Maybe it's because it's just that tiniest bit nearer Europe than the rest of the country, but Southampton's Junk Club has always gravitated towards a more continental ethos. In sound, in programming, in outlook, Junk has styled itself like a European clubbing outpost on the south coast.
In the space of eight years — they celebrated their eighth birthday in May with Maya Jane Coles — they've risen from provincial dance music venue to an important emerging brand with tendrils in Ibiza, Berlin, Amsterdam and London.
There have been 1200 parties, and they recently booked their 700th artist. And now having been voted Best Small Club at DJ Mag's Best of British Awards, it seems that the milestones keep coming.
Bristolian Louis Lawrence arrived as a student in town seven years ago and was quickly consumed by the club scene. He became the promotions manager at Junk alongside the club's founder Steve McKinlay, but things were a little different back then. The venue was initially a table-dancing club, with Junk occupying the downstairs space. A year after Lawrence joined, they bought out the table-dancing club upstairs and expanded to two floors. Then in 2009, after a massive refit, they boosted capacity from a bijou 340 to a sturdier 650. And that's when things really started heating up.
“It was around then that the story begins, really.
Maya Jane Coles and Jamie Jones first played for us when they cost £500 to book them, which kind of gives you an idea of how far things have come,” jokes Lawrence, now one of the club's directors and shareholders. “But we've always been true to our game. Our plan was always simply to put on the best parties in the world, which is kind of our motto, and stay true to our music. When we refitted the place, we visited loads of clubs and took some of the best bits from all of them.”
Clubs like DC10 and Fabric were among those touchstones for inspiration. Much like at the venerable Room One at Fabric, the DJ booth is encased in an island in the dancefloor, enveloping whoever is playing and putting them right at the centre of the party, rather than stuck on a stage or closeted in a box. It's atmosphere and proximity to the loyal crowd that keeps top-flight DJs like Coles, Seth Troxler, Steve Bug, Claude VonStroke and Eats Everything coming back on a regular basis.
Watergate in Berlin too has become something of a European twin. As well as visiting their Southampton venue (and under their Junk Department production alias), they threw one of the heralded German club's 10th birthday parties for them at the Great Suffolk Street Warehouse in May last year, beneath the railway tracks in London's Southwark. Though he says so himself, Lawrence says that it was a pretty special party.
“Every single penny we've got, we've put into the club. We've mortgaged and remortgaged. All of us. It's a testament to how dedicated the team behind this project are. We've devoted the last 10 years of our lives to this. Despite the downturn in the nightclub economy, and obviously the economy as a whole, we've done everything we can to stay at the top of our game, and grow in size. The past five years have been terrible for the economy, but we've only done bigger and better things.”
Others are noticing this dedication too. They've been invited to host stages at the Isle of Wight Festival, at the Bugged Out Weekender last year, at Exit in Serbia and at the Eastern Electrics Festival. They hooked up with David Vincent's Sankeys in Ibiza this year too. There's another Watergate party in London being devised for March 2014, which will kick off a series of Junk Department warehouse parties planned for the capital. Southampton might be their home, but their ambition appears to be a bit tricky to contain.
“2014 is by a long shot going to be our biggest year,” says Lawrence. “There's going to be more regular parties in Ibiza, and different places around Europe. The Junk Department sound is definitely more a European one than an English one. We love the German techno sound, so that's where it's all leading towards. We've always been influenced by that sound, and you always work with your crowd to see where trends might be moving, but as much as we can we'll always stick to what we love as a family of people.”
If clubbing history has taught us anything, it's that ignoring trends and sticking to your guns has always worked. And it's most certainly working for Junk.