When clubbing was young and fresh in 1988’s so-called second summer of love, talking about a club’s interior design would have marked you out as a dilettante poseur, rather than a loved up raver.
But since the rise (and subsequent fall) of superclubs, it seems the experience has become as much about the lounge you drink your cocktails in as it is about music and dance. The Ministry of Sound, grandaddy of all superclubs, last week announced it was upping the stakes, investing in a major refurbishment programme.
The club’s rationale – the new look is designed to cater for the ‘older’ clubber, offering cocktails and VIP lounges with ‘comfortable’ seats – hardly speaks the biggin’-it-up language of cutting edge cool. But, as an ‘older’ clubber with a penchant for shaking my booty, I thought it was worth a look.
The experience starts with a queue for entry into the VIP lounge. Once inside, it’s so jammed that it feel as though the club is playing an ironic joke and the real VIPs are largein’ it downstairs at the main bar.
Because of the crush it’s hard to give an accurate description, but it seems that the lounge is aiming for a mix of urban styling – with dark wood flooring, exposed air conditioning ducts and glass walls – and an attempt at opulence through red velvet drapes and a burgundy colour scheme.
But the whole scheme lacks conviction and ends up being neither glamorous nor edgy. The only element that almost saves it is the massive fibre optic chandelier. Its urban glamour is reflected in the glass walls and from behind the bar, until it seems to be shimmering at you from every corner of the room.
Encapsulated in the VIP lounge are two VVIP areas. I abandon all thought of fighting my way up the stairs to the larger mezzanine space, but do get to set foot in the much hyped Green Room.
A glass box, extending outward from the lounge and floating above the dance floor, it most closely resembles a goldfish bowl with barely enough room for its three armchairs and small table. The concept is impressive, but it fails in execution, becoming claustrophobic rather than aspirational.
The toilets have been revamped too, with white leather padded walls and stainless steel fittings. But the seemingly endless queue, combined with a cracked and broken cistern in my cubicle, end up giving the experience a festival-loo edge.
Admittedly a night out clubbing isn’t meant to be about the interior decor. In fact it seems like the antithesis of the original clubbing experience – raving in enormous, empty warehouses with little more than a pumping sound system – to focus on it at all.
And the sound system at the Ministry still impresses, allowing the deep house beats to reverberate through your feet and sternum until they become part of your subconscious. But what’s missing is that difficult to define, impossible to fake, sense of underground chic that made clubbing the entertainment of choice for a generation.
Mark Twain said, ‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’. The Ministry of Sound is likely to claim the same. But this much hyped relaunch feels more like the final burst of a dying supernova than a sparkling rebirth of a shining star.
Ministry of Sound can be found at 103 Gaunt Street, Elephant & Castle, London SE1