Ministry of Sound is 25 years old. However, the venue shows no signs of an impending quarter-life crisis. In fact, a one-two punch of sell-out shows from Adam Beyer in March and DJ Harvey in April was the springboard for six months that have seen London’s original superclub thrive, despite closures elsewhere.
“The first thing I did when I joined was look at the venue bookings from the last 18 months,” explains Nikki Gordon, Ministry’s Head of Talent and Marketing who was brought in like a hot USB from Brit house stronghold We Are FSTVL – which he helped set up – last July. “It was just a bit random, probably a bit commercial. What I was looking to achieve was what Fabric once had. There was a time you didn’t even look at the listings. You just went to Fabric because you knew roughly what the Fabric sound was going to be.”
While Adam Beyer raved about Ministry – particularly the Dolby Atmos soundsystem in the main room – it was the Harvey booking that was symbolic of Ministry’s renewed mission. “He was a Ministry resident way back. His agents had forgotten that. But he hadn’t. He was up for it. And on the night, so was London’s entire music industry,” laughs Tim Sheridan, Ministry resident in all but name, and referred to by Nikki as ‘in-house ideas man and general mad scientist’. It’s no surprise Tim’s on Ministry’s new, unofficial steering committee: he ran one of Ministry’s most successful – and most credible – nights, NastyDirtySexMusic, with Smokin Jo, a decade ago.
Mixmag arrives at the 25th birthday celebration at just past midnight. We enter via the club’s office. “Over three hundred people work here. Day shift, night shift, the place never really closes,” explains talent booker Jodie Layton. “Rinse FM play a lunchtime show here in an area that’s a radio booth by day and a medical centre by night. You’ll often see the guys laying it down, casually sitting on a defibrillator”. We move through a side door and enter the main bar area. The club is already getting into its stride, the bar steadily filling in a pool of blue light. Chunky house vibrates the air, referencing funky and piano samples via the likes of Soul Vision & San Xero’s ‘Don’t Stop’. We drift toward The Box where PBR Streetgang are playing a Balearic infusion, Bonar laying down DJ Gregory’s ‘Tropical Soundclash’, Tom sipping margaritas the pair have had delivered to the booth. The crowd is mixed: 18-year-olds on their first visit, hip young things from East London and Peckham who’ve dropped their guard to come to Ministry ‘this one time’ but are starting to look like converts, and proper veterans proudly wearing ancient, original issue Ministry of Sound hoodies that some in the crowd attempt to haggle for on the dancefloor. By 1.30am the venue begins to feel superclub-full. Upstairs, the Loft Bar plays deep house via Gareth Cooke and the Baby Box has Jeremy B playing basslines to the baby-faced. The bar area remains ambitious and impressive in both age and dynamic range, while the main room sees Todd Terje follow Greg Wilson with a slick live set for an increasingly sweaty, euphoric mass, shiny under signature glitterballs. It’s glorious.
“Broadly speaking, the club isn’t the right layout for through-venue techno. And while we have some notable drum ’n’ bass nights – we’ve got AWOL in October – Ministry’s really all about variants of house,” explains Nikki. That’s the line the venue appears to be taking on future line-ups, and it’s certainly indicated in the crowd.
“Most clubs seem intent on marketing to 45-year-olds or middle-class kids from Dalston,” says Tim. “But in reality, the new generations of clubber, tomorrow’s industry bosses, are from Essex, Kent, Liverpool. The black T-shirt crowd may laugh at vests and snapbacks. But then, in the 90s we started out with pink fur,” laughs Tim. “Ministry is all about fostering the next generation.”