7 UK Nightspots that Saved Clubbing

In solidarity with our unfairly beleaguered events and hospitality industry, here’s 7 famous UK venues that never existed in the first place, let alone in 2020.

Lambeth Empire, South London

Originally the Ground Zero of Music Hall where a young Charlie Chaplin allegedly cut his teeth selling peanuts, the Empire found a new lease of life decades later as the go-to for an apocalyptic night out at the end of the century. Providing steady employment for often sensitive and misunderstood door staff, for clubbers who were willing to brave both horsey friskings and erratic mood swings, heaven was a small portion of a filthy dance floor should hard house, jungle or lying down in silence on a powerful horse tranquilliser be your thing.

Lambeth Empire was lucratively gutted to make way for breathtaking open plan apartments for first time-buying noise complainants. In its heydey, the club supported Kent’s largest bean-to-baggie operation of featherweight drug dealers and mutant ecstasy tablets, not to mention a safe haven for greying DJs jettisoning the dying star of the 90s super club scene.

Junction 28, M25 Motorway

Not in fact a structural expressionist, post-modern name of an avant garde minimal night you never heard of, but the actual carriageway terminal that linked inner Essex to the greater London metropolis has its own place in hard dance history. What made Junction 28 the ideal drop off for big beat soundsystems during the Acid House orbital scene was the dense copse of native poplar trees that provided not only cover from marauding Transport Police, but a luxury toilet situation for ravers years before roadside convenience was big business.

The 28th Parallel between Romford and Brentwood now has a bumper-size Holiday Inn for silver-templed ex-hardcore ravers wishing to shuffle their way down memory lane. It pays tribute to its rave heritage with a seasonal exhibition of recovered polaroids from carpark dos gone by, to be found in the stylish guest bar next to the front end concourse.

Baffo’s, Liverpool

Never mind 1950s Soho, the first Italian coffee bar to introduce hair-quiffing and toasted cheese sandwiches to the British public was Baffo’s on Merseyside. The industrial coffee machine, nicknamed Bertha, was the first of its kind in the UK, with newly-solvent Scouse teenagers creating their own grind, piling in to hear one note of Rock-a-baby Big Bop Aloa-ha! from the legendary Herbie ‘Frog’ Jackson and his bandmate Waylon ‘Termite’ T. Marshall; the first Nashville duo to go viral on the temperamental and often offensively-lit jukebox network in post-war Britain.

As some of the last ageing Teds will have you know, a young Pete Best first caught the skiffle bug at Baffo’s, stealing his mother’s washboard to play in John Lennon’s proto-beat group, setting off a chain of minor inconveniences that would transform her afternoon and popular music forever.

Portobello Mill, Manchester

Ask any Mancunion kid and they’ll tell you the legend: The decline in value of ex-industrial property in the Castlefield area led to a marginal influx of speculation from local entrepreneurs in the 1980s, coupled by and large with the development of thematic building surveys and broader improvements in conserving the city’s textile heritage.

The pills ’n’ thrills and bellyaches of Madchester still pulls in millions in both undergraduate university fees and Qatari oil revenue; with The Abu Dhabi United Group rebuilding Portobello Mill brick-by-brick in Dubai, as well as hiring original DJs, door staff and retired clubbers, to recreate the time as near-perfect as possible. Twenty four families of deceased party people are invited to contribute photos and other media to create a touching hologram curated posthumously by a digitally deadpan Tony Wilson.

H2O, Birmingham

There was a time in the mid-to-late Nineties when the palatial high altar of late 20th Century classical trance was a beefed-out super club in downtown Digbeth. The door operated a strict ‘No Neon, No Entry’ policy, and for years was the centre of thriving glowstick art; with artisans travelling from all over Europe to see the masters clash with giant glow-in-the-dark tapestries and incredible, bone-defying displays of acrobatic brilliance.

An early internet message board trend of drinking glowstick fluid led West Midlands police to report a handful of dance floor fatalities; meaning Dutch headliners were required by law to encrypt safety announcements into their set, often buried into large, operatic breakdowns meaning multi-group power circles became long, sobering interludes of gruelling self-awareness.

Beam, Belfast

In the mid-90s, Belfast was the place to be provided you avoided daily news coverage and you stayed inside completely. Fortunately pioneering nightclub Beam offered a cross-community indoor dance project with beats so true only nervous systems hardened by routine bomb threats needed apply for the near-mythical Early Bird tickets.

Beam’s matchless crowds would often leave the ceilings so caked in sweat the Royal Navy actively attempted to recruit battle-hardened clubbers for submarine warfare. Crown intelligence reportedly lost several undercover recruitment consultants to the dance floor either via a number of chemical counter-operations by Republican DJs or to the night’s ungovernable techno rhythm.

Acrylic, Clerkenwell

By the year 2000, drum ’n’ bass was in crisis; infiltrated by gangland and the art form disintegrated into little more than the sound of a badly-oiled ghost train. Noticing a complete evacuation by female clubbers from the scene, industry hard man Shy FX radically set about an unannounced list of samba proposals in what became the manifesto for Brazilian Drum ’n’ Bass, a brave new mambo fit for Y2K. Gone were the knifings and constant requests from strangers to examine your new Motorola; and in were cocktails, brass and a little bit of Barcelona.

A zero tolerance policy on SMS-based gang beef meant what happened at Acrylic stayed at Acrylic, but a little of the scene still remains entombed in a blistering 16-CD mega compilation complete with a booklet translating some of the most outrageous Portuguese disses this side of Rio.

The South East London College of Arts & Communication: 11 Short Stories is out now: https://amzn.to/2FdAxlh

Tall tales | The South East London College of Arts & Communication: 11 Short Stories is out now: https://amzn.to/2FdAxlh

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