Let’s face it – going to big clubs in London can be pretty meh. They charge far too much for entry, finish way too early and are not always the most free-spirited places to be in. London lacks, for lack of a better word, institutions; places that are known for their ethos and an ability to push the boundaries. These places are big enough to attract tourists, expose them to the culture and allow it to expand and grow: many pass up the opportunity, few embrace it.
It’s a great culture that we shouldn’t be hiding from anyone – dance music has been built on equality and freedom of expression. But in a wealthy city that’s filled with 8 million people, things aren’t that easy. London suffers from harsh licensing laws that prohibit clubs from growing organically. A few days ago, Islington Council had a meeting about revoking Fabric’s license. Though the club has escaped closing, the police are forcing more security measures: drug-sniffing dogs, ID scanning and CCTV inside. This is due to irresponsible drug use inside the venue. It’s an absolutely misguided effort and it doesn’t even recognise the real problem with drug policies. Lack of housing plays its role, too – for a better overview have a look at this excellent piece on clubs in London.
Small clubs, however, are one of London’s fortes. Take a look at Dance Tunnel, a small Dalston basement that hosts consistently great parties at a low price: Helena Hauff, Hunee, Matthew Herbert are amongst many guests who played last month. Dig even deeper to find Public Life: a series of free parties held at The Yard, Hackney Wick; great DJs, great artwork, BYOB, and a dedicated team of people behind it.
The Hydra has had different ambitions from the very beginning. Ran by Dolan Bergin and Ajay Jayaram: a duo that’s been throwing parties long before 2012, when they finally teamed up to throw “parties for a nightclub that doesn’t exist”. For the first two annual seasons, the series took place all over London, comfortable in both established locations and elusive TBA spaces. In hindsight, it’s a brilliant idea that must have removed most of the hassle that comes with running a night club. At the same time, it poses its own challenges – using multiple venues means dealing with multiple owners and giving up some of the control that you’d have over your own blank canvas.
It took Dolan and Ajay three years to find a home at Studio Spaces in Wapping. The two-room studio is home to over a thousand people during the busiest nights, placing it amongst one of London’s biggest clubs. But the DIY spirit that The Hydra seems to firmly believe in prevails, with the venue changing from party to party and steadily improving.
This year, The Hydra opened with a 3-day weekend and teamed up with Resident Advisor, amongst others. Saturday’s line-up was bizarre, with little obvious links between the artists and the sounds represented. No matter how the night went down, it was already great before it even began: for a community born out of constant innovation, dance music still insists on putting music in boxes we made for it and it’s always good to see efforts that challenge that.
During the early hours of the morning saw Zomby and Mo Kolours fill two rooms and although it was all a bit incoherent, it was a good start. We quickly realised that the smaller room, called the Black Studio, was miles better than the Warehouse. It’s louder, more intimate, way less chaotic, and feels like a different club altogether. Mathew Herbert stepped on at 3, delivering one of our favourite sets that we’ve ever heard in a club. It was fast and beautiful in a typical Herbert manner: cosmic and punchy, with plenty of vocal and no time for fillers. Herbert has his music-making principles written down, and they echoed strongly throughout the set. He closed with The Audience, and it now seems to be a bit of a waste to listen to his music any quieter.
So how does The Hydra manage to curate these varied line-ups? We asked Dolan a few questions to find out where the diversity comes from. Both head honchos work together by pairing up labels that they feel are like-minded, often letting them select the artists, leading to interesting guest ideas. They put most of their energy into production and sound, “two of the most important elements of a good party, in our opinion”. The event is seasonal, running from August all the way through to the New Year.
The next party we went to was the takeover by Innervisions, who are currently one of the biggest labels in dance music. They were in London for one weekend, hoping to bring the spirt of Berlin with them: spontaneous line-ups (they kept people guessing by announcing the line-ups on the day) and tickets only available on the door. We got to Studio Spaces early that night, ready for eight hours of non-stop Dixon and Ame, in what’s currently the best room to be in, compared to any club in London. The big room was shut, the DJ booth had been moved towards the centre, and lighting was on another level altogether. All of this contributed to making it an amazing night with a dedicated crowd, allowing the two to play fewer anthems and reach deep into their collections. The signature, dreamy Innervisions tempo kept us smiling all the way till 7 am, when the DJs closed with Hot Chip’s Flutes.
Later on in the series, Full Pupp teamed up with Horse Meat Disco and ran the small room. While the latter was excellent, and was our first time hearing Horse Meat Disco outside of Plastic People, we weren’t so keen on the rest of it. The set times were odd, putting Todd Terje and Lindstrom’s live shows on at the same time. The place was packed and it was all a bit too much, really. There was no room to dance, the bar queues were stretching onto the dance floor and temperatures were so high that it was almost too hot to even be scantily clad, and especially not in a Halloween costume.
Another event in the Hydra series that we couldn’t miss out on, was the Electric Minds x Kompakt night. Electric Minds have a similar mindset to The Hydra – they also carefully select their venues and collaborations to create tailor-made parties. On top of all that, they’re a record label too, putting out music from the likes of Move D to Mark E. Kompakt are also a record label, covering a diverse range of music from minimal techno to melodic pop, all from Cologne. Enticed by the stellar line up of Moodymann, Joey Anderson, Leon Vynehall and so many more that we felt almost spoilt for choice. Unfortunately, there were similarities to the Full Pupp night, as the largest room was packed out, making it hard to throw shapes without accidentally hitting someone in the face, or getting too close for comfort. The main man of the night was Moodymann, who played an incredibly eclectic set, featuring the likes of Seven Davis Jr and Nirvana.
With only 3 more parties to look forward to, Dolan and Ajay are nearly done for the year. It’s been an excellent one, during which they threw parties that somehow feel distinctly London: big parties that feel small, in a venue that keeps improving. Promoters like The Hydra do not have it easy in London, but it’s wonderful to see how dedicated the fans can be to keep it all going. Despite clubs closing weekly, London’s club scene is still the best in the world, and it’s not going anywhere.