The culturally queer roots are often overlooked in the UK…
Trade spawned the move to all night clubbing in the 1990s and was the first queer after hours club in Britain. Trade’s home was Turnmills, which closed in March 2008. Turnmills was my boss, my playground and occasionally my downfall, admits Stewart Who?
London’s discos are dying. Heaven’s now G.A.Y. The Astoria and The End have already gone. Turnmills has long since shut its doors to clubbers and is now a somewhat depressing office block. For a big slice of ‘larging it’ London, this signalled the end of an era and a sad demise for what was once a wildly magical and creative space.
Turnmills’ Director Danny Newman revealed the reasons behind the club’s closure.
“The most important reason is of course that the lease is nearly up and the landlord wants to develop the site. To be honest it’s been on the cards for a couple of years now, we’ve always wanted to leave on our terms and it just seems like the right time to go – from a business and personal point of view.”
The club was the first in the UK to obtain a 24-hour licence and infamous club promoter Laurence Malice seized the opportunity to host a legendary gay after-hours at the venue. This was a radical move in 1990, when the concept of clubbing from 4am to lunchtime was beyond leftfield and Clerkenwell had yet to become hip and costly area that it is now.
There has yet to a club as debauched, groundbreaking and demented as Trade proved to be in its heyday. Visitors would descend a staircase, delivering the daring into a long bar known to regulars as Muscle Alley.
The vision that greeted punters was a riotous explosion of colour, naked flesh and pop-art visuals that appeared hyper-real, even without the aid of narcotics.
The visuals, flyers and artwork by Mark Wardel (aka Trademark) were groundbreaking, sexy and iconic, creating a pop-art brand that became a global cult.
Celebrities, steroid abusers, rent boys, Kings Cross hookers, S&M swingers, gangsters and club freaks would cram into the venue and quite literally climb the walls, every Sunday morning. Stunning trans beauties would gyrate topless on the bar, flashing their silicone tits and howling like banshees.
Snuff movies, cartoons and kids’ TV shows played on screens above the bar. A visible queue for the drug dealer would snake across the dance floor. Everybody danced, everywhere– even in the queue for the toilets.
The music, a frenzied but melodic journey through the degrees of hard house would get incrementally faster as midday approached. John Newman (RIP) was the somewhat taciturn proprietor of Turnmills and his son, ‘Tall’ Paul would take to the decks as most people in the UK were preparing Sunday lunch. It was, quite simply, E-fuelled raving pushed to the point of insanity.
I worked at Trade for 5 years, initially on the cash desk, but also in charge of membership, guest list and most stressfully, monitoring ‘celebrity corridor’. This job involved looking after VIPs by securing them illegal drinks in paper cups from a secret room and managing a private lock-up toilet.
You got to hang out with the Ramplings, Nicky Holloway, Wayne Sleep and Grace Jones, but at 9am, they weren’t always the best company. Madonna came in disguise several times and it’s rumoured that Princess Diana paid a visit.
Laurence Malice enjoyed messing with the pharmaceutically fried brains of the punters by employing a Princess Di look-alike to float through the club. The rumour that she was in the club would fly from dancefloor to toilet cubicle and in that surreal playground, it seemed totally viable that she might be gurning along with the rest of us.
The dance floor or the DJ booth were always the best place to be, where sensory overload gave way to primal meditation and unrivalled debauchery. I witnessed straight and gay couples having fully fledged, penetrative sex on thatdancefloor. I also looked on in horror as a world-famous porn star laughed while coughing up half a pint of blood.
Nobody batted an eyelid, but perhaps with all the chemicals, they couldn’t. People just waved their glo-sticks and danced around the gory puddle as the big-cocked star wiped bloody drool from his pretty lips.
The industrial strength laser was rumoured to be illegal in its intensity and the kick-drum punch emanating from the speakers could be turn your rib cage to jelly. I took my deaf brother one night. He dropped an E and then for the next six hours, James stood in front of the speakers. The bone-shaking vibrations that boomed from those speakers kept him buzzing as much as anyone else in the room. He couldn’t hear Trade, but he could feel it.
Trade became an international sub-cultural phenomenon, muscle boys had the logo tattooed on their pumped limbs and the albums sold by the shed load. The DJs became legends- Smokin’ Jo, Fergie, Pete Wardman, Alan Thompson, The Sharp Boys, Ian M, Steve Thomas, Tony De Vit (RIP), Malcolm Duffy and Fat Tony were just a few who went onto major success.
One queen requested that his ashes be scattered on the dance floor. A couple got married in exactly the same spot. I witnessed both moving events, but also saw overdoses, mental breakdowns and while on the cash desk, a gun fuelled hold-up from a gangster known as Spider.
Turnmills was also home to FF, the Sunday nighter which bled through to Monday lunchtime, complimented by an outrageously sick monthly magazine which was sued and shut down by Eric Clapton. The club was also home to the Chemical Brothers’ Heavenly Social, where I caught the loved-up crowd hugging and gurning to ‘Waterfalls’ by TLC.
For over 14 years, Friday nights at Turnmills were home to the monster that is The Gallery. Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto, Armin van Buuren, Judge Jules, Ferry Corsten and Paul van Dyk all cut their teeth on the Gallery decks.
Roger Sanchez boasted a five-year residency with Release Yourself and City Loud pulled in US house masters like Frankie Knuckles, Tony Humphries and Masters at Work.
Rock and roll
While Turnmills proved a dance music Mecca, it wasn’t shy on the rock and roll front. The Happy Mondays’ Get Loaded night spawned the music festival of the same name and Pete Doherty’s band Babyshambles recorded ‘Shotter’s Nation’ in The Turnmills Studio.
The Gossip, The Kills and The Horrors all performed live at the venue. Michael Jackson and Alexander O’Neil both had birthday parties in the space. Not any more.
On a personal level, I was devastated to see Turnmills go, as it was my second home for most of the ‘90s. I was a fixture at the Trade Xmas Day Parties for the best part of a decade and have danced under that nuclear laser with my father, sister, brother and many, many loved ones.
They were emotional times. The love, awe and unity we felt while cheering to roaring techno may have been intensified by pills and potions, but it changed us all. That spirit, the decadent abandon, the sense of family was unique to Trade and even then, we knew we were blessed to be there.
For those that survived it- and there are a few who didn’t, it will be curious, dangerous and poignant to wave goodbye to Trade this weekend. There was nothing like it then and there’s nothing like it now.
Oh, and as a point of reference- the main picture was taken from the DJ booth at Trade about 8am on a Sunday morning. Tony De Vit (R.I.P) had just dropped his mix of ‘S’Xpress- Theme from S’Xpress’. It was on a dub-plate and had never been played before. The floor went ballistic.