Yeah, Minister: The battle for supremacy rages in clubland. James Style reports

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The Independent Culture
The Henley Research organisation recently published a report which made the startling estimate that young people spend roughly pounds 1.5-2 bn a year on raves. They define raves in the broadest possible terms, incorporating illegal parties in fields and the more mainstream clubs catering for rave culture. Accurate figures are hard to come by, but it makes pretty grim reading for anyone in the brewing business as almost all the money going into raves seems to be at the expense of the pub. Fewer and fewer 16 to 24-year-olds are making weekday visits to the local and instead are saving up for an all-night blow-out at their local rave. Yet talk to any of London's West End nightclub owners and you'll not hear the ringing of cash tills.

The recession has bitten deep into clubland: attendances have fallen, door prices have had to be reduced and bar takings are down. Gone are the heady days of the Eighties. The big money is being siphoned off by a new breed of club - the Super Club - strange new hybrids that find themselves located in unlikely places, their interiors hardly the lap of luxury.

One such place is the Ministry of Sound, situated in an unprepossessing Sixties block, just off Elephant and Castle in the mean streets of south east London. A huge venue, the Ministry has been packing them in ever since it opened in 1990. The Ministry's formula combines clever marketing and a shrewd understanding of clubland, from the door policy through to the DJs. Getting in is an elaborate process, you pass through no fewer than four security checks before handing over your pounds 12. Every week, famous DJs are flown in from America and are let loose on what is without doubt the best sound system in any club in the UK. Admission to the Ministry may be expensive but it does go on until an eye-drooping 8.00am. And remember: there isn't even a licensed bar.

For a long time the Ministry had it all its own way. Now, however, new specialist clubs have opened and the Ministry, flag bearer for so long, has become a victim of its own success. Veteran raver Stefan Zoppi says, 'When it first opened they were very selective about who they let in, but it's so big now that they'll let anyone in. They just want bodies through the doors.' As if that wasn't enough, Club UK, another Super Club, has opened in Wandsworth, catering to exactly the same type of rave crowd as the Ministry, yet it has three dance floors to their one.

Elsewhere the gigantic rave continues to have its supporters. Harrassed by Tory MPs and sagging under the burden of restrictive legislation, the days of impromtu raves, with the motorway rendezvous and warehouse locations, are over. But big legal events are happening. On 27 November, Fantazia presents 'The Big Bang' in Glasgow's SECC. According to party organiser Barny Reason, 12,000 people will part with pounds 25 to be there. 'The key,' he says, 'is to offer value for money. We've got all sorts of attractions other than just the music.' By that he means rocket simulators, a 3-D water projection fountain and 140K of sound system. That's loud. Most heavy metal concerts make do with 40K. Gone are the days of the unscrupulous promoter who would provide little more than a DJ and a muddy dancefloor for the downtrodden raver.

There are even those who are fed up with rave music altogether. Good news for the beleaguered West End? Not if the capital's two newest clubs are anything to go by. Both the proprietors are experienced club promoters and their new ventures, The Cross in Kings Cross and The Velvet Underground in Charing Cross Road, exploit a gap in the market. Both are small and intimate, catering for a more mature crowd with the emphasis less on the music than on creating the right atmosphere - a selective place to have a late-night drink. Meanwhile, the poor pubs and the poor West End dinosaur discos continue to suffer, out of date and out of tune.

Ministry of Sound pounds 12, 12 m'nt-10am, Gaunt St, London SE1 (071-378 6528)

United Kingdom at UK pounds 12 or pounds 15 incl membership, 10pm-6am, Buckhold Rd, London SW18 (081-877 0110)

Fantasia presents 'The Big Bang' 27 Nov, pounds 25, 8pm-6am, Glasgow SECC (041- 332 9871)

(Photograph omitted)

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