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This is The End, the club that changed London

It's been 10 years since seminal club The End closed its doors for the last time. We speak to the family members, close team, and resident DJs like Erol Alkan and Andy C about the life, love and legacy of the club that changed London

“If there’s one thing to learn from rave, it’s this: you can do anything, if you do it together.” – Sheryl Garratt, Sweet Harmony – Rave Today

It’s Sunday 25th January 2009, and Douglas Paskin is heading back to a party that he left around 3AM, having gone home for a snooze. At about 11AM, he returns to 18 West Central Street, five minutes’ walk from Tottenham Court Road station in central London. He heads down into a basement that’s heaving with the throngs of a party, still going strong into its fifteenth hour. 

Laurent Garnier is in the booth, taking a moment away from the decks to say a few words on the mic. He’s giving a speech because this is the last set he’ll ever play in this room. “This is the man who designed The End,” Garnier yells, pointing at Douglas. With a deafening roar of cheers, clubbers lift Douglas Paskin, an architect, onto their shoulders, because he’s the man responsible for designing the venue that changed clubbing in London.

“He designed it, and he was our father,” Layo Paskin says of that moment, smiling across the room at his sister Zoe. “It summed up many things that were magic about The End on some level; it was a very serious club, but in other ways, it was a very human thing, a family thing.” Aside from the obvious fact that The End team comprised of an architect, a creative director (Layo), and a managing director (Zoe) that are all related, there is a common thread that runs through the story of The End — family.

In the late ’80s, licencing laws meant that venues in London closed early, and pumped up ravers had a lot of gas left in the tank. “If you wanted to carry on dancing through the night, you had to turn to the illegal warehouse parties or after-hours, unlicensed clubs like the legendary RIP on Clink Street,” wrote Simon Reynolds in ‘ENERGY FLASH: A Journey through Rave Music and Dance Culture’. 

Mr. C, a pioneer of acid house in London, was one of the key figures behind many of the city’s illegal warehouse parties. Across the capital, and the country, illegal raves grew increasingly large and increasingly loose. By the early ’90s, the authorities realised that in order to crack down on the illegal scene, they’d need to start granting all-night dancing licenses to city venues. In this new era, the superclub was born.

In late 1995, posters began to pop up across London that read: “The End is coming.” A club built for clubbers, by clubbers, The End was the brainchild of a bright-eyed Layo Paskin, who would become better known as Layo of Layo & Bushwacka!, and Mr. C, a few years his senior. Layo started promoting parties when he was 16-years-old, and used to put on parties with Richard Russell of XL Recordings. Through those parties, he became friendly with Mr. C.

When Layo returned to London after university, he asked his architect father if he’d keep an eye on his upcoming projects, for a site that could host a decent rave before development work began. Douglas nodded, and the subject didn’t really come up again, until one day, Douglas returned from work and said to Layo, “I went to this mad place today. It’s derelict, but the owner thinks it would make great night club.”

Historically, 18 West Central Street was a postal distribution hub, during a time where mail was transported underground by horse-drawn cart. Despite the dripping walls and the rusty water troughs, Layo saw potential for the space, but lacked the funding for the initial investment the build would require. As luck would have it, Mr. C was in the money, courtesy of his part in crossover dance act The Shamen. 

“I was quite a big pop star at the time,” he says of the success of his 1992 hit single ‘Ebeneezer Goode’. Mr. C put down the deposit, and Douglas agreed to work on the design of the venue in exchange for shares of the eventual club. At the time, the bank was favourable to new businesses, and lent them around £250,000 towards their start-up costs. The rest of the money, another £400,000 or thereabouts, was raised through investors and supporters in the scene.

“He made something very, very special,” says Mr. C of Douglas’s work, “he realised our dreams.” The End was built with a smooth and safe experience in mind; cutting edge music, cutting edge design. The water fountain meant that ravers on a budget could fill up their water bottle (a move previously unheard of — at the time, venues were known to shut off the water in the bathrooms so punters would purchase water at the bar), and the dancefloor was sprung with hydraulics to alleviate the strain on dancers’ legs.

At the back of the main room, the aptly-named Speed Bar served only beer and water to minimise queuing at the other bars, and the walls, archways, and DJ booth were built with a soft curvature — nothing sharp to interrupt the flow of the sound. Clubbers would enter through a pair of shining metal doors, before descending the glowing stairs to the basement, the bass thumping behind the doors at the bottom. “Every time you go down those stairs, you’ve already got the biggest grin on your face,” says Mr. C.

The space was designed so that, despite being across the lobby from one another, there was almost no sound bleed between the main room and the smaller lounge room. “It was a crystalline vision of a futuristic nightclub. When I first went, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before,” says Erol Alkan. The End would provide a new sort of clubbing experience on the fringe of the West End, a world away from the era of, in Mr. C’s words, “shit clubs”. That meant no heavy-handed security, warm drinks with no ice, no air conditioning, toilets with no running water, and sticky dancefloors.

The End opened on Saturday 2nd December 1995, two days before the arrival of their liquor licence. This meant that all the drinks had to be free. That night, The End gave away £35,000 worth of alcohol. “This happened last century, so if you marked that up now it was gargantuan,” says Liam O’Hare, who was General Manager at The End from the day it opened until the day it closed. 

During a staff talk before the opening party kicked off, Liam tells us, Douglas asked a member of staff to clear up the ash from a cigarette they’d flicked onto the floor. Fast forward to the end of the night, and Douglas looked at Liam and joked, dejectedly, “How do we sell this place?” When the lights went up, their faces fell; so much for the end of sticky dancefloors, at least.

The team would use the takings from the night before to get alcohol in for the following party. “There we were,” says Layo, “walking to the bank with cash stuffed in our puffer jackets. We didn’t have a system for anything.” There was an innocence to the operation and the first 18 months proved to be a steep learning curve. “It was like running a stall and then opening a department store,” Layo says of their inexperience.

The line-up for the opening party featured Mr. C, Ron Trent, Chez Damier, Stacey Pullen, Malcolm Duffy, Eddie Richards, and Jasper The Vinyl Junkie. It set a clear intention for the club; Layo, Mr. C, and Liam wanted to promote interesting, diverse music that reflected their broad tastes; house, tech-house, techno, rare groove, trip-hop, breaks. The End settled into a formula: Fridays would cater for breaks, Saturdays for house and techno, and Sundays for the club’s gay night, DTPM. 

The first Speed all-nighter, led by LTJ Bukem, was hosted at The End, which meant that Friday nights became a hotbed for drum & bass, with parties like Full Cycle, Renegade Hardware, and RAM. Saturdays would host house and techno parties like Mr. C’s Subterrain, with Laurent Garnier and Sven Väth quickly calling the club their home. Acts like Daft Punk, Roni Size, and Fatboy Slim would all play their formative gigs at the club.

The team wanted to keep things underground, but ultimately, they were a licenced West End venue. London’s underground ravers may have initially turned their noses up at the prospect of a Holborn venue with rules and security, and limitations on weed smoking, but slowly, word started to spread. 

“We chipped away,” says Mr. C, “we didn’t sell out, we didn’t play trance, we booked the DJs we loved. That was our ethos and we stuck to our guns.” With the ’90s came the era of the superstar DJ, with big name artists earning somewhere between £2,000 and £5,000 for a two or three-hour set, but the credibility of The End was such that DJs wanted to play there. The club were transparent about their door prices — they were rarely in excess of £15 — and so artists would play for more affordable fees than they’d demand elsewhere. The desire to play in The End’s booth, with one of the world’s best sound systems, was high.

The DJ booth was made of cobalt blue glass. Shaped like a horseshoe, it was a glowing, magnetic force, placed in the middle of the club. The main room was divided by two archways, and, from the booth, the DJ could see down both sides of the dancefloor. “You’ve got the crowd all around you watching, waiting, anticipating,” Andy C says of the room’s atmosphere. “It was sexy as fuck, the pièce de résistance,” says Mr. C. Over time, the setup would change, but the booth was always decked out with a Soundcraft mixing desk, two (sometimes three) turntables, two CDJs, and the centrepiece — the Thunder Ridge Omni-Drive.

With a four-way crossover that became a five-way crossover after an upgrade (which included 19 new patented methods of sound dispersion), The End’s custom-designed Thunder Ridge sound system was legendary. In our conversations about the system, it’s variously described as rich, clean as a whistle, loud as hell, thick, ominous, beautiful, aural treacle.

Such was the quality of the sound throughout the main room, that everyone we speak to had their own “sweet spot” on the dancefloor. Erol Alkan would retreat into the shadows, near a speaker behind the DJ. Andy C would opt either for behind the booth, either side of the central pillar, where “there was so much bass your eyes would shake.” You’d find Mr. C right in the middle, feeling the impact of the sound from each of the four stacks. “We made a virtue of that system,” explains Liam, “we stripped off the black foam and lit up the cones. The number of photoshoots that took place in front of those speakers,” he laughs. 

Sound engineer Gareth Hughes, aka Cyclon, helmed the sound desk from 1996 until the day it closed. He would save individual profiles to the system for different artists, with the levels adjusted to fit their style of playing. Trash’s more guitar-led music policy needed more mid-range, but Andy C required emphasis and intricacy in the low end, so his profile had the mid-range tuned down.

The sound system was so reputable that artists would produce records especially to play at the club. Erol Alkan would work on remixes specifically for Trash, and ahead of each RAM party, drum & bass artists Andy C, Shimon, Trilogy, and Moving Fusion would bring dubplates to premiere on the night. “It would make averagely mixed-down records sound hench,” Andy C says, “it was just so weighty. It brought out the best in tunes.” 

While Chase & Status were working on their 2008 album ‘More than Alot’, most of the tracks on the record got their test runs at The End. Andy recalls the first time anyone heard ‘Eastern Jam’; “It was just mental, everyone was like, ‘What the fuck?’”, he says, “it got three or four rewinds.” Layo & Bushwacka!’s 1999 cut ‘Low Life’ was produced with the sound in that room in mind, and as soon as The End opened, everything Mr. C made was for play at Subterrain. “We knew we would hear certain frequencies that you wouldn’t normally hear on other systems,” he explains, a track he produced with Layo under their moniker Killer Loop springing to mind — ‘The Blue Hour’. 

On YouTube, the video’s description reads: “Layo & I made this track in 1998. We were in the watershed & we were on a roll, the magic just happened. This was End Recordings biggest single. I hope you enjoy. xx Mr.C” Clocking in at almost seven minutes, ‘The Blue Hour’ has a long, teased-out breakdown, a crisp kick and rumbling low end. When he remembers the first time the record was played out at a Subterrain party, Mr. C takes a deep breath. “People were climbing the walls,” he says. “I will never forget it, as long as I live.”

It’s 1999, and the team have opened AKA next door to The End, a bar-and-events space with a fine dining restaurant on the mezzanine. The venue is beautiful, but while it’s not losing money, it’s not raking it in either. With a burgeoning career, Layo is struggling to keep all the plates spinning. Being the creative director of two venues while DJing around the world is no mean feat. After seeing her big brother looking worn out during a trip to Ibiza together for one of his shows, Zoe Paskin packs up and heads back to London from Barcelona, to lend a helping hand. 

Around the same time, a big new club is preparing to open in Farringdon. Mr. C explains that he’s friendly with one of the bookers, and is speaking with the new team. He recommends Thunder Ridge to do the sound (though they ultimately proved too expensive an option), and that the two clubs arrange their programming slightly differently. Why don’t they offer house and techno on a Friday, breaks on a Saturday, and a gay night on a Thursday? 

The new club was fabric. “I wanted us to be a team,” says Mr. C, “to continue raising the vibration in London together.” But, when fabric opened, “they copied us,” he says with a shrug, “fabric poached our nights by offering them more money.” Despite the money, Mr. C says, over half of the resident parties stayed put — The End was their home. “They copied our template,” says Layo of fabric’s opening, “they just wanted the same thing, but bigger.”

The launch of fabric gave the team at The End no choice but to reinvent themselves. “It was the kick up the arse that we needed,” Mr. C explains. What felt like a crisis became a blessing, leading to what Zoe and Layo see as the golden years of the club, between 2001 and 2005. What Zoe intended to be a month-long stint in the office to help smooth things over morphed into a decade-long career as Managing Director. She was there to iron out the creases, tighten up expenditure, boost morale, source the best staff, and do basically everything else in between. 

“What a woman,” says Mr. C of Zoe’s involvement. “She knew what she was doing. She cracked the whip, but she treated everyone with love.” For Zoe, one of the most important things about The End was the camaraderie in the team. The longevity of almost every career was the proof in the pudding; people loved working there. “It was like a community centre,” Zoe smiles, “people felt like a bit of the club was theirs, almost like their local pub.”

Having lost a bunch of nights, and with fabric catering to a larger crowd, the early ’00s saw the team embrace new ideas. The End and AKA had sometimes felt at loggerheads (imagine turning up to enjoy a fancy meal and being confronted with the queue for a rowdy drum & bass party), but now the two spaces were joined together, combining four separate spaces, capacities, and atmospheres. On any given night you could go into AKA for a cocktail, or go to the basement and stick your head in a bass bin. Before fabric, The End had operated primarily Friday through Sunday. By the early ’00s, the venue was open every night of the week; almost unheard of for a venue of that nature.

Their Sunday night speed garage party, Twice as Nice, was a particular hit. “Everybody’s rolling with gold — bracelets, rings, necklaces, hoop earrings,” notes Reynolds in ‘ENERGY FLASH’. “Women sport ice-encrusted chokers and diamond-twinkling cheek studs. Bad boys strut through brandishing Moët bottles, little towers of plastic champagne flutes stuck on the bottle neck.” One year, thanks to Twice as Nice, The End was the fourth biggest seller of Moët nationally, behind only Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Royal Ascot. The club would sell somewhere between 300 and 400 bottles of Moët every week, a godsend for bar-take compared to the pill-popping, water-sipping Saturday night techno crowd. 

The following night was fuelled by alcohol, too — only less Moët, more student prices. Erol Alkan’s Trash was for art students, fashionistas, and shining outsiders. “The queue was a work of art in itself at times,” Erol Alkan says. Drinks were cheap, but entry was selective. “It’s like my house party,” says Erol, “anyone’s invited if they come with the right frame of mind.” Trash had to be a safe, diverse, and inclusive playground — nothing less. 

The clientele included everyone from Pet Shop Boys, Paul Oakenfold, Kings of Leon, Muse, and even Marilyn Manson. The Strokes would be there so often that “they were part of the furniture.” Grace Jones came down once, and spent all night dancing in the booth behind Erol. “She was incredible, just her presence,” says Erol, “but what was so brilliant for me was that there were these kids, having a great time, maybe for the first time, and then there’s Grace Jones, and she’s having a great time, too. That’s as good as any number one.”

Musicians like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, and Peaches would DJ. “When Peaches played, it felt like Trash had really arrived,” recalls Erol. And a night with Jacques Lu Cont at the helm saw him bring down Junior Sanchez to play, too, who happened to have played the Saturday night prior. “It kind of joined the dots,” says Erol, “between these different tribes of people.” One night, Chilly Gonzales wanted to play a solo piano show in the club. It seemed insane, Erol says, expecting a club full of people to be quiet and attentive enough for a piano performance. But it worked. The Trash crowd sat down, and listened in total, appreciative silence for 45 minutes. “It was incredible,” Erol smiles.

“I feel sad even hearing the question,” Zoe says, as we ask how The End came to host its final party in early 2009. Central London had mutated in the 13 years The End had been operating; O’Hare recalls 115 new pieces of legislation the club had to adhere and adjust to between 1996 and 2003 alone. In 2007, a landlord purchased the whole block on West Central Street, with, of course, the intention of developing the site. Of that block, the space The End and AKA occupied offered the best real estate opportunity. Negotiations went on for a while, but the team didn’t really think anything of it, until the new landlord came back strong with an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“We did a lot of soul searching,” Zoe says about the decision. By this point, Liam was over 40, had a family (his first date with his wife was a Wall of Sound Halloween party at the club), and had been managing a late night venue for over a decade. “For this whole period, we’d been the leader,” Layo explains, “but there was a new breed of people coming through. We could have become slightly removed.” 

It’s a position that few clubs like The End will ever be able to share — choosing when and how to close, with everything on your own terms. The landlord agreed to allow The End to stay open for another two years after the deal was agreed, which meant that the team, and The End’s faithful punters, had a long time to say goodbye, “but nothing could have prepared me for the response we got, how people felt, and how it played itself out,” Zoe says.

“Are you sitting down?” Scott Bourne, Andy C’s business partner, asked him over the phone one day in late 2007. “It came as such as shock,” Andy says, “it left a hole in a lot of people’s lives, but you can't argue with the fact that it went out on the greatest possible high.” Leading up to the official closing party on 24th January 2009, there were a string of others, a chance for each resident party to host the send-off they deserved. Goosebumps is a word that’s used again and again as tales of The End’s final weeks are regaled. 

The last ever RAM party ended with Ed Rush playing Ram Trilogy’s ‘Chase Scene’. “The vibe was beautiful,” Andy says, “people were reflective, it was really emotional, everybody went for it for every tune, as if it was the last time they’d ever hear it.” For Andy, The End was an integral foundation for where he, and drum & bass, are today. “The love for the music is still strong,” he says, “and that is because of a foundational club like The End.” Erol Alkan was once told, if you get three years out of a club, then you’ve succeeded. Trash ran for 10 years. Though Erol decided Trash’s time had come before The End closed, starting his label Phantasy shortly after, his vision was just the same — closing on your own terms.

The demand for The End’s closing parties was such that tickets were selling online at crazy prices, so Layo, Zoe, and Liam had to consider the fairest way to get people in for The End’s final dance. The party would kick off at 8pm on Saturday 24th January 2009, with a line-up that featured Laurent Garnier, Layo & Bushwacka!, Mr.C, Erol Alkan, Ben Watt, Jimpster, Will Saul, Rory Phillips, Frankie Valentine, and Don Mac. It was also Liam’s one and only DJ set at the club, as he opened the second room for Phillips. 

The team decided not to sell any tickets in advance, instead opting to sell tickets on the door for £40, dropping down to £20 at 6AM. Given that the party ended up going late into Sunday evening, you would get good bang for your buck regardless. The club attained a special TEN licence from the council to close, and red carpet, the whole of West Central Street for the occasion. 

The queue stretched right along West Central Street and snaked onto New Oxford Street, too; a queue that were fed donuts and handed hot cups of tea throughout the night. The few hundred people nearest to the door were given headphones, so the front of the queue was transformed into a silent disco, plugged into whoever’s set was going on downstairs — “it was bonkers,” says Zoe. People queued for hours and hours, and once they were in, it was worth the wait.

“The closing party was the single best nightclub party ever to exist on the face of the planet, in the history of the universe,” says Mr. C, emphatic as ever, and a man who has witnessed many a closing party in his time. “It was unreal. People were hugging, crying, tears of joy, tears of sadness, there’s never been anything like it,” says Zoe. And so we circle back to Sunday 25th January 2009, to The End’s closing party, where Douglas was cheered and where the music and dancing raged on and on, for well over 24 hours. 

The End was a family through and through, from the team that kept the cogs whirring behind the scenes, to the ravers that returned week after week to their chosen sweet spot on the dancefloor. And no more so does that essence of family shine through than this; Liam had a birthday party for his daughter at The End — she was five years old, and she had her photo taken by the DJ booth. 

Want to read more about the UK club scene? Read about the enduring energy of Nottingham's DIY underground here

Katie Thomas is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @katietweets26