But constricted by licensing laws and closing times that were fun-averse, promoters began to take risks. The Wag?s Chris Sullivan, inspired by a visit to New York, claims he was the first to throw a warehouse party, and he may be right. But lodged in most people?s memory is the birth of the Dirtbox in Earl?s Court, notable for what was then ? and still is now ? considered a London outpost, mainly home to itinerant Australians and a plethora of gay clone pubs. Dirtbox was held in an old West Indian drinking den, up some stairs above a chemist?s shop. It was, naturally, a death trap. Jay Strongman and Rob Milton were the DJs and its soundtrack, a kooky mixture of revival funk and rockabilly thrown together with hot rap, go-go and electro imports, was both catalyst and template for much of what would follow.
The warehouse scene ? or rare groove, as it later became known ? helped changed London nightlife. It democratised the capital?s (straight) nightlife which, until the 1980s, had mainly been controlled by a small coterie of fashion mavens, whose door policies made Albanian border guards seem lenient by comparison.
In King?s Cross, alcoholics littered the pavements, while the police sirens created a constant nervous soundtrack. Behind the station, among the dilapidated buildings, Victorian grime and prostitutes, two Irish brothers, Noel and Maurice Watson, started throwing parties in a disused school in Battle Bridge Road ? itself an area of historic interest, where Boudica fought the Romans (the road no longer exists). For one year, every Saturday night the Watson brothers, alongside Rip, Rig & Panic?s Sean and Andrea Oliver and Neneh Cherry, packed out the venue to dangerously high levels. The Watsons later collaborated with fashion store Demob in hosting hugely successful parties in Islington?s Rosebery Avenue before running Delirium, one of London?s most important early house nights.
Previously ignored working class districts like Old Street, Hackney Road, Wembley, Bermondsey and even posh Hampstead became playgrounds for eager clubbers. Black promoters, excluded by an unofficial colour bar in many West End clubs, threw parties in empty properties, warehouses and anywhere else that could fit 500 clubbers, a bar and a soundsystem. Estate agents, whose access to fresh locations was unparalleled, became everybody?s best friend: borrow key for the weekend, throw party, hand key back Monday.
At Norman Jay?s moveable feast Shake ?N? Fingerpop, the soundtrack was a revivalist?s feast of American funk and soul: Leroy Hutson?s ?The Ghetto ?74,? The Voices Of East Harlem?s ?Little People? and ?Impeach The President? by the Honey Drippers. In fact, politics was a core part of young clubbers? lives then. The decade was defined by its upheavals and strikes: the miners and steelworkers, the poll-tax riots. And although many of the promoters were mini-entrepreneurs, there was a general air of dissidence, often reflected in a playlist that included Gil Scott-Heron?s anti-Reagan song ?B-Movie,? Junior Murvin?s ?Police & Thieves? or Brother D with The Collective Effort?s ?How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise??