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Trade...
@ Turnmills,
(and Egg)
London

Wanna know who's
the daddy?
My take on Trade is quite idiosyncratic and I balk at the idea of talking about a club which has been written about by so many for so long, especially as I haven't been going there for more than a few years and then only occasionally. Still, I have a sort of business perspective on most of the clubs I'm writing about and this perhaps has been less well described elsewhere.

Trade is also one of my all-time favourite clubs.

Trade is the mother of all U.K. after-hours clubs. It started in 1990 at Turnmills, in London, which was the first venue in the UK to get a 24 hour entertainment license, (for the owner, John Newman, being an former police officer may have helped). When it began it catered exclusively to the gay scene, and the promoters and DJs were also all gay.

Trade's reputation as the home of hard dance music is well-deserved. The Trade's DJs Malcolm Duffy, Alan Thomson, Pete Wardman, Tony deVit, Ian M, Steve Thomas, have since become legends in their own right, not particularly helped by the design of the club, (I'll explain in a mo'). These DJs developed a wonderful ability to complement each other's sets into a seamless whole in which the music just built and built and built.

To get a sense of the evolution of the club's music policy and the longevity of the club here's a quote from the old Trade website after the club had been running for just over four years

"One of the regular clichés you will hear about the club is that the DJs play only hardcore techno. Not so - the music is as varied as the DJ's taste. The music policy is keenly monitored and has evolved away from the industrial-strength techno that Trade became known for courtesy of Daz Sounds and Trevor Rockliffe. Smokin Jo cut her teeth at Trade and, along with Tony de Vit, Paul Newman and Malcolm, the emphasis has been placed on happier house. Nowadays, the music comes from Italy, Chicago, Detroit and you'll also find some Belgian new beat. The atmosphere has got more comfortable as a result, and is proof positive that the club's promoters have catered to their customers needs."

The door policy has eased somewhat, perhaps because it has had to, to avoid accusations of sexism. Still today the vast majority of punters are gay men. Perhaps because I've been a few times now, I forget how intimidating this can be for some people who go there for the first time. I took some straight people there recently and they left within a few hours, overwhelmed by the sexuality of the place. I forget, and others sometimes don't know, why it's called "Trade"! For straight lads used to seeing a smattering of gays in "their" clubs, entering "gay territory" can be quite intimidating. After spending a few years on the straight scene I first found the Muscle Maries and the cruising - the fact that here some people do come solely for sex - a bit of a shock. That said, clubbing is largely what you make it, and I soon found many people who, like me, just came for the music and to socialise.

Many of these people turned out to have been coming from the early days, and considered themselves "Trade Babies". Given that most clubbers have a stay of about two years on their scene, this says a lot either about the durability of Trade as a club or of gay men as clubbers, or both.

Though there are two rooms, the second being The Light Lounge, these days playing funky house, I have to admit that, good, and busy, though it is, I don't spend any time there. I'm either in the main room or the coffee bar.

Apart from the DJs, the unsung heroes of Trade are the lighting jocks, who manipulate and extemporise on the lights throughout the night with punters sometimes standing transfixed during breakdowns by Turnmills' lasers. As the lasers are at the opposite end of the dancefloor from the DJ booth, this means that a lot of the time people dance with their backs to the DJs rather than facing them. Indeed there is very little eye contact between DJs and crowd.

There have been quite a few changes at the club over the years, even the few years during which I've been going. I first went shortly before the club was raided, taken there by a friend who had been going for ages. He explained the drugs setup to me before I went but I didn't really believe him until I was actually there. It was like a bazaar. You placed your order for whatever you wanted, (and whatever you wanted was almost certainly available), and it was filled a few minutes later. All very orderly, and efficient, with lots of happy customers. It seemed reasonable to assume that if I knew how things worked before I got there then so did the management, the promoters and the police, yet the main dealer had been there for years.

This, of course, was hardly an unusual situation. With many clubs having regular dealers on the premises, some managers argue that it's better to know who's dealing than have it go on underground and therefore out of control. This "reasoning" is spurious, and I'll discuss this elsewhere on the site. More likely both promoters and managers/owners take a cut from in-house dealers and work very hard to prevent anyone else from reducing their income from that source. Recent changes to legislation making license holders accountable for known drug-dealing on their premises has made this more problematic for both club owners and managers as evidenced by the closure of Home and the raid on Cream.

Anyway, although it went on at other clubs, I hadn't seen it so obvious anywhere else. As I said, this was shortly before there was a "raid". Trade maintained that only people in the queue outside the club were searched, and eighteen were reported to have been arrested, but that police did not raid the club itself.

Whatever, the drugs situation in the club changed dramatically shortly afterwards. The main dealer was arrested at his home, and Trade moved out of Turnmills for a time, a change which was not supported with any enthusiasm by its members. When it returned there was no obvious dealing going on.

However, this break in the continuity at Turnmills seems to have marked a turning point. On the one hand both Trade and Turnmills seem to have recognised that they both were better off with each other than without as neither did as well in the Sunday morning slot when the club was relocated to another venue. On the other, the break seems to have given many of the club's regular customers a reason to go elsewhere, and attendances started to become more erratic after the return to Turnmills. Further problems emerged on with the music policy of the club, which had been developed through the seamless build-up created over more than seven hours by the Trade resident DJs. Suddenly for some reason the established DJs changed, with a major loss being the departure of Ian M.

Turnmills isn't as big as many expect. It probably holds about 1,200 comfortably, though for special events it gets utterly rammed. Air conditioning was only recently installed, and the low ceilings in parts of the club result in empty ice pockets, even when the club is packed.

Nor was it designed with the DJ-as-celebrity in mind. Perhaps reflecting what some see as the inevitable conflict between promoter and DJ, the DJ booth was an enclosed box giving the dancers only a very limited view of who's playing. Those not on the floor couldn't see the DJ at all and many didn't know who's on, (nothing very unusual there then!). Thankfully for those of us who do want to know, there's a line-up list stuck on the booth door, and in 2002 the booth was finally opened up, though visibility is still very limited.

Nevertheless, the sound system is superb. These days it's pumping out the tunes of resident DJ EJ Doubell, who made her name first at FIST, as well as Malcolm Duffy, who's been there from the start, Gonzalo, and new signing Rosco, (we first met at 2Klub's launch night in Manchester a few years ago), and most recently veteran Grand Wizard of the decks, Pete Wardman.

Despite having members paying about £45 each and numbering over 4,000 in 2001, Trade, along with it's celebrity promoter Laurence Malice, has faced numerous financial crises but has weathered them all to evolve from being an underground club for benders, to an internationally recognised brand. Trade events are held regularly in Glasgow and occasionally elsewhere in the U. K., as well as in Ibiza, but Laurence's aspirations for the brand became evident when Trade was launched in Paris and then, in 2001, in Los Angeles.

His ambitions do not end there, and there is talk about a fabulous new venue he is working on in London, Egg, coming to fruition sometime this year after years of speculation. More recent rumours suggest that Trade may close in October this year, but these have not been confirmed and were subsequently retracted by my source.

Addendum, (mid Sept. 2002):
The weekend before last was dire and the worst of a series of Trade events which had not been well attended. The nadir of the night occurred when Rosco cleared the dancefloor in the main room. There were, count them: one, two, three, four, five, yes, five people on the dancefloor at one point, and it stayed that way 'til Pete Wardman came on. As a DJ mate of mine remarked, Trade forgot its simple but effective music policy of up, up and up. Rosco decided to experiment with some monotonous techno tracks which just didn't suit the mood people wanted and they voted with their feet. If only more clubbers in other clubs would do the same when they hear something they don't like, promoters would quickly get the message.

After that night I had decided not to go again for some time, but I was persuaded to go along to Trade's Tony de Vit birthday celebration on Sept. 15th. The main room line-up comprised Malcolm Duffy, Gonzalo, Pete Wardman and Andy Farley and Emma Doubell playing the final four hours back-to-back. Well, it was utterly amazing. I had one of the best nights I have ever had in any club anywhere. It was breathtakingly superb, and a reminder of why Trade has been so loved, (for instance have you ever heard of anyone having their ashes scattered on the dancefloor of a dance club - well, it's reputedly happened at Trade).

There was an utterly memorable moment for me as the first few tracks of Emma and Andy's b-t-b set started that I suddenly realised what they had in store for us, and I just said, out loud, "Oh, my, G-o-o-o-o-d!" It was that moment where you feel like the music, which has been building so brilliantly throughout the night, has just reached a point it's about to utterly blast us all into orbit.

But that's not all. The crowd, and this time the place was packed, (but not stuffed), was lovely, There were people I knew, and some I got to know a bit better. Steve & Stefan with Sven, Chris and their whole tribe, Karl, with his cheeky grin, the mates I went down with, Norman and Tony, the ever amazing human dynamo, Doris and her bevy of lovely girl friends from French Kiss, Pete and his mates who were swallowed up by a mysterious taxi at the end of the night, Andrew who I hadn't seen for a year and his friend James, a nice bloke from Brum, who recognised me but I didn't recognise, (sorry mate if you're reading this), Debs from Brum - I think, Steve and Mick, young David with the very messed up life, Sean (who I kept calling Craig) and his DJ boyfriend Karl both from Luton, Paul who I kept calling Steve, who's originally from Manchester, Shane from Adelaide who'd come with DJ Karim, (if Karim had been smiling any more broadly his head would have fallen off) and many more besides. They all helped contribute to what was for me a wondrous, amazing, and delightful night.

As you can tell from the above, my memory's not the best but I never want to forget that night. None of us wanted it to end, and I hope that that Trade spirit never does.
October 2002
That said, Trade closed its doors as a weekly London event after the jam-packed 12th. birthday party was held on 27th. October 2002. The intermittently sparse attendances over the past twelve months due to ever more competition, the wholesale desertion from the club of a swathe of muscle maries, a rep for sparsely attended nights, etc. etc., plus the cost of working with Turnmills, combined to force Laurence Malice to close the place as a weekly.

Many will say that twelve years is a good run, maybe it's time to move on, times change etc. But many will be feeling a gaping hole in their weekends from now on. I know I am and I wasn't a regular. Laurence has plans to open a new, smaller (900 cap.) club, Egg, near King's Cross next year, and says that Trade events will still be held, but for some people - perhaps, given the above, not as many as one might think - the closing of Trade at Turnmills will be like the loss of a close friend and too many of us already know what that's like.

For those who like this sort of trivia, the last track played at weekly Trade@Turnmills was: well... the last DJ was EJ Doubell. She ended her set with The Dawn, but then was FORCED to play more than an hour of encores. She had intended to finally end the night with something else but actually, the final track played at Trade at Turnmills was Such a Feeling by Terrorize (Original mix) on the Hamster Records label.

So another household name in clubland has gone... if only for the moment. 2002 has not been a good year for club promoters.

February 2003.
Trade has re-emerged as a sort of monthly/occasional event. Since the 12th. birthday/closing there have been events held at Turnmills on Xmas day, NY day and now Valentines' Weekend. There are rumours also that Trade will move to Egg as and when that opens.

However, the music and other policies are still proving problematic. Valentines' weekend, The Love Ball, saw Malcolm Duffy pull out at the last minute over a tiff with the promoters and instead Rosco was drafted in to play the opening set. So we had another stop and start disaster. Whereas, Duffy does an absolutely wonderful job of building up the start of the main room with his tough and tribal sounds, Rosco just farts around with his sputtering tracks that take you precisely nowhere. The problem for Trade is that this suggests that they have no one better to call on in an emergency! Surely they both recognise the limitations of this DJ and have a ocean of terrific potential stand-ins... don't they???

Matters were not helped much by Rosco being followed by Gonzalo, who both seem to have gone to the same school of "Let me take you on a Journey to my Nightmare" DJing.

EJ Doubell played an innovative set as she develops her new style and normal service was resumed by Wizard Wardman who was followed by Andy Farley and BK playing back to back. Farley has slimmed down (said he's going to the gym now.. another muscle mary in the making?) and looks better than I've seen him in a long time. Could be his love life is looking up that has helped too! Lucky bastard.

April 2003
The mainroom lineup for this Easter extravaganza consisted of:

Gonzalo
EJ Doubell
BK & Andy Farley (b2b - 3hrs)
and the ever magical Wizard Wardman.

The music was good and the lineup worked well with Gonzalo building things up, developing a nice techno groove, and EJ building the tempo while she continues to develop her new Electro style. Things blasted off though with BK and Farley playing an electric set, peppered though their and Wardman's sets were with some old hard chestnuts, (Music is Moving - eeek!), though the classics were at the request of the promoter, and went down very well with the crowd.

Gripes?: we..e..e..ll... the usual problem with the place being rammed to the rafters so there was not much room to dance, and people were being constantly jostled, but this is not much of a problem for those who enjoy being pressed against loads of muscled men, and many there did! Also, Trade now runs occasional events which are themed. This time the theme was Manhattan, but frankly there wasn't much of a club transformation, just a few banners with skyscrapers, some slides with a NY skyline and some go-go boys wearing I love NY shorts. Neither seemed to make much difference to the crowd.

Hi to (from Brum) Paul, Norman & Tony, and from London, Onya (apologies if I've got the spelling wrong), Patrick & Dave, Morton, Silvio, and Karl (visiting from Leeds - hope you got home safely).

One other point to note, though not about this event itself: the Trade website gives the strong impression that Trade's foray into the US market has not been a success, as Trade Los Angeles seems not to be running any more. On the other hand, on the Saturday night prior to this Easter event, Trade was on in Zurich.

August 2003 - Trade Gold @ Egg
Well now, the anticipated move of Trade to Egg, has emerged, in the form of "Trade Gold", which is due to take place there on the August Bank Holiday weekend. This looks like a clever way of hedging one's bets - offering something somewhat specialised at the new venue, seeing if it works and presumably leaving open the option of still running the Trade monthlies at Turnmills if it doesn't. However the promotion and in my opinion the whole underlying organisation of this new event has been a mess.

Trade Gold has been billed in the press releases and e-flyers as an opportunity for those who never experienced Trade to do so, and to hear four of the the original Trade residents playing "Trade classics", along with the "fierce rulin' Trade DJs", at Egg.

This in itself sounds weird. Firstly, Trade has never been held at Egg, and the experience of the club is, as you can tell from what's written above, very much bound up with Turnmills. If you wanted to give people an understanding of what Trade used to be like you wouldn't hold it at a new venue, you'd hold it at the venue it has been at for the past twelve years. (See the review of ff:reloaded for a similar viewpoint about the association people have of a club with a venue - again Turnmills).

Secondly, the proposition of having both "original Trade residents" and the new "fierce rulin' DJs" creates a different music policy than at the original club where there were two rooms one playing funky house, the other building up from tribal house to hard dance. With four original residents AND the new residents, Trade Gold would have to put each group on in its two dance rooms, meaning that there'd be two rooms of hard dance music, with punters having to choose between the two. Effectively this would also be inviting them to choose between the old and the new, and placing the djs involved in a somewhat invidious position. This problem seems to have been recognised eventually, as a subsequent e-flyer dropped any mention of the new residents, and the focus thus seemed to be on the original residents playing "classics", with something funkier being played in the second dance room.

However there's a further difference between Egg and Turnmills which cannot be adjusted and that's the size of the rooms; Egg is just smaller, and each of the two dancerooms there can reasonably hold about 300 people. That means that about 300 people at a time can experience the one room with the original residents and the harder sounds, compared with the same room at Turnmills which could hold about twice that number or more. Ultimately the number of people in the club may depend on the weather, and whether the outside patio can be used. If it rains you can expect the interior to be rammed, and that might be the case anyway, even if it's fine. There has been a continual problem at the new venue with the air-conditioning, which seems partially non-working at times. The management of Egg would be well-advised to make sure that it is fully working and up to snuff for this event, which despite everything I say here, is likely to be packed.

Unfortunately, during the time all this was being publicised and modified, Trade hadn't actually agreed the concept with all the djs nor had they contracted them all to play. As a result a third press release / e-flyer was issued with a new DJ lineup replacing Ian M with Baby Doc, although by this time flyers had been printed and were being distributed with the original lineup of Malcolm Duffy, Steve Thomas, Pete Wardman and Ian M. This third e-flyer however repeated the phrase "four original Trade residents" even though Baby Doc had not been a resident at Trade, and many people I asked didn't even know that he DJed! My understanding is that the problem with Ian M stemmed largely from the expectation that he would play "Trade Classics", rather than what he's playing currently. What I know about the other original residents is that they are as independent-minded as Ian, and I wonder to what extent they will go along with playing what many must expect to be something of a retro set.

Were the original line-up to have been kept together there then would have emerged a further political problem, namely, if the punters loved what was being played, there'd be a lot of people asking why Trade had allowed the combination of original residents to be broken up. Even with Baby Doc replacing Ian M this still remains something of an issue.

Perhaps reflecting the lack of care taken with the planning of this event is the printed flyer, which states the date as "24.09.03" on one side, and "24th. August 2003" on the other. (Club Promotion 101, Lesson 1: Proof read all your promotional materials, then check them, then check them again!)

The desire to move Trade to Egg is completely understandable. Trade is the jewel in the crown, and should be a reasonable money earner, and hiring Turnmills cannot be cheap. It also seems reasonable to experiment with a format for Trade at Egg which does not jeopardise the possibility of holding it at Turnmills in the future. But to go about it this way, using the new venue to re-create the old club, and to have the wrong djs and dates on the printed flyers seems at best poorly thought through. The mis-management of an event as potentially important as this for both Egg and Trade by a team as experienced as this seems quite inexplicable.

The bottom line? Even very experienced promoters make mistakes.
Some Pics from the Main Floor at Turnmills: 11th. August 2002
It looks dark because it IS dark!

 
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