Ministry Of Sound, one of the best known clubs in the world, faces closure if a property development is approved by London's Mayor — Boris Johnson — at the end of February. A campaign has been launched to save Ministry Of Sound, which DJ Mag and a number of top DJs – including Fatboy Slim, Pete Tong, Calvin Harris, Yousef and Judge Jules – are supporting.
From hosting the legendary Larry Levan back in the day to helping kick-start the UK scene by bringing over American house legends in the early '90s and putting on a veritable who's who of international DJ culture, Ministry has been crucial to the UK scene over the years.
A classic, iconic space, the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs party has been held there many times too, and Ministry is also a radio station, record label, clothing brand, equipment company... and altogether a great British institution.
On February 26th, London Mayor Boris Johnson will decide whether to give the go-ahead to a property development that could see the closure of Ministry Of Sound. As it stands, the development would be highly likely to elicit a complaint or two from new residents about noise. Ministry have a list of suggestions for how the proposed property can be adapted “so that there's a win-win scenario”, but the developer — Oakmayne Properties — is refusing to meet with Ministry representatives.
“We're asking for more time from the Mayor so that that negotiation can take place,” Ministry Chief Executive, Lohan Presencer, told DJ Mag when we collared him for an exclusive interview...
If this block of flats is built over the road from Ministry, and a few residents complain, it seems probable that the club will have to shut. Why will this be a bad thing not only for dance music but the wider UK economy at large?
“For a variety of reasons. Firstly, Ministry pulls in nearly 300,000 a year to London, and a good chunk of those people are from abroad coming to London specifically to visit Ministry Of Sound. These are people who are staying in hotels, who are getting taxis over here, who are eating in restaurants, who are drinking in bars in London... that's a major economic contribution in its own right.
“As a business, we employ 200 people, all of whom are playing Income Tax in the UK. We make profits in the UK, and thereby pay Corporation Tax in the UK. There's the VAT generated from the sales of our records, the sale of our tickets. From a purely economic calculation, we're paying tens of millions in tax year after year. We invest millions of pounds in developing UK talent and breaking artists like Wretch 32, DJ Fresh, Example... We've got the No.1 single in the UK this week with Bingo Players, we've got two albums in the top five this week. We are a significant cultural and business force in the UK, and to brush us to one side in favour of a block of flats is frankly insane.”
Aren't there plenty of other places in London to build flats?
“There are plenty of other places to build blocks of flats. There are not many places to establish and grow iconic nightclubs and tourist attractions.”
Ministry itself, by its mere presence, has definitely helped to regenerate the Elephant & Castle area since the early '90s...
“Absolutely. I remember coming to Elephant & Castle in the late '80s, and it was a pretty scary place. There was no reason to go there, but now thousands of people come here every week to come and have one of the best dance music experiences in the world. It would be tragic for that to be lost.
“And it's not as simple as to say we need to find another location. Where else can you find a location in London where you can have a club that doesn't have issues with residential or noise problems, where thousands of people can visit every week, where you can attract superstar DJs. Our heritage is dripping out of the walls here. It's more than just a space. It's everything that we are. I'm going to get emotional in a minute!”
Ministry isn't just a club, is it – it's a great British cultural export...
“We have stayed true to our roots and heritage in dance music for every one of our 22 years of existence. Dance has ebbed and flowed and gone into and out of popularity, but it's all we've ever done. We've created, we've invested, we've exported – what other music brands resonate with punters and clubbers in the way that Ministry Of Sound does, and have that longevity? I'd go so far as to say we're the most famous and important nightclub that's ever existed in the history of the world – but then I would say that, wouldn't I?”
You're definitely one of them. In other places in London where people have moved in near clubs, they've immediately complained about the noise. They've moved next to a nightclub – what do they expect?
“Wherever you put residential and nightclub entertainment together, there will be conflict. What's ridiculous is the fact that we've been here for 22 years is no protection against that conflict. People have a legal right to enjoy their property, so it's not as simple as just presenting a page of numbers – like the developer does – saying that the noise levels are acceptable. They may not be acceptable to one of the thousand residents who are going to be living in that block of flats, and if that one person mounts a campaign and gets a sympathetic Environmental Health Officer on their side, that's it.
“They might then say, 'You need to stop playing music at 3am, you need to stop serving alcohol at twelve, you need to make sure that your punters leave the venue quietly or else we'll close you down'. If you close down this club, you rip out our beating heart. It's the core of everything we do. It gives us the right to release music, it gives us the right to put on 2000 parties a year around the world. Our clubbers are our authority.”
Boris Johnson will decide whether to give the go-ahead to the project at the end of February. Surely, judging by his embarrassing 'dad dancing' at the Olympics to the Spice Girls, he could do with a night-time session down Ministry himself, no?
“We have invited him down here on numerous occasions – he has declined. It's my greatest fear that there'll be a cursory visit for 20 minutes — during the day — on the day of the hearing where he pops down and shakes a few hands. The only way you can understand Ministry Of Sound, our clubbers, our staff, is to come down and have a look at the venue properly, when we're open, to see how well run it is and how much people enjoy themselves here.”
Tell us a bit more about the property developer...
“Short-term profits for a property developer – who frankly is funding all his exploits with money offshore – should not take precedence over the contribution that we make as a business and as an employer. Oakmayne Properties are based in the Isle Of Man, the company that they used to buy the site is based in the British Virgin Islands, and the property developer himself lives in Monaco and flies in during the week.”
So, basically, they're tax avoiders?
“Everything has been structured to avoid tax. Why should a business like Oakmayne get the nod from the Mayor, and a business like ours – which is entirely based in the UK and pays millions of pounds in tax every year – get shoved to one side?”
What can people do to try to influence Boris's decision?
“It's just down to Boris, it's not a terribly democratic process. Please support our campaign by tweeting #savemoscluband sign the petition. If people can also register messages of support on our Facebook page and tweet us @ministryofsound too.
“The Mayor has broader political ambitions, and I hope he's not so short-sighted as to think that this is just one short decision, because the implications for this are far-reaching and will go on for years.”
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