Finding Resistance in London's Counter Clubbing Culture

Words by: Polly Lavin
Posted: 4/4/10 16:49

Finding Resistance in London’s Counter Clubbing CultureBerlin, Berlin, Berlin its all that we seem to hear today isn't it. But, whats happening in the once Mecca of dance music 'London'? Over a weekend I ventured to the capital to see how much clubbing in the face of tourist filled Ministry of Sound, Fabric and Matter was really available in the counter culture.

The message was quite loud and clear; don't worry friends the resistance is finally here.

1.Border Community at Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle, South London
Lost in Elephant & Castle. It may sound more like a scene that could be in the new wonderland movie but standing outside the tube station and wondering do I go left, do I go right was exactly how it felt trying to find Corsica Studios. A stream of tin drinking scruffy student type boys and a gaggle of glam high heeled ladies guide me. I take a risk knowing this crowd is not likely heading to Border Community but like a lamb follow and lo and behold as I turn the corner there it is. That massive logo that advises me I have arrived at The Ministry of Sound. there is something wrong here this is definitely not where I wanted. I ask the police several of whom are outside the club for directions. They have no idea where this club is. 'Oh that's a good sign' I think to myself. Over at "The Coronet" a large crowd snakes around the corner I think 'WTF awwww, no is that the queue'. Nope. Apparently, the local South American community are queuing for a Latin night. Down the dark alleyway I go, down, down, down, past the 3 guys who are disposing of their bodily fluids against the wall "Ok, where is this club?" I think. A door leans open spilling a shaft of light onto the alleyway, there is no signage, no indication of any commercial marketing or branding, no blinding neon lights that imprint images on the side of the building "Hello" I smile 'Is this Corsica studios?' and the magic words are uttered ''Yes it is''... Against the glitz and backdrop of the MOS logo that looms large over Elephant & Castle's nightlife (Even the local council have dug deep to provide signposts to MOS) this is part of the counter scene within a scene.

Inside a battered white wash affair greets me, grotty dirt lines the floor a mix of beer spillage and remnants of foot traffic and yet the walls remain somewhat white. Serving as an art gallery by day visual images of 1950's American Cadillac's scroll across a pristine white wall. 2 rooms of differing sizes pour out belting bass onto floors that have capacity to somewhat tightly hold up to 700. It feels like an artier version of Fabric and is squat like. Be warned do not wear heels and do not wear fake tan. Tonight provides a platform for acts such as Fuck Buttons, Kate Wax and Avus. I catch the tail end of Kate Wax's set and make a quick decision to cloakroom a jacket resulting in 20 mins queuing and missing out on the rest of her set. It's a tedious wait but random chattering taking place all around entertains. A girl turns to a boy who frantically fumbles in his pockets, 'Have you lost something?' she asks smiling broadly at him while he drops on his honkers, disappears amidst the queue and scurry's about the ground. Whatever he looking for is tiny and that's it up he comes 'Oh you lucky, lucky, lucky thing' the girl say's 'You found it'. The smoking area is filled to the brim with a pungent floral like aroma that lines every facet and on the queue itself men appear like shadows whispering lowly 'pills, coke, mdma' and disappear just as quickly. 

The main room feels like a den of iniquity, dark, bass and heat filled. The crowd are covered in a clear film of sweat that gleams and christens them in unity in this unholy temple of the reckless, feckless and all other types. Continental voices chant 'Guapo, Guapo' (Beautiful, Beautiful) as they lift their heads aloft towards the roof of the club. Fuck Buttons plays a set that is full on bass but tough and almost bouncy at times, the small stage at the top of the room spills over with a crowd clamouring onto it during his set. A bunch of girls and a guy wearing hooded fur hats that mimic pandas, brown bears and striped zebras smile widely at passers by "Where did you get those hoods?" I ask, one replies moving her jaw frantically as if a bee is in it "Its from a website called merrimakinghoods this is my power source, without it I am nothing, I could see you as a silver fox darling".

Girls in hob nail ankle boots are everywhere and one sticks out loudly with a dyed apple green crimped bob over the floral jumpsuit she wears. The clothing evokes an attitude of London grunge meets electronic clash. The people talk to anyone and are easy to talk to an American named Patrick tells me how he travelled from Kenya en-route to the States but had to come to BC's night. James Holden stands beside us talking intermittently to both us and various people and the American's friend leans in with a mobile and say's 'James, James, talk to my friend, he's in California'. Holden takes the phone and obligingly has a long distance conversation with the US.

Border Community at Corsica StudiosIn room 2 Ed Chamberlain stretches out a set with some spacey cosmic sounds but the room that really throbbed all night was the main room. Avus kicks in his set playing a variety of Border Community tracks and tough sounds bringing one commentator to say "This reminds me of Sonar in Barcelona". Nathan Fake and Petter mill about in the crowd and Fake tells me of his recent trip to the states with Four Tet stating that he is pretty impressed with the country and its club-goers. I drift back to room 1 and Petter is playing a tough techier sound to his sound of old; I ask one guy what he thinks about the other small clubs in London compared to Corsica Studios "Cable is running Renaissance's night, I was there a while back, but its just attracting fake tanned birds and coked up guys who are ready to start a fight with you for no reason''. James Holden is the last to play and he stretches it out as far as he can until nearly 7am. At this point in his career Holden understands and holds the floor with a sound instantly recognisable to both him and Border Community and by the chants and rush of bodies to hear his set its clear what the floor wants is his serving of low tempo teasing blips of beats that collide against tracks deeply acid in their content until he moves into a more alternative techno sound.

You have to hand it to BC they have the alternative party ethos down to a tee. There's no attitude and their artists appear to be on the same level as everyone else, milling about, chatting to all, not about coming to the party and trying to be smart, aloof or cold. You may have to look a little bit deeper to find the alternative scene in EDM but once you do what's clearly communicated tonight is the dinosaurs of dance music may be cashing in their chips but the phoenix of the new age is merely rising.

Ethos of BC parties; Don't come to the party unless you want to get f**ked | | Photo by

Headspace at Public Life2.Headspace at Public Life, Commercial Road, East London
With the spotlight growing upon East London as a new hub for creative companies and types a number of eclectic parties are being heralded as saviours to what was a waning EDM scene in the capital. Venues such as The Horse & Groom and East Village are bolstering that profile by hosting parties run by Secretsundaze's James Priestly and introducing more leftfield artists such as Azad Rizvi as regular residents. So, after a nights clubbing those wanting to keep the party going are being introduced to the concept of day time dancing in the inner realms of East London club Public Life. After a lengthy Saturday morning walk to Commercial road in broad daylight its a bit surreal as buggy's are pushed and people rush in anticipation to shop to be opting out of the normal weekend society buzzing about but somewhat empowering. A decadently dressed transvestite in the club sums it up for me as she say's "This club is really small if you don't want to talk or make friends don't come here. They can go shopping we have the day off work so we choose to dance."

5 years ago Public Life opened as a drum and bass club but it's only in recent times the converted Victorian toilet seems to be making a positive stamp on the independent clubbing scene in London. A Baptist church looming on the clubs edges and a string of complaints from neighbours resulted in the club being tangled up in licensing legalities with the local council and a wrong music policy meant a different vibe was needed. With space for about 120 the club is very intimate and unconventionally cool, however it smells like a toilet and even has some grot left around the edges.

Headspace the party I attend is its first ever daytime event and a concrete grid above the floor allows sheaths of sunlight to burst through from the ground above as Freak and Chic aficionado Dan Ghenacia plays a set that warm uplifting deep, disco-ish beat driven tech house.

The main door swings open and closed onto the main thoroughfare above and bass and beats flood and spill out and not an eyelid is blinked. Then all of a sudden a police van and 6 police pull up. "Is this about to get busted?" a girl say's to a guy beside her at a table outside. Momentarily the aforementioned police come up to the door to check out the noise 'are there any drugs in this club' he say's to the same girl, sweetly she gazes up, shakes her head and say's 'nooo'. A shift of times proves repetitive beats are not what the police are here for. It turns out a Muslim march is taking place and they seem more focused on how to deal with the wave of placards coming towards them on a cause in East London. Later, I dip back downstairs and a hard looking grandad cap wearing boy now massages the shoulders of the transvestite. The crowd dips and flows but by 3pm the clubs full again. East London is where another world is coming to life in London and Berlin may be cool but it appears London is simmering all over again.

Ethos of Headspace parties; Don't come to the party unless you want to dance |

A night with...3.A night with... Michael Mayer at warehouse location in South London
Berlin has Berghain, South London has? Well, the 5,000 capacity Tate Modern Turbine hall. Unfortunately, though The Tate Modern has hosted other electronic artists such as Monolake and Alva Noto this night with Michael Mayer of Supermayer notoriety and the man behind Germany's Kompakt records is not in the Tate Modern but in a dis-used warehouse a mere stones throw from it. Whether the powers that be would ever allow the Mulletover promoters and a full scale invasion of weird electronic music and visual installations happen within the reclaimed power stations walls is a question only to be asked by a promoter brave enough to try.

You could almost picture it though fluorescent lasers spinning out over the River Thames all night and a juggernaut of sound taking place in an area associated with Shakespeare and all things art. As Mayer begins with a low-tempo techno intro the white washed brickwork aches and reverbs from the bass. A vintage 1950's lamp lights the space he works in and he intersperses between vinyl and cd equally. As the room fills bodies huddle and dance on the main-floor where the only bit of heat is. Most people wears coats and hoods and one girl say's "No patio heaters, porta-loos for toilets, £18 door charge, I know this night has an acid house vibe but its freezing".

Mayer it appears is a walking techno record label his catalogue does not change style as every variation of the beat and sterile techno is dropped apart from one style change into Gat Decor's 'Passion' its warm piano chords cutting awkwardly into the techno of before and he moves back in style to techno varying the sound by adjusting BPM and tempo. Sound experimentation also takes place as he drops tracks with accents, acid squiggles, squelches and pitch bending pianos. Though there is little style change the people who are here seem to know what they bought into, a guy say's "Even Fabric is getting touristy and a bit lager loutish at least this is 400 like minded souls in one room" and once the room heats the walls stop shaking and coats start coming off.

A guy cusps his face into his hands fondling his own face and contorting it into an array of shapes he flails his fingers in swipes that are mis-timed against the air at times instead of his face, as his fingers pull away lightly from his cheeks, his head jerks back and forth and his eyes twist in and out of focus. He closes them but I think he thinks they are open, he tries to sit on an open bin behind him, stumbling. I pull him up and tell him not to lean back he is going to fall. He doesn't listen and tries it again, once again I pull him up, his body is moving and swaying but his mind is in a far off place. His friend stands nearby laughing, thanking me for giving her a break to roll a cigarette.

Promoter Drennan tells me "We've been going for about 6 years and have always stayed on the fringes. We've done parties in the Ibiza foothills and Croatia but never in a club in Ibiza. Our policy is NOT to book big name DJs just to focus on the music first. The first gig we ever did was with an unknown East London DJ, for us it's just about listening to really good music". I spend 7 hours in this club and leaving at 6am realise I've just spent a whole night listening to a record box of flawlessly pure techno apart from Gat Decor's passion track dropping in the middle to break it without a hint of nosebleed techno in sight.

Ethos of Mulletover Parties; Don't come to the party unless you want to challenge your musical perceptions | Next: A Night With...Matt John

After 56 hours straight through with no sleep albeit 1-2 hours on buses and snooze naps come 9am on Sunday morning I'm ready to cave. My task to see was the underground still well and truly alive in London tells me; It looks like the cavalry has finally arrived and the counter club culture is in full swing.

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