I’m pretty much a retired clubber so it takes an amazing line-up or a very special occasion to get me off my ass and across town these days. Last Thursday was one such night though and after a long hiatus I found myself back in the welcoming arms of FWD, London iconic dubstep night, at Plastic People.
Plastic People’s troubles in 2010 were well-documented. Early in the year its licence came under threat, on the grounds of public nuisance and disorder, with police claiming to have found traces of cocaine in the toilets and DJ booth. Anyone who had been to Plastic People saw the absurdity in this; this was possibly one of the only clubs in London where you’d struggle to score, it’s certainly the only one in which I’ve never been offered drugs. Plastic People was always about the music. One of the world’s best sound systems and a dancefloor clad in darkness testify to this. It wasn’t a place where people got dressed up to shake some moves on the dancefloor; noone could see you anyway, it was about trancing out to some heavy sonic frequencies. Maybe it’s the anti-social in me but I always found music sounded better when I shut my eyes, on the dancefloor at Plastic they’d already done it for me. Theo Parrish’s nights here are legendary. The combination of his frenzied EQ mangling with the resonance and depth of the speaker system is almost too much to bear. There have been times when I have found myself unable to do anything but laugh maniacally as he turns one disco record after another inside out. Not that there’s anything funny about it, it’s simply the only emotional response possible other than curl up in a ball and rock back and forth in the face of such face-melting sonic textures. (More about Plastic’s sound here)
But I digress. Back to FWD. I hadn’t been to Plastic since last year’s furore around its license. In the end after a massive facebook campaign and local government petitioning, the club had received a stay of execution but, predicatbly, its continued existance was dependent upon certain stringent conditions. I’ve never been able to find what those conditions were but it wasn’t hard to guess – tougher security checks, ID scans on entry, enclosed smoking area under the watchful eye of the bouncers, making the all-important crafty spliff a thing of the past, and, I anticipated, an illuminated dancefloor, becuase why else would you have one in the dark, other than to allow drug-dealers to go about their furtive trade under cover of darkness??
As I stept into the entrance I found my predictions to be accurate. An extremely thorough search at the door, followed by a request for my driver’s license to be scanned into the database welcomed me, while a small roped-off smoking area adjacent to the entrance glared uninvitingly. So it was a great relief on coming down the stairs to see that the interior of the club was exactly as before, and a turn to my right revealed the dancefloor, blissfully ensconced in darkness, reverberating to some monster low frequencies.
On the decks was L-Vis 1990 and he absolutely killed it. Clever funky cuts, infinitely dancable, interspersed with the more straightforward dubstep killas. Followed by the godfather Hatcha, the first 10 minutes of his set was possibly the most powerful opening of a set I’ve ever heard. There’s a new sound system in there and I’m not quite convinced. It was loud, uncomfortably loud at times, depending on where you stood, it seemed that a couple of steps to the left or right triggered a quite dramatic change in volume, which got a bit much at times. But maybe that’s my age. Or the fact that I wasn’t mashed. Still, watching the kids at the front leaping around to Hatcha’s dubstep anthems it struck me that perhaps dubstep is the new heavy metal. I mean, these kids were moshing. And they were all male (always a bit of a shame, does nothing for the general odour of the dancefloor). Ok, there’s a bit more leg movement, but basically these kids are headbangers. And good luck to them. This is why dubstep is such a visceral force. 30 years on it’s still hard to invoke a better example of pure sound as Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, which sounds like cascading sheets of metal falling from the sky. Dubstep at its best does just that (at its worst it just flops to the floor and wobbles a bit) and played over Plastic People’s bass bins, it’s what makes FWD so special. Hit play below for a bit of metal, 2009 style.