Best Of British 2011: Best Large Club - Ministry of Sound
20 YEARS AND COUNTING: Ministry has been at the forefront of UK clubbing for 20 years, and is still at the top of its game...
When London’s Ministry Of Sound celebrated its 20th birthday last year, the set that Dennis Ferrer did — on the Saturday night of the weekend-long celebration — had the entire main room glued to the dancefloor from first to last beat.
“There was an amazing energy in the room that night,” says promotions manager Nik Wilson.
“We finally had to knock it on the head at about 8.30am, but the crowd wanted to keep going. It was amazing.”
Anyone who went along to the birthday weekend, on any of the three nights of the celebration, will say the same thing.
Frankie Knuckles and David Morales played on the Sunday and had a similar effect on the crowd. And, just like the Saturday night, the crowd was desperate for more — even after the lights went up.
“Hearing Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Tedd Patterson and Claudio Coccoluto rave about the box soundsystem really meant a lot to us,” says Nik.
“A couple of them were telling MOS staff about how they feel that Ministry has made a huge contribution to the global dance music scene and that, for us, was really humbling.”
That same birthday weekend, Nic Fanciulli and Matthais Tanzmann’s five-hour back-to-back set was another high point. But it doesn’t take a 20th birthday party to make it a good night at the Ministry. Wind back in history to when businessman and dance music fan James Palumbo opened the venue in 1991, and the tale of the MOS is a story that’s not only synonymous with the story of British dance music and club culture; it’s also a tale punctuated with a string of lazer-bright, unforgettable nights. And that’s not to mention all the MOS offshoots such as the record label, the radio station, the merchandise and the global franchising and tours. But, of course, it all started with the London venue.
Tucked away on a back street in a down-at-heel area of South-East London, just off the imposing, concrete-heavy Elephant & Castle roundabout, the building that has been known as ‘the Ministry’ since 1991 has set the scene for some of dance music’s finest stories. DJ Harvey’s sets there in the early-1990s were directly influenced by the US garage and disco music he’d heard and danced to at the Paradise Garage in New York. Just months after the club opened, in 1991, ‘Garage resident Larry Levan did a fateful last leg of a DJing tour with his friend and colleague Francois K at the club (a recording of this momentous night surfaced recently). Levan died in 1992 and this gig — an emotive set that really is the stuff of legend — remains one of Francois K’s self-confessed “most memorable” club nights.
The anticipation leading up to Junior Vasquez’s first ever UK set at the MOS in the mid-1990s (the club itself was part-inspired by Junior’s nights at the Sound Factory in New York) was almost as exciting as the gig itself.
From the early underground days, through the rise and fall of the whole ‘superclub’ phenomenon and beyond, the Ministry has managed to stick it out. Partly due to the watertight business acumen of owner James Palumbo — whose nous regarding branding and franchising made MOS the original blueprint for corporate clubbing — and partly due to the quality of the venue and its soundsystem, the venue remains, 20 years since it opened, at the top of the pile.
In the mid-1990s, at the height of the fluffy, handbag house era, MOS was home to the Blitz-inspired Puscha parties; the glam events where the likes of Lisa Pin-Up, Jon Pleased Wimmin and Boy George would DJ while a conga of couture-clad trannies danced in formation on the bar.
Club-night after club-night, hosting DJ living-ledge after DJ living-ledge, like most good things we’d maybe all started to take the Ministry for granted. Until last year, that is, when problems with the lease of the building meant that the venue faced potential closure. It was at that point, maybe, that dance fans new and old realized what they might actually lose, should it shut down. There are no club nights without venues after all.
“Last year was a tough year for us, it’s true,” says Nik. “We were really touched by the impressive support for our cause last year that came from locals, people all over the UK and even worldwide. That’s why, moving forward, we’re here to stay and plan to improve the venue year on year.”