As more iconic pubs and clubs close their doors for the final time, i-D Culture Correspondent Princess Julia investigates the past, present and future of nights out on the capital.
The landscape of London nightlife seems to be shifting at a rapid pace. Time and time again I am hearing about developers moving in, and greedy landlords upping the rent in areas once considered affordable and ripe for creativity to evolve. But London has always been, and I suspect always will be, a place of flux. While many of our beloved spaces are being forced to close their doors for the last time, others are standing the test of time, constantly reinventing themselves, while new places are forever springing up with renewed energy. That energy of spirit and power is really what makes London such a unique city. Clubs, pubs and performance spaces are only limited by our own imaginations. You put the energy in and the energy comes flooding out.
People are saying, particularly on the gay scene, that there's nowhere to go nowadays. Last year the East End lost The Joiners, this year The Nelsons, and most recently The George & Dragon resigned to its forthcoming closure. It was only a few years ago that a clutch of clubs disappeared in the West End due to redevelopment schemes, and when the infamous Madam Jojo's abruptly shut up shop, along with The Black Cap -- whose legacy stretches back to the 60s -- tears were shed and everything did seem particularly sad. We all have our memories of hedonistic highlights in clubs over time, and I always hear people say, "It's not like it used to be," but of course it isn't. If you're like me and have no intention of being stuck in a time warp, the prospect of change is actually exciting. Yes, it is sad when places shut down, places where the sense of community has forged friends and treasured memories. You might be mourning the sad demise of your regular hotspot. But, ever the optimist and with my own legacy of four decades of nightlife lain before me, I am hopeful of the future. John Sizzle, who is part of the team behind The Glory, which opened at the end of 2014 on Kingsland Road says, "Things seem to be changing quicker now than ever but I wonder if it's all bad? Yes, I want the cosy familiarity of places I've been going to for years... but clubs, like our parents, leave our lives. It becomes time for us to fend for ourselves and make new family, new versions of ourselves."
I could draw you a timeline stretching back to the late 70s, of club nights emerging and disappearing, each leaving its own legacy that has inspired new scenes. Sizzle puts it quite aptly, "When I was a kid in the 80s watching Top of the Pops and seeing all those club kids that became pop stars, all I ever wanted was to be there with them in those clubs they came from, mooching about under those flashing lights. Those kids, those scenes, those clubs have moved on. That's what happens. Things move on. Places come and go. Music changes along with our hair and skirt length. Clubland evolves."
That doesn't mean I'm resigned to letting things go without some consideration. In order for ventures to survive we have to support them and that means popping in every now and again and joining in the fun. If you have an inkling about the prospect of impending redevelopment, you can find out more on government and architectural websites where plans by law are published years before any actual bulldozers move in. Start a petition, gain media attention, and use all the tools available to you, but get in early otherwise it might be a case of too little too late.
For some people, a clubbing lifestyle is something extra outside the routine of a day job; something you might look forward to at the weekends, or somewhere you dip into now and again. For others it's an integral part of life. "Most people aren't made for the places I like," DJ and archivist Jeffrey Hinton explains. "There is a reason why people use the word 'underground'." Of course, it's often misused. To me it applies to the things that exist in shadowed parts of life and can't exist in the general world. Jeffrey, like myself, has devoted his life to investigating and being part of creative London. "I guess I've never felt I had a choice. Since I was a child, it's where I find the energy and extremities of life that I find honest. That applies to anywhere I go in the world, especially in its fucked up mess! It [club life] inspires me. I've always found the daytime world guarded and for me, less honest with more rules... Although the night world is getting more rule packed, it seems. Basically I've always felt like an outcast in the culture I'm from so it's where I find like-minded outcasts -- I can spot them immediately!"
A life revolving around clubs is an all consuming occupation; some grow out of it, others make it their life's work and passion. Amy Redmond, cofounder of Sink The Pink explains, "We are so proud to have created a space for the freaks and the fabulous to frolic! The ethos of Sink The Pink has always been about freedom of self-expression and we have always felt that East London is the perfect space to support this. The community that has built around Sink The Pink is mind-blowingly powerful and inspiring and we are so proud to be a tiny part of the great nightlife vibes of London." The amount of energy people invest is indeed inspiring and this is what spurs me on. Every time I think I might retire, there's something or someone that captures my imagination. Glynn Famous, the other half of Sink The Pink, adds, "For me the same thing inspires me that has always inspired me: a need for change and self expression. I think that's why everyone comes to London, it's the epicentre of creativity and even though a scene, buildings and structure change, that need, that desire will always be there and that's what makes London so fabulous!"
Charles Jeffrey, fashion designer and artist, is so much a part of a new generation of nightlife enthusiasts that he based his debut collection at Fashion East on his Vogue Fabrics club night, Loverboy. "Progress… people are scared to try new things," Charles says. "They're so overwhelmed by what's happened in the past, fuck it, just try something new and go in boldly." Inspired by the mix of people who come to his night, he looks beyond the normal clubbing experience, using those dark disco-ball-glittered spaces as a blank canvas to involve his friends. "Karen Black founded an artistic philosophy called 'Availabism' which means working with what you've got around you," Charles tells me. "With Loverboy I do plan a few things but mainly I just see what happens and create explosions." His attitude is spontaneous and invigorating. He adds, "Loverboy is like an extension of my drawing. It's so free, you don't have to question yourself. The people that come love it, it's an interaction of the like-minded and it's such a nice feeling, that sense of community. There's always an exchange of forward-thinking ideas. I really think it's hard to be an individual in London." Community is a word that crops up again and again, with the deep history of sub-cultural nightlife in London as evidence of our desire to express ourselves in environments that allow a sense of freedom not always permissive in day to day life.
Do we need a shake up? Are we on the the verge of something new? Legendary DJ Fat Tony says, "There's too much division going on. The day we get back into mixed clubbing is the day that we have a future. When things go into a lull, something amazing happens." He brings up the subject of dating apps, the type of drugs people take nowadays and how they have changed the scenery of gay nightlife. Tony's renewed his passion for DJing from his days of doing it for the love of drugs, to now doing it for the pure love of music, "Everything I play I believe in." His ethos is, "Unity, love, fun!" and he adds, "thank fuck for that!" in typical Fat Tony style.
The general consensus seems to be on a positive note with people investing enormous amounts of passion and energy into what their vision is. Jonny Woo says, "I think what's needed to revitalise London's nightlife is a new underground, grassroots music and fashion culture. The venues never dictated the scene, they were always vessels for the people who made it happen." He adds, "We, at The Glory, cater to a crowd who want a bit more stimulus from a night out and programme from a cultural, as well as a hedonistic, perspective. I'm a bit older now and value the live experience, the exchange between people. There is longevity in that, it's vital. Regarding clubbing, the night time revolution will come and it will take us all by surprise, and will be spearheaded by those barely out of school uniform who don't even know how to spell 'Ministri Of Sownd' let alone miss it."
Over in Camden, Bloc Bar has recently sprung up, little brother to East Bloc on City Road and it's bringing in a local crowd and enticing a new generation of interest. Wayne Shires, the brains behind these ventures, has long been an instigator of reinventing club life since the late 80s and finds this new wave inspiring, "It's what I do, I'm addicted to it. I love creating platforms for people to meet, experiment and push the boundaries in whatever their creative sphere... Nightlife can be a learning curve, sometimes things end on their own accord, sometimes outside forces decide for you, but whatever happens, something inspiring always emerges out of it."
And John Sizzle agrees, "That's what nightlife is like. Like nature, it's quite brutal. Something has to die to make room for new life. London nightlife is taking a hammering at the moment but it will grow back... just different. A new strain will sprout up all shiny and new."
And really that's what it's all about, in the face of adversity, creative London always strikes backs! Without the past there would be no future to build upon. Our fabulous night life legacy has inspired the world over and is a big reason why people gravitate towards London. With this in mind, Richard Battye, owner of The George & Dragon looks to the future and acknowledges the past, "We're determined to find something new and exciting and we are so very proud with what we have all achieved in The George & Dragon. I always say it isn't the pub, it's the people in it, if that's true, it might just work! The legacy is all the wonderful, successful, creative, caring, funny and kind people who've shared time in that room together over the years. We feel sure people will talk about it with passion as the years pass and that is something beautiful to treasure."
Text Princess Julia