Friday night, Stoke Newington, and Tropical Waste are hosting a party. It’s sweaty, sticky and the basement has reached its 100 capacity. There’s not much room to move, but it’s difficult to care.
Text by Rosie Cain
Photography provided by Tropical Waste
Approx reading time: 5 mins
As Dance Tunnel prepares to close its doors following licensing restrictions and as we ponder the effects of the much-reported ‘death of clubbing’, we look to the parties and promoters who are approaching nightlife in a different way.
They are taking a DIY approach. Built on intimacy, a sense of community and embodying a raw energy, they hold up a middle finger to strict licensing and new legislation, expensive door tax and the influx of regimented commercial nights.
This series of features charts the club nights that are flying the flag for nightlife in the UK, and celebrates their collective philosophies.
'Some people start raves for ego, some for necessity, and some because they feel it's the right thing to do.'
It’s a Friday night in Stoke Newington, London. It’s sweaty, sticky and the small basement has reached its mere 100 capacity. There’s not much room to move but the energy is so electric it’s difficult to care. Flailing arms and rogue legs silhouette against the brick walls as Ni-Kü plays out nightcore and rawkus pop reworks – the sound encompasses you, vibrating the very foundations of the room.
In the depths of The Three Crowns pub, The Waiting Room hosts Tropical Waste’s androgynous showdown.
The brainchild of pals Seb Wheeler and Iydes – music journalist and producer – Tropical Waste have been throwing their off-kilter parties, with friend Patch Keyes on artwork duties, since 2014. First starting as a blog and university radio show in 2010, focusing on what Seb considered "outsider culture", it exposed people to experimental sounds they’d probably never heard before. "The whole thing was definitely founded to be a platform for all the niche and underground stuff that I was into," he explains. "I thought other people would be interested in finding out about it."
And it didn’t go unnoticed. In 2011 the radio show moved to NTS and after inviting friend, Iydes, to join him on the show, they were given free rein to play the most weird and wonderful cuts they could find – in Seb’s words: "the psychedelic but danceable".
For Tropical Waste, the focus shifted in 2014. The pair set about refining the production of their show, involving artists like MM, Air Max ‘97 and Grovestreet, paving the way for the parties. "We wanted to present what we were doing on radio in an IRL space," Seb says.
The parties are a celebration of the artists who are pushing creative boundaries, going one step further than the rest. Bookings play a pivotal role in Tropical Waste’s spirit. Unlike bigger clubs and promoters in London and further afield, they aren’t geared to book well-known artists to lure in the customers, but to lock down artists who have rarely or never played in the capital before.
"The whole London debut thing isn’t particularly intentional, we just seem to be interested in artists who don’t get booked over here," Seb says. "We’ve hosted the UK debuts of Fis, Lotic, Kid Antoine, Dinamarca, Toxe, Mind:Body:Fitness and Zora Jones."
They might bring in plenty of overseas artists but Seb is quick to mention they are an agent for London talent, too. "The city feels so alive at the moment and we’re finding out about new artists and meeting new people all the time."
One of those artists is London-based DJ duo, Hipsters Don’t Dance. They’ve seen Tropical Waste’s evolution from editorial to NTS show to party. "It’s rare to see such entities grow in such a natural manner and be as impactful as it is," Inie - one half of the duo - says.
Tropical Waste is certainly a party that resonates with the artists involved, many coming down to party not just in support but to rave with everyone else because of the quality of the bookings. "When their line-ups drop it’s a bit like when a big hip hop tune does. Lots of retweets and discussion around how good it is," adds Karen - the other half of Hipsters Don't Dance.
The line-up curation is just as important as the bookings. Tropical Waste juxtapose genres to create something incredibly fresh. "There’s a real energy that arises when you let seemingly disparate artists play alongside one another," Seb says. From reggaeton and footwork to grime and dancehall, Tropical Waste are above genre, the billing offering a little something different with each artist.
Seb and lydes move on to the importance of a no-tolerance policy on harassment and duty to create an inclusive clubbing environment. It’s something many clubs advertise on social media but, unlike Tropical Waste’s pledge, it’s rarely factored in at the venue. Posters are plastered at the entrance to the club and in the toilets making it clear that any disrespect towards others will not be tolerated and that any form of intimidation should be reported. The success of this campaign can be seen in the audience – people from diverse backgrounds connecting in a sweaty basement to immerse themselves in the positive musical vision composed by Seb and Iydes.
The party’s home, The Waiting Room, is an apt setting. Unassuming but impactful, the pair have managed to evoke the feeling of being at a house party. "We try and create what we feel is the ideal version of ‘‘the club’’ in this little basement in Stoke Newington," Seb explains. "The intimacy makes it, the atmosphere gets really warm." And it’s that element of intimacy that leaves an impression. Why? Because it’s an element so frequently missing from mainstream clubs today.
After the 1990s rave culture disappeared, clubs became sanitised and regimented, enough to deter even the most avid partygoer from truly losing themselves in the moment. Super clubs soon led the UK scene and intimacy dwindled. Rules were enforced and freedom to lose one’s inhibitions became a rarity. Or at least the courage to do so had been misplaced. Tropical Waste’s simple formula couldn’t be further from the maxim of restraint. As Hipsters Don’t Dance declare, all that’s needed for the best rave possible is "the best artists possible in an intimate venue with a good sound system".
The inclusive culture and simplicity of Tropical Waste work, but what other elements set the party aside from the rest? Hipsters Don’t Dance say it derives from the party’s moral origins.
"Some people start raves for ego, some for necessity, and some because they feel it's the right thing to do," says Inie. That’s the feeling you get with Tropical Waste. Seb and Iydes are promoting and sharing a wealth of diverse and eclectic music that they discover because it simply needs to be shared. "They aren’t trend-hopping, they curate line-ups they believe in and want people to hear," adds Karen.
The audience plays a huge part in the party’s appeal. "It’s this great mix of friends, our peers and people who are obviously into finding out about new shit," says Seb. The dedicated following they’ve gathered over the years is as imperative to its success as the music. A crowd that is down for new music and dancing. A crowd ready to lose its inhibitions as soon as they enter the room. "There’s an energy and an openness," says EndgamE, host of NTS show Precious Metals, who has played the party on more than one occasion. "Everyone is down for whatever and ready to lose themselves, which is rare."
He isn’t wrong. As soon as you descend the stairs, the atmosphere pulls you in, safe in the knowledge that everybody has the same mindset – to dance wildly and embrace the new sounds seeping out of the speakers. "You can tell everyone is there just to live the night," says Cõvco, who also has a monthly slot on NTS "and the fact it’s so intimate sets the mood of togetherness".
Tropical Waste has a stable home and hasn’t been affected by licensing restrictions or threatened by club closures. But they know they’re the lucky ones. Last year it was reported the number of clubs in the UK had fallen from 3,144 to 1,733 since 2005 and Londoners saw the closures of some of their best-loved clubs: Cable, Plastic People, Madame JoJos, to name a few.
"I think club closures will force people to start new spaces and throw parties in unfashionable areas of London," Seb says. "There are parties in London railing against the city’s apparent hatred of club spaces, and we’re thankful for those promoters."
So the question that remains is how can we fight back against the issues faced by many nights and venues? Or are we too far gone? Hipsters Don’t Dance say we need more constructive dialogue between venues and attendees. "The amount of times we've had a bad night in a big club and just chalked it up to being in there and not letting the venue know. How are these venues going to get any better?", Karen points out.
Seb advocates a DIY approach. "Take matters into your own hands and start your own rave or club space. Go to your favourite venue or club night. And don’t believe the hype, because London’s still got it."
Text by Rosie Cain
Photography provided by Tropical Waste