Shoreditch was the bass and treble of the acid house and post punk scene, changing the face of nightlife in 80’s and 90's London for good. While the mainstream music narrative tells of hotspots like Camden and Kensington, the original underground party was here, in EC2A.
Warehouse raves took place under the cover of night in French Place on Bateman’s Row, now apartments. Photographer Steve Pyke documented epic moments and prominent figures from within The Mission Studios, which neighboured a heaving loft venue. The Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel kept the sound contained, but the beats thumped into the heart of a generation nevertheless.
We speak to Ian Tregoning, a Blitz kid who witnessed the New Romanticism movement form, and later became a part of it himself. Having produced for Swiss electro band Yello and founded the Inky Blackness label, he now writes commercial tracks for the sound branding of hit TV series' like Sex in the City and blockbuster films such as Transformers. His work is laced with synthpop and he fondly recalls developing his love for the genre, vibing away his youth in the speakeasies and lock-ins of a legendary era in British music.
Before establishing this recording studio at 120 Curtain Road in 1983 Richard Boote had toured the globe with artists including The Who, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Little Feat and Abba - he operated the 'Supertrooper', the brightest stage light available used for picking out individual performers at distance. He went on to manage the The Yachts who enjoyed great success USA. Ian described his meeting Richard…
"In the late 80s, a project got taken into this new studio, Strongroom, on Curtain Road. I started working there and immediately enjoyed it. I just liked the guy, Richard Boote, who started it; very well organised but also quite chilled out. I ended up staying for about the following seven years, on and off.”
“There was a guy called Neil McLellan, the programmer and producer for the Prodigy's albums - I met him there and we experimented with a lot of remix work together using acid house and techno, we were guns for hire really."
Neil McLellan was a prolific character who scratched and rewrote the rules of traditional composition. His originality can be heard through his legacy of his now 20 year collaboration with The Prodigy as well as many shorter stints producing for Madonna, Oasis and the Nine Inch Nails.
The Strongrooms development from studio to bar and venue was a pragmatic one. Bands using the recording studios needed a place nearby to relax and to have a drink, but in the Shoreditch of the 80's an early 90's that was easier said than done, so part of the building became a bar. In 1989 and 90 there were a series of raves in the back of the building, the space rented because it came with the recording studio building. More soberly, up-and-coming motorbike racer Damon Hill was managed by Richard, using one of the garages at the Strongroom to maintain his bikes in the years before he went on to win the F1 championship in 1992.
Even the interior of the Strongrooms led the way for innovation, forgoing the hard stone and rough hessian look of studios at the time for the ‘new look’, a style focussed on natural light and eccentric artwork. The recording studio and both bars are home to original works by Jamie Reid, the English anarchist who created the iconic image of Queen Elizabeth with a safety pin through her nose for the Sex Pistols.
"The area was half derelict and the first bar to open was Cantaloupe, which is now Merchants Tavern, next to Ruby's at the bottom of Charlotte Street. There was a lot of dark windows around there back the 80s but with their perfection, with their imagination, they somehow put together something really interesting."
'They' are Richard Bigg and Nigel Foster. Now the eminent owners of a string of hotspots, they started Cantaloupe in 1995 'before the area was cool'. At the time they merged live acts with the service of food and drink, making the music scene synonymous with bar going, and now run famous hybrid brands like Cargo and The Big Chill.
"Richard developed it over 25 years, a generation really - we'd been through about three recessions in that time and in an industry that was collapsing - it's still grown."
"There's Mr Weatherall, of course. He's a like a North Star really. I love the fact that he used to play, what's it called? He’d play there, secretsundaze would play there - it's now that pizza place…"
Now another in a chain of appropriated industrial spaces in Shoreditch, Pizza East has a more interesting past than just being a‘former tea warehouse’, as its website suggests. Actually it has a pretty awesome history of hosting some of the most reputed parties of the time, with James Priestley’s award-winning and still infamous club night, secretsundaze, taking over the turntables and none other than Andrew Weatherall scratching the decks.
"It was quite a hip venue. I remember walking in there one time and Andrew's playing. Everyone's ready for some kind of hardcore techno or some of his 'A Love From Outer Space', and he's playing his rock and roll set. Johnny Kid and the Pirates! I think that's why he's so well-loved around here. He's not stuck in one thing. He'll do some tiny little festival. He does this one called Far, which I highly recommend."
Fresh antipasti anyone? We can't quite believe Pizza East's bygone cool, ranking high amongst other scandalous hangouts of the age like Visions in Dalston and Village Underground in Shoreditch.
The London Apprentice
“There's Vicki who ran what was probably one of the first gay bars in East London, definitely. We used to go in there and try and get drinks, because they were open till four in the morning! It was called The London Apprentice back then and they've now put it back to the original name now, but in between it became The Mother Bar, 333.”
A catalytic landmark for the area’s gay community, The London Apprentice exported the open attitude of America into its basement, gaining a reputation that attracted the likes of Jean-Paul Gautier, Marc Almond, Lily Savage, Sir Ian McKellen and Freddie Mercury.
Stood at 333 Old Street for over a century before its recent resurrection, it has numerous references in the archives, some better than others: in an 1830s police report, notorious body snatchers, the London Burkers, claim to have met one of their victims here. Rent agreements from around 1895 still exist. A head-on shot of The London Apprentice in 1920 looking almost identical to what it did in the 90s can be seen in film footage of the nearby Britannia Theatre. It hosted the first ever Terence Higgins Trust meeting, spreading awareness of HIV and fighting taboo.
The Gallaghers, Babyshambles, The Libertines and Razorlight all played gigs at the Apprentice. Renamed the 333, the venue hosted nights akin to the underground parties going on in unlicensed venues nearby; Sean McLusky's audio riot, The Sonic Mook Experiment and Tim 'Love' Lee's wildly eclectic and funny Tummy Touch nights called this home as the 90s drew to a close.
The magistrates court over the road had a secret tunnel under Hoxton Street to the cellar, which may or may not still be there. We're digging as we type! The current iteration of the interior is still fitted with the original bar, but it is landlady Vicki Pengilley who reminds loyal punters of the boom of entrepreneurship and creativity in Hoxton back in those days, having been a permanent fixture herself for over 20 years.
Hoxton Pastry Union
“They used to have these really dodgy parties. There was this tiny little stairwell that went into a room with no air con. I remember having a warm Becks or something down there in summertime, but it just felt like something was happening: there was like 100 people and we’d get locked-in. I met Julien Temple at one; he's a filmmaker, quite a famous dude.”
Ian knew the Hoxton Pastry Union in the height of its attainment as The Foundry: an ‘art gallery’-cum-undercover-bashment-spot with regular blockades. And talking of famous dudes, it was Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of British acid house band, The KLF, who helped establish the venue in the mid-90s; transforming the vault of what used to be a bank into a subterranean house of sweet tunes.
Favela Chic, now a Brazilian bloc party spot known as Floripa, started out as a bank too. The antics and music that happened below street level allowed the New Romantics to leave a secret legacy known only to those who were there. The truth is, what lay beneath remains safe in the memories of those lucky few.
Finally, Ian is now working with drummer Jaki Liebezeit to produce an album for nine piece band, Magnetik North. Jaki was the founding member of Can, a German experimental rock band established in 1968, and is known to the industry as ‘half man, half machine’. He is doing a gig in Café OTO in June/July with a member of Faust, a German Kraut rock band from 1971 that was one of the first acts to sign to Richard Branson’s Virgin Records.
They are also joining heads to help better the merging of electronics and live performance for today's artists:
“We've got a guy called Eddie Love Chocolate. He builds foot pedals for people like Radiohead. He's trying to build this software for us that analyses what the drummer's doing in real time and pulls tempo data out of that. One of the problems is when you start accenting or playing not in 4/4 but 6/8, 3/4, 5/4, it's hard for the machinery to keep up with it.”
So together, they continue the trend of pioneering that resulted in a fashion led wave of gender image merging and the Second British Invasion of the U.S charts.
"The most important thing is that your voice is unique, and you have to keep working on it just to find the uniqueness. As Michelangelo used to say, 'David was already in that block of marble, I just removed the bits that were getting in the way', which is a beautiful way of looking at it." - Ian Tregoning