“People want an experience that feels like you’re in on something special, not that you are being ripped off,” says Elles Pinfold of Legendary Children, one of a cluster of underground parties located on or around the Kingsland Road, which are currently cementing Dalston’s place as London’s home of house.
Of course the area has enjoyed a lively nightlife for years, but while East London’s main clubbing scene has traditionally been split between Dalston and Shoreditch, the commercialisation and slow decline of the latter, at least in a clubbing sense, has made it a difficult place for underground parties to flourish. While venues like East Village and the Horse and Groom can still pull in the big names, walk in to a bar in Shoreditch these days and you’re more likely to hear Beyoncé than Virgo Four.
Thankfully the abundance of no-nonsense basements and an eager crowd make Dalston a prime location for a burgeoning scene, with the dark, raw energy of places like Vogue Fabrics and Dalston Superstore marrying perfectly with the deep, underground sounds coming from the speakers. It’s a sentiment echoed by Miles Simpson, promoter and resident at Thunder: “people started to shift East when the stag and hen parties took over Shoreditch,” he says. “[In Dalson] there’s always an electric mix of young club kids, older heads, queers, freaks and a few hipsters. You’re not going to see the Foxtons office party out in the Superstore – it’s where people who actually love going out go out!”
Another party helping create the Dalston house scene is Northern Purpose, who celebrate their first birthday in May. Resident Brendan Clark gives his thoughts: “what’s been great is the fact that people with a true passion for quality music and bookings have used the same area to host parties. These spaces enable you to create your own vibe, bring your own sound, add décor to your taste or just use the raw surroundings.” Rob Mathie, promoter/DJ at newcomer Hardlife agrees: “with so many small basement venues there’s a closeness that’s perhaps missing with the ‘traditional East’ scene. With many parties ‘Venue TBA’ in Shoreditch it’s rare that you get a sense of putting roots down – perhaps that’s why Dalston feels more communal as a result”
A sense of community and a desire to nurture a scene is an idea which all of the promoters seem keen to encourage; Hardlife recently teamed up with independent Dalston record shop Kristina Records for an in-store event with their headliner House of Traps, offering free entry to all Kristina customers on the day. “The store was rammed all day,” Rob recalls, “and most of the acts related directly to our local scene – Auntie Flo played a set right after shooting his new video in Dalston Superstore, Cage and Aviary played in advance of their set at Legendary Children in a few weeks time, and then of course House of Traps who played for us later that night.”
Miles goes further in relaying the sense of community: “Neil from Legendary Children does our artwork, one of our mates met Rob from Hardlife at Thunder and is now one of the residents, and Dan Beaumont, who owns the Superstore, has helped us all in way or another. It feels like something quite special is happening, with the individual club nights supporting, rather than competing with each other.”
As much as the scene is based on DIY ethics, the calibre of guest DJs being brought in seems to be just as important in creating a buzz. In fact, the past few months have seen a number of parties booking guests far bigger than their size would normally allow. Legendary Children recently hosted Junior Boys Own veteran Terry Farley, Sven Weismann played to a packed out crowd at Thunder, while The Idiots are Winning can be credited with the remarkable feat of bringing Detroit legend Chez Damier to play the 120 capacity basement of a Japanese restaurant. “It’s a simple premise really,” explains resident Jake Manders on the Idiots are Winning ethos: “informal, infrequent basement parties with the odd red light thrown in. It’s not flashy, expensive to get in, or glamorous – we want people to enjoy themselves and do what they want.”
This attitude is shared by everybody I speak to, who all seem motivated not by money or status, but purely by the desire to create a memorable party, whatever the costs. And the train of big name guests playing intimate parties shows no sign of slowing down. This month will see two huge figures in Detroit’s music scene scene playing within a stone’s throw of each other, with Patrice Scott at Thunder and Mike Huckaby at Northern Purpose’s first birthday party. As testament to the positive ethos of the parties, Patrice Scott first heard about Thunder via a recommendation from previous guest Neville Watson, and personally asked that they book him to play.
It’s clear that a passion for underground house music is the glue which binds these individual parties into something which can be called a scene. “The three Thunder residents have been fanatically buying house records since the 1980s, so we’ve got a pool of tens of thousands records to draw on,” explains Miles. “Our thinking is there must be a few good ones in there not many other people are playing.” On Legendary Children’s interpretation of ‘house’, Elles explains that the term can mean anything from a Balearic classic to disco to a New Jersey house record. “I don’t mean a bunch of records that are all 125bpm and sound the same,” she explains, “I mean the true meaning of house – records that convey a particular energy or feeling.”
One thing all agree on is the importance of pushing new music as well as celebrating house’s past glories. As Miles bluntly puts it, “there’s no future in nostalgia”. This makes for a healthy nucleus where new tunes can be broken and an exciting string of productions can emerge. Legendary Children have recently released their own material to much acclaim, and there’s new work on the horizon from Thunder and Hardlife residents.
Miles finishes with an optimistic look to the future “Even as older heads, we’re as excited as we’ve been about going out in London for years. Summer down the Kingsland Road could be something special.”