After Dark: Ministry without portfolio

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Ministry of Sound celebrates its sixth birthday this week. The UK's most famous nightclub (Stringfellows and the Hippodrome willingly excluded), is also the focus of a weekly radio show and one of Europe's biggest independent record labels.

"Ministry is still about music, but on different levels," explains the managing director, Mark Rodal. "The club doesn't generate as much income as other parts of the company but it remains at the forefront of what we do. The music is the foundation of the whole business, so we're very careful about protecting our brand."

Everyone knows MoS. Prospective revellers queue for hours, negotiating ruthless "style gurus" and awesome bouncers to gain admittance.

Rodal is not a typical club owner, the majority of whom are content to sit back waiting for their cut to arrive and who rely on independent promoters to deliver clubbing concepts and punters.

Under Rodal's guidance, MoS employs 63 full-time members of staff (average age around 24). With the exception of Pushca, all MoS events are products of internal innovation and promotion.

"The average age of people that come to Ministry is 19 to 21 and that's why we have a promotions team that age," he explains. "They decide who plays, what the flyers look like. I might have an idea of who should DJ on Saturday night but as a 30-year-old, I'd probably be wrong.

"In the past, clubland has been run by 55-year-old men in suits - it's a bit like your dad telling you where you should go out to have a good time."

The formula works. MoS has not experienced the clubbing exodus which has crippled the industry in several northern cities. Ironically, this often-imitated "superclub" is now forced to deflect accusations that they have become languorous. It's not something that Rodal seems overly concerned about.

"Ministry is born out of a sub-culture," he says. "If you become too successful, by definition you're no longer part of that sub-culture. We were the first major club to bring Logical progression and Drop 103 [drum'n'bass and hip-hop gigs respectively] but this is a 2,000-capacity club.

"I'd like to think that 2,000 people would attend if we did something really cutting edge, but they wouldn't. I'd rather pursue the latest trends through the CD department.

"We do CDs, from cutting-edge `sessions' through to Dance Nation, which sold 250,000 copies. Dance music is full of one-hit wonders, so record companies do not want to invest in a product that is constantly redefining itself.

"More than the featured artists, people see our logo on a CD and they know what kind of music we deliver. In many respects, we've become dance artists."

Currently, every Tom, Dick and Harriet with access to a pair of Technics has an album on release. Nevertheless, the figures reveal MoS CDs to be as popular as the venue.

The iconic status enjoyed by MoS enables it to pursue projects as diverse as the recent "Use Your Vote" campaign, while exporting their DJs as far afield as Russia, Japan and America.

MoS is a bona-fide youth brand, and like Coca-Cola, it seems nothing short of world domination will do.

MoS Sixth Birthday Party. Tonight at `Rulin', Ministry of Sound, 103 Gaunt St, SE1 (0171-378 6528) 12mdn't-9am, pounds 20 advance/pounds 25 door

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