A New Year, An Old Club
2015 began with the end of a twenty-year-strong musical phenomenon known as Plastic People. A tiny basement club on Curtain Road in the epicentre of London’s eastern, fashion-fuelled, night-ruled district – Shoreditch.
A brush off the shoulders from thundering names such as Fabric and Egg but just as iconic, just as loved and just as important-a-piece of London’s fragile clubbing design. A cultural pillar in the adored but threatened monolith that is London’s clubbing night-life.
Set-up by Nigerian, Ade Fakile, in the early 90’s, when Ade was but 22, taking over ownership of a closing club on Oxford Street and later relocating to its final home on Curtain, this dark little basement was a treasured land of musical diversity and exploration, hailed for its incredible sound system, something that Ade was driven by; to build a system that would replicate the same listening experience found in the studio, to bring home-listening to the club-night, to give you that same, crisp, perfect buzz that a producer defines in his lab. A mission that defined and built Plastic People as one of the most reputable and respectable music venues in the world, seeing the first UK performance of Daft Punk, becoming residential home to the heralded & progressive Dubstep & UK Grime night FWD>> and regular scene for names including Theo Parish and Alexander Nut to name a few.
“Theo Parrish was a massive inspiration to me. Ade, too – he’d be playing spiritual jazz records for an hour and then go from a Mala dubplate that no one owned to Strawberry Fields Forever.” – Floating Points
This subterranean venue I’d only heard of in passing comments and whispers and only resonates as a culmination of words that I’m sure I’ve heard before, though I couldn’t say in what context. But last week, on the discovery of a Six Hour mix from Four Tet & Floating Points, I unknowingly engaged in the starting point of my education-too-late in the apparent wonders of this now-sleeping utopia.
“Sick! Six hours of Floating Points and Four Tet? I’m cool for that… Plastic People aye? Sounds like a sick name for a mix! Maybe it was at a festival or something…” My passing internal thoughts as I lined up the 360-minute slog for later listening.
The evening brings that later listening and I’m spinning around Colchester in my little Renault Clio, I’m busting through beats on a stop-by-stop journey to gather food and herbs for a lazy Friday-night ahead. I’m soon to meet a friend but for now I’m on my ones, a solo journey, a time when often my music listening is at its best. No interrupting conversation or passing thoughts, just driving and music, grooving and manoeuvring. Tunes of all kinds blast past; some Hip-Hop, some Drum & Bass, some EP samplers and a Mixmag premier, teaser tracks and full length free DL’s of genres largely electronic in fashion, all sweet and dandy, a constantly rolling adventure through my reposted SoundCloud stream. And then out of the splurge came a quiet… a long silence that had me question a loss of connection / blip in the ever-growing struggle to maintain a steady, uninterrupted stream via the SoundCloud app, though part of me suspected otherwise. And then, out of the quiet came the gentle tinkling of distant ivories, rolling, like near-silent tears, down the protective casings of my otherwise solemn speakers… We’re in.
Lapsing chords of a dim-lit, cocktail-supping, open-shirt, loosened-tie, dinner-suit-retired Jazz club fall about my stereo system, just as an all-black-tracksuited kid wheels up to my window to drop two healthy-looking bags of instantly-nasally-stimulating green on my equally black, but contrastingly smart, work-trousered lap. I am more than pleased. I’ve even cranked the volume a few notches just to educate the passing goon (you never see the guy that you contact in this trade), fantastically named Doyle, in a music he probably only associates with old people and lifts.
I’m absorbed as I sit in traffic and a sultry pad rolls in over the gentle tinkling and I’m adrift the sailing sounds of Norma Winstone as she sweetly sings of things I don’t understand – her words are just more musical layers in the ambient ‘Whale Music’, as a colleague would describe. Whale Music appropriately titled ‘The Tunnel’, as for nine minutes I’m awash with an oddly perfect balance of calm and tension as I venture down the long, somewhat haunting, somewhat serene, beat-less track – I’m half sinking and half on edge, awaiting a change, questioning the future, imagining how a drum pattern might fall into place. A sax, or perhaps a trumpet takes the ever-swelling stage, Norma’s sweet voice a contrast to the droning pad, the pad a contrast to the occasional and spine-tingling revisiting of those ever fading piano keys and chords, the surrounding ambience a contrast to this new, excitable brass – hitting notes that uplift your body and then piercing your mind with a harrowing off-key sting to the ear drum. I’m feeling alive.
I’m encapsulated by this perfect intro; ‘The Tunnel’ that you must journey to enter the dance, if it ever comes at all…
I glance to observe the 4×4 to my right – a sullen looking woman, squat and tired, not happy in her slow wait at the traffic lights. I give my window a little lower, let the waft of Fourt Tet and Floating Points’ first minutes of six hours blow gently from my car to hers. Her windows are up, she’s locked in a big metal shell, she sees me briefly and I hope that she hears my vibe, I hope that she looks at the young man next to her and questions what young people listen to of a day. I know this doesn’t happen and as the lights turn green I’m exposed to track number two – and so I transcend into the first and best hour of mixed music that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a very long time – and for that first ten / fifteen / twenty minutes or so, there’s no context. It’s just a mix.
I pull up to scoff a salty but otherwise flavourless plastic pot of cold pasta and bounce with glee to, what I could only guess as being, South American / Latino / Hispanic routed music. A raw blend of, what I can only hope to be, original vinyl presses of incredible, vibrant Jazz and… I don’t know what.
Just imagine, as I did, a restaurant in night-taken Spain, a band of assorted musicians and dancers, singers and smilers, busting out mad music of the land whilst you dine on delicious local cuisine and tap whole heartedly to their intoxicating dance. The music is fantastic and the food is incredible. Though you don’t have to be there to enjoy it, you can be sat on your ones in your little car eating a Sainsburys’ pasta pot and still find the same enjoyment. An enjoyment that was doubled when I glanced up in the rear mirror to see my good friend, staring into my soul with a perfectly fixated glare accompanied with a strong middle finger, parked up behind me and proudly announcing his arrival. He joins me and immediately compliments the foreign sounds shimmying out of my speaks, followed closely by the question; “What is it man?”. I can only respond with ignorance and proceed to read the associated information – we learn the truth of the mix and my love and interest in the musical experience increase tenfold.
The last party.
One the 2nd of January 2015, Four Tet and Floating Points were given the well-deserved honour of sending Plastic People off with a “Family Friendly” night of fun and musical adoration. A perfect homage to such a sound-dedicated venue, a venue that has been said to invite more of a close-nit-group of 200 friends than broken assortment of random street reprobates. No sick in the stairwell, no bouncers grabbing the scruff of your neck for asking them if they’re having a good night, no generic beats and no generic dickheads trying to start a mosh-pit in the toilets. A venue designed to be primarily dark, minimal lighting that suggests you focus on the sounds “Like listening to music with your eyes closed” and not the attendees. A place where you could “Hide in the corner for three hours and no one would know you were there” but without any of the usually-associated predatory threat. A place where you can feel safe and become immersed in music. A place that I am very sad to have missed, in my blissful unawareness, but am exceedingly happy to have at least stumbled upon, in spirit, through the penultimate finish, hosted by the incredible Fourt Tet and Floating Points. Two DJ’s and Producers whose works have long-time been inspired by the events and goings-on under the embrace of Plastic People.
Honestly, I’m only two and a half hours into the mix as I’ve already reloaded back to the beginning once or twice, plus I only lend it my ears in my car travels – one of the only times where ear-lending is at its peak.
So far its been a gorgeous blend of Soul, Samba, Techno, House and Jazz with touches of Funk and classic-era tracks from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, Noughties and now. Featuring, so far, the likes of Hendrix, Caribou, Little Dragon, J Dilla, Loose Joints, LCD Soundsystem, Theo Parish and a whole other roster of names that I know not at all but are more than likely legends in their own right, or simply incredible artists deserved of more. This is a mix that celebrates the history of Plastic People and all that it encompassed; its music, its people and its mantra. An ode to Retro-Disco and a fresh blast in the face for someone such as myself, who is largely inundated with electronics and sweaty, MC-hosted nights of raucous bass and beatings, something that I love and adore but to switch from crisp and well-thought mixing to a ‘Two-Track Each’ back-to-back set that simply fades one track out of the next, the steadily rising clammer of an ecstatic crowd, rough distortion in places and overall feeling of celebration & party as opposed to serious, posing, nodding heads is more than sensational. And as much as I had enjoyed myself, listening in without any real knowledge of the mix’s origin, the added mention of what the set was really about really did set a far more appreciative tone.
And as much as I’ve enjoyed every second of thegrooves thus far, it was really that first hour that captured me most…
my new favourite track
The Hour of the Drive & the Dream
As that first hour progresses out of the ‘The Tunnel’ and into Jazz upon Samba upon sounds from foreign isles into Soul-flavoured and Hip-Hop-kissing rhythms, the soundtrack to a nippy drive around night-lighted, rain-droplet obscured suburban roads and mini-roundabouts, windows down and with volume up to the thresholds of distortion territory, (though never straying over the line) my mind raced through dreams of dad-dancing the basement of Plastic People into oblivion, surrounded by gleeful party-goers in vibrant wears. As I drive past ambling pedestrians and poke a dancing finger of rejoice at them through my open window of blasting rhythms I imagine myself in the assumed smokers’ area of Plastic People, smoking a cigar with no air of education, just obscenity in the good times. As I nip by other vehicles, stalled at junctions and give them a good old; “Yes, absolute bangers!”, I’m thinking of rolling semi-secret joints in clear-sight of everyone, safe in the security that a mad pan-flute’s kicking off somewhere inside and that everyone fakking loves it! I’m not just driving to a friends house, I’m buying chilled Caipirinhas and Mojitos at the bar, loving the curly straw, as opposed to usual adventures in refilling a crumpled plastic bottle with luke-warm water from awkward toilet sinks. I’m dancing with cocktails in hand and new life in my feet, new friends to meet and new music to hear. I’m loving it.
And so, I implore that, if you are a person of eclectic tastes, or someone always hunting for new sounds, a soul of world music or a person that wants to be educated in the origins of the electronic musics of today – If you are a fan of good clubbing culture, a fan of those who chase their dreams, a fan of musical innovation or a fan of staple, recognised hubs of fantasticness – if you’re a Four Tet or Floating Points head, if you were once a Plastic People attendee, at the very least, give the first hour of this historical moment in clubbing history an honorary listen. How could you possibly not?
The answer is that you can’t… You have to.
You have to be enticed by the mysterious ‘Mangueira’ in As Sublimes’ ‘Mangueira é Cancáo’… I mean just listen to those choral female backing singers, what and or who is ‘Mangueira’?? I’d like to think that he’s a Peruvian drug baron that bags all of the gallies across Columbia and Brazil and the local lords of the powder fucking hate it… “Manguuueeiraa-aaaa…”. Though it’s probably a term of phrase or something completely different. However that’s no excuse to skip on this chance to be lifted into a ridiculous dance of joy by the painfully fantastic ‘Marianne S’en Va-T-Au Moulin’ by Lee Gagnon, probably the happiest instrumental that you’ll ever come across and one that’s trumpetty parps of goodness inspire dancing with index fingers pointed, arms locamoting, eyes closed and body hunched forward with sprightly old Spring in your steps. And then there’s the need to be electrified by the red-hot sass of Patti Jo’s ‘hip to the lip’ vocals in ‘Make Me Believe In You‘…
The list of gold to be treated with goes on and if you’re ready, it’s as simple as clicking play on the embedded player of the mix, in all its six hours of splendour, below.
you can access a full list of the tracks titles, artists and times-of-play here
I salute Ade Fakile and all that he has achieved and I am sorry that the events management woman of your dreams has left – the consequent and apparently-soul-reason behind Plastic People’s closure – that there are not enough Ade’s and not enough of her to continue the legacy. I am additionally sorry in myself for never having been and only learning of its existence, truly, through its demise. However I am proud to, at least, write this article in celebration of what was surely one of the world’s greatest venues? To celebrate an incredible mix that I am still only half into exploration. To tip my hat off to someone that sought perfection in his audio set-up and through his perseverance built a globally sought treasure that set a landmark in the definition of true clubbing sound. Something that I know others will strive to achieve, something that has and will inspire for decades to come.