One of the worldwide dance scene's early capitals, London has battled gentrification and political pressures to remain an electronic music hotbed.
From the political pushback of acid house in the late '80s, to '90s electronic-“rock” mergers a la The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, to trip-hop, UK Garage and beyond – we Brits really know how to pave our own musical paths.
Electronic sounds had been the antidote to Britpop at a time when traditional punk had died out, and working class kids -- helped along by ecstasy and 303 squelches -- revolted by tuning in and spearheading the biggest musical youth movement in recent memory. Practically everyone inhabiting our tiny island has now heard the infamous tale of how Paul Oakenfold headed to Ibiza with his chums, bringing back the sounds of the Balearics and beyond, as now-institutions such as Liverpool's Cream and Sheffield's Gatecrasher provided a legendary escape, acting as a cultural pinpoint in the make-up of UK culture.
In our fair capital of London, where the gin flows freely and the Cockney accents swirl, Nicky Holloway opened Velvet Rooms in ‘93, hosting nights from drum 'n' bass aficionado Fabio and techno don Carl Cox, as Danny Rampling opened the venue that spun a thousand tales, Shroom, before Ministry Of Sound matured from the NYC house-inspired club to the multimedia powerhouse it is today.
Times change, tastes change and cities certainly do, too, as threads of redevelopments and gentrification chomp at the heels of escapism and night-time hedonism. The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), which represents venues, stated that within the decade preceding 2015, London lost half of its clubs, and as our implemented Night Czar – enlisted to ensure London remains a thriving, 24-hour licensed city – also came under fire for the absurd 23:00 / midnight curfew imposed across Hackney back in 2018. This made the limitations of the glorified position that has thrived in cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin seem as if only a title that promised us the world, but didn’t even keep strong what already stood on our doorsteps.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Bolstered by a 24-hour weekend night tube, creating 2,000 jobs and boosting the city’s economy by £360 billion, a multitude of multi-disciplinary spaces, venues and super clubs have fought back -- and, along with established venues standing firm, have enriched what clubbing means.
Which venues are representing the diverse, thrilling and multi-faceted realm of dance, experimental and electronic music in London in 2019? Oh, we got you covered...
Ministry Of Sound
Primed and prepped for the biggest names in EDM, house and trance, the iconic superclub nestled within the transforming face of Elephant & Castle – a melting pot area of the Southwark borough of Central London - provides all-night raves and sets from bombastic headliners. Across what has now become four rooms since its opening in 1991, a ring of six bespoke Martin Audio ground stacks tower over, with recent names to play including Lost Frequencies, Roger Sanchez, Paul Van Dyk, Artwork, Claptone, Benny Benassi and Hernan Cattaneo.
In the neighborhood, La Barra serves epic fried chicken to set you up for the evening. For both the local Latin community and those further afield, the spot has held onto its rustic charm amidst the gentrification engulfing nearby areas.
Dalston's low-lit sushi bar by day and listening by evening (and these guys are fans of a Sunday session, too), Brilliant Corners is a proud host to one of the only audiophile systems in the city, hosting the most eclectic international crate-diggers this side of the 2010's for years now. Think Jane Fitz's wiggle-ready acid, Donna Leake's mind-bending jazz and emotional soul, as well as cameos from Cedric Woo, Kerri Chandler and John Talabot playing music they wouldn't usually spin in the clubs, as well as bubbling-up UK names Sofay and Anu. Grab a sashimi roll, a glass of natural wine, lean in and tune out.
Nearby, Kingsland Road is renowned as a hub of the hip and arty. When on your way over to the club, why not check out Seventeen Gallery, located next to Haggerston station? They've played host to Switzerland's LISTE Art Fair Basel exhibitions, showcasing young contemporary art, as well as Oxford's Patrick Goddard's politically derived, tongue-in-cheek takes. It doesn't get more independent than along the E8.
Holding down a Grade 2 listed warehouse space is no mean feat – we can blame astronomical rent and repair rates to preserve such rich-in-heritage spaces – yet Tobacco Dock, based in the bowels of the East End, makes it look like a piece of cake. Hosting 5,000 ravers and misbehavors dancing under its original ironwork, centuries-old bricks and mortar and surrounded by bronze sculptures and vaults, the space has seen everyone from The Martinez Brothers Cuttin' Headz to Drumcode Halloween from Adam Beyer and Hospitality, for the Drum 'n' Bass OG's.
Nearby, grab a coffee and a croissant to ease off the hangover and make a short 20-minute walk to Whitechapel Gallery, a beautiful space currently hosting the UK’s first retrospective of Anna Maria Maiolino’s deeply feminist work -- tracing a six decade-spanning career. Another recent highlight included Queer Spaces: London, 1980s.
In the past two years, no London venue has blown up as much as Printworks. Situated in the oldest printing press in Western Europe, where the vintage machinery still stands intact, the facility has a carnivorous, old-timey feel, with the Audiotechnik J and V series PA and colossal lighting system bringing it into the 21st century. A truly mesmeric and groundbreaking gain for the capital, expect to catch everyone from Nina Kraviz and Stephan Bodzan to Jeff Mills and Helena Hauff. Altogether, it’s a nearly 120,000-square foot escape that swamps the senses.
Deal Porters Square Food Market is a stone's throw away, and open from 10am – 8pm, to dip a toe into the waters pre-rave. Umami-rich, charred kebabs from Erbil? You bet! Crepes laced with stringy cheese and fresh blushing tomatoes? You got it! With a revolving door of local traders with something for everyone, it’s a no-frills, no-fuss and fully satisfying affair.
Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section parties are Peckham born and bred, and the area remains one of London’s most culturally rich neighborhoods. In the last ten years, the event has gone from a mostly friends event hosted out of Canavan's Pool Club on Rye Lane, to being thrown all over London and further afield, with recent showcases in Amsterdam and Tel Aviv. Having also launched its own record label in 2014, Rhythm Section has distinguished itself via an ability to release world music, club jams and easy-like-Sunday-morning cuts. Ten years in, the event remains one of city's most beloved and diverse parties, and an affair not to be missed.
Nearby, get off the tube a la ‘Wick and head over to Natura pizzeria for a carb-heavy, crisped-up dose of Italian flavor, before topping it off with a trip to Vinyl Pimp next door to delve into the resale world of wax, a treasure trove for collectors and DJs alike.
Horse Meat Disco
LGBTQ+ legends that have championed an inclusive, queer vibe via disco, gospel and house, Horse Meat Disco started in Soho back in 2003. Now, the collective regularly take over clubs in the historically LGBTQ+ Vauxhall neighborhood via marathon sets often spanning six hours.
Hosting stellar names including Midland, Artwork Joey Negro and CC:Disco -- and also showcasing their own encyclopedic knowledge come Sunday nights at SE11’s Eagle -- there is not another club night as liberating and straight-up fun as HMD. Think Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand and African funk rarely even found on discogs, dashed with a strong dose of Chaka Khan. Even Sam Smith called the long-running party their “church” post-breakup.
Nearby, the Gasworks exhibition and studio space is a Vauxhall jewel, hosting independent artists including Patricia Domínguez and Zimbabwean painter Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. But if you're all art-ed out from our previous recommendations and don’t mind rubbing shoulders with the tourists, hit up the Beefeater Gin Distillery tour for less than the price of a round of drinks and submerge yourself in the tipsy side of London history.