"Imagine Hades Inferno. That’s what it was, you’d go down the stairs and there were people dancing on every single surface. It was the most hedonistic place to be – there were people dancing on tables, dancing on the bar, they were everywhere. The place was rammed to the rafters."Thus, rave club entrepreneur Laurence Malice described his ground-breaking gay night 'Trade' - the first anywhere in the UK to receive an official "all-nighter" licence (from Islington Council) - which bows out this month after twenty-five years of leading the field in innovative clubbing in London and on tour.
Mr Malice, himself a denizen of Steve Strange's seminal 'Blitz' Club and Leigh Bowery's 'Taboo', created the club night in the fall-out from the "illegal rave" furore at the turn of the 90s - and found the perfect venue in 'Turnmills', a converted gin distillery in the distinctly non-residential environs of Clerkenwell Road near Smithfields Meat Market (how appropriate), at that stage a struggling straight bar/restaurant/club.
With its myriad rooms, corridors, nooks and the notorious "Muscle Alley", 'Trade' dominated the late-late-late night gay scene in the 1990s.
Many world class DJs played there, including Frankie Knuckles, David Morales and Danny Tenaglia, as well as regulars Malcolm Duffy, Alan Thomson, Pete Wardman, the late Tony de Vit [read more about him over at my other blog Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle], Ian M, Steve Thomas, Tall Paul and Rachel Auburn. Operating a strictly "democratic" door policy, 'Trade' inevitably had more than its fair share of "names" queuing up to get in - including Queen Madge, Bjork, Alexander McQueen, David and Victoria Beckham, Grace Jones, George Michael and many more. Some got no further than the door:
"On Trade's 8th Birthday early on in the night, with the guest list queue stretching along Clerkenwell Road, a massive stretch limousine drew up and out jumped a young PA asking to speak to the manager. She then said Cher, whose single I Believe was No. 1 in the charts, was in the limo and paused for effect. Everyone in both queues heard this and suddenly silence reigned. He said, 'Yes and how could I help?' A bit put out, she explained that Cher would like to come in and requested a VIP area plus six bottles of champagne. He explained politely that we didn't have a VIP section, as our club was about inclusion and that everyone was treated the same. He hadn't done this for Madonna and he wouldn't be able to do this for Cher, or any other celebrity. The crowd burst into a spontaneous round of applause and the limo sped off into the night."
On another occasion: "Axl Rose came to the door, we wouldn’t let him because two weeks prior to that he’d made some very homophobic comments in the press and came to the door apologising and we said 'No, you’re not coming in, mate. Get on your bike'."
From its early days, 'Trade' carefully crafted its own "brand", with flyers, murals and artwork by Mark Wardel aka TradeMark (geddit?) - largely based around the club's logo in the shape of one of its most popular comestibles, the drug capsule.
These have gained a semi-legendary status of their own, and a collection of them, together with compilation CDs, posters and other memorabilia has now been curated in a new exhibition at Islington Museum: Trade - often copied, never equalled. Celebrating 25 years of after-hours clubbing in Islington, to the launch of which I went this week.
Although I never went to 'Trade' - I wasn't even in London at its heyday - anyone and everyone who did (from DJ Stewart Who? to the gang of former punters who gathered at the museum itself on Thursday) mourns its loss. 'Turnmills' itself was demolished to make way for an (inevitably glass-fronted) office block. Laurence, however (shrewd businessman that he is) threw his resources into a new club venue 'The Egg' in another (for now) non-residential corner of London, Kings Cross.
And it is at this venue that the final outing for 'Trade' takes place on Sunday 25th October 2015: History – Trade: The Final.
As a recent interview with Mr Malice in the Irish Star put it:
These two revolutionary clubs - 'Egg' (ranked alongside 'Fabric' and 'Ministry of Sound' as London’s best) and 'Trade' (the legendary 90s and noughties after-hours party) - are a most fitting legacy for [a man] whose profound impact on modern dancefloor culture has been greater than any other.The exhibition Trade - often copied, never equalled is at Islington Museum until Saturday 16th January 2016.
Trade didn’t just revolutionise the London club scene - it went on the change the world.