[Part3]The beat goes on despite crackdown in London dance club


First-time visitors to the London super club "Ministry of Sound" could find the experience somewhat daunting.

For a start, there’s the imposing sign outside: "Warning! Digital photographs of all persons entering these premises are recorded and stored. Images will be used as evidence when required."

Then there is the metal detector, used to stop people carrying guns or other dangerous objects into the club.

Established in 1991, Ministry is a huge venue with four separate dance floors. Around 100 people work in the club's office, which seems more like that of an IT company. Many people tend to think of clubs as "dangerous" or "shady" places, so Ministry has worked hard to gain respectability.

As club development manager, Gary Smart believes the emphasis on security and cleanliness is exactly why Ministry has thrived.

Clubs in Britain have traditionally been cultural hubs for young people seeking a release from the grind of daily life. The 1980s and '90s saw an unprecedented explosion in dance culture across Britain. As the authorities tried to clamp down on the burgeoning scene, clubs like Ministry tried to find a middle ground by emphasizing security and safety.

The 1980s saw a boom in "acid house," a type of dance music characterized by undulating synthesizer sounds. This was a time of high unemployment and urban riots. Feeling abandoned by the Thatcher administration, disaffected youngsters began to hold guerrilla-style parties in illegally occupied farms or warehouses. Acid house soon swept throughout Europe, too, not just as a musical movement but as a social phenomenon as well.

Ernesto Leal helped to organize many raves at the time. For Leal, acid house was far more popular than the 1970s punk movement and attracted people from all walks of life, from the unemployed to doctors and lawyers. He recalls a time when the police turned up to a party while out on patrol. They must have liked what they saw, because "two hours later the same policemen came back without their badges," said Leal, laughing.

Many revelers took the illegal drug MDMA, more popularly known as Ecstasy, and sometimes caused trouble for people living nearby.

Former police officer Kenneth E. Tappenden/photo:RYOSUKE KAMBA

Former police officer Kenneth E. Tappenden, 75, was involved in coordinating national policy on acid parties. He says the police were worried about large groups of ravers running amok.

"One night, we found six large, black bags full of drugs."

The panicked government reacted by passing the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994. This gave the police powers to disperse groups of people listening to music characterized by "repetitive beats." The Act specifically targeted outdoor raves, but clubs also faced calls for a crackdown in 1995 after an 18-year-old schoolgirl who took MDMA died.

It was then that the Ministry began taking a series of steps to allay public fears. It began handing out free water to prevent MDMA-induced dehydration. Staff suspecting of selling drugs were given the boot.

As Smart explains, in order to survive, clubs had to convince the government that the industry was safe.

Nearly two decades have passed since the legislative crackdown of the mid-1990s. Super clubs like Ministry have thrived after sorting out their safety and security issues.

The dance group "Underworld" was born out of the acid house movement and has played a leading role in the club scene for many years. The duo was appointed musical directors for the opening ceremony at the London Olympics last year.

Since cleaning up its act, dance culture has been co-opted by the system and has subsequently lost its edge, some people say. Underworld’s vocalist, 56-year-old Karl Hyde, disagrees.

"I think there is still exciting dance music now. It’s a massive business, but this leaves a vacuum for new ideas; this space becomes available for people to react against the mainstream and bring their own fresh interpretation to the genre."


Pacha/ photo:RYOSUKE KAMBA

As the deep bass throbs across the dance floor, the flickering lights illuminate a swaying mass as over 1,000 revelers lose themselves in the beat. It was the beginning of May and the location was the island of Ibiza, Spain, a magnet for clubbers. This was "Pacha," one of Ibiza's oldest clubs, and the air was so hot you could cut it with a knife. Your intrepid reporter was among those partying late into the night.

Entry costs anything from 5,000 yen to 10,000 yen ($50-$100). On a raised platform at the bottom of the bowl-shaped dance floor, scantily clad dancers writhed in eye-popping ways.

Europeans, Asians, locals, students, doctors, bankers and older couples: The clientele was diverse.


At times you feel you are drowning in the sweat, the clamor, the crowds and the endless waves of sound. The trick is to find a beat that matches your body’s natural rhythm and then just let the groove take you. You can feel the skin on your chest and stomach tingling to the thump of the speakers.

I was a little tipsy, admittedly, but I felt like I was floating. "Forget everything and dance!"

A gay group dancing nearby kept giving me high fives. When they invited me to strip naked, though, modesty prevailed and I politely refused. But that's how Ibiza is; though everyone dances in their own way, there is strange, wonderful sense of unity that brings everyone together.

When the music stops at just before 7 a.m., fewer than 100 of us remain. We pump our fists toward the DJ booth and let out a big cheer. We are all tired, but in a good way. An indescribable emotion welled up inside me; I felt both liberated and empty.

The dance industry is Ibiza's main tourist resource. Travelers from all over the world flock here to sample the island’s many clubs.


As a Mediterranean resort, the island used to be a much-loved destination for a diverse clientele, from hippies to celebrities. It became known as a dance capital in the 1980s. Its reputation grew on the back of its local DJs, who spun whatever tunes they liked without regard for genre, from rock to pop to reggae. This "Balearic sound" also began to permeate the sets of DJs in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. Dance-loving youngsters soon began flocking to Ibiza to see what all the fuss was about. In the 1960s the island was visited by around 40,000 people annually; last year, it had 2.7 million visitors.

To understand the attraction of the place, you need to understand the concept of "chill out." This is what tired ravers do when they need to cool off or take a rest. Ibiza has many great places to chill out.


There is the beach, for example. When your correspondent was all danced out, he headed to the sand to lie down and relax. Some hardcore revelers even forgo hotels and sleep on the beach, only rousing at night when it’s time to hit to the clubs. Toward the end of the day, I decided to head to a sunset bar. As the sun sank below the Mediterranean, I began to doze off pleasantly to the relaxing music. It was a blissful moment.

The pounding rhythms that fill the clubs at night and the rhythm of the sea waves on the beach by day; these truly are two sides of the same Balearic coin. The rich, languid experience of the chill out makes the dancing all the more exciting and special. This, in essence, is what Ibiza taught me; the best dance experience is one that includes some chill out time.

By RYOSUKE KAMBA/ Culture and Lifestyle News Section

Translated by The Asahi Shimbun AJW. More related stories available at

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