubs which you’d try and fail to get into. Even smoking fags, turning your collar up, stroking your excuse for facial hair and deepening your voice didn’t cut it with the bouncers on the doors.
Most unfair were the armies of barelegged girls, flashing cleavages that you knew were just as young but would leave you sniffing their perfume as they wafted by. And the only beats you’d hear that night were the notes escaping the entrance as those bouncers said, “I said you ain’t coming in. Now piss orf!”
When a year or two passed and you finally looked old enough to gain entrance into the hallowed portals of London’s clubland, you’d find the sought after Promised Land was horrible, beer sloshed fleapits. But worse, the music was as tacky as the fag burned carpets.
So you’d learn that only certain places played the kind of tunes you loved. Those tunes that you’d also hear on pirate radio stations. It was all about secret or underground spaces. You learned fast.
You also learned that such and such a venue renowned for playing dodgy music on a Friday or Saturday night played gems on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or even Sunday nights. You grew to understand that the physical architecture of the town had an alternative topography and that was the sound of the underground.
My first club was The Electric Ballroom, Camden Town. I remember it like yesterday. Sorry, let’s back track a little on this music-to-clubland journey. First there was skating. I was one of those bad boy street skaters, weaving through Oxford Street’s traffic, evading da police.
Problem was, come autumn, those falling twigs seriously messed with your street skating style. Worse than falling and breaking a leg would be the mortifying shame of having fallen over in public. If someone suggested giving up skating for the autumn /winter, I would have walked away from them, shaking my head in disgust. So there was nothing for it but to skate indoors.
The word on da streets was, “Reach The Electric Ballroom.” The place had no fancy lighting or decor. But it had serious music, a smooth dance floor and a vibe second to none. If you loved dancing and skating, this is where you integrated both.
Years later, people from that time would see you flex on wheels and say, “Electric Ballroom right?” And you know dat. It was the rolling movement melded with that funky music played by legendary street skater and DJ Paul Trouble Anderson that was da lick.
That and the fact that this beautiful black clad skating couple gave me my first tokes on a spliff, kindled a love of manic moving in dark clubs that I love in jungle drum & bass to this day.
This is my heritage. This is London. I feel proud to live in what they say is the greatest city on planet Earth. But hold up. Wait a minute. Those intimate corners that were the making of us are no more. X amount of clubs have vanished; closed to make way for shopping malls, bars, luxury apartments or been bulldozed to make way for Crossrail. People who bought flats near clubbing citadel Ministry of Sound complained about the noise.
I heard this morning that one third of live music venues have closed in the last ten years. Turnmills, Bagleys, Plastic People, The Cross, The Fridge, The End, The Astoria, Herbal, Cable, Four Aces, Velvet Rooms, SE One, Brixton Mass, Matter are tragically all gone. These and other clubs are the places that made us The Greatest City On Earth.
Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson, this calamity is happening on your watch. Don’t you dare suggest London’s the greatest city on Earth when you’ve presided over its cultural decimation. Conserve our heritage. Or is London to be just another luxury apartment shopping mall? Fix up Boris – FIX UP! Otherwise you have no right to call London The Greatest City On Earth.
Alex Proud had something similar to say in The Telegraph recently in his feature ‘Cool’ London in dead, and the rich kids are to blame.