Last weekend saw the end of an era: Shoreditch club Plastic People shut its doors for the final time. For twenty years, the club was one of the city’s most loved venues, drawing a dedicated weekly following. Through its FWD>> nights, it became the spiritual home of one of the last homegrown music scenes in the capital. With the venue’s license due to expire in the near future, the club took the decision to bow out with one last party. In the words of manager Charlotte Kepel: "It felt right to move on". Their preplanned end was a rarity in an age where most clubs have little or no say in the matter. But then, Plastic People always seemed to do things their own way.
While the venue itself, a pitch-black tiny basement with an audiophile sound system, is much mythologised, it was the club’s philosophy that earned it its reputation. Encouraged by its founder and resident DJ, Ade Fakile, Plastic embraced a no holds barred sense of eclecticism that eschewed elitism for a genuine passion for sharing diverse and rare music.
Rather than a dour obituary, we thought we’d celebrate the club by asking a few of its devotees to share their memories. The following people shaped the club over the years in their own way whether as DJs, promoters or designers.
Chris Reed was a regular fixture at the club's FWD>> nights.
When I went down there for the first time, I had never heard a sound system like it before. It made total sense of that early dubstep sound, it was the first time that I really felt that music properly. Before I went there and heard and felt it properly I never really focused on the weight of bass when DJing.
People use to find a dark spot on the dancefloor, which wasn't difficult because it was pitch black, where they could feel the music and they’d stand there all night. There was a running joke that it was a room full of people in hoodies and hats just staring at the DJ nodding their head – and it was like that for a while. But with the force of the bass and all the smoke in room it was easy to get entranced by it.
There was a stripped-backness about it that they pioneered. Even now with people like Skream and Benga, who went on to do huge stadium tours, it always goes back to Plastic People because that's what we first experienced. Nothing quite matches those early experiences. I met a lot of people through the club, just seeing the same faces week in week out and feeling like you could approach people at the end of the night. It was a real community vibe.
The one night I will always remember is JME’s birthday bash. It was pandemonium, it was so packed I had to wrestle my way to the DJ booth. I started playing my set and Skepta was on but he was holding back a bit because he knew the crowd were ready to go off. But then God's Gift turned up in the booth, he spat a bar everyone went ballistic and that was it. They weren't in competition but they were trying to impress one another I think. It got so mental that people were hitting the booth really hard and the mixer – which was this massive thing in a wooden enclosure – fell to the floor along with one of the decks. I remember looking at Skepta like 'Wow'. When the music cut out people thought we'd just reloaded a track.
D Double E behind the mixer at FWD>>
Benny ran and DJed the Nonsense clubnight at Plastic People. He also spearheaded the campaign to save the club back in 2010 after its license came under review.
It's probably the one club I've been to more than any other club in the world. It was my church and my education.
I really took to Ade's philosophy of music, how he played and what he played. He's a purist but not in an arrogant way, he's all about the relationship between the music and how it makes you feel.
Club founder, Ade Fakile.
It was the first ever club to have Funktion-One speakers in it. Tony Andrews [the cofounder] built them and configured them specifically for that space. There's one Herbie Hancock track that Ade always use to play and it never sounds the same when you play at home. That space owns that record and that became true of a lot of records.
Last Saturday night at the closing party, Ade pulled an unopened Pharoah Sanders record out of his bag, which is worth thousands of pounds. Sean Mcauliffe was like 'I've never heard you play this' and Ade just opened it. Floating Points was freaking out like 'What are you doing you just reduced the value by hundreds'. But Ade was like 'Sean wants to hear it'. I've witness him do similar things over the years. He might be playing very rare and expensive records but its not about that elitism, it's purely about passion for the music. That's what Plastic People is all about.
My favourite moment was when Ade bought EMT (Elektro-Mess-Technik) turntables, huge turntables used for broadcasting that he mounted in these really heavy flycases. It took three people to lift them and get them across the dancefloor and there'd be no music for 15 minutes while he switched over the turntables. You can hear the same record on them and it would sound totally different. He'd play something and I'd be like what's this and then you'd see the record and realise you've heard it before. That was his dedication to the club's sound.
Those hefty-looking sublime-sound EMT decks.
Augur designed Plastic People's logo and flyers over the years.
I met Ade in 1998 when Plastic People was still on Oxford Street, and at the time he didn't even have a logo for the club. Ade was at the club all the time, he even used to build stuff. Sometimes I'd go there and he'd have the power tools out. He did all the floors and plumbing and then he'd work behind the bar and DJ.
The club marketed itself mostly, it was all word of mouth, so I wanted to make the flyers good enough that people would want to keep them, more like collectibles than anything. We based the design of the logo around letraset, this old typeface. It has lots of clipart style graphics of people dancing and getting together and it just felt right for the image of the club.
We also did lots of sketches of London on the flyers partly as a celebration of the city. That period in the mid 90s there wasn't a lot of people still doing illustration on club flyers. A few of them were of music venues and it interesting looking back now how many of those scenes no longer exist – the Astoria's gone and so has the Velvet Rooms. At the time I didn't really think about it but the flyers encapsulated a certain time and feeling in London.
Tillet ran and DJed the club's Warm and Intervisions nights.
I started going to Plastic People when it moved to Curtain Road around 2000. The simplicity and purity of it was what gave it power. It felt unique and it really educated me in terms of what can be possible if you have a passion for what you do.
I remember the wait at the entrance for those gates to open, the secret record room, the EMT turntables, the single red light, the black curtain, the Sunday mornings that continued after the lights came on.
On top of all that, the musical education I received over the years from going to Saturday nights when Ade ran his Balance nights was like no other. He played music across the spectrum, tracks you knew and tracks you didn't but they all made complete sense when played on that system. It ignited a real desire for me to go out and really search for music of all genres past, present and future and has led to my continued passion for music over the years.
Plastic People's original Oxford Street venue.
I never ever expected to run club nights there or even play there. I always dreamt of it and after countless times asking, Ade finally allowed us to do a series of Innervisions parties there on a Thursday night. Those were really special. Off the back of that we made it our home for our Warm parties inviting our favourite artists from around the world to come and play.
Special shouts to Ade, Charlotte, Bernard, Winston and Barry and anyone else i have forgotten and to all those over the years that came down and found their special place on that dance floor and made it such a amazing community of friends and dancers.
Josey was a resident DJ at the club's Nonsense nights, you can hear her every Sunday on Rinse.
I’m so sad that Plastic People has closed, it was hands down my favourite place to dance and DJ. It just had that magical combination that couldn’t be found anywhere else: incredible DJs playing mind-blowing music, an amazing sound system, a happy and open-minded crowd, great staff right from the management to security, and something that people often take for granted in a club – darkness.
I loved that it was so dark that you could just roll down to the club on your own, get totally enveloped in the music and not care about anything else in the world. And as a DJ, playing my favourite music there in the darkness to a full house with nobody able to even see my face was honestly about as close to happiness as I’ve ever got. But even warming up to an empty room – which I did plenty of times when I first started playing there in 2009 – was a pleasure.
Attending the final event before the club closed was an emotional affair, not least because there were so many people in attendance that I suddenly realised I may never rave with again. But there were no tears, I just felt so grateful that Plastic People has been a part of my life and that I got a chance to dance in it one last time.