Being an avid clubber in this day and age certainly has its benefits. The breadth of music and amount of unique and differing clubs available to your average punter is quite staggering when you take a step back to appreciate it. This being said, we’ve all spoken to that guy in the smoking area on a night out who is so bent on explaining to you how much better clubbing used to be. I’m sure you’ve heard “You should’ve seen it in the acid days mate, this is nothing.’” – or something to that effect. Us modern-day clubbers are constantly reminded of an apparent utopia that used to exist, a dance movement so culturally monumental that we are still living and dancing in the remnants of what it once was.
Perhaps this has some truth, but in reality, the cultural significance of today’s dance movements carry equal if not more weight than they did in the late 80s, we’re just more accustomed to it by now. I’d like to see one of those old timers spend a weekend in Berghain and claim it didn’t have the magic of the old days. Nevertheless, we’ve all imagined what it must have been like when the whole thing was brand new, freeing and unknown.
In light of this, here is a list of the top five UK clubs that you wish you were old enough to have experienced in their heyday, the truly important ones; the pivotal points of creative intersection that spurred and cultivated club culture– enjoy.
Opened in 1993 as Velvet Underground and later renamed, Velvet Rooms was a focal point of London’s nightlife showcasing world-class line-ups in an intimate basement atmosphewre. Playing host to Fabio’s mighty Drum and Bass night Swerve on Wednesdays, Carl Cox’s long-running Ultimate B.A.S.E on Thursdays and in 2001 saw the creation of FWD>>, the night largely responsible for the birth of Dubstep. Now converted into a depressingly generic Superdrug, this once great club, famed for its signature vibe every day of the week, now only exists within the memories of those that were lucky enough to grace its velvety interior.
4. Bagleys Studios
Once situated within the storage yard behind Kings Cross station, this giant of a club reigned as London’s biggest and most sought after rave venue for a number of expansive and much loved years. From its birth in 1991, Bagleys was home to the biggest capacity nights in the capital, this slice of Ibiza that could be felt in Kings Cross housed six rooms, all of which were full to the brim on a Saturday night. The legendary night ‘Freedom’ would showcase ten-hour sets from DJ Ariel and a flamboyant, bouncing and committed clientele that kept the night alive for years. After an unfortunate shooting incident, Billy Reilly, owner of club ‘The Cross’ took over management of Bagleys. Reilly continued to develop this epicenter of London club culture under the name ‘Canvas’ until the inevitable day when the entire area was snatched up as an urban regeneration project. The space where this great gathering place once stood is currently undergoing transformation into a ‘unique shopping destination’, surprise surprise.
3. Epping Forest Country Club
As well as once standing as the cultural capital of Essex, welcoming through its doors over four thousand people every weekend along with a whole array of celebrities, this trio of clubs held huge importance in the evolution of big-room nightclubs. ‘Atlantis’, the biggest of the three clubs with a capacity of 1000, is said to be one of the birthplaces of Jungle music, having been called ‘The Jungle’ before its refurbishment. Some of the biggest and best parties of the 80s and 90s were held within the grounds of the country club. The other two clubs within the grounds ‘Casino Club’ and ‘The Country Club’ were only open to over 21s and 25s respectively, which no doubt created varying demographics that allowed for ‘Atlantis’ to thrive as a hive of new underground music. Much the same as many clubs of its stature, the three clubs were eventually closed down in 2002, after a 24 year lifespan, due to a series of extreme incidents including a number of shootings. The country club now houses a Virgin fitness center and the ever-present Golf Course. Another era defining establishment lost in the mists of time.
In 1990, Turnmills was the first club in the UK to obtain a 24-hour music license that allowed for the all-night rave experience of the early warehouse movement to be felt again in the big city. Hosting hugely influential nights such as ‘Trade’ and ‘The Gallery’, the club was a catalyst for a reinvigoration of rave culture. With the décor resembling very bizarre sci-fi-like metal work and one of the first industrial strength lasers creating an epic visual experience, the atmosphere of this notorious club is the stuff of legend. Housing a network of underground rooms, the club was a breeding ground for all kinds of overt and abnormal activity including open sex acts and long queues behind the best drug dealers. The club was aptly nicknamed by its regulars as ‘Gurnmills’ for obvious reasons. The club’s residents included the likes of The Chemical Brothers and Tiesto (before his stadium status) and housed some of the best club nights that London has ever seen. Closing its doors in 2008, Turnmills was demolished but will forever go down in history as one of the Capital’s best-loved clubs.
1. The Haçienda
Encapsulating the spirit of the ‘Madchester’ years, this club really is one of the greatest to ever stand. Ushering in the rise of Acid House and Rave music, this incredible, culture-shifting establishment was created largely due to the help of seminal label Factory Records and the record sales of the band New Order. Remembered by most who experienced it as a pinnacle of the greatest point in dance music’s history, this Manchester warehouse conversion was a turning point of inspiration that kindled the flames of the electronic music world and paved the way for the future of dance music. The Haçienda, also known as ‘FAC 51’ due to its original warehouse designation number, opened its doors in 1982 and closed them in 1997. During the early years, the club usually hosted live acts such as The Smiths and Madonna among many other icons, but as House began to emerge at the end of the 80s, the night ‘Nude’, formed by DJs Mike Pickering and Little Martin, became a figurehead of this new culture. With the arrival of a number of other nights with the same music and ethos, The Haçienda soon encapsulated and spurred on the spirit of dance music in the UK. It is remembered by most who lived through this starting era as one of the most culturally relevant landmarks of the time, with giants of dance music such as Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers among the club’s young and inspired regulars in its heyday. Us clubbers certainly owe a lot to this place.
There you have it, five clubs that instilled in our society the notion of dancing all night to heavy beats and having the best conversation of your life with someone who you’ve never met before. The wonder years of rave culture seem like a messy wonderland, but what it’s left behind is even greater; an advancement of choice and musical exploration that allows for the underground and the mainstream to exist on different plains, with the heart and soul of true dance music ever beating because of the people who made these clubs and the music they played happen.