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Trade spawned the move to all night clubbing in the 1990s and celebrates its 30th birthday at The Egg next weekend. It was the first queer after hours club in Britain. Trade’s initial home was Turnmills, which closed in March 2008. That venue was my boss, a relentless playground and occasionally my downfall.
London’s discos have been dying for years. Heaven is 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, the closure of this venue signalled the end of an era and a sad demise for what was once a wildly magical and creative space.
The club was the first in the UK to obtain a 24-hour licence and 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. Clerkenwell felt Dickensian and had yet to become hip and costly area that it is now.
There has yet to be a club as debauched, unique and demented as Trade proved in its heyday. Punters would descend a treacherous staircase and find themselves at 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 seemed hyper-real, even without the aid of narcotics.
The visuals, flyers and artwork by Mark Wardel (aka Trademark) were alluring, 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. Wide-eyed trans beauties would gyrate topless on the bar, kicking customers with their heels 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 odyssey through degrees of house, would get incrementally faster as midday approached. John Newman (RIP) was the somewhat taciturn proprietor of Turnmills.
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. Being reposible for the key to that toilet was both a blessning and a curse.
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. It’s claimed that Madonna came in disguise several times and it’s rumoured that Princess Diana paid a visit.
Laurence Malice loved 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 house’ 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 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 that dancefloor. 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 stable of DJs became mixing 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 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 venue 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 was 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 a trail of lovers.
They were emotional times. The joy, 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 wilful abandon, the sense of family, was unique to Trade. We knew we were blessed to be there.
For those that survived, and there are a few who didn’t, it will be curious, dangerous and poignant to celebrate Trade’s 30th Birthday. There was nothing like it then and there’s nothing like it now.
The main picture was taken from the DJ booth at Trade around 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 and I caught the moment.