Beloved club Plastic People closed down last weekend. The first time I went there was with Mala, sometime in 2004, on a Thursday night for Forward>> – I was trembling with adrenaline as I walked down the stairs and into the basement. There were lots of blokes, some of whom I recognised from Croydon. After some hellos and introductions (probably to Sarah Souljah, among others) and a drink at the bar, I went through the black curtains into the dark chasm of bass and space and became immersed in sound in a way that I’d never been before.
The next few years following that, Forward>> became a regular weekly pilgrimage. I’d come home from work, have some food, get my camera together, get in my Mum’s car, put Rinse on the radio and feel excited from the moment I left the house to the moment I was back in the basement, where a sense of seriousness would then kick in.
By the bar, I’d meet and greet (or nod at on the dancefloor) Coki, N-Type and Walsh, Skream, Youngsta, Sarah, Loefah and Pokes, Kode9, Spaceape, Blackdown, Distance, Jamie from Vex’d, the Steppa gang, Scientist, SLT Mob, Cyrus, Crazy D, Youngsta, Benny Ill, D1, Dan Hancox, Bok Bok and Manara, Appleblim, Shackleton, Elemental, Boomnoise, Letty and Tom, Chantelle Fiddy, Melissa Bradshaw, Emma Warren, Hanna and Darkstar, the three DMZ/FWD>> regulars that I called the random trio among others. Pinch would pop in from Bristol and Joe Nice and DQ from the U.S.
Youngsta’s dark, solid sets became a staple and the thing I’d most look forward to. It was at Plastic People that I also first experienced the energy of Grime via Roll Deep & BBK and there that I witnessed the merging of Dubstep & Grime in Skream’s Request Line, which I spoke about in this Guardian piece. It was at Plastic that I first met Burial and where I started to really get my head around sound, frequencies and their capabilities. I also took a load of photographs there, like the relatively well known image below, often battling with whether to use flash or not.
The fact that these memories are all from one Forward>> and Rinse Nights, says a lot about those particular events, bit also about the club itself, which was also hosting other forward thinking nights such as Co-Op and CDR.
Loefah and The Bug’s BASH also happened at Plastic People with guests including Warrior Queen, Nicolette and Ari Up (The Slits). I had the honour of doing the door on one occasion.
Plastic People was an important part of life for a very long time. And it doesn’t matter that it got to a point where I would no longer recognise anyone when I went there (the names above went on to set up their own nights or labels, tour around the world, run record shops and write books). It just meant that the place had become important to a new crowd. Like Croydon’s Black Sheep Bar which sadly closed last year, these venues facilitate honey moons – a particular group go there, love it, make it theirs for a number of years then naturally move on to make space for a new crowd to enjoy a new honeymoon.
Such third places foster community. They also facilitate innovation by allowing people from different places, interests and backgrounds to mesh together to create new ideas, new things. I’ve read and heard countless tweets and statements over the past few days from producers saying that they would make tunes to play specifically at Plastic People, punters saying they met some of their best mates there and lots of people saying it changed their lives.
SO WHY DID IT SHUT DOWN? According to this article, the management felt it time to move on. Which is hard to accept considering how many other London venues have closed or been under threat of closure. Madame Jojo’s, The Joiner’s Arms, Vibe Bar, Black Sheep Bar, Micro-universes for so many people, ALL GONE. Fabric nearly closed last year, Ministry of Sound the year before that and currently, there are battles to keep Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street) and The Curzon Cinema alive. The truth is that London is changing rapidly because of development. Cross rail and The Overground have sprung up. On the one hand, Londoners can now get about this country of a city a bit more easily (ironically when the Overground was introduced, I was living abroad and wished it had existed when I was going to Plastic People every week). On the other hand, more transport links mean more developers who know that areas are attractive to live in if they’re well connected.
“2008 to 2013, 41% of planning applications within a kilometre of a Crossrail station cited the new railway as a justification for the development proceeding, equating to around 53 million square feet of residential, commercial and retail space.” – GVA
Expensive flats, offices, shops and posh eating places are springing up where great clubs, pubs and bars used to be (or next to them leading to noise complaints). There’re not attractive to me, nor most of my friends, family and acquaintances. Arts and culture are attractive, interesting, vital and good for the economy, but alas, they don’t seem to be a priority to London’s current mayor; money does. At least we have memories though, right?