The last dance: The End opens its doors for final time to host party to end all parties
The End, the London nightclub which helped Fatboy Slim find fame, shuts on Saturday. But recession is not to blame for the latest closure in clubland. Jerome Taylor reports
Wednesday 21 January 2009
For most people who chance upon its blue walls, sandwiched between a phalanx of concrete monstrosities in central London, The End nightclub is a welcome splash of colour on an otherwise monotonous grey landscape, or just another urban architectural eyesore.
But to Britain's hardcore clubbing fraternity The End is sacred territory. One of the earliest "superclubs" to burst out of the acid house scene in the mid-1990s, it helped turn London into the clubbing capital of the world and for the past 13 years the family-run nightclub has remained a veritable pilgrimage point for generations of clubbers.
But on Saturday The End will open its steel-brushed doors for the final time to host a 24-hour party to end all parties. It becomes the latest high-profile club in a series in the capital to disappear off the map altogether.
In the past 18 months alone at least five major music venues for dance and clubbing in the capital have closed their doors, threatening London's hard-won reputation for being one of the finest places in the world to go clubbing. Their names – The Cross, The Key, Canvas, Turnmills and the Astoria – are some of the most famous brands within London's dance music scene.
For once the recession is not to blame. Yet.
Although there are fears that some clubs may fall victim to the recession in the future, over the past year it is rapacious urban development that has carved vast swathes through London's clubland. All the super clubs that have disappeared in the past year and a half did so because they either had to make way for major construction projects such as the new Eurostar terminal or Crossrail scheme, or because their prime location leases were up. Local councils, meanwhile, have done little to offer clubbers alternate venues.
Many in the Britain's clubbing community are now acutely aware of their loss and say they feel like the sun is setting on what was once a golden age of British clubbing.
As one blogger on clubbing website Beatportal.com wrote recently: "The End will close, but where is the new beginning for London? Where are the opportunists, DJs and committed electronic fans that for years have created a world-class club community? They're in Berlin, most likely."
Sitting on a worn sofa as his staff busily pack office equipment into boxes, Layo Paskin, owner of The End, freely admits that Britain's clubbing scene is in need of a new direction. That, he explains, is partly why he is bowing out.
"I started doing this when I was 22 and now that I'm 38 I think it's time to move on," he says. "There are a whole host of brilliantly creative young people out there and it's their turn to try something new. For a club to stay open for as long as we have is unusual but I think closing is healthy for the scene. Nightclubs shouldn't last forever, they're not theatres." Like so many other superclub owners who set up shop in the early 1990s, Paskin emerged from the psychedelic acid house scene to set up a bona fide club as the authorities began cracking down on illegal raves.
With a £50,000 deposit provided by The Shamen's Mr C (who has been DJing for The End), he bought a derelict building that once housed the Post Office's delivery horses and, alongside his sister Zoe, turned the basement into one of Britain's best known all-night haunts.
Paskin insists that financial problems had nothing to do with his decision to close – the past three years had in fact been some of their most profitable. "I just felt like it would be better to go out while we were still on top," he explains.
A brief flick through the club's online photo album reads like a who's who of Britain's clubland. Grooverider, Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox and Ronnie Size are just some of the many names that earned their stripes spinning The End's decks and later returned as world renowned DJs.
For club promoters, the loss of The End means there is now one fewer venue to make money out of and many are expressing concerns that work might start drying up. Marley Jaye, a promoter who puts on nights at Egg in north London, said: "In clubbing circles The End was seen as something of an institution, a proper super club. It was the kind of place where you knew you were guaranteed to see some really big names play some amazing sets. It definitely feels like an end of an era moment."
He believes that in a recession the super clubs will have to consistently put on high-class acts in order to attract the punters: "I firmly believe that people will continue clubbing throughout any recession but the big club nights do tend to be more expensive. That's why the big clubs will have to have something realty special at their party."
Not that superclubs are in any way dead in the water. Big name brands which sprung up around the same time as The End, such as Ministry of Sound, Fabric and Liverpool's Cream, are still going strong. The recent success of Matter, a 2,600-capacity super club that recently opened in the O2 arena, shows there is also still room for new arrivals. But the rise of pub-clubs and a gradual shift of musicians towards clubs and warehouses in east London has inevitably had an impact.
"A year ago there was a big move away from the superclubs and into funky, small venues at the back of pubs," says Nick DeCosemo, editor of Mixmag magazine. "That's exciting because a lot of new talent is being created in those sort of communities."
Despite obvious concerns that people feel like they have less cash DeCosemo believes the clubbing scene will remain strong throughout a recession. "You've got to remember that the core audience for clubbing is 18-25 year-olds," he says. "They tend to be less affected by recessions. They don't have mortgages and kids to worry about and they are pretty committed partygoers."
If anything, a recession might even provide the fresh creative impetus that some believe is needed to reinvigorate Britain's clubbing scene. "You know a recession might not actually be that bad a thing," suggests DeCosemo, only semi-seriously. "During recession and depressions you get lots of empty buildings. And if there's one thing empty buildings are good for its illegal raves".
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