tenax: the greatest club you don’t know about
Celebrating 35 years at the forefront of European clubbing, we say forget Berghain: those in the know head to Tenax.
September 1981 and Florence has fallen hook line and sinker for the new sounds coming out of London and New York. The Clash had brought their Sandinista tour to the city's Stadio Comunale six months earlier and in their wake left the Tuscan capital awash to the tune of post-punk and new wave (not to mention a burgeoning rock renaissance lead by the immaculately-haired local outfit Litfiba).
Step forward three young entrepreneurs named Alessandro Coragli, Lando di Bari and Roberto Tapes. Taking over a huge rectangular space at the western border of the city, they set about creating a nightclub to match the times: a sort of "Greenwich Village in salsa verde" that would become a meeting place for some of the world's most incendiary artists, designers and musicians. It's name, cleaved from the label of a popular hair gel? Tenax.
Standing at number 46 Via Pratese, this former casa del popolo quickly established itself as one of the most famous venues in Italy. On any given night -- but particularly its Ultra Wednesday when bands such as Spandau Ballet, Visage, Bauhaus, Psychedelic Furs, New Order or the Sisters of Mercy would take to the stage against a backdrop of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner or Roman Polanski's Chinatown -- gig goers could expect to rub shoulders with a host of Italian celebrities: Dalila Di Lazzaro, Roberto Benigni, Ilona "Cicciolina" Staller, Amanda Lear. Visits by Grace Jones followed, as did Tears for Fears, Tuxedomoon, Human League and David Byrne; the Talking Heads frontman so taken by the place, he ended up staying in the city for two months and could regularly be spotted among the Tenax crowd wearing a jacket designed by provocative Florentine art collective Giovanotti Mondani Meccanici.
This new wave of the city's night scene was a mix of characters, exhibitionists, fashion victims and fashion designers. Vivienne Westwood held a show there back in 1988 and legend has it that Elio Fiorucci was so enamoured by it all -- following a Grandmaster Flash party he organised with Italian actor Vittorio Gassman -- he asked his friend, the artist Keith Haring, to decorate a part of the wall. Assuming it was vandalism, the cleaning lady washed it off the next morning.
By the early 90s, times had changed once more and Tenax was no longer solely a staple of live music. While the club had always featured DJs at its heart -- Frank Alabaster, Enrico Tagliaferri, Larry, Leo Daddi -- it made a concerted effort to vary its programming; appearances by Radiohead, Shaggy, Paul Weller, Tricky and Fun Lovin' Criminals sitting alongside more dance oriented acts such as Ashley Beedle, Little Louie Vega, François K, Dimitri From Paris and Alex Blacks.
In 1999, Tenax launched the night that would make its name as the only Florentine venue on the European club circuit. Dubbed Nobody's Perfect and helmed by former Planet Funk man Alex Neri, its weekly Saturday night parties have, over the past 17 years, played host to pretty much every top DJ on the planet: house and techno at its core and repeat offenders that include Ricardo Villalobos, Sven Väth and Richie Hawtin among others.
When we visit on preternaturally warm Halloween evening, Tenax is holding a Save Our Culture night in honour of the then, under-threat London nightclub, Fabric. Part of a series of events that took place in the wake of the decision to revoke the iconic venue's licence (including a very good talk by the NTIA at last week's excellent Take Note Educational Music Conference), it featured Fabric mainstays Craig Richards, Matt Tolfrey, Adam Shelton as part of a line-up that marked the only European venue to host a fundraiser in support of the London club; a reflection of Tenax's long-standing influence and dedication within dance culture.
"It's what I call a 'family' club," says DJ Pete Tong of a space that remains, 35 years after opening, a multi-roomed mix of anarchy and sequinned dancers; a Stendhal Syndrome of a nightclub that could only have come from the romantic birthplace of the renaissance. "Quite how one of the world's most amazing underground clubs ends up in sleepy Florence is beyond me. But it is." Culture may be under threat across London, but take a trip to Florence's Tenax and you'll find it's still very much alive.
Text Matthew Whitehouse