Written by Tim Burrows
05 Friday 05th February 2010

Red Bull Music Academy
is like every motivated musician’s wet dream. Over the past eleven years RBMA has travelled around the world to unite up-and-coming musicians with acclaimed producers and arrangers to host incredible concerts and workshops. Each year 60 participants from diverse backgrounds and music styles get the opportunity to get involved and this year it’s in London at the Red Bull offices on Tooley Street, which has been totally transformed into a musical adventure playground.


In the past, heavy names such as Chuck D, Buraka Som Sistema, MIA, Flying Lotus and Kentish Town Kid Mr Hudson have participated in the Academy. This year, musicians and DJs from 32 countries have touched down in London to engage every inch of the city with concerts, workshops and club nights at venues such as the ICA, Royal Albert Hall, Dalston Superstore and Plastic People (to name a few). Millions of melodies and innovative ideas will set London on fire, from 5th February to 15th March. Don’t Panic teamed up with the Academy to bring to you the latest news and happenings from their newspaper the Daily Note, 80,000 of which will be distributed around central London hubs. Below Tim Burrows gives us a tour of Southwark - the base for this years RBMA.

This year’s Red Bull Music Academy is located on Tooley Street, an unremarkable road parallel to the River Thames that connects London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The former has existed in one form or another since the Roman age, and was attacked by Viking chieftain Olaf Haroldson at the start of the 11th century, who made it ‘fall down’ – hence the nursery rhyme. Built in 1894, Tower Bridge is a whippersnapper by comparison.
Often mistaken for a commuter ditch, Tooley has a history. In the early 1930s, George Orwell stayed in a kip here, a kind of doss house for the homeless, which he wrote about in Down and Out in Paris and London. “There is a strong energy on that south side of the river,” says DJ Danny Rampling, whose family hailed from Bermondsey. Rampling ran one of the UK’s first acid house clubs Shoom in the late ’80s. “So much London history has run through there,” he says. “There are a lot of old spirits in that area. A lot of people who lived there in past lifetimes have been drawn back to it.”
Approach Tooley from Tower Bridge and you’ll come across a bust of Labour politician Ernest Bevin. In his position as national organiser of the dockers’ union, Bevin fought for better wages for dockers in the 1920s by highlighting how little food could be bought with their meagre wage. “He gained a place in men’s hearts few could equal” reads the inscription below the bust. Barrel-chested, proud and melancholic, he stares straight ahead, his disciples long gone.
Heading west along Tooley Street, casting an eye to the river, you’ll see City Hall, the glass veneer of which reflects the city’s meteorological mood swings. One day it’s sludge grey. The next it sparkles. But it’s always droopy.
The Royal Oak on Tooley Street was one of the disco or ‘fun’ pubs that opened in the area in the early ’80s. Places such as The Dun Cow on the Old Kent Road – now a doctors’ surgery – and The Swan and Sugar Loaf on Bermondsey Street would be filled with the sounds of rare groove and disco.
“I wanted to be a DJ so I used to go to these glitzy pubs done up like clubs,” recalls Rampling. “The occupants had spent a lot of money on them, so they were a lot like cocktail bars. You could compare it to the R’n’B scene now, people spending a fortune on fashion and champagne. Very few people in that area had any money but everyone looked great. There was always a way of getting your hands on something.”
By the mid-’80s, Rampling had become the apprentice of another DJ, Nicky Holloway, and had learned the trade at his Special Branch nights at the Royal Oak. “It wasn’t the first choice, crowd-wise,” he says. “Mostly it was full of moody junior gangsters dressed very casual in Farah trousers, Gabicci shirts and gold chains.”
Holloway had been DJing at the Oak since the start of the decade, running alternate weekend nights with Gordon Mac, who would later found Kiss FM. The pub grew in popularity thanks to its 2am license. “We fitted the club out with loads of banners and put our own dancefloor down,” says Holloway. “We used to have to put this big jigsaw puzzle together in the afternoon.” The music started as pure disco and soul. “At first, the big records were Never Too Much by Luther Vandross, You Know How to Love Me by Phyllis Hyman, Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton, plus a bit of Frank Sinatra for all the hoodlums who were there.”
The pubs’ interior glitz bore little relation to the surrounding area, but that was their appeal: these pubs were the only attractions in the area. The dockers for whom Bevin had fought disappeared when the docks started to close in the 1960s and ’70s, leaving empty spaces behind. “It was rundown,” says Rampling. “The whole south side of the river was a series of closed warehouses and industrial units, so it was like a ghost town after dark. But the night spots that sprang up drew people into the area from far and wide.”
Holloway agrees. “All those luxury flats on the river that you see today weren’t there back then,” he says. “There were no docks, so there were no people. I wouldn’t want to walk around there at night. The only thing that used to be on that road was the London Dungeon. They picked the area because it was really dark and dingy. I used to get the tube from East Finchley to London Bridge and would shit myself walking down to the Royal Oak.”
These empty spaces were plundered in the name of the party. Rake-thin club legend Phil Dirtbox and DJ Rob Milton ran their notorious Dirtbox parties in an abandoned warehouse on the Thames side of Tooley Street, opposite the Dungeon. People would bring their own drinks, throw a quid in the biscuit tin at the entrance, and then dance all night to tracks played by Milton and Jay Strongman.
Today, there’s a Hilton hotel where the Royal Oak stood. “I had a meeting there the other week, which was funny,” says Holloway. “We called it the Royal Oak Hilton.” On the site of the warehouses that hosted the Dirtbox raves there now stands a riverside shopping mall called Hay’s Galleria. How times change.
From the western end of Tooley, take a left down Borough High Street to Southwark Street until you reach Thrale Street. You’ll see a row of terraced houses on one side and a hulking great building on the other. Once a gym, this place was the venue for Shoom.
Rampling started Shoom with his then-wife Jenni after returning from Ibiza, where they’d been seduced by Balearic hedonism. “I had played the Fitness Centre, which became Shoom, for a friend’s party four or five years before,” he says. “I always thought it was a good venue, a small basement that just felt perfect for all-night parties. I knew that one day I was going to have my own parties in there.”
Shoom provided a weekly getaway for a loved-up crowd who were the first in the capital to succumb to acid house. Carl Cox, Andrew Weatherall, Terry Farley and Steve Proctor DJed at Shoom early on, and made their reputations there.
The club ran for three years on Thrale Street before Rampling took it to the YMCA just off Tottenham Court Road. “Now it’s  something like a document library or storage place,” says Rampling. “The irony is that Nicky Holloway’s brother ended up working there without ever realising it was Shoom!”
Saunter east a few hundred yards and you’ll find Clinks Bar, an after-office watering hole attached to the Novotel, which is neatly lined with parasols and palm trees. The word clink might evoke the sound of ice in a glass, but in this area it’s historically associated with The Clink, Britain’s oldest prison – now a tourist attraction – on Clink Street, Bankside.
The name presumably derives either from the sound of the prisoners’ manacles and chains or that of the metal door closing behind them.
Come 1988, Clink Street was the place to be for clubbers. At RIP (Revolution In Progress), a party run by Paul Stone and Lu Vukovic, DJs Eddie Richards and a young Mr C played tough, acid-heavy house and techno in a warehouse that was once a prison. Mark Easton was a film-maker who shot footage in 1988 at RIP. “It had been going for a few years as a place to hire by the time RIP came along,” he says. “It had four floors, tiny rooms and was really grubby, but because there were no residents it was a great building to have a party in.”
Hardened criminals such as Dave Courtney would sweat it out alongside young Londoners. Rival football hooligan firms would turn up. “I’d worked at other clubs, like Paul Oakenfold’s Spectrum, but Clink was the hardest vibe,” says Easton. “It was darker and scarier. Chelsea fans and Arsenal fans would warily eye each other up but later on they’d be having a right good chat and dance, just chilling, which was obviously due to the ecstasy. These guys just couldn’t hate each other –  it’s hard to hate somebody when you take ecstasy. It opened up a lot of minds.”
As the ’90s dawned, acid house fever spread across the UK, propelled in part by the media’s sensationalist slant on rave culture. Meanwhile, London Bridge went the other way, and began its march towards becoming the commuter hub and tourist playground it is today.


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