As difficult as the last few years have been for London clubbing, at times it feels like a sea of calamities can swallow up the individual casualties. Any much-loved venue’s demise is a mini tragedy in itself, whatever the overall trend may be.
So the news that Dalston jewel Dance Tunnel would be forced to ultimately close its doors was particularly difficult to swallow.
At a time when many venues are seeing themselves under pressure from increasingly inconsiderate councils and police surfing growing waves of gentrification, the saga of the East London favourite Dance Tunnel has been played out not just in the electronic music press, but seeped into the capital's culture pages. Hackney Council’s willingness to push through changes to licensing laws for the area have not only greatly restricted options for new ventures, but hit the area's existing night time residents.
Despite its huge popularity, the sad result for Dance Tunnel was that the restrictions on late licences no longer made it viable. At the time, Dan Beaumont stated “sadly the licensing climate in Hackney has made it impossible for us to get the hours we need to make Dance Tunnel sustainable in the long term," a narrative that feels all too common of late.
The greatest irony is that Dance Tunnel is the sort venue that everyone should champion. Local-owned, local-run, and an innovative music policy that's seen it win adoration and die hard fans from the capital and beyond. It's the essence of what a club should be: friendly, knowledgeable staff, dedicated owners, one long, sweaty dark room (bearing the club's name) with a bar along its throbbing edge and a booming, crisp system that's seen everyone from Ben Sims, Gerd Janson and Simian Mobile Disco to labels and events as diverse as Dimensions, Ostgut Ton, Ninja Tune and FWD grace its doors.
The club's final week was a line-up as good as any they've presented, with Friday's Thunder welcoming Panorama Bar resident Steffi alongside Beaumont and Miles Simpson, and Saturday showcasing Damiano von Eckert next to the vaunted Move D. But it was Sunday night that felt the most apt; the weary but elated Dance Tunnel team opening their doors one last time for free, their residents at the helm.
Come 8PM, a sizeable queue stretched back towards the Rio cinema, and while Beaumont spoke to a camera crew at the front outside Voodoo Ray’s, the line was bubbling with chatter, a mixture of excited kids, old hands, DJs and industry folk, with more being added at the rear as word got out and Monday morning plans were quietly put on hold. Beaumont and his team may have been worn out, but their evergreen enthusiasm was still evident, greeting friends as they walked up and down the throng.
Inside, the dancefloor was already bustling and lively. As punchy, piano-driven house pumped out, beers were drunk, newly-arrived friends were hugged, and the tropical atmosphere was nothing but positive, inclusive and celebratory, as it's been since the club opened it's doors back in 2013. The time for tears would be reserved for early Monday morning.
Classic house, interspersed with a sprinkling of ‘final night’ records (Taylor Dane’s “Tell It To My Heart” poured from the speakers early on with Iona at the helm) kept the line wobbling wonderfully between heads-down acid, breakbeat dizziness, piano anthems and pure, grin-inducing singalongs.
Peaks came thick and fast, with Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops”, the Disconet Remix of Viola Wills’ “If You Could Read My Mind”, Prince’s “Erotic City", and Josh One’s “Contemplation" classically remixed by King Britt as house and disco took a sentimental centre stage into the night. Thunder’s Miles Wilson dropped, Shep Pettibone’s seminal remix of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle" bringing whoops of delight the darkness. Once Matt Hessleworth took over from midnight, the night became a blur of last drinks, tearful goodbyes, hands-up bangers and euphoria that finally concluded with a last hour from Beaumont that took in Electronic’s “Getting Away With It" and beautifully closed with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams".
2AM arrived, steam poured out onto the street, and Dance Tunnel closed its doors for the last, misty-eyed time.
The one silver lining in this ongoing tale is the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor Of London in May. Making positive statements about the importance of the nighttime economy, he's shortly to appoint a “Night Tsar" to focus on the often-overlooked sector of the capital's cashflow.
With input from European cities like Amsterdam and Berlin that have already blazed a trail in supporting clubland, there's hope that the key “Agent Of Change" proposal, which forces new housing blocks to account for existing venues rather than see clubs hit by new residents’ existence, can finally be passed into law. It’s early days, and many broken promises have been heard before, but perhaps out of another depressing tale can come a positive outcome. For now, Dance Tunnel’s short but beautiful existence is still bright and loud in the memory. Long may that remain.
Words and photos: Guy Hornsby
Header photo via