Post Plastic People: A Blueprint for the Future of London Nightlife
With another London institution shutting, we plot a plan of clubland action.
The new year is always a suitable time for maudlin, self-serving self-analysis. It's a period of reflection, of pondering, of wondering exactly why we thought we could eat four roast dinners, five curries and two McDonalds' in a week without gaining weight. Usually, the furthest our hungover ruminations extend to is pretending that we'll start over with a regiment of booze-free healthy eating and exercise. This year clubbers were forced to consider something even bleaker: a post-Plastic People nightlife.
The venerable institution, a club absolutely pivotal to dance music in the UK, shut this past weekend. With the closing of its perfectly non-descript doors at the end of Curtain Road, another nail's been defiantly hammered into the already shot through coffin of London clubbing. As we edge ever closer to a city in which going out is the sole preserve of the moccasin and and pink shirt crew of exclusive Chelsea clubs and Mayfair's soulless, soul destroying misery pits, Plastic People is needed more than ever.
An unprepossessing dingy basement that was home to legendary dubstep night FWD>>, Floating Points' You're a Melody night, a longstanding Theo Parrish residency, and thousands of unforgettable one offs that linger in the memory, Plastic People represented a kind of essential essence of clubbing, of what it should be and how it could be.
Our mourning of a vital cog in the club machine is a chance to make a calm and stoic assessment of the present while taking a hopeful look into the future. While London clubbing isn't quite yet ready to be rolled into the incinerator and ashed onto the fetid banks of the Thames, we need to take stock, need to reassess where it's headed.
The bland-ification and twee-ification of London is terrifying: warehouses become poncified gin palaces, old hardware shops mutate into quirky coffee shops used primarily by overbearing Observer wielding weapons, the sodden edges of Soho are replaced by Primarks.
Blame Buzzfeed or global property developer's or their restless lust for marketing-driven placemaking but there's always the ever-fading-but-still-faintly-there possibility of repurposing of space and performing the Heimlich maneuver on central London that it so desperately needs. Think of nights like Peckham's Rhythm Section, housed in Rye Lane's gloriously grubby pool hall Canavan's, the Trilogy Tapes affiliated Local which hops from pubs to railway arches around Brixton, or The Occasional Feel Good which turns Herne Hill's Island Arts Studio into a wonked out disco daydream. These places do exist but they don't solve the difficult problem of permanence.
As the city becomes an grossly enlarged, engorged monument to the wiles of Oxford Street capitalism, it's up to promoters and their attendant moneymen to do what the rest of us are facing up to: the existence of a London that resides outside of the cosy confines of Zone 2. With the twin inner rings seemingly officially full, reccies to the likes of Honor Oak Park, Mill Hill, Osterley, Abbey Wood and Preston Road become ever more necessary. These are the kind of resolutely suburban spots that house semi-affordable space, high street towns that DJs and producers leaves, forever seduced by the twinkles of Canary Wharf on wet Wednesday mornings. These are the places that need to feel the warm embrace of hundreds of sweaty clubbers congregating in near residential areas at 6am for a life saving cigarette. This is the intentionally ignored London that doesn't get written about by Zadie Smith or filmed by Richard Curtis and that's what makes it perfect for a new clubland. This is where you build and they'll come. I hope.
DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE
Part of Plastic People's charm and appeal - apart from the stellar booking and the incredible soundsystem and the decadent darkness - was the fact that it never blew it's own trumpet. While you could argue that it didn't necessarily need to, and that there'd be a queue down to Great Eastern Street ready to do it for them, the fact that it maintained a humble air is to be commended. London needs more clubs, club-nights, promoters, DJs and producers dedicated purely to doing a job and doing it well. Endless self-edification is needless and unappealing.
Any buzz should be self-generating, should arise from quality, from word of mouth, from actually making a genuine attempt to refill the lungs of a slowly submerging nocturnal metropolis. We don't want hashtags and viral campaigns, we don't need more nights that talk themselves into the ground before the resident's finished a warm up set. What the city needs is people willing to start small, to create an grassroots following, to develop - through location, booking, and overall ethos - something akin to a cultural shift.
That might be asking a lot, but if we're going to take this seriously, to actively engage in a discussion of the future of pleasure and leisure we've got to think beyond the damp walls of rooms, go further than the bar and the booth. People's lives changed as a result of their weekly pilgrimage to FWD>>. And British club culture changed forever as a result, too. That, surely, hopefully, can happen again. Can't it?
THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL
As tempting as it is to imagine the whole world exists so we can get fucked in subterranean spaces weekend in, weekend out, there's a planet out there that doesn't care as much for the Galcher Lustwek 12"s or L.I.E.S. podcasts or "Lady Sunrise (NYC Sunrise)" as we do. Ergo, we've got to think about the wider potential community benefits of a club space. Can it be used in the day time? Can it appeal to a broader spectrum of people? Will it work closely with it's surroundings to ensure that it's seen as a positive place in general times?
In the face of Boris and co's Keep Calm and Stay Fascist bulldozering of everything interesting, unique and challenging, the sustainability of a genuine club-based nightlife in London depends on this kind of multifaceted approach. Play the game they're playing. Serve coffee and fix bikes in there or something. Screen Downton boxsets on weekdays or whatever. Just appeal ever so slightly to the kind of person who gets excited by Time Out's pub reviews.
(DON'T ALWAYS) THINK BIG (NAMES ARE BEST)
Zip over to Resident Advisor's listing page and you'll see that on any given Saturday you can pretty much guarantee that approximately 68% of the world's top DJs are moaning about something in the back of a black cab. That's great. That's smashing. That's also what leads to homogeneity and stasis and the fossilization of that which we hold dear. Plastic People was a risk taker. Granted it had a far smaller floor space than, say, Fabric, or Ministry, which presumably leads to less pressure to sell out which presumably leads to more creative freedom.
That sense of freedom, that ability to run delimited and almost unrestricted results in exciting, innovative booking that doesn't fall into the big room/big name trap. Think about it like this: descending down that steely staircase into Plastic People's final few weeks of existence could have seen you get down to the edit-heavy boogie chug of Tiger & Woods, Gilles Peterson's globe- trotting crate- digging, Axel Boman's warped weirdo house, or Prins Thomas' spangly, stratospheric cosmic disco. You could have caught Low Jack doing his cranky, dubbed out thing, or witnessed I-F in all his Hague techno pomp. You might have rocked out and heard Four Tet and Floating Points run the gamut from jazz to juke. In short, it was a club never afraid of the unpredictable.
Let's take risks, London. Let's not rely on our ten favourite DJs week in week out. Let's do it differently. Clubbing is too central to the London experience to let it wither and waft away into the publically funded black hole of the Olympic Park development.
Josh is on Twitter: @bain3z