There are lots of things that can make a club personally important to you: maybe it’s the place where all your friends are, maybe it’s where you first heard tunes that blew your mind, or maybe it’s just the place where you’ve had blinding, barely-remembered nights.
But there are a few clubs in the history of the world that have potent significance way beyond your rambling nostalgia. These are the clubs that shaped dance music and made fundamental changes to the ways club culture was experienced and disseminated through the world. Get schooled in your dance music history below, with our list of ten clubs that changed the world.
THE WAREHOUSE, CHICAGO (1977 – 1982)
Chicago club The Warehouse only ran for five years, but it earned a permanent place in history as the venue that gave its name to house music. The parties were (reportedly) wild, with acid in the punch and an up-for-anything, gay-straight-whatever mixed crowd, but it was the club’s resident DJ Frankie Knuckles who earned the title “Godfather of House” (when he sadly passed away last year, Chicago renamed the street where The Warehouse used to stand as Frankie Knuckles Way).
Inspired by the parties he’d gone to back in New York (like David Mancuso’s storied private Loft parties), Knuckle’s started using his residency at The Warehouse to play weird European electronic music and New Wave cuts in among the disco, soul and R&B records favoured by most DJs at the time. He’d also play new edits of older disco songs – looping remixes cut together by a sound engineer friend; a few years later, Knuckles released Your Love, widely recognised as “year zero in the evolution of house music” because it was the first house-style record that wasn’t an edit of an old disco tune.
Soon enough, record store customers in Chicago started asking for the music they heard at the Warehouse. According to Chicago producer Chip E, the store started labelling records with “as played at the Warehouse” and “as heard at the Warehouse”. “Eventually we just shortened that down,” he says in the documentary Pump Up The Volume: The History of House Music. “Because people even just in the vernacular started saying, ‘What’s up with that house music?’… So we put on the labels ‘house music’”.
PARADISE GARAGE, NEW YORK (1978 – 1987)
Opening in 1977, New York’s Paradise Garage was originally envisioned as a destination for Studio 54’s runoff; but in the annals of history, the Garage has far exceeded its glitzier neighbour. The club was named for its parking garage location and served no booze (to dodge liquor laws), and it’s weekly sessions became known as “Saturday Mass” for New York’s party faithful: resident DJ Larry Levan’s sets were the sermon where all were welcome.
The music was non-denominational, as Levan dropped punk, disco and the nascent house music coming from Chicago…the only requirement was that it had to be danceable. Levans’ ear for the dancefloor was so finely tuned that people started labelling the music they heard the club as ‘garage music’, in the same way that Frankie Knuckles’ sets at Chicago’s Warehouse birthed and named house music.
Levan was obsessive about cultivating the club’s atmosphere, from the records to the set-up; cleaning mirror balls mid-set or moving speakers and lights around so visitors to the Garage would feel like they were in a fresh venue every week.
MINISTRY OF SOUND, LONDON (1991 – TODAY)
When Paradise Garage closed in 1987 many people were at a loss as to where to get their weekly dance fix. Englishman Justin Berkmann was among the bereft Paradise Garage regulars – but the club’s closure spurred him on to start London’s Ministry of Sound, inspired by the vibe at Paradise Garage, and along the way conceive the “superclub” concept that would rule the ‘90s.
Berkmann invited Paradise Garage’s resident Larry Levan over to the UK to help program the sound system at his new venue: and old bus garage where the sound system would be the number one priority, followed by lighting and then design. (To make sure they could secure their 24-hour music and dance license, the club originally served no alcohol.)
Levan was famous for fiddling with his sound systems to get the sound just right, and his fly-by visit to consult at Ministry of Sound ended up lasting three months. “Up until that point the sound system had been in black and white,” Berkmann told The Independent, “and when he touched it, it turned to colour.”
Since its inauspicious opening, Ministry of Sound has expanded into one of the biggest clubbing empires in the world, launching several record label subsidiaries, a radio station, and hosting more than 1500 events around the world each year. Meanwhile, the original club has survived numerous closure threats to keep drawing in marquee acts and hordes of punters each week, keeping alive the superclub vibe it created.
OSTGUT, BERLIN (1998 – 2003)
Berlin’s legendary techno temple Berghain grew out of the hedonistic gay fetish party Snax, which still takes over Berghain once a year in honour of its beginnings. Snax came up in the vibrant, DIY culture of post-Wall Berlin, when promoters, artists and musicians realised there were hundreds of abandoned government buildings in East Berlin just begging for a pop-up party.
The Snax parties moved around various locations before setting up shop in a former railway warehouse called the Ostgut in 1998, becoming the first permanent home for Berlin’s nascent techno movement. As the new fixed home for Berlin techno, Ostgut became “an underground sensation,” Ostgut affiliate Thilo Schneider told inthemix. “It really became like a home to a lot of people of that time…you really felt it was the beginning of something special.”
Sadly, Ostgut had to close its doors in 2003 to make way for the corporate sponsored O2 Arena, but a year later Berghain threw open its doors in a disused power plant and techno history was made; its name lives on as the club’s official record label, Ostgut Ton. [Photo by Tilman Brembs]
HACIENDA, MANCHESTER (1982 – 1997)
Factory Records founder Tony Wilson and post-punk pioneers New Order opened a club in 1982 as a home for the kind of music they wanted to bring to Manchester, but it struggled for half a decade (propped afloat by the profits from New Order record sales) until resident DJs like Mike Pickering started playing the pioneering sounds coming out of Chicago studios: house music and its mutant 303-driven sister, acid house.
The Hacienda’s house music nights – and the thriving free rave scene kicking off all around the UK – coalesced with local indie bands influenced by dance culture (The Happy Monday, Stone Roses) to turn the club into the epicentre of Madchester: an MDMA-fuelled, Smiley Face-sloganed, baggy-jumper-wearing moment in dance history that still reverberates today. The Hacienda may have been knocked down in 1997 to make way for luxury flats, but its memory lives on (as do bits of its dancefloor, stage and bathrooms, bought at auction by fans of the club and captured in this year’s documentary ‘Do You Own the Documentary’). [Photo via The Guardian]
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